Outlandish claims are harming the Industry!

LEDs: Kill or Cure? PROVE IT!

The lighting community is facing a tsunami of outlandish claims regarding LEDs, which collectively have the ability to irreparably damage the industry.

Claims ranging from: “Ever-lasting giver of nourishment” to “Toxic evil peddled by money-grabbing swindlers”!

The claims, propagating through ill-informed professional and social media, are founded on an incomplete understanding of the science and thus creating confusion. It’s leading to inertia that ultimately benefits no one.

Collectively we need to cut through the ‘noise’ and seed informed debate.

To counter misleading arguments effectively it is important to understand the source and underlying motivations. Unfortunately many of the arguments come from within our own ranks! These include the media, suppliers, academia, industry and yes, customers themselves.

The first source of industry hype comes from The Media. They are under enormous pressure to prove to their readership and advertisers alike they are ‘relevant’ and are playing their important ‘Guardianship’ role, in order to maximize circulation.

It may all start with the media, although they are not alone. Straightforward news does not sell ‘news print’. Without news print you cannot attract the advertisers. Therefore it is no surprise that the incentives are weighted to ‘big’ up stories of either horror or hope for the future. Unless the story affects the reader, there is no impact. They need to the find the ‘angle’ – what’s in it for the reader? What’s going to maximize readership?

And if the media get it wrong, well they can always publish a retraction- normally hidden on one of the insides page in 9-point font!

The second source of hype comes from the Suppliers. They are under enormous pressure to sell the new technology as early as possible and if there are associate risks, to manage them.

Suppliers are facing a tough time. They are either transitioning from ‘legacy’ technologies into the new unfamiliar world of digital electronics… etc, or technology companies who understand the technology but lack knowledge of the lighting industry. Either way, huge investments have been made. The market is embryonic. A land grab is under way. Early customer adoption is key!

These suppliers are increasingly aware of the technical and commercial risks of their new technology. Recognising the technology may not be fully tested they push on despite the many ‘horror stories’ on product recalls and failed projects. But the Mantra is: “Sell early and manage the risks!”

These players are arguably the most sensitive to good or bad LED news.

Academia who should know better, actually don’t. Individuals within the institute are driven by the Mantra: “Publish or Die” and empirical evidence emerging from these haloed institutions is that it does not matter too much if you’re wrong.

Researchers are driven by the need to show progress. So publishing early and publishing often is key. Achieving acclaim for themselves and status for the institution along the way.

The best type of publishing is patents- effectively puts the research in the public domain – so one may as well shout about it! The threat of not publishing is the threat of plagiarism – first to publish wins the acclaim; second is either a plagiarist or a nay-sayer.

As a result there is a huge pressure to publish early, often the initial findings have scant amount of evidence. There is little time to review and validate. This can come later. This is where the case of ‘Cold Fusion’ comes to mind – heralded in the 1980s but never again repeated. A new phrase “Pathological science”- defined as ‘people tricked into false results’ was thus born and very present today in the lighting industry.

Industry faces an equally onerous pressure to monetize research as soon as possible. It is imperative to demonstrate Return-on-Investment – share price for the start-up exit or for the shareholders, and cash!

Much akin to researchers in the academic environment- with a desire to publish on insubstantial evidence – but these entities have real life products to sell. Usually by generating intellectual property.

As soon as the patent application is submitted, the research enters the public domain so again, one may as well make as much noise about it as possible & help with share price.

And finally we come to the dear Customers, who cannot be held blameless for the state of the industry. They too are facing tremendous pressures, waving caution to wind to become early adopters.

It could be argued today is the worst time in history to be a purchasing manager. There is so much uncertainty in the fast moving and growing industry that almost any decision they make is going to be wrong …. or lucky!

Purchasing managers have had their energy and maintenance budgets slashed based on the expectation that the ‘LED wonder technology‘ will provide savings- so they need to do something.

They are increasingly aware of the technical and commercial risks, with various ‘horror stories’ of failed projects and knowing that most LED companies cannot get insurance cover for product.

Being caught between a rock and hard place they are resigned to adopting the new technology as early as possible and managing the risk.

In summary, the Tsunami has moved to a perfect storm! A perfect storm for misinformation. Academia and Industry rushing to announce research results early which are then given a boost by news-hungry media to feed a nervous and excitable business community.

“The academic, industrial and media issues are not peculiar to the lighting market, being prevalent across the scientific community”

Dorothy Bishop concisely observed during her interview for BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’. Link to podcast below: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b060zq8m The relevant section is 20:40 into the podcast – lasts around 8 minutes and worth a listen!

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We within the lighting community are hypersensitive to both good and bad news on LEDs! We understand the reason for the abundance of inflated LED-related news stories. We also understand that it’s rarely malicious, but never the less we all suffer long term from the negative effects of any ‘fall-out’.

What we have to ask ourselves is: What can we do about it?

The simple answer is that individually very little, however collectively a great deal. The way we will achieve this is by forensically taking apart the arguments and claims presented each and every time to reveal the facts and motivation behind the story.

We cannot simply rely on those promoting the technology to prove it does no harm or that it achieves a given performance and /or savings; we have already shown that the relevant academia, industry and supply chain experts have conflicting motivations.

The approach to take with all and every claim is substantiation. We should demand to see objective, verifiable data and evidence. In other words PROVE IT!

Whilst asking someone to prove the veracity of what they are saying sounds simple. In reality it’s not. The reason being that most claims reported in the media are based on some level of evidence – and forensically picking this apart could become an involved, time consuming activity.

Never the less if we ask four simple questions we can gain reasonable insight supporting the claim.

First we need to understand the vested interest of the author?

