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

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Seeding articles of woo with sensible information - an experiment

Shortened link for this post:

Well I haven't tried it yet so this might not work.

A while back I took a photo outside Holland & Barrett in Blackheath. It was flogging something called Cho Yung weight loss tea and since I'd never heard of a tea being of any serious use in weight loss (unless you give the dunked biscuits a swerve) I thought I'd investigate it for an Advertising Standards Authority investigation. I uploaded the photos to Flickr (almost all of mine are Creative Commons) and then forgot about it.

Occasionally I 'vanity google' for my Flickr username (Jodiepedia) and enjoy seeing the ways in which some of my photos are used, admittedly it's mostly a handful that are used and the most popular one is a photo of my mini food processor which has appeared in half a dozen blog posts but it's nice to see them used anyway.

Recently I discovered that my photo of Cho Yung weight loss tea was appearing on several websites that flog / affiliate market this product. More amusingly they'd taken not only the photo but the description, which at the time said "yet to find any evidence for this product" so this phrase appears on numerous pages trying to sell the tea. Tee hee.

It's probably too late to do much about the tea, although I've now retrospectively tweaked it so that the title is more critical and added further context and shall monitor the situation, but I wondered if I could seed the pages that try and flog weight loss patches with a picture that clearly states they don't work.

First, a word about these pages.

They're 'spun' articles. I have been learning quite a lot about article spinning from the More Niche affiliate marketing website which has been one of the more eye-opening websites I've ever come across. It's basically how to fleece the unwary using a combination of search engine optimisation (both 'white hat' and the dodgier, short-term (cos they get banned) 'black hat' methods) and creating websites that route customers to a selling page. The pages that route more customers get more cash. Spun pages are basically repurposed text - self-plagiarism really, or plagiarism of other sites with word swapping, there are even websites that maintain a massive thesaurus database and will automate the process of word swapping to turn one article into another. If you've ever come across a page which contains your search terms randomly embedded into something that doesn't appear to have English as its first language then it might well be a spun page, presumably using other keywords as some sort of smokescreen. It's a bit odd.

I've written previously about More Niche here, see the section below the dashed line in particular.

Given that a degree of cunning and sneakery is needed to be successful at this I don't think my ruse will fool that many of them but I will be delighted if one or two pages pick it up because it will make me chuckle.

So... I've created this image, in Powerpoint, and uploaded it with a relevant description. One can but hope.

Weight loss patches do not actually work

Update 23 June 2011
I posted this on 18 June and have been watching Google to see if and when the patch might make an appearance somewhere. It's only five days since I created the image above so I'd expect this to increase as time goes on.

I searched for things like Jodiepedia patch or Jodiepedia patches and even Jodiepedia weight loss - to ensure that I only picked up web pages that were likely to include this patch, rather than the Cho Yung weight loss tea woo that I posted on Flickr earlier, I used the Advanced Search function on Google to select only items posted within the last week.

Here's what I found:
  • The image above was posted on Flickr on 18 June (along with this blog post) and I added the title "Weight loss patches do not actually work" and phrase "Do not buy this product, it's a waste of money. It's quite hard to get drugs across the skin barrier, especially large complex molecules from plants." to the Flickr image for good measure.
  • It was picked up by a site that collects royalty free images on 19 June (current) (cache)
  • Also on the 19th it was picked up by 'RandomlyChad' blog whose author used it to poke fun at the secret of his weight loss (ie sensible diet and effort, not crap weight loss patches).
  • On 21 June 2011 the phrase that I used appeared as a tagline on what I think is a spun article, called "Weight loss patches do not actually work – Articles And Resources", however the image of the patch is absent. The phrase is also parsed into keywords and used in the comments, along with 'Jodiepedia - there is a tiny piece of embed code available from this page and I used it to create this post here.
  • I'm really not sure what to make of this article "Support Is Mutual for Senator and Makers of Supplements", also posted on 21 June 2011. It doesn't appear to be selling anything directly from that page although there's a tab for a diet store and options to download things (I've seen much 'sell-ier' pages). To me, the interesting bit is that it's tweaked the text I used with my picture so that it now reads "Do not get this product, it really is a waste of income. It is quite hard to get medicines across the skin barrier, especially huge advanced molecules from crops." - this transformation may have been software-automated, but is only slightly changed from the text I originally used (see italics above).
  • Using the same "...huge advanced molecules" phrase, which suggests one might be the source text for the other, this website uses my title as its own title "Weight loss patches do not actually work" also changes the title of my image to "Bodyweight loss patches do not truly function".

    I don't think this website fully understands what it's doing as it's picked up another image from a US Federal publication highlighting bogus weight loss claims but it does label these as "Some awesome excess weight loss item photographs" which is obviously very pleasing...
  • "Weight loss - 7 tips for better results" seems to use the picture to highlight that there are better ways to lose weight.
Conclusion: nothing major yet - the image hasn't appeared directly on any selling sites but hopefully it will and I'll be monitoring the situation.

Update 2 July 2011
Well, I don't think this has been my most successful project, but I have 'reflected' on the strategy, and created a new image.

This new image uses a tweaked strategy, it plays nice in the picture itself but is critical of weight loss / diet patches in the title, description and comments (with bonus snark). I've noticed, in general, that sometimes websites pinch the Flickr comments and add them to their page on which the Creative Commons image appears. I'm pretty sure comments aren't CC in the same way that images are.

While re-running the Jodiepedia searches I also happened to come across this page. It uses an image I took at Chelsea Physic Garden of a sign about plants used in herbal and homeopathy preparations. I mentioned in the description that several NHS trusts had come to their senses and ceased funding for homeopathy, and I was mildly critical of homeopathy in the comment. But both picture and comment show up here and this is the original.


  1. *Very* interesting. Prompted me to get on to Flickr and try a small experiment!

  2. Okay, so here's how I've been inspired by Jo's post to behave unethically:


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).