Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. 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'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 15 December 2019

"Book Keengwe" regularly sends me what appears to be academic spam emails about computing education

I've not managed to make sense of this one yet. It appears that there really is someone at North Dakota called [Redacted] or [Redacted] Keengwe who does write academic books but I'd be surprised if they're the author of these emails, as they seem pretty spammy. Possibly Book Keengwe is misusing the real person's name and the university name to spam anyone with an academic email address so I've let the university know, though I realise there's probably not much they can do. The emails all come from a Gmail account rather than the UND address, so a little suspicious perhaps.

Because I wasn't initially certain that they were spam I'd replied to a few of them, initially to explain that "I have no competence in this area and assume these emails have been sent in error, Jo", in response to a request about 'Handbook of Research on Online Pedagogical Models for Mathematics Teacher Education' (I think that reply was sent last year).

More recently in November 2019 I replied more tersely "Please do not send these requests to me. I am deleting them unread and have no interest or expertise in this area. I have previously told you this but it seems to have not made a difference." in response to a request about a "Book on Innovations in Non-Traditional Educational Practices - Proposals Due Dec. 1, 2019". I was assured in a reply that would be the last I'd hear of it. Hmm.

At this point I set things up so that anything from this email address would be deleted before coming to my mailbox. This works well on my computer... but annoyingly not on my iPhone, so I spotted another one this morning, reproduced below with the subject 'Equity in Computer Science - Final Call for Chapter Proposals - Due Dec 23, 2019'. This entire blog post (and my contacting the U of N Dakota) is my response to that ;)

I'd also previously contacted my employer's IT helpdesk and JISC (who host academic email addresses) and asked them to stop this spam ('Handbook of Research on Integrating Computer Science and Computational Thinking in K-12 Education') from reaching any other academic address but alas they can't as we've all moved on to Office 365 so Microsoft are now in charge of what's spam. So I'm publishing this blog post in case anyone else is searching for Book Keengwe-related information.

While I do work in computing education I'm an administrator not an academic so unsuitable as an author, and I'm certainly not going to ping out manuscripts to people with no information about how royalties, if any, would be shared. There was a PDF attached with the email but I've deleted it unread in case it was iffy.





Text (names redacted)

CALL FOR CHAPTER PROPOSALS
Proposal Submission Deadline: December 23, 2019

Handbook of Research on Equity in Computer Science in P-16 Education

A book edited by: [Redacted], University of North Dakota, USA & [Redacted] Montclair State University, USA.

INTRODUCTION
The growing trend for high-quality computer science (CS) in school curricula has drawn attention in U.S. classrooms. With an increasingly information-based and global society, CS education coupled with computational thinking (CT) has become an integral part of an experience for all students, given that these foundational concepts and skills intersect cross-disciplinarily with a set of mental competencies that are relevant in their daily lives and work. While many agree that these concepts should be taught in schools, there are systematic inequities that exist to prevent students from accessing related CS or CT skills. Therefore, this handbook will highlight relevant issues, perspectives, and challenges in P-16 environments that relate to the inequities that students face in accessing CS or CT and methods for challenging these inequities in hopes to achieve the CSforAll movement.

OBJECTIVE OF THE BOOK
The chapters will highlight the issues, perspectives, and challenges faced in P-16 environments (i.e. gender and racial imbalances of students in CS classes; population of growing CS teachers who are predominantly white and male; what and who are the high-school gate keepers of CS courses; teacher preparation or lack of faculty expertise; professional development programs; and college admission criteria for CS programs). Book will also explore the challenges and policies that are created to limit access, and thus, reinforce systems of power and privilege.

Suggested themes include, but are not limited to the following: CS/CT Definitions—for who/whom is it intended for; CS Standards; CS/CT Access—what are the implications and limitations across P-16; CS courses & AP Testing: Current Numbers; Teacher Preparation in CS: Preservice and Inservice programs; Evaluation and assessment of CS/CT; and Suggestions and strategies for challenging existing notions.

