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, 28 August 2011

Looks like Wirral PCT are going to reopen their consultation on #homeopathy

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Wirral PCT decided on 29 March 2011 to stop funding homeopathy. This followed and I assume was because of the Evidence Check (22 February 2010) but the procedure may have been in place before then of course.

Pauline Lomas, who is 'certain homeopathy is one of the reasons she is alive today' after malignant breast cancer, has instructed Leigh Day & Co to challenge Wirral's decision
AND Wirral's method of holding these meetings in private.

I'm all for transparency but if this was a consequence of the Evidence Check then I'm not sure why another public consultation is necessary (I don't think it's a bad idea... no decision about me without me and all that, I like public consultations). The Evidence Check was a public consultation though, it was pretty well publicised and had oral or written submissions from several homeopaths and homeopathy societies. Having said that I do think that Pauline has a point, that these things should take place in public if they're going to take place at all.

So Wirral are going to reconsult, and do it publicly. Strangely though, Pauline still doesn't seem to be that happy about the result that she's brought about "I rely on homeopathy to treat my cancer so I’m very upset and angry that the PCT plans to reconsult and may still withdraw all funding from the homeopathy service."

Well, one can hope.
Further reading
UK Parliament, MPs urge Government to withdraw NHS funding and MHRA licensing of homeopathy 22 February 2010 - publication of the Evidence Check 2 report.
NHS Wirral, Homeopathy Commissioning 18 January 2011 - the implications on page 2 are interesting.
The Skeptic Canary, A chance to question NHS Wirral Primary Care Trust on homeopathy 7 March 2011 - actually highlights that not a great deal of notice was given.
Further listening
The Skeptic Canary / ipadio, Thoughts on NHS Wirral PCT public consultation on homeopathy 9 March 2011 - interestingly there's a story given of a woman who discovered a breast lump. She was about to be referred to a cancer specialist but in the waiting-list interim went to see a homeopath. When she came to see the specialist the lump had gone - it hadn't actually been diagnosed as cancer yet - but this was given as evidence that homeopathy had cured her cancer. I assume this isn't Pauline Lomas though as, according to the solicitor's website, she was "was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer in 2001" and she is still using homeopathy to treat her cancer.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

There must be lots of songs with this chord progression

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...or whatever it's called.

I've been listening to 3wk Underground radio (basically, weirdness mixed in with summery 60s pop) and heard a song called "Riverside" by America. It immediately made me think of Tim Bisley rescuing Daisy Steiner at the end of series 2 of Spaced because it sounded so like a section of Lemon Jelly's "The Staunton Lick".

Obviously this is probably a pretty common section of tune and probably appears all over the place, but I do like this bit.

Using the #t=seconds format you can jump straight to the relevant bit in the links below, or enjoy the full songs in the embedded videos further down. I realised I probably couldn't get this on Twitter because shortening these links tends to mangle the #t=11s bit.

Right-click, open in a new tab :-)

America - Riverside

Lemon Jelly - The Staunton Lick

Too many carrots make you orange and other ways to make a human rainbow

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Yesterday, on Google+ @BoraZ shared a really interesting blog post about someone discovering, via a PubMed search, that yes you can turn orange if you eat too many carrots. Despite vaguely knowing about this sort of thing it was still a delight to read of @Scicurious's discovery, and acknowledgement that her father's "tall tale" turned out to be real.

One of the commenters (on the original blog post) also links to this rather fun story "Eating Vegetables Gives Skin a More Healthy Glow Than the Sun, Study Shows"

So... over-carroting makes you a yellowish orange hue, what other colours can people turn themselves? Either through unwise dietary choices or from inherited or acquired metabolic disorders?

There was a bit of brief chat about the style of the blogpost (using capitals for EMPHASIS isn't to everyone's taste) but my comment focused more on the question of how can we make a human rainbow.
"Although caps annoy me I didn't find it too bad in this instance (and it was a fascinating story I thought). In an emergency you could paste the offending text into Word then use Shift+F3 a couple of times to decapitalise the variable case horror.

Anyway, this has made me think of other conditions or diseases where skin changes colour - people with haemochromatosis (in which the person's organs 'overstore' dietary iron) can often go a bit bronzed and people who've inexplicably seen fit to quaff colloidal silver for their health (!) can end up a silvery/blue from argyria. Google images is a fascinating trove of people who've done this - they look like they are the black and white person inserted into a colour photo.

