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, 22 December 2013

Share multiple sites with a single link - Sqworl looks interesting

I used to be a regular user of which let you add the links of 10+ websites to a single 'place' so that you could then share a single link. That link would present visitors with a drop-down menu containing all the links you'd shared, you could cycle through the URLs and the relevant page would load - it was great, but the Krunchd website now appears to be permanently down.

There are a few alternative sites but one I've found to be pretty good is Sqworl which lets you combine several pages together into a 'group', shown in a grid format with a thumbnail for each site added (see screenshot below).

Here's one I've just created - London Useful - which acts as a 'meta-bookmark' for some of my favourite London pages, including travel pages and some cultural stuff.

Sqworl's an interesting site. Plenty of people seem to be using it, though from what I can gather they're filling it up with crap. When I searched for London I found that quite a few people had created a page with only a single link on it, which points to a company's site. I'd say they were doing it wrong, although by creating a page which has another pointer to their site they're probably doing something useful in terms of search engine optimisation. But Sqworl does seem to have an awful lot of these otherwise useless pages, though I don't think it has any impact on my own page(s).

As I see it, this site lets you share several pages at once, lets you add a comment (the text below the thumbnails in the screenshot above is from me) and also - importantly - shows a thumbnail icon of the page. I think this is a really helpful visual cue.

I've been looking for this since 2009 ;-)

Fingers crossed it doesn't go the same way that Pageflakes and Krunchd.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Public health, science, animal health and consumer-affairs related newsletters from European Commission

I've just signed up to find out what some mailing lists from the European Commission are like, so this is less an advert for them and more of an alert in case others haven't come across them. A friend has been forwarding items to me which were interesting enough for me to find out more.

The link to sign up is below, you need to register (free) and then mailing lists will be yours. Once you're taken to the page of options the button to subscribe is actually labelled 'default language', which took me by surprise (I assumed I was auto-subscribed to everything, happily no).

And these are the ones you can subscribe to.

What's new on DG Health & Consumers website
Daily compilation of all new documents published on the site of the Health and Consumers Directorate-General

Health and Consumer Voice Newsletter
Newsletter on food safety, health and consumer protection from the European Commission's Health and Consumers DG

What's new about TRACES
Monthly news about TRACES development in the EU and around the world

Newsletter Scientific Committees
Newsletter of the European Commission Scientific Committees.

Public Health
E-mail update on latest news and developments on public health.

E-mail update on latest news and developments on consumer affairs.

Food and Feed Safety
E-mail update on latest news and developments on food and feed safety.

Animal Health and Welfare
E-mail update on latest news and developments on animal health and welfare.

Health-EU Newsletter (CS)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Czech version (CS)

Health-EU Newsletter (DA)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Danish version (DA)

Health-EU Newsletter (DE)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - German version (DE)

Health-EU Newsletter (EL)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Greek version (EL)

Health-EU Newsletter (ES)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Spanish version (ES)

Health-EU Newsletter (ET)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Estonian version (ET)

Health-EU Newsletter (FI)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Finnish version (FI)

Health-EU Newsletter (FR)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - French version (FR)

Health-EU Newsletter (HU)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Hungarian version (HU)

Health-EU Newsletter (IT)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Italian version (IT)

Health-EU Newsletter (LT)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Lithuanian version (LT)

Health-EU Newsletter (LV)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Latvian version (LV)

Health-EU Newsletter (MT)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Maltese version (MT)

Health-EU Newsletter (NL)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Dutch version (NL)

Health-EU Newsletter (PL)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Polish version (PL)

Health-EU Newsletter (PT)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Portugese version (PT)

Health-EU Newsletter (SL)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Slovenian version (SL)

Health-EU Newsletter (SK)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Slovak version (SK)

Health-EU Newsletter (SV)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Swedish version (SV)

Health-EU Newsletter (BG)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Bulgarian version (BG)

Health-EU Newsletter (RO)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Romanian version (RO)

Health-EU Newsletter (EN)
Merger of Health-EU Newsletter EN and Scientific Committees Newsletter

Health-EU Newsletter (HR-Croatian)
Health-EU Portal Newsletter - Croatian (HR)

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Free, London, 3.30pm, Wed 11 Dec - talk by Gravity special effects people @QMUL

It's now at 4pm!! (Today, Wednesday 11 December 2013)

Free, open to the public
- but please let Evangelos Sariyanidi (e.sariyanidi [AT] know if you're planning on coming as they might have to move rooms if it's a bit popular!

If you don't let Evangelos know you come at your own risk as it may not be possible to accommodate you :-)

See also (hat tip @pencilbloke)

Admittedly bit short notice but there's a talk tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday 11 December, 4pm) at Queen Mary University of London - details on how to find the venue at the end.

Richard Graham and Mark Hills, who took part in the making of the movie "Gravity", will give a talk on creating the 3D visuals for the critically-acclaimed blockbuster. Everyone who likes movies or is interested in visual effects is welcome!