We all have vested interests. Every time we publish or post on twitter we do so with motive – even the author of this article has an acclaimed motivation for publishing! In this case, the stated purpose is in the introduction, but my vested interest is to demonstrate that we at LUX-TSI are an independent, trusted source of knowledge on LED matters, so hopefully not a conflict with your objective in reading this? Not everyone is as impartial as this.

Second we need to know if the evidence has been ‘ACE’d:

When reading a claim we need to understand what the stated assumptions, caveats and exclusions are surrounding the evidence to determine how they impact relevance of the claim.

Assumptions: The two most common assumptions are baseline assumptions and environmental assumptions. In a recent announcement from the USA DoE which stated “By 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWhrs”. There was in the small print “versus 100% incandescent with 100% swap to LEDs” thereby excluding other technologies already established and also savings via smart controls. This is a baseline assumption which clearly had a massive impact on the hyper-inflated claim.

The second type of assumption is environment. This refers to physical (temperature, humidity…etc) representative conditions under which the product would be used? Clearly products designed for the tranquil home environment versus crowded workplace where the application and usage (e.g. hours /day /year) would have tremendous impact on performance requirements.

Caveats: Are those boundary conditions which limit the validity of the result – and all too often missed or put in very small print. For instance one such caveat seen recently stated ‘limited sample size’ in which case, the data is not invalid, but more research and trials are likely to be needed to validate the conclusions.

Exclusions: Are those boundary conditions which mitigate the result in its entirety. In one case I observed, an exclusion stated: ‘does not impact remote phosphor converted LED modules’. Always written in small print! In some cases the exclusion are really subtle and require mental gymnastics: One headline declared: ‘eReaders bad for sleep’ with the exception being ‘tablets’, ‘laptops’ and other ‘electronic portable devices’ not included. Go Figure!

Third we need to know where the evidence has be verified

Is it published in a peer-reviewed journal? If not, what assurance is there that the evidence is collated correctly and is factual?

Fourth is the evidence valid?

Does the evidence actually support the claim? This is a really big issue. Two points:

Is the cited research actually directly relevant? Are the subject /environment /conditions /indicators…etc relevant? Most important – is the conclusion of the supporting evidence relevant to the argument in question? Sometimes, people will grab on to a piece of research, which is related, but does not directly support their argument.

Secondly, the big one: association versus causation. Research, which finds ‘evidence of a link’, does not prove causation. A link between ‘A’ and ‘B’ does not prove ‘A’ causes ‘B’.

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Before we develop a paranoia that only in the lighting industry does this problem of false claims exist, it is a big issue in general.

Dr Margaret McCartney and Prof Carl Heneghan explain this ‘claims‘ challenge brilliantly in context of the media in a Radio 4’s ‘Inside Health’ program: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05xggk2
The relevant section is 22:45 in to the podcast, lasts just over 5 minutes and gets the point across perfectly – a salutary lesson for us all! Please have a listen…

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I have not cited LED-related cases so far, as I do not want this to become about specifics. However, allow me to cite one article as those involved did not claim causation, freely admitting that they did not know exactly what was going on. The results they admitted were baffling!

A case study: Blue LED Lighting Deters Railway Station Suicides.

In this article appearing in LUX Review magazine (15 June 2015) the headline shouted out: Blue lights coming to more UK stations in bid to deter suicides

The article leads with:

“The company behind the blue floodlights that Gatwick Airport is using to try and cut suicides and antisocial behaviour on train platforms, is now hoping more stations will take up the idea.”


Based on this, I would expect mass riots on the rail tracks as ordinary commuters would begin demanding of British Rail to install blue lights!

However, when we delve deeper (in this case at the bottom of the webpage), interviewee does not claim to have all the answers, but there had been no further suicide incidents since the blue lights were installed.

Was it the blue light that made the difference? Would a green light have had a similar effect? What about a different white light? Over time, would previous behaviours return?

This is the same blue light that others say is causing tremendous harm and disruption to our own lives and to the natural world. As Carl Heneghan said: ‘evidence of a link’ remains association until causation is proven!

Further, there is a confusing reference in the interview combining blue light impact on circadian rhythm and also psychological effects of blue light. There is strong evidence to suggest that our natural circadian rhythms can be disrupted by blue light under certain circumstances, dependent on spectral distribution, intensity and dose. I have also seem claims that a ‘soft blue light’ can have a calming effect – the two effects were confusingly combined in the interview – one for Lux Review Magazine to sort out – shows what we are up against!

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This article may leave you with the impression that we all need to become cynics and it is our (patriotic) duty to dismiss every claim out there. This is not the case, but we do need to judge the validity of the argument and then give it the appropriate level of credibility.

If the news is of interest but the evidence is not yet compelling, then consider what we, as stakeholders in the lighting community, can do to move it forward so as get answers?

In summary, we within the lighting market are highly sensitive to any news on LEDs – good or bad. There is ongoing pressure on the academic and industrial sectors to push out early indicative research and the need in the media to inflate its significance. We also know such ‘inflation’ is not restricted to the lighting sector. Subsequent ripples across the industry media can be as much as a hindrance as it is a help.

Whilst it may be considered the responsibility of those promoting the technology to ensure claims and arguments are fully substantiated, there is not enough of this being done.

We all have a role in policing claims by shouting “prove it!”. What’s the vested interest of the various stakeholders? Where’s the evidence? What are the assumptions, caveats or exclusions? Is it verified? Is it relevant? Is it causation or just association?

Only then are we in a position to give the claim the appropriate degree of credibility based on the answers.

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We as lighting professionals should foster evidence-based arguments and refute those that are not. Understanding the pressures on the stakeholders, we all need to think about these issues before we publish or post and before we respond! By forcing substantiation of claims and arguments we can sort fact from fiction- so let’s go do it!

The truth is out there…!

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David Mudd

Sales and Marketing Director


Tel: +44 1656 864618