People with Wilson's disease will often have golden rings around their iris (called Kayser-Fleischer rings). The rainbow of hues following a large bruise is also pretty interesting both visually and biochemically. Too much sunlight makes me go pink and peely :)

Haemochromatosis is also apparently managed with regular blood letting as this helps get the iron out of the organs of course.
What other colours can we turn?
Jo "Violet Beauregarde" Brodie
Edited for, somewhat ironically, emboldened emphasis of the named conditions :)"
Comments from me on my comment...
I wince a little bit whenever I hear the argument put forward, usually by skeptics, that we've moved on from the savage practice of bloodletting and so therefore we should move on from the pointless practice of homeopathy or some other foolish intervention (we should move on from homeopathy because there's no good evidence for it and not because of its relationship to other bad ideas). Just because we used to do something in the past etc. etc. For most things I should imagine that bloodletting is a terrible idea, but not it seems for haemochromatosis.
By the way, the old-fashioned lancet-type device used to cut into the vein was called a fleam which I think might just be my favourite word ever.

I've reported a couple of websites advertising iridology to the Advertising Standards Authority for making claims about what health information you can glean from the eyes. It's important to be clear that this isn't zero and there is information to be found at the surface of the eyeball, but not that much from what I can gather. I was a bit surprised that none of the iridology flogging websites I've seen so far mentions the iris rings as that would seem to be a bit of a free pass for them. (I don't think the rings are present in all cases and I suspect other things need to be tested to confirm).

Finally, drinking colloidal silver is just a stupid idea and it doesn't help with anything.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Blackbird Pie is a tool to let you embed a tweet in a blogpost while maintaining active links

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EDIT: In my enthusiasm to share this new tool I forgot to mention where I found the info from - which was Mashable, and they knew about it over a year ago!

I'm trying out the Blackbird Pie twitter media tool which lets you take the URL of a single tweet and 'bake it' into an embeddable version which should appear below. The links are maintained.

Blackbird Pie 'baked tweet':

Some of you use one or more tools to embed tweets in blog posts, making tweets look nice. What are these tools please? Thank you :)
So what other tools are available that do something like this? This one is quite interesting as you can edit the various bits of it - I've moved things to sit on separate lines for aesthetics but here's how it is when unedited:

Some of you use one or more tools to embed tweets in blog posts, making tweets look nice. What are these tools please? Thank you :)less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply
A few more example of these kinds of tools and I'll have something to add to the currently emptyish B3.3 section on my list of tools for finding or capturing tweets.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Just found old draft blogpost: My day of woo

Tidying out a few old blog posts and came across this. It made me smile so am posting it.

Originally not posted on 10 June 2010.


I once picked up a brochure for the Mind Body Spirit Festival which made me laugh so much I genuinely regret throwing it away. It had something about dolphin mysteries and also a workshop on spoon bending which included the instructions 'bring two teaspoons'.

Quite a few years ago I went along to the festival on what turned out to be a massive day of woo. I'd only intended for it to be a half day of woo with a morning of genetics being discussed, as a non-woo contrast. Unfortunately I failed to notice that the genetics discussion I'd signed up for was at Rudolf Steiner house...

The details are hazy but I went along imagining something like a Royal Institution lecture, perhaps even being recorded for radio, and realised my mistake as soon as I walked into a room with a small horse shoe of about 15 chairs. I was of a mind to make a dash for it but stuck it out.

There was a chap (Dean from Reading, hi if you're reading) sitting opposite me who was a fellow skeptic and whose eye I avoided for the entire event in case he set me off giggling.

All I can really remember was trying to rearrange my face not to appear too mocking when one of our small group raised the serious issue of creating a cloned human as whichever died first would get into heaven leaving the soul of the cloned human in real trouble.

At the tea break one woman who'd sat silently next to me for the event till that point announced she was leaving - not because she was made of tougher stuff than me and decided the woo was enough, but because she was extremely socially anxious and worried constantly that she'd just said something inappropriate. I felt a bit sorry for her in what's obviously a miserable plight but it really was a pretty odd morning.

Then I trotted along to the MBS Festival - the best and most sensible bit has to be the 'gong therapy'. I'm no idea if it's remotely therapeutic but the bowls and gongs do make a fantastic sound. More recently I enjoyed them, in an ostensibly non-therapeutic setting, at Longplayer in Camden. Here's a brief video I took, at TwitVid and an audioboo.

Edit: I'll have to try and find the audioboo now...

Why does the Faculty of Homeopaths think the ASA is asking to see more evidence?

EDIT: 19 December 2011 - just tidying up draft blog posts and found this. Not sure why I didn't post it at the time, possibly I'll remember what the good reason was and delete it at some future date :-)


I was surprised to read a quote from Cristal Sumner, Chief Executive of the Faculty of Homeopaths, in Research Fortnight Today's article "Advertising authority clampdown on homeopathy" on Thursday 11 August 2011 in which she said
“All members have been asked to back claims with evidence,” she noted. “This evidence includes a healthy number of randomised controlled trials and outcome studies.”
I didn't think that the Advertisting Standards Authority (ASA) has asked for any evidence at all - have they? I've been trying to find out what Cristal Sumner's quote was referring to. Also, I'm not sure that a few randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are going to help at this stage - the House of Commons Evidence Check on Homeopathy was certainly keen on RCTs (see paras 19 and 20) but they also acknowledged the variability in quality and highlighted in paras 21 to 25 that emphasis would be given to systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs (ideally good quality ones).

