Mis establos!!!

None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained). Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

I work on the EPSRC-funded @CHI_MED project; all views are my own. I used to work at Diabetes UK (until 22 June 2012) as a Science Information Officer (effectively a science-specialist librarian but not quite a clinical librarian). Before that it was ScienceLine and back in the mists of time it was lipid chemistry & neuroscience.

Contact: @JoBrodie or reconfigure this email address me.meeeee @ gmail.com (replace me and meeeee with obvious letters, eg... jo.brodie@ etc).

Oh OK then it's jo dot brodie at gmail dot com

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What I'm listening to today, the #Harkive project

The first tweet I saw today was this from Pete Paphides, followed by the second one.

I'm going to take part and will update this blog post today with the music and sounds I chose to listen to today, how I listened to it and why.

7.30am - first three minutes (instrumental) of 'Matthew the Man' by Iona, on YouTube viewed on iPhone. Link copied from desktop to Pocket, picked up on phone app - YouTube plays in-app it seems.

This is a song I discovered in a shop that had some awful muzak, but occasionally brightened listeners' ears with this track that reminded me a bit of Porcupine Tree. It was noticeably different from the other musical fare on offer so tended to stick out. Not that long ago I discovered that the only reason I ever heard it in the first place was because the shop was trying to stream music but the stream had failed and the device was playing this, its default track - so I learned a little bit about muzak infrastructure too. More about the Imagesound AHD1 here: If you've ever heard this piece of music in a chainstore this is probably why. - with some very nerdy comments.

8am - 9.30am - no music, having my gas meter changed and had Radio 4 (on a DAB radio* that I'm not that fond of) on in the kitchen. Off the top of my head I can't think of any songs about, or featuring, gas that I particularly like so nothing to report.

9.30 - well now I'm listening to Tracking the Lincolnshire poacher (see appendix below) cos I started playing it on YouTube. It is a bit spooky.

10.00 - and of course that reminded me of the spooky going on from the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, 'Alchemists of Sound'. It used to be on YouTube but isn't anymore, which is a shame as they've no plans to release it as a DVD (I asked 2 Entertain who deal with that sort of thing for the BBC and they said no).

11am-12.43pm - no music played, made the foolish mistake to try and tackle my work inbox but in the process I seem to have deleted almost all of my emails (all the ones that I'd carefully put into folders). Most irritating.

12.44pm - listening to Clannad's 'Robin the Hooded Man' theme tune for the ITV series about Robin Hood that was on in the mid 1980s. This was played in a background window on YouTube, next up is the theme tune for ITV's Sherlock Holmes series (example from The Musgrave Ritual). Last week I went to a rather good concert where they played some of the music for the current BBC Sherlock series, here's 'Redbeard' from Series 3.

2pm - trying to recover some lost emails so not listening to much music in a carefree fashion, but generally peeved ;) Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb' was something a friend introduced me to when I was 12 at school. I spent ages listening to it on a cassette tape recorder device under my pillow (boarding school) and saving battery by rewinding the tape with a biro. My mum always told me I'd grow out of the music I liked as a child (this also includes Jean-Michel Jarre) but so far, no.

Didn't listen to anything until a bit of music was played at a meeting at 5.30pm, don't know what it was but can probably find out.

Heard a bit of piped music in Royal Festival Hall when I popped in there on my way home, then on way to ferry heard some live music (a singer and a guitarist, separately).

Back home, watching the film Made in Dagenham on BBC Four - enjoying the music for that. The last time I watched it I couldn't hear it cos it was so cold I had my small fan heater on :)

*other than televisions I have a constitutional dislike of presets and prefer to be able to take in the entire radio spectrum. I quite like finding oddities down the back of the broadcast spectrum though I've never actually heard one of the numbers stations (hear 'Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher' below for more about these and their assumed use in cryptography / covert communications).

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dr Nancy Malik's homeopathy-supporting website mistakenly implies that it is HON accredited

Health on the Net (HON) accredit websites that offer health information if the website's content passes eight criteria (the 'HON Code'). Once this has been demonstrated the owner is given a bit of code (a 'widget') to add to their site which confirms that their site has been certified as giving good-quality information. This shows on the certified website as a side-panel badge which, if clicked, takes you to a page on HON's website that confirms the validated certificate.

There is another way of checking if a site is accredited. HON have created toolbar widgets for browsers that light up when the browser is visiting a HON-accredited site.

Here's what it looks like when visiting Patient.co.uk

and here's what it looks like when visiting Dr Nancy Malik's Science-based Homeopathy site

If you look for the blue and red icon on the right the difference is clear.

The website, Science-based Homeopathy, is not accredited by Health on the Net - though it was previously.

Health on the Net's certificate for Dr Malik's website currently says 'invalid' in bright red letters: https://www.healthonnet.org/HONcode/Conduct.html?HONConduct822331

Interestingly Dr Malik (or her webmaster) has removed the badge from her website and replaced it with the picture below. The text of the link on her site is 'verify here' which implies that visitors clicking that link will be able to check the validity of the certificate.

In fact visitors are now taken to a screenshot of the earlier certificate (when the site was still validated). The screenshot is hosted on Google, not Health on the Net and so is not 'live' as a valid certificate.

The person running this website (it may not be Dr Malik) appears to have removed a now-invalid certificate in order to replace it with an older once-valid copy to give the impression that the site is still certificated. Perhaps this is an honest mistake and not done deliberately but now that so many have pointed this out it seems strange for the error not to have been fixed.

In short, Dr Nancy Malik's website 'Science-based Homeopathy' has lost its HONCode certification.

Strangely, the site also hosts a blog and one of the posts* attempts to explain this away. The old certificate is shown on the post and the text around it implies that re-certification is imminent after a short audit period. This seems to be quite unlikely.

During the audit period HON did not rescind the certificate but instead stated that it was under review ('re-exam'). The fact that it has now been changed to 'invalid' strongly suggests that the audit period has finished and that there will be no re-certification unless significant changes are made on the website to bring it in line with the HON Code. However, the strange behaviour regarding the way the real (invalid) certificate has been obscured on the site doesn't really suggest that this site would be trusted again in future.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Once embedded in a blog post a tweet will stay there even if deleted from Twitter (in theory)

This is another one of those posts that's really just for me ;)

On 1 May 2011 I sent a tweet and then, a day later I deleted it. It's still there though because before deleting it I added it to Storify, and now it's trapped there forever. The take-home lesson from this is that even if a tweet's later deleted, once it's been saved in Storify it's permanently saved (you can also take screenshots etc).

I've never tried it in a blog post but am expecting it to work because Twitter's help files indicate that it should*. An embedded tweet inherits all the information that lets someone who's reading it on a blog post (instead of on Twitter) interact with it - they can favourite or RT it. If the tweet is deleted from Twitter this is no longer possible but the text of the tweet (and who sent it and when) remains.

Let's see... I just sent this and will soon delete it.

URL of tweet: https://twitter.com/JoBrodie/status/487658994925072385

Embedded version:

Now to delete it and see what happens. (According to the info below if I made my account private that would have the same effect).

Now that the tweet is deleted you can see what it looks like above, and this is how it had appeared on this post before I deleted it from Twitter.


*"What if a user deletes a Tweet after it has been embedded on another website? Similarly, what happens to Tweets from users that change their Tweets from public to protected (or become suspended)?

In all of these cases, Twitter branding and Tweet actions will be removed from the embedded Tweet, but the content of the Tweet will still be visible."

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

How does Google's 'right to be forgotten' work? Actual question, not rhetorical trope :) #R2BF

Possibly this will be solved by 'reading more around the topic' but I've not spotted the answer yet and someone must know.

How does Google's "right to be forgotten" info removal service actually work?

If there is a web page that says stuff you don't like do you ask Google to
(a) stop indexing that page / those pages in the searches (ie provide Google with a list of pages for it to hide)
(b) not show in its search results any pages that mention specific keywords
(c) some other method

If (a) then presumably this can easily be thwarted by reposting the content onto a new page with a new address.

Also Google indexes most things on Twitter (admittedly transiently) so if someone was determined they could keep posting stuff there and it would show up in Google (as well as, obviously, on Twitter).

I can see (b) being mildly more successful but Google would have to throttle at the level of search, to prevent each new page with those words showing up. This seems like a lot of hard work.

Also, aren't there sites that monitor the requests made (similar to the ChillingEffects.org site that monitors requests for material under copyright to be removed). They've written on the right to be forgotten but I've not spotted the method Google's using.

If there are, don't bother looking in Google, just go to the relevant site and search there. Eg a Telegraph article I read this morning on R2BF suggests that Google has removed some of the Telegraph's links (suggesting method [a]...) on its search results about someone after they requested it, but searching on the Telegraph's site for the person mentioned in the article brings up other information, whether or not it's indexed on Google.

I'm sure the ethics, privacy, free speech aspects of this are all very interesting but what I'm actually intrigued by is just the practicalities.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Video purportedly showing a cure of motor neurone disease, with #homeopathy - nope

A couple of weeks ago I rather lost my temper with the discussions on the #homeopathy hashtag when someone implied that homeopathy could cure Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and that there was video evidence for this. At the time I managed to break my laptop (a can of diet coke exploded in my bag and it wetted the contacts on my MacBook so for 24 hours it wasn't functional) but it's all better now.

Here's the video: "Case of MND Restored to Healthy State with Homeopathy By Prof Dr A K Gupta" and below I go through each of the segments, struggling to make any sense of it.

It's difficult to follow what's being said. Someone is definitely speaking some English words but the rest is spoken in an Indian language and I think there is also a translator, and the sound is not good.

