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, 26 May 2019

Homeopathy company in Germany issues lawyerly notices to skeptics for saying homeopathy doesn't work

Yesterday I read a new post from Edzard Ernst highlighting that a homeopathic company in Germany, Hevert Arzneimittel, had sent legal letters to homeopathy skeptics asking them to stop saying that homeopathy doesn't work and to sign an agreement to that effect or they'd have to pay just over 5,000 euros to the company.

A couple of the German skeptics affected have tweeted copies of their letters. Some Twitter apps / platforms have a 'translate' button below tweets, if not you can paste the text into Google Translate and select German to English.

In early May another homeopathy group reported Bernd Kramer to the German press association for his criticisms of homeopathy, which he tweets, and he adds updates to his thread eventually leading to the tweeted legal letter from Hevert shared on 16 May 2019.

On 24 May Natalie Grams tweeted her own legal letter (English translation), by which time tweeted responses to @HevertNatur's Twitter account had become robustly critical and mocking, and voluminous.

As far as I'm aware people who received the letters had not been critical of the company itself, they'd just pointed out that homeopathy doesn't work.

Given the phenomenon of the Streisand Effect (drawing even more attention to something when seeking to remove some small level of attention already received, see also Verschlimmbesserung) it seems an odd action to take, as lots of people are now sharing info about the legal action. As a consequence they are now criticising the company as well as reiterating that homeopathy does not work with the rallying cry "Homöopathie wirkt nicht über den Placebo-Effekt hinaus" or "Homeopathy does not work beyond the placebo effect".

Today Hevert has published a statement on its Facebook page (though not mentioned at time of writing on its Twitter page) explaining the action it has taken in trying to prevent criticism of homeopathy in Germany. It's interesting to note that they specifically acknowledge the effectiveness of UK skeptics^ in getting legal restrictions introduced on homeopathy* in Britain, which followed from commentary that was critical about homeopathy (a pattern they are hoping to avoid occurring in Germany). Again the (over 200) comments on the page are now critical of the company's actions and asking for evidence that homeopathy is more effective than placebo.

The comments on Edzard's post are interesting and helpful and put things into context in terms of German law. Commenter Joseph Kuhn suggests that the company may be able to assume that, legally, authorised homeopathic products are considered effective: "The German law on drugs assumes efficacy for authorised homeopathic remedies (remedies with an indication)" and so perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect people to respect that assessment.

Eppur (non) si muove, however.

^this includes scientists, doctors, patients - not just bloggers
*For example homeopathy has largely been removed from the NHS and is no longer allowed as a first line treatment by vets. There's also been a tightening of permitted marketing claims and much greater scrutiny of them.




Saturday, 18 May 2019

On the overreach of homeopaths and why homeopathy now finds itself in difficulty



There's a scene in Family Guy where Peter (the dad) asks to see the newspaper (Brian the family dog is reading it) and expresses surprise at the lack of mention of a certain ornithological piece. As Brian starts to ask Peter what he means Stewie (the baby) tries to stop him, but too late, Peter starts singing Surfin' Bird.

I can't help wondering if my poor friends think the same whenever homeopathy is mentioned in my earshot ;)

To most people homeopathy is a harmless pastime, you feel a bit under the weather, you take a pill 'for' it (or 'for' you - it's never entirely clear), you get better. If asked they might ascribe the getting better to the homeopathy and ignore the possibility that they'd have got better anyway. Friends of skeptics probably wonder why we get so exercised about this. Here's why.

If homeopaths and homeopathy stuck to "helping people feel a bit better when they're under the weather" - let's call that Moderate Homeopathy - I'd expect you'd not hear much of a peep from doctors, nurses, vets, scientists, patients, skeptic activists and anyone who's ever given a sideways look at a homeopath opining that they can cure or prevent a serious disease - let's call that Extremist Homeopathy.

As is often the case Extremist Homeopathy flourishes in the vacuum of Moderate Homeopathy's utter failure to call it out. It's incredibly rare to hear a homeopath correct or criticise another homeopath's ideas or pronouncements and I can only think of one example (if you know of others please let me know). Peter Fisher (a doctor and homeopath who sadly died last year in a cycling accident in London) strongly criticised those homeopaths who were claiming that homeoprophylaxis (the preventive wing of homeopathy) could stop people from getting malaria if they took homeopathic vaccinations or pills. It can't. He was pretty cross about them having said this (as part of a BBC undercover operation(1)) because it was a harmful thing to say (people could become very ill) - and of course it did the reputation of homeopathy no favours at all.
"I'm very angry about it because people are going to get malaria - there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won't find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice." - note, a senior homeopath said that homeopathy could not prevent malaria - it's not just skeptics who said that.
Since 2006 several homeopaths (who would probably consider themselves Moderate) have been sanctioned by the Advertising Standards Authority for making claims that homeopathy can help people with asthma, fertility problems, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, menopause and so on. Unfortunately this is veering into Extremist Homeopathy territory as homeopathy cannot help with any of these. The quality of evidence is not in homeopathy's favour though no-one should deny that people might feel better after talking with a kindly homeopath who is able (thanks to charging for it) to spend time listening to the person and make them feel supported.

The most-obviously Extremist Homeopaths are now offering homeopathy to treat or prevent autism. The mistaken notion that vaccination can lead to autism has led to a three-pronged approach to try and prevent or reverse this - in short a money-making scam which can leave children unvaccinated or harmed by ridiculous protocols.

1. Tell the parent not to vaccinate the child (or, more accurate, create a culture of fear in which parents become reluctant to vaccinate and provide a 'safe haven' for them to come to you) and offer them homeoprophylaxis - a non-existent homeopathic alternative to vaccination.
2. For parents who have vaccinated and are now worried about future autism, offer them a Homeopathic Detox Therapy package where the imagined bad effects of vaccination can be undone with homeopathy.
3. Where a child has autism, imply that it was caused by vaccination or other 'toxins' and that homeopathy and high-dose supplements ('CEASE therapy') can now detox the child and reverse autism(2). There is no requirement (and no-one even to require it) for these homeopaths to be DBS (formerly CRB) checked and no safeguarding of children.

These types of claims, several made by members of the Society of Homeopaths, have made critics of homeopathy sit up and take particular notice and act on their concerns.

Homeopaths seem to believe that they should be in charge of their own regulation (which is a privilege not a right) but until they collectively stop putting people's health at risk their claims are always going to be closely scrutinised by the same people who've gradually helped to cause the public mood to shift away from seeing homeopathy as being harmless or benign.

Homeopaths will not listen to advice from skeptics but in case this can reach any of them here's my attempt nonetheless at telling homeopaths why they now find themselves in defensive-mode and what I think they need to do:

Homeopathy is its own worst enemy. It has massively overreached in its claims. Doing so means skeptics* have taken notice and acted coherently to try address it. Success has been slow going but is very definitely heading in that direction. The evidence is not in favour of homeopathy so when doctors and pressure groups ask the NHS to defund it they are knocking at an open door. Claiming to cure or prevent diseases while being unable to do so is harmful (directly and indirectly) and until homeopaths have the courage to call out other homeopaths over this you can probably expect greater scrutiny, tighter regulation and more unfavourable news articles.  Any annoyance you feel at skeptics for curtailing your claims and activities is because you've failed to regulate yourselves and you put people at potential risk from active or passive harms.

There was probably a case to be made for homeopathy on the NHS, but homepaths blew it by exploiting its presence on the NHS as a cover for more harmful notions. It is true that doctors are not always able to help patients and some doctors had said they found it useful to be able to refer those patients to what could have been just a harmless distraction (the patient would still be under proper medical care and in little danger from having no real treatment if monitored). Losing them to private homeopaths risks losing that oversight and puts patients at risk from dangerous ideas and bad advice.

If homeopaths had stuck to offering people support without making wild claims I probably wouldn't have written a single blog post or tweet, or written to regulators (I've been in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority, three different Trading Standards branches, Professional Standards Authority in the UK as well as regulators in Ireland and the US). I'd not have signed or shared petitions or lent my voice to calls for homeopathy to be defunded by the NHS (successful) by insurance companies (partially successful) or removed as a first line treatment for vets (successful), and I'd not have welcomed the attitudinal change among newspaper editors and TV producers in several countries which means articles and programmes now actively criticise the dangerous claims made, instead of advertising homeopathy clinics as they used to (still do, but to a lesser extent).

*Not just bloggers like me but doctors, nurses, vets, scientists, angry patients, health activists and skeptic bloggers.