In a leaked email from (jointly) the Society of Homeopaths, Faculty of Homeopathy and British Homeopathic Association to their respective members they said that, in face to face discussions which took place on Thursday 23 June 2011, the ASA had agreed it might consider proposals to look at evidence submitted, but that's a little different from asking for evidence.
"Agreement by the ASA to consider our proposal for a proper evaluation of the evidence in homeopathy, which we will send to them by 1 July."
The ASA has sent three letters to homeopaths and homeopathy marketers whose websites were flagged up soon after 1 March 2011 (when the ASA began to look at websites). They also, in the second week of March, sent a letter to complainants (many of whom will have been skeptics sending in complaints as part of the Nightingale Collaboration's campaign), to let us know what they were up to - basically giving homeopaths a further three months' grace to get their websites in order.

The first letter specifically states that the ASA isn't asking for evidence... this appears to have been added to their website on 1 July 2011.
"Why are we not asking for substantiation?Those advertisers who are familiar with the ASA may want to know why, in this case, we are not inviting them to submit evidence to substantiate the claims complained about. This is because, to date, the ASA has not seen robust scientific evidence to support claims that imply homeopathy is proven for treating any specific health condition."
...simply because they've already seen the evidence submitted to the Evidence Check...
"We have seen the most recent, authoritative and comprehensive review of the scientific evidence by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee entitled “Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy”. This provided an analysis of evidence and opinion submitted by a range of proponents and opponents of homeopathy, including some of the organisations representing homeopathy in the UK and practising homeopaths. The conclusion made clear that there was a lack of objective scientific evidence to substantiate the efficacy of homeopathy."
...and that the issue of evidence was done and dusted then, and homeopaths had the opportunity to submit evidence.
"Because the documents submitted for the “Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy” report provided a comprehensive collection of data for assessment, and homeopaths and the various bodies that represent them were invited to submit evidence as part of a consultation process, we do not intend to duplicate that process or assess the evidence again."
The second letter also seems to be clear that the ASA is not writing to homeopaths to ask them for evidence or substantiation...
"Our previous correspondence makes clear why we are not asking for substantiation at this stage."
The third letter also doesn't ask for evidence although by highlighting what will happen next if homeopaths don't comply, which is the possibility of a formal adjudication, I suppose you could draw the conclusion that some sort of evidence might be 'requested' (see bit below, emphasis mine).
"If we don’t receive your assurance to change your ad, we may have to investigate the complaint formally. That would give you the opportunity to defend your ad but would ultimately lead to the ASA Council adjudicating on the complaint."
So it seems that they're not asking for any further evidence.

However back in April both the Faculty of Homeopathy and the Society of Homeopaths published statements on their website in April expressing delight that the ASA was open to hearing new evidence from them but I've not been able to find this offer on the ASA's site though.

*As an aside, the resulting report from the House of Commons didn't think too much of the cherry picked evidence supplied by the homeopaths...
"73. We regret that advocates of homeopathy, including in their submissions to our inquiry, choose to rely on, and promulgate, selective approaches to the treatment of the evidence base as this risks confusing or misleading the public, the media and policy-makers." (see section 2, NHS funding and provision, in the link given above)
Further reading

Self-updating place or event markers in Google Maps: possible?

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Usually when I think of something I would like to do on the internet I find that someone's already come up with a neat solution, or knows how to. I'd be surprised if I'm the only person to have thought of this 'gap' in the market but a quick Google search for 'google maps markers update' brought me to pages of stuff I really didn't understand, for example...

Imagine I create a map of locations in London which are showing open air film screenings. There might be one in Wandsworth on 20 July 2011 and one in Clapham on 14 September 2011. When I added both of these screenings, say on 8 July 2011, they were green as in 'yet to happen', but now, on 13 August 2011 the Wandsworth one is finished but the Clapham one's in a couple of weeks.

Is it possible for the place/event marker to automatically change its colour once the date has passed? How do I get in touch with Google people to ask them? Is this a task for Google+?

I don't want to delete it because that stops conveying any information (and the information is "Wandsworth showed a film in 2011 perhaps it might in 2012, might be worth making a note of the website to which this marker points").

While creating the Open Air Cinema Screens post I made very good use of out-of-date information to help me find newer information. No good at all if stuff disappears.

Those 'concertina' things on web pages
While I've got your attention I'm also interested in what I think are called concertinas. These are collapsible bullet-point type lists which can be expanded / contracted depending on which bit you want to look at. Ideal for cinema listings but alas I don't know how to make them happen in Blogger. Or WordPress or any other blog platform. Do I have to get my own website to make that work?

I've tried pinching the code and using the 'edit html' button when editing a blog post here but didn't work.