Please find the synopsis of the talk below the details.

Date/time: Tomorrow (Wed, Dec 11th) at 3:30pm, approx. 1-1.5 hour excluding Q&A
Location: Computer Science (CS) building, room 3.01 (Bancroft road lecture rooms)

Alfonso Cuaron's remarkable blockbuster Gravity has been collecting enough stars from film reviewers to fill the galaxy it so devotedly depicts. It is, many say, the closest thing most of us will ever get to going into space.

But how were those stunning images made? By taking a film crew up 372 miles above the earth? In fact, those mesmerising images are almost all computer generated, planned and created by a 400-strong team of visual effects artists at Framestore in London.

Richard Graham (Visual Effects Producer on Gravity) and Mark Hills (Framestore's Head of Systems Development) will be speaking in detail about the challenge of creating Gravity's 3D visuals.

From its unique planning and three-and-a-half-year production to the hardware and software development and innovation, the talk will give an insight into how the team achieved 12-minute continuous shots set in zero gravity.  The talk will also include a Q&A, and is likely to contain spoilers; you're recommended to see the film first!

Getting there 
The nearest tube stations are Stepney Green [exit, turn left] or Mile End [exit, turn left but cross to the other side of the road]).

Buses 25 and 205 drop you off very close.

The road you're after is Bancroft Road which leads off Mile End Road. The entrance to the road from Mile End looks like this...

View Larger Map

...the entrance to the building [Bancroft Road Teaching Rooms] is shown below (click to enlarge and see where the pram is - the building is on the left just before the multicoloured green, yellow and black 'bridge'), go through the glass doors, take the lift to 3rd floor and follow signs to Lecture room 3.01. The card access to the room will be OFF so you'll be able to go straight through the doors leading from the lift to the lecture theatre without having to 'touch in' with a passcard :)

View Larger Map

How did I embed the Google map images above? Navigate to wherever you want and then click on the link option, see the pink square in the image below.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

It is not possible to view private tweets but here's what to be aware of to protect your account

by @JoBrodie,

This post exists because so many people found my blog while searching for "how to read private Twitter accounts" so I wrote this for them - updated July 2016.

You cannot read tweets from someone who's made their account private (locked) unless you're following them, or you've broken in (definitely a bad idea) or using someone else's account to read (possibly a bad idea).

If you've made your account private be aware that others can get a lot of info about your private account from replies sent to you. [26 July 2016]

Summary of main post
You cannot view someone's tweets if they've protected their account (locked it), unless you are following them. If you view their profile you'll just see something saying like 'this user has protected their tweets', and that's pretty much the end of it.

However I think people should be much more aware that people can infer a great deal about what a protected account is tweeting simply by looking at the tweets sent in reply (eg search for to:theirname or @theirname to see tweets sent to the account, eg to see tweets sent to me type to:jobrodie or @jobrodie into Twitter search).

More detail and explanations (and things to watch out for) below.

More detailed information
To the best of my knowledge it is now not possible to see the tweets of a protected account unless you're following them, or have stolen their password or the password of one of their authorised followers or some other morally and legally iffy technique (bad idea). 

If someone doesn't want you to read their tweets, then it's much nicer if you just respect that. But here are some suggestions for ignoring that, written more in the spirit of warning people with protected accounts what to watch out for from sneaky folk than helping sneaky folk, though it obviously does help them. Think of it less as "how to annoy someone" and more as "how to thwart annoying people".

1. Follow them, if they'll let you
If someone has locked their account to make it private then it is not possible to see what they've said unless you follow them... so the obvious first step is to try and follow them.

Click the follow button and hope for the best.

1b (i). Create a secondary account
If they know who you are and don't want you to follow them then you'll not have much luck unless you change your name or create a new account. Simply changing your username is imperfect as it's pretty easy to see if you're still the same person they didn't want following previously

1b (ii). Make sure your email address doesn't give you away
Be aware that if they have your email address in their contacts and allow Twitter to 'find their friends' then your new account will show up, unless you untick the Discoverability setting which lets people find you via your email. I believe this is OFF by default.

An interesting conceptual equivalent to this is people who create anonymous blogs but use the same Google Analytics code as they do on their other (non-anon) sites. Given that Google Analytics codes are unique to one person's account, with modifications of a suffix for each different website, this can give them away.
1c (i). Password strength
If you've got a protected account you might want to make sure you've got a difficult-to-guess password as another obvious 'in' is to crack into your account by guessing or phishing for your password. If people can crack your email password that's another source of risk because then they can use the 'forgotten password' to get a reset link sent to the compromised email account.

1c (ii) Password strength of your followers
As Jon points out in the comments below I've missed out a fairly obvious opportunity, which is for someone to read your protected tweets by cracking the account of one of your approved followers.

2. Search for tweets sent to them - infer conversations from what others say to them
Tweets sent to people (often in reