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Bloggers Attack Dr. Jeff Sutherland's Interest & Support of Frequency Foundation

by Christopher Goldsbury on Jan 01, 2012 |

Several blogs criticized Dr. Jeff Sutherland's interest in electronic medicine yesterday and his support for the Frequency Foundation.  The blogs' owners contend that he is investing in and potentially profiting from what is considered a derided arm of medical science.  Not stopping there, the blog owners'  attempted to contrast Dr. Sutherland's interest in this questionable science with his success introducing scrum software development to the world.  

From Jordan Bortz:

Well, here is what I see the similarities being:

1) Scrum is just the idea of Sutherland and to some degree Schwaber. Similar to the Rife Frequencies just being an idea — there is no proof that either works, yet Sutherland sells both

2) Most of the “evidence” — such as there is — that scrum works at all is due to Sutherlands work at a number of companies and it’s widely quoted. But we can see from his “work” at Frequency Foundation that his claims must be taken with a very large dose of skepticism

3) The Rife folks appear to be preying on desperate people hoping for a silver bullet to cure their ills. And Scrum (IMHO) is preying on desperate managers hoping for a silver bullet

4) The Rife stuff -is  pseudomedicine and the Scrum stuff is simplistic pseudomanagement.

I used to think there was a certain tin foil hat element to the Scrumentology business but we can see that at least one high level Scrum lord is way beyond tin foil hats and e-meters. 

From Agile Forest:

Personally I am confused as to why Jeff Sutherland has actually gone to some lengths to separate the two of these organisations ( Scrum.org & Frequency Foundation ). Even his linkedin profile has no mention of Frequency Foundation. Is it a concern to him that his relationship with radionics and Royal Rife would impact on his reputation within the Agile community? 

But commentors on those sites weren't in complete agreement about the attempted connection: 

Software development is not science. And it is not medicine. It is a craft, a trade if you like. You may as well compare llamas to lampshades, after all they both start with L. ~Tobias Mayer

 

So , Renee, what you are saying, without saying it, is that if Jeff Sutherland is a quack in this ELF thing – which as you describe, is clearly quack-like. And if he goes to great lengths to isolate it from his Scrum work , then clearly he has something to hide. Perhaps you are contending that if this stuff is quackery then perhaps Scrum (or at least his participation in it) is also questionable or improbable and perhaps software process quackery.

If that is what you are saying – then be brave, show real courage and say it.

Otherwise, butt out of the dude’s private life......~Mike 

According to Dr. Jeff Sutherland's LinkedIn profile he regards this as a hobby.  Not his profession:  

My hobby is a passionate interest in electronic medicine, using electromagnetic devices to eliminate pathogens, affect cellular function, DNA, and protein creation. I am a well known, international leader in this emerging technology area with a worldwide client base. One of my future startups will be in this area as the technology matures. 

Further, Jeff does have a medical degree from the University of Colorado, School of Medicine.  

While the bloggers may have found an eccentric hobby and interest maintained by one of the most famous agile manifesto signatories, it's not at all clear how,or if , this has any connection to scrum as a software development process.  Plenty of historical figures have had equally strange, sometimes even scandalous, interests or habits.  For example, Albert Einstein wouldn't wear socks and after divorcing his first wife married his cousin.  This doesn't seem to have diminished his contribution to the world of physics.

Turning it back to our readers....what are your thoughts?   Do the bloggers have a point? 

 

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I'm not sure "Attack" is the right word to use by Jordan Bortz

I think what is going on is letting the community know what one of the leaders is up to, and has been up to for over a decade.

What troubles me here, is taking unproven concepts, and certainly it was unproven, and this rife stuff is unproven, and selling it into the markeplace, while using much hyperbole to extol it's virtues.

Also, I think trust is a large part of agile, and how does this affect the coefficient of trust?

Further, you quote Tobias, who has many "unusual" opinions -- such that Project Management is a "disease" that "needs to be cured" -- not surprising there would be some agreement between what he thinks and what Jeff thinks.

And that to me is the most dangerous aspect of all this agile stuff starting with XP -- the nullification of critical thinking, and a herd of group followers who unquestioningly follow the party line.

Although Renee broke the story, I drew many parallels to pseudoscience, mostly related to Scrum itself.

I invite bloggers to read my posting in it's entirety, read Renees posting, and especially read the source documents and form their own opinions.

Once again this was not an attack, it was a wakeup call, and a time to introspect. At least that was my purpose writing my posting;

Regards,
Jordan

I see no relation by Michael Kramer

I may be too simpleminded but I see no relation between organizing creative teams in a certain way and a debateable medical practice.
I just can't see that the suiteability of Scrum in a specific team environment has anything to do with Jeff's personal beliefs.

Jeff may invest his personal money in whatever areas he sees fit - I'm not to judge.
I'm very conservative regarding medical practices so I'm not going to follow Jeff down the FF road.
But I'm still happy that he and Ken created the initial Scrum process.

Please don't clutter the story of Scrum with a discussion of which medical practices are questionable or not.

AgileForest and some background by Renee Troughton

I would like to have the opportunity to make a few things clear please:
* If this was a simple matter of just a new age blog without anything being sold I would never have published anything. But Frequency Foundation isn't an interest, it is a business that he receives profit from. It was because of this source of revenue that I investigated it further.
* I have stated this before and will restate it again - I do not have a problem with alternative forms of science. A good portion of modern day science grew from backgrounds of non belief.
* But this isn't a science that hasn't been tested. It has been tested by respected scientists and disproven - not once, but several times. If Frequency Foundation wasn't trying to make a profit off disproven science then I would not have posted anything.
* It is because it has been disproven that I have brought the Scrum component into the equation and asked the reader to introspect on a few things.
* Regarding Jeff's medical degree he is not a licensed physician. It states so clearly in frequencyfoundation.com/forms/ConsentForm.pdf
* I attempted to keep to the facts in the blog and let the reader make their own judgement. I asked some questions but never "attacked". I think you are stretching this Christopher and are in fact making the same mistake yourself by attacking me.
* Blogs are always personal opinions, many are filled with these viewpoints, taking this stance from an InfoQ perspective is an interesting position. Are you saying that all blogists shouldn't feel like they can express their opinion?

Re: I see no relation by Jordan Bortz

The relation is there is no credible, peer reviewed research that either works. If you know of any credible, peer reviewed research, that isn't affiliated with a company that has skin the game (Xebian, GE Healthcare etc) please post it. The only one I know of Salesforce and the rest have all been failures (Yahoo, Myspace, Nokia, etc)

Jordan

Re: I see no relation by Diego Fernandez

I still don't see any relation. Using Dr. Sutherland personal interests to criticize SCRUM is silly and dangerous. To do an extreme analogy is like questioning Newton's science and mathematical work because of his religious views.

Going back to the topic of this site -which is software engineering, and not people defamation-: In the matter of software methodologies the statement that there "is no credible, peer reviewed research" to show "that (they) works" could be applied to any methodology, just name it: UP, AUP or XP.

I don't know why this article got published on InfoQ, if the intention was to generate a debate about SCRUM there is no point to criticize other personal interests of his creators. I guess that the next article will be a debate about if Computer Science is a failure because Alan Turing was gay.

Re: I see no relation by Jordan Bortz

I really respect Alan Turing, and I think it is a tragedy what occurred with him as well as Oscar Wilde etc. But this isn't about their sex life or religion, this is about their supposedly scientific views.

You're right -- the lack of credibility should be applied to all the unprovent fad methodologies, including and especially XP. After all, XP was borne out of the failed C3 project at Chrysler.

What I'm saying is that this community has for too long bought into unproven methodologies with no evidence of efficacy, and what's worse, sold certifications in them as well as denigrated those that don't believe in them.

If you want to say XP and Rife and Scrum are all faith based methodologies -- fine. That isn't a science, it isn't proven and it isn't repeatable.

I'm demonstrating that many of the methodologies that you mention have no basis in fact any more than this Rife stuff.

Newton's math is repeatable and provable; Scrum is not. Ditto with Turing.

Since there is no proof, it's a faith-based personality cult, and it's long past time we moved past the pseudoscience and personality cults in this industry.


Jordan

Re: I see no relation by Cameron Purdy

Since there is no proof, it's a faith-based personality cult, and it's long past time we moved past the pseudoscience and personality cults in this industry.


Heresy!

Re: I see no relation by Diego Fernandez

I agree with you that software methodologies doesn't have good research to prove it's effectiveness.

But the point to discuss is just that: the lack of research on how software development methodologies works in real world examples; not Sutherland's interests. Because taking that path in the discussion does the same that you critic: the critic is based in one of the authors personality and not in the scrum method itself.
On InfoQ, I'll like to see an article about what's wrong with scrum or why those scrum projects failed, or maybe what is the problem with software certifications or the tendency in our immature field to buy the "next silver bullet". But I don't care about other interests of Dr. Sutherland.

Back in the discussion of software development methodologies.

I think that there is a problem when it comes to evaluate them. Since they are management techniques, that deal with people and a lot of external factors; is very difficult to apply statements like "demonstration". Maybe we spend too much time with computers :) A sociologist is going to have more tools to analyze what worked better depending on the environment.

About the use of the word science in our field I'll recommend you an article of Frederick Brooks called "The Computer Scientist as Toolsmith", which is interesting and in some point related with this discussion.

Re: I see no relation by Jordan Bortz

Diego I agree with you in almost everything you say.

I personally, don't care what Jeff's hobbies are, unless, they are

1) Selling false hopes to people

2) Brainwashing corporations that there is 1 true way to do software development

Jeff recently made a video wherein he again talks about his "Hyperproductive" scrum type thing. And there is zero evidence it works, let alone provides a 400% improvement.

This isn't about Jeff, this is about the community deifying the agile manifesto, deifying the signatories...and you know what?

They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like we all do, and their opinion is no more important than your own.

I want people to think for themselves and do what makes sense. Not follow some leader based on some manifesto, when it's clear that they have no particular monopoly on the truth.

Jordan

Re: I see no relation... supporting an strongly disagreeing.... by Jay Conne

Hi Jordan - I talked to Renee tonight, learned about this thread on her blog and here on InfoQ and read it thoroughly for the first time.

There are many people who are competent in some domains (AKA compartments) and not in others. I agree that selling quackery and false hopes is a matter of character and not irrelevant. Action matters jabber does not - selling is action. Many people believe in all kinds of mysticism including religions. But do they act on it or just pay lip service to what is offered as a false moral standard? Not having the integrity to not have those contradictions is rare. In this case, selling false hope with a rationalization of placebo effect does not hold up - I know this was never claimed - I'm just precluding a possible way to wiggle out of the facts of the matter.

I know Jeff and Ken and know the history of dysfunction (to be kind) in the Scrum, and for that matter, Agile community. I have hosted a number of talks Jeff did for the Boston Chapter of the ACM at MIT. In one he made the outrageous claim that the most masterful martial artists can fly across the room in some fashion that appeared just nuts. And he said it with a straight face! Was he testing how gullible the audience was? And if so, why? In my mind it completely undermined my confidence in his judgement in general.

From the 2nd hand information I read in these blogs, there is no reason to respect or buy the FF claims or products. This not withstanding the FDA references considering that lots of people die waiting for the FDA to give them permission to purchase what people in other countries find life saving. It's simply an abuse of government coercive power in the name of the people - we've seen that abused concept before! So FDA approval is totally irrelevant. Evidence of fraud is relevant. The claim of the assertions not being independently verifiable is relevant. One must apply the scale from Certain to Probable to Possible to Unlikely to Disproven or just contradictory.

But now let me get to the other issue. I have used Scrum successfully for many years in my consulting and coaching of teams. I independently think about and take responsibility for everything I recommend and the definition of every term I use. Scrum I redefine from the "framework" usage by the Scrum community and founders to call it an "interaction model". That is the a model for interaction between members of a cross-functional creative SW dev. team and between that team and those paying them for their creative work. In addition I use a very prescriptive model of Scrum/Story board that delivers many simultaneous dimensions of insight in one view. This, in the manner of that master of visual communication of information, Edward Tufte, who I have also hosted at at two Boston ACM seminars in past years. So with the first-hand responsibility I bring to applying Scrum in an appropriately contextual manner, I am most grateful for the Scrum model as a base to build upon - and for the market conditioning other have done for me.

So for all those reasons, I would never discredit Scrum as not working. On the other hand. I do it using my carefully defined terms and carefully presented with the WHY for every nit. And I expect no one to follow my advice unless it makes sense to them with their fullest integrity and independent judgement. I find it a truly great tool to manage focus, teamwork, rapid value delivery, transparency to all stakeholders, plus continuous learning and improvement. And you are right, it is not a science AND it is not a pseudo-science.

Jay Conne
Lean/Agile/Scrum/XP Coach and Trainer
jconne@gmail.com

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