References
(1) Malaria advice 'risks lives' (BBC News) 13 July 2006
(2) Homeopaths ‘treat’ autistic children with rabid dog saliva (The Times) 14 April 2019

See also
How homeopaths push useless alternatives to crucial vaccines (The Times) 4 May 2019

The Times view on homeopathic treatments: Dangerous Quackery (The Times) 4 May 2019
Homeopathic alternatives to the measles vaccine pose a risk to public health



Friday, 26 April 2019

Slightly strange ICC Cricket emails from ExAccess Group

Seeing Action Fraud's tweet just now "Looking for tickets to the Men's Cricket World Cup? They can only be purchased directly from the official ticket website: Tickets for sale on other platforms may not be genuine and could leave you out of pocket" reminded me that I'd meant to post something about emails I received on the topic a few weeks ago.

I've no interest in cricket (or watching sport generally) and wouldn't use my work email address to sign up to anything like that so was a bit surprised to get this email on 8 March 2019.

"Subject: England vs Australia - ICC Cricket World Cup - Last Table

Good afternoon,

I have a note to keep you posted on any Cricket deals that come up and I was just wondering on your plans for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

We've just had a private table for 10 guests with full hospitality come in for the sold out England  vs Australia fixture taking place at Lords on Tuesday 25th June 2019.

We can offer you this private table for just £599 per person (+VAT).

Package includes:

  • A Q&A session with former international cricketers
  • Unique views of the players’ practice area
  • Breakfast, three-course lunch and afternoon tea
  • Complimentary drinks, including Champagne
  • Lower Mound Stand or Lower Grand Stand seats (Category 1)
  • Match day programme

Sample itinerary:
  • 9.00am Gates open, breakfast is served
  • 10.30am Play starts
  • 2.00pm Three-course lunch with selected fine wines and coffee
  • 2.45pm Play resumes
  • 6.15pm Scheduled close of play
  • 6.45pm Bar closes
  • 7.15pm Nursery Pavilion closes, guests depart

Demand for hospitality at the World Cup has been unprecedented, with only a limited number of packages remaining available, so if you have an interest please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Kind regards,"


The email ended with a name, phone number and link to the Exclusive Access Group website which you'll need to copy, paste and delete the ^ to visit: www^.exaccess^group.^co.uk

I asked why I'd been emailed as I'd never signed up and didn't hear back. Then I received an identical email on 18 March 2019 from another person working there. At which point I played along, indicated my interest and - of course - someone got back to me. They didn't know how my work adress had been added to their database but eventually promised it would be removed, though it took several emails until 10 April 2019. I also tried the phone number (020 7157 9511) but no-one answered. Perhaps they are a genuine company but it was an odd series of exchanges and when buying sports tickets I'd be extra cautious about where you buy them from.




Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Professional Standards Authority has re-accredited the Society of Homeopaths - CEASE therapy for autism

Reaccreditation document (PDF)

This one is a little surprising. A number of us have been expressing concern to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) about the response by the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) to those of their members who are offering "CEASE" therapy for autism.

The SoH keeps a register of its 997 members (at Sep 2018, all of whom are allowed to use the term RSHom in their marketing material) and the PSA accredits a variety of society registers, including SoH's. SoH therefore runs an Accredited Register (AR) of homeopaths, though accreditation isn't meant to imply that homeopathy works.

Last year the PSA re-accredited the SoH with some provisos that the society would need to satisfy some additional monitoring requirements about those of their members offering CEASE.

Yestesrday the PSA published the latest accreditation and I've not read it all yet but wanted to add something here about it as I've written several times on this topic.

The 21 page PDF from the PSA is here - Society of Homeopaths Annual Review 2018

What surprised me is that the PSA highlighted a problem with members of an AR offering any treatment (whether real or bogus) that claims to treat a protected characteristic such as autism. The SoH still has members offering this, with a range of claims.

Thanks to @UKHomeopathyReg for alerting me.

Also of interest and relevance is that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has referred five homeopaths (I don't know if any of them are SoH members, no reasons to assume that any are) to Trading Standards for further investigation. Last year the ASA sent an Enforcement Notice to 150 UK homeopaths who were making misleading claims to treat or cure autism. Homeopaths should not write CEASE out in full (it stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression) as the full name is an implied health claim, which is misleading.

Why so-called CEASE Therapy claims to 'cure' autism really have to stop - Guy Parker, CEO ASA




Saturday, 13 April 2019

Open air cinema screenings in London 2019

Last updated: 13 April 2019

Every year I get terribly excited at the prospect of open air movies in London and trawl the various listings, trying to capture them all. It's almost impossible to succeed because there are so many (hooray!). If you know of one I've not listed please let me know @JoBrodie on Twitter.

For the last couple of years I've made the list as a Google Spreadsheet as it's easy to sort and manipulate, though not very searchable on Google and other search engines so I do an additional blog post. I miss doing it on Storify but it closed.

The current list lives at Open air cinema screenings in London 2019 and will be updated throughout the year; the 'season' generally runs from late April to late September. There are free screenings too, some during the daytime (using screens unaffected by bright sunlight) and some screenings are part of other events.

Table of Contents
1. General advice
2. List of films so far
3. List of venues so far
4. Previously...

1. General advice - think about bringing the following
Tickets! Make sure you print in advance, or have the e-ticket visible on your device - and make sure you know where the venue actually is (!)
Something warm to wear (even if it's boiling hot in the day it can be surprisingly cool when sitting outside at 10pm)
Something to sit on (plastic bag as a minimum, blanket or cushion better) as you could be sitting on damp grass or hard stone / concrete or pavement
- Pop Up Screens let you bring camping chairs but many other venues don't (some venues already have seating) - check
• Something to avoid rain (umbrellas are generally a bit of a no-no, I'd recommend rain hat or one of those 'pac a mac' things)
• Something to eat and drink and something to eat it off / drink it out of (most films are in public spaces so you can bring your own picnic, check though as venues like Syon Park and Alexandra Palace might not, always check the website's FAQ) - don't forget a bottle opener if you need one
• A plastic bag to take away rubbish / and for sitting on grass
• Loo roll (public toilets being as they are...)

2. List of films so far
10 Things I Hate About You
50 First Dates
A Star is Born
An American Werewolf in London
Aquaman
Aquaman
Back to the Future
Beauty and the Beast
Bend It Like Beckham
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody (sing-along)
Bridget Jones' Diary
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Cars
Casablanca
Clueless
Coco
Crazy Rich Asians
Cruel Intentions
Dirty Dancing
Dumbo
ET The Extra-Terrestrial
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Finding Dory
First Man
Forrest Gump
Frozen
Game of Thrones (TV)
Grease  
Grease (sing-along)
Green Book
Highway Rat
Hook
Hop
Jurassic Park
Labyrinth
Legally Blonde
Leon: The Professional
Les Miserables
Lost in Translation
Love, Simon
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Poppins Returns (sing-along)
Mean Girls
Moana
Monty Python's Life of Brian
Moulin Rouge!
Notting Hill
Pretty Woman
Pulp Fiction
Raging Bull
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Romeo + Juliet
Shakespeare in Love
She's All That
Sing
Some Like It Hot
Spice World
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Stan & Ollie
Tangled
The Big Lebowski
The Breakfast Club
The Devil Wears Prada
The Favourite
The Godfather
The Greatest Showman
The Gruffalo
The Incredibles 2
The Jungle Book
The Lego Movie 2
The Little Mermaid
The Lost Boys
The Meg
The Notebook
The Young Victoria
Top Gun
True Romance
Up!
Us
Withnail and I
Zog
Zootropolis
Carmen (opera)
The Marriage of Figaro (opera)
Romeo and Juliet (opera)
Angora Love (Laurel & Hardy)
You’re Darn Tootin’ (Laurel & Hardy)

3. List of venues so far
Alexandra Palace
Arena Square (Wembley Park)
Battersea Park  
Bussey Building (Peckham)
Chiswick House and Gardens
Crystal Palace Park
Danson House (Bexley)
Dulwich Park  
Fulham Palace  
General Gordon Square (Woolwich)
Hampton Court Palace
Horse Hospital Stables Market (Camden)
Kensington Palace  
Kenwood House (Hampstead)
Lyric Square (Hammersmith)
Merchant Square: The Lawn (Paddington)
Morden Hall Park  
Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich)
Opera Holland Park  
Queen of Hoxton (Shoreditch)
RAF Museum London (Hendon)
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre  
Roof East (Stratford)
Station Square (Herne Hill)
The Scoop (London Bridge City)
Tooting Common  
Trafalgar Square  
Victoria Embankment Gardens (Embankment)
Victoria Tower Gardens (Westminster)
Wandsworth Park  
Westminster Abbey  
White City (Shepherd's Bush)
Wimbledon Park

4. Previously...