SUBMISSION PROCEDURE
Potential contributors are invited to submit 1-2 pages chapter proposal (or full chapter draft) outlining the proposed topic and/or issue to be discussed on or December 23, 2019. Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by January 5, 2020 about the status of their proposals and will be sent chapter guidelines. Full chapters are expected on or before March 15, 2020. All chapters will undergo double-blind review and returned to authors with suggestions for improvement. Revisions are expected by April 15, 2020. Final Materials are expected by May 1, 2019.

Inquiries and submissions can be forwarded electronically (Word document) to:
[Redacted, but name and affiliation used is a real person, but a different non-academic email address is given]




Wednesday, 4 December 2019

What Doctors Don't Tell You magazine returns as Get Well magazine in UK shops

tl;dr: I've asked Sainsbury's why they've started selling Get Well magazine (also known as What Doctors Don't Tell You and WDDTY) again, having previously stopped selling it, and their spokesperson said -
“We stock over 700 different publications and, with the exception of explicit material, we do not routinely make a judgement on content.

We are however aware of the concerns around this magazine so have taken the decision to review whether we will continue to stock it.”
 Of course they could decide that their review has convinced them to continue to stock it...


It seems I've not written on this blog about What Doctors Don't Tell You aka WDDTY aka Get Well (its new branding) magazine since 2014. Around that time (2012-2014) the magazine was on sale in a number of UK supermarkets before the efforts of doctors, scientists, activists and skeptics got it largely removed, though it crept back in a few places.

Concerns about the content of and advice given in the magazine had done the rounds in mainstream and social media / blogs. Tom Whipple reported in The Times (Oct 2013) that there had been a "Call to ban magazine for scaremongering". Dr Margaret McCartney tore strips off it ("ridiculously alarmist") in an exchange with one of the editors, Lynne McTaggart, and umpired by Dr Mark Porter on Inside Health (Oct 2012). A big chunk of the advertising within the magazine was found to be in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority's codes.

The best place to get an overview of the catalogue of the various magazine articles considered problematic is on Josephine Jones' blog: "WDDTY: My master list" which links most of the mainstream articles and blogs, and gives a timeline of events.

Earlier this year the magazine sent an email to subscribers highlighting that they were rebranding the version of the magazine on sale in UK stores as 'Get Well' though keeping the 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' branded version for subscribers.

The magazine now seems to have reappeared in Sainsbury's and concerns were immediately raised about that and about one article in particular called 'Reversing Autism' which is a story of one woman and her autistic son. There has been an emerging Twitter campaign to ask @Sainsbury's to remove the magazine from its shelves and shops. I contacted their press team, explained I was going to write about the magazine's reappearance there and asked if they'd be happy to explain why they decided to start stocking it again. The quote above was the reply. I hope they will decide to stop stocking it but have spotted the ambiguity in the spokesperson's quote.

I have not seen the magazine myself 'in the wild' for a number of years but have no reason to doubt everyone on Twitter who's saying it's reappeared.

My favourite of WDDTY's errors
On 1 July 2014 the magazine editors wrote a Facebook post about several of the people who'd written or complained about the magazine and they somehow managed to include me in this. Amusingly there were a number of errors in there (my name spelled wrongly, they said I worked for someone I'd never heard of, my efforts to get them to correct this went nowhere) but more interesting was the tiny error they made about how many people followed Simon Singh on Twitter.

Here's what the post said "Their numbers aren’t large (there’re only about 80 of them in total), and they aren’t well followed ... Simon Singh, just 44 actively following him..."

Here's a screenshot of his Twitter profile from 2014.

As of 2014 Simon was following 44 people and had 54.1k followers.

They'd simply got it the wrong way around, an easy thing to fix. Everyone pointed this error out assuming that the 'cognitive typo' as I called it would be quietly fixed and we'd move on.

In an unusual scene in the Facebook comment thread they instead offered this clarification - "Just to set the record straight.Simon Singh has had 54k people over the years who have, at some point, tuned into his Tweets. But the actual number of people who are actively following him at this time are, as I said, 44." 

This is just not true.




Thursday, 21 November 2019

There's apparently a complaint in with the Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman about the NHMRC's Homeopathy report

Update 4 Dec 2019: I've received a holding letter from the Ombudsman while they consider my request.