At no point is any evidence offered that the patient has or ever had a correct diagnosis of motor neurone disease. We are presented with a man who is unwell (coughing, difficulty speaking) and we all seem to be accepting that he has MND. Perhaps he does but this video doesn't bother to offer any robust confirmation.

We first see the patient on 10 July 2010 and the screen titles notes that he is experiencing "Coughing with difficulty in speaking, falls back when sitting". I cannot understand what is being said but the doctor (presumably) is asking a series of questions and the patient answers them through coughing.

We next see the patient on 11 August 2010 where his "Coughing, Fasciculations* (and) Muscle Pain (are apparently) Reduced", though he seems to me to be in more discomfort. *involuntary muscle twitching which can be of the harmless eye-twitch variety if you're a bit tired to twitching that's associated with a variety of more serious conditions.

Then on 15 December 2015 his "Speech (is) slightly better, Fasciculations much better" - the clip is too short to see how he's really changed but he seems fairly similar to the video from his first clip. Of course it's impossible for me (who doesn't speak the language) to know what's going on but it looks very much like the poor man is anxious and appears to be looking at someone else for support - if that was what he was after I hope he was getting it.

11 March 2011 "Speech nasal but much better, Choking Better, No More Falling Back" - the man's speech seems worse if anything but he looks happier at least.

We're now 2m 35s into an 8 minute video and there's been NO CONFIRMATION about what condition he may have or have had.

10 September 2011 "Swallowing improved, overall symptoms are better, patient feels stable" - I keep hearing the word 'fasciculation' and wonder if the doctor is just asking him if his fasciculations are better. While I agree that patients should be asked about their symptoms it would seem that fasciculations produce signs that are fairly obvious.

There's a risk, with self-reported improvements, that the doctor hears what they want to hear... the coughing seems better but the speech doesn't.

31st October 2011 "Better in general, speech affected due to Pollution of crackers during Diwali" - er, what? The crackers were polluted, or eating crackers polluted treatment? No indication given. I'm none the wiser.

7.1.12 "Choking & Suffociation completely cured" - I'm glad to hear it but at no point in this video (we're 5m 21s in) has there been any evidence offered that the man has ever been correctly diagnosed with any particular health condition, let alone MND.

No information is given about his other treatment (is he under the care of a neurologist?), none about the natural course of whatever condition he might have (does it progress relentlessly or are there periods of remission). Is it possible that he has been misdiagnosed and has another condition that is resolving by itself (so far I've not seen much evidence of dramatic improvement overall, and of course I am probably being led to look for things by the intertitles telling me how he's improving in certain aspects).

With the benefit of the doubt I'm going to assume that it's not fake (ie not an actor portraying symptoms) but of course that can't be ruled out as literally no evidence is offered for what's going on in the video. It's just a man talking to another man in an office in a language I don't understand. This is emphatically NOT evidence for homeopathy. If you're using this as evidence for homeopathy I recommend not doing that as it doesn't prove anything and the video is incomprehensible enough to be working against you.

At this point in the video I'm struggling to see much improvement in his speech, though it is slightly better - to be honest I didn't know what his speech was like previously.

At 6m 33s the intertitles state "Wife thanks homeopathy and Dr A K Gupta in restoring her husband's almost bed ridden condition & inability to eat / drink", then "Lost voice, choking, fasciculations back to near NORMAL HEALTHY STATE. Now he does not has (sic) to write to communicate."

We then see the man's wife (presumed) sitting in front of a calendar from Dr Reckeweg (seller of homeopathic tissue salts, though possibly not in the UK) who then (apparently) reads something from a cue card (she's looking away from the camera unless a question is asked, though perhaps she's just sitting opposite her husband and is looking at him). As I don't understand the language I don't know what she's saying.

Having now watched the full video at the request of a homeopathy supporter I have to assume I'm being expertly trolled and have been bested by their quick-thinking mockery. Well done homeopathy supporters and I think we can all agree that this video offers zero evidence in favour of (or against, it literally offers no evidence of any kind) homeopathy.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association were also tagged in the tweet sent to me with the video link so I had a look at their pages to see what they say about homeopathy. Sadly they don't say "it's a load of nonsense" but they do at least make it clear that you need to be talking to your doctor:

The objective of homeopathy is to alleviate illness or conditions by stimulating the body’s own natural healing processes. Homeopathy can be applied to the symptoms of many illnesses, as well as causes. As people can present varying symptoms, separate remedies may used for the same condition or illness for different individuals.

It is essential that a qualified homeopath be consulted, as their first task is to identify which remedies may work for the individual involved.

Note: it is important that you consult your doctor before taking any homeopathic remedy to ensure there is no conflict with any other medication you may be taking."

See also
Motor Neurone Disease Association website
The Homeopathy Awareness Week website on why people should be very, very aware of homeopathy.