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, 4 November 2012

None of these articles about medical devices inspired much confidence

By coincidence I happen to have read three articles recently relating to issues with medical devices or products and all of them have been from the same company though I don't particularly mean to single them out.

To be fair the articles span a year and of the three articles mentioned I'd already read two of them when first published.

The reason why I read two of these articles again so recently is that I gave a short science communication lecture earlier this week to some first year computer science / electronic engineering (some are also doing maths / business studies etc) students on writing for scientists or for non-specialists.

One of the things I wanted to highlight (exceptionally briefly) was an aspect of stories about technology. Sometimes they're just about informing you of some new gadget, sometimes it's a 'hooray for tech, any minute now we'll be flying around in jetpacks' and sometimes it's "DOOM!!!".

Doom stories can warn you against doing something (or against failing to do something) - incidentally I assume all tech stories about Facebook are now doom ones - or they might encourage you to take action and ask companies to increase encryption etc.

As I was speaking on Hallowe'en I picked some doom stories to share and realised that two of my four favourite examples mentioned the same company. Of course two of them didn't, and they're below.

1. Paula Rooney GNOME's Sandler: is there a killer in the code? (25 September 2011)
Karen Sandler was diagnosed with a heart condition that required her to use an implantable defibrillator. Coincidentally she was also working as an attorney with the Software Freedom Law Center. She wanted to see / check the code which ran the device but didn't get very far in persuading the company to let her view the code (she even offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement).
"I offered to sign an NDA ... I don't want to rely on Medtronics for something as essential as my heart."
The article also references a report that the SFLC wrote which suggests that, between 1997 and 2003 there were 212 deaths that had arisen from device failures occurring in implantable medical devices from several companies.

2. Jordan Robertson McAfee hacker says Medtronic insulin pumps vulnerable to attack  (29 February 2012) 
At the time this article was published I was working at Diabetes UK but left in May so I don't know if they were able to find out any more information from the company about the potential for hacking into insulin pumps. To be honest it's going to be pretty rare - you'd need a fairly unusual set of circumstances (nerdy person, ideally with murderous intent, the right equipment and skills + person with diabetes wearing a pump nearby) but as far as I can gather this is not a hoax.

3. John Fauber Medtronic Helped Write, Edit Positive 'Infuse' Spine Studies (25 October 2012)
This one turned up today in my 'subscriptions from Posterous' email and involves a bone graft device with a "biologically engineered protein to coax bone growth. The device is widely used in surgeries to fuse or join two vertebrae together to stabilize the spine."

In these reports Medtronic is accused of writing overly favourable articles about their product, with the usual ghost writing goings on (ideal for Hallowe'en).

Referenciness - the four examples of doom.

Rooney P (25 September 2011) GNOME's Sandler: is there a killer in the code? Available at [accessed 24 October 2012]

Robertson J (29 February 2012) McAfee hacker says Medtronic insulin pumps vulnerable to attack. Available at [accessed 24 October 2012]

Giles J (18 October 2012) Wireless meters tell snoopers when you are not home. New Scientist Available at [accessed 24 October 2012]

Lythe R (15 August 2012) 'My £7,000 just vanished': how a slip of a finger could cost your life savings. Daily Mail Available at [accessed 24 October 2012]

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