Well this'll be confusing :) The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released a report on homeopathy in 2015 pointing out that it's not much cop and shouldn't be recommended as a treatment. Lots of homeopaths were very cross about that and apparently three homeopathy-supporting societies* put in a complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman the following year, in August 2016, saying that the NHMRC had done wrong.

It's now November 2019 (three years and three months on) and to my knowledge the Commonwealth Ombudsman has not produced a verdict (or indeed a peep) about the apparent complaint.

In April 2017 Edzard Ernst reported on an article in What Doctors Don't Tell You which said that a complaint had been submitted. The Australian Skeptics society tried (in May 2017 and August 2017) to find out if there really had been a submission to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and were told by a source in August there that there was no record of submission.

A news article from ECHAMP on 22 January 2019 said that the Commonwealth Ombudsman's verdict was imminent. Still no sign of it though.

I've emailed the Commonwealth Ombudsman (copy below) to see if I can find out any other information. I'm not an Australian citizen so they might just ignore me, or they might be unable to tell me anything about an ongoing investigation. It's also possible that I've phrased things in the wrong way and I need to get better at FOIA requests!

*The Australian Homeopathy Association, Complementary Medicines Australia and the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. According to the Homeopathy Research Institute these three bodies used some of the HRI's own analysis of the NHMRC 2015 report. The HRI wrote about the complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman but the other three organisations appear to have been rather quiet about it.



Dear Commonwealth Ombudsmen and Ombudswomen :-)

I am writing to you under the FOIA scheme to find out about the existence and status of a complaint apparently made by homeopathy societies to you in 2016 about the conduct of and report from the NHMRC. Please note that I am not an Australian citizen (I'm British) so I'm not sure if you will be able to respond to me but if so please let me know if there's a charge, I will be happy to contribute. My questions are in red.

The reason that I am asking if any complaint has been made is because the existence of this submission from homeopathic societies has been called into question by the Australian Skeptics who could find no record of it (in April 2017). They also reported (in August 2017) that it appears that no submission was received by you, so its status is a bit of a mystery!

On the Homeopathy Research Institute's (HRI) page (below) they claim in the first paragraph that the Commonwealth Ombudsman is in receipt of a complaint submission from the CMA, AHA and ATMS August 2016. 1. Please can you confirm if you have received a complaint document from those organisations relating to the NHMRC?

The second paragraph implies that you made an initial assessment of their complaint and found that it was of sufficient merit to warrant an investigation. 2. Please could you confirm that you (a) made this assessment of its merit and (b) found that it warranted further investigation.

3. Could you also confirm if an investigation was launched and what meetings (dates) were set up and with whom (organisations).


Source / Linked PDF for Executive Summary

A news article from 22 January 2019, from European Coalition on Homeopathic & Anthroposophic Medicinal Products (ECHAMP) indicated that your verdict on this report was 'imminent'. 4. Are you preparing a verdict on any complaint you've received from these homeopathy societies?

Source


5. If so, will such a verdict be made public, and when?

Thank you very much
Jo Brodie






Wednesday, 13 November 2019

I don't think Argos is giving away free Black Friday vouchers today with "shopgift.win"

I've just seen a Facebook post suggesting that Argos is giving away a voucher today only as special deal. The link / URL / address is a little unusual in that it contains argos•co•uk but also has shopgift•win at the end of it, as part of the same link.

argos•co•uk•shopgift•win as opposed to argos•co•uk/shopgift•win

This made me a bit suspicious so I did a WHOIS search to find out a bit more by pasting the full link here http://whois.domaintools.com/

It returned this page http://whois.domaintools.com/shopgift.win telling me that the domain was registered 3 days ago. It also made it very clear (look at the lack of argos in that link) what the domain actually was. So I don't think it's really from Argos. 

Firefox also helpfully greys out bits of addresses to highlight what's the domain and what might not be.

shopgift•win is in black text, it's not really argos.co.uk

argos.co.uk is in black
In taking the next screenshot of the anonymised post on Facebook I also spotted the little info 'i' icon beween the red logos and the grey panel at the bottom, on the right...


... clicking on that tells me the same thing as above (useful info from Facebook which is a plus)


The voucher page asks questions and invites you to share a Facebook link - I'd recommend ignoring it. As I didn't find any other information about it on Google, Argos' page or on social media I thought I'd write this up in case anyone else was wondering if it was real and searched, as I did. I'm not exactly sure what the purpose of this is other than to get a link shared and perhaps access Facebook information.




Sunday, 10 November 2019

Support pedestrians at Globe Road / Mile End Road - my submission to Tower Hamlets Local Infrastructure Fund consultation

Update 14 Nov 2019: Found this petition to the GLA (Mayor's office), by Assembly Member Unmesh Desai, from March 2018 https://www.london.gov.uk/petitions/mile-end-roadglobe-road-crossing which says that "We understand these locations are under TfL’s jurisdiction as the A11 [Mile End Road] is a “red route” and that Tower Hamlets Council has also raised these concerns directly, but TfL have said they have no plans to change the traffic signals to introduce a pedestrian phase or any crossings."

tl;dr The Globe Road / Mile End Road pedestrian crossing improvement project

Recently I spotted a large advert near Stepney Green telling me that Tower Hamlets is undertaking a building expansion of some sort, and that developers are required to stump up some cash* for the Local Infrastructure Fund (LIF) with a link pointing to
https://towerhamlets.gov.uk/lif

When I arrive at Stepney Green tube station I have to get across Globe Road which is not easy as traffic comes from three directions and there is no pedestrian-gap in traffic flow. When traffic is turning left (in or out of Globe Road) the traffic coming from a third direction is stopped. When that traffic flow is ON the other one is stopped, but there's no point when the pedestrians have right of way - we just have to watch the road and wait for a gap. It's appalling.

Perhaps counterintuitively there are relatively few accidents or injuries there and I expect this is because pedestrians are mostly extra cautious. I've seen braver (or blither) road-crossers having to pick up speed halfway across when they spot a car bearing down on them, and cars often honk at pedestrians as it is always some car's right of way at that spot.

I'm glad it's relatively safe but it's useless in terms of supporting walking as it prioritises road traffic to the entire exclusion of pedestrians. I'd like Tower Hamlets to look again at this (I wrote to them about it in 2014 and blogged it here).

Below is my submission.

Useful websites
https://towerhamlets.gov.uk/lif points to https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/planning_and_building_control/Infrastructure_planning/local_infrastructure_fund.aspx which points (via a large green 'Take part in the consultation' button) to https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/council_and_democracy/consultations/2019_Local_Infrastructure_Fund_Consultation.aspx at which point you're shown a tiny map and have to decide which area you want. Mine's LIF Area 1 (https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/GSR45/).

These are the projects that have been approved already: https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/LIF_Projects_Awarded_Funding.pdf

My submission
1. I work in the borough
2. I selected "The road network (eg improving road access)" as my priority issue from a long list of important things, I could have selected loads
3. I dissed question 2 a bit ("Q2 is a bit silly, surely. All of these are important but I am writing to you solely about one aspect.")
4. I was asked to pick my top 3 from Q2 but had only picked one so put it again
- Then I was asked to outline my suggested improvement project (see below).
5. Demographic info about me - work locally, age 45-54, female, no health problems, white, straight, no religion, British, single, not pregnant in last year (!) - gosh they want a lot of info!

I've added bold and emphasis and hyperlinks in the bits below, the form is just plain text. The image wasn't included in the submission but added here for clarity, and to break up the text a bit!

What is the issue that needs addressing?
Title: The Globe Road / Mile End Road pedestrian crossing improvement project.

Better road crossing markings and traffic control at Stepney Green station, at the junction between Globe Road (B120) and Mile End Road (A11).


Pinched from Google Maps




How do you think the issue could be addressed by a new infrastructure project?
The problem: Pedestrians are very poorly served at this junction. There is no crossing. There is no time point in the traffic management signalling pattern that is *for* pedestrians, only for road vehicles. Pedestrians must wait for a gap in traffic to cross. This is easy enough for fit young people and those already familiar with the crossing, but not for older, slower or disabled people. Cars (technically correctly) assume anyone crossing is in their way and honk at people unhelpfully. It is an unpleasant place to be forced to cross.

Background to my submission: I've previously written (in 2014) requesting a new crossing (https://brodiesnotes.blogspot.com/2014/01/crossing-globe-road-near-stepney-green.html) and learned that it had been explored but had been deemed not feasible at the time. I also learned that there are relatively few accidents or injuries at the crossing - perhaps because people aren't sure what to do so behave more cautiously (pedestrians at least). While a lack of accidents is good it doesn't solve the difficulties some residents and visitors will have in walking in that area.

This is a 'sub-radar' problem I think. Because relatively few people are being injured it is easy to assume that the current crossing 'works' - but if you want to encourage and support people to walk then please make it easier for them to do so.

Solution 1: I think a proper crossing is the best and safest given the volume of people going to and from Stepney Green station. It's in constant use. It's a shame if cars are inconvenienced but I think Tower Hamlets should be prioritising non-car transport at this particular spot right by a tube station and also in these 'let's get everyone walking more' times.

Solution 2: indicate to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians that the area does not have a 'crossing cycle' for pedestrians. I don't know of other examples of how this might be implemented (perhaps this will be a pioneering road crossing format, invented by Tower Hamlets transport geniuses!). There are several possible examples -

Solution 2a:
  A sign to warn drivers that pedestrians are crossing and to be careful / watch out for them.

Solution 2b: paint the road surface in a different colour, investigate how (temporary?) signage could train pedestrians and drivers about how to use the 'crossing' - basically to remind cars that they don't have any particular right of way over pedestrians. By the way there are no instructions at a zebra crossing as everyone has learned how to use them.

Solution 2c: resurface the road to force a speed reduction as cars enter Globe Road from either Mile End (turning left if coming from Whitechapel) or turning right if coming via White Horse Lane - this is the more problematic traffic route).

Solution 3: Alert pedestrians with a sign pointing out the zebra crossing a few yards away up Globe Road by the post office. This involves an additional walk but may suit some, and it's not particularly obvious that it exists when at the junction.

Solution 4:
Force drivers exiting White Horse Lane to turn left onto Mile End Road before implementing some U-turn arrangement on Mile End Road itself so that all traffic entering Globe Road from Mile End Road is turning left

Solution 5: I'm only including the concept of 'flex space' (https://stepsfromthecanal.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/lets-talk-about-flex-space/) or shared space so that it can be discounted as it seems to be not that helpful in practice, and I suspect the area is too small to accommodate such a thing. The blog post linked in stepsfromthecanal is based in Canada but points out some wider problems with flex space.

Misc: I assume a ramped bridge across the road (!) is out of the question but I suppose I should mention it. Helpful to tube users (but not as much use for non-tube pedestrians) would be to have an exit on the same side of the road as the Co-op in addition to the current arrangement, but I realise that might be quite tricky.

Please tell us the exact location of the proposed project (road name, post code etc):

What 3 Words: https://what3words.com/stages.video.under

Google Map - https://www.google.com/maps/place/B120,+Bethnal+Green,+London/@51.5219429,-0.046597,20z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x48761cd78ded20ed:0x26c09ce6a775bb33!8m2!3d51.5246607!4d-0.0486583

I have also previously blogged about this problem https://brodiesnotes.blogspot.com/2014/01/crossing-globe-road-near-stepney-green.html





*Background from this page
"Tower Hamlets is one of the fastest growing boroughs in the country.

We know that every new development increases the pressure on things like your GP surgery or your school. It could also mean spaces like parks, roads and cycle paths feel busier than before.

That’s why we require developers building in Tower Hamlets to contribute to the Local Infrastructure Fund (LIF), a pot of money that is used to pay for projects in the communities where development is taking place.

We expect the fund to generate around £6 million between April 2019 and March 2020.

On Monday 30 September 2019, we launched a consultation to find out what you, our residents, think we should be spending our LIF money on. There will be an online questionnaire as well as a series of events held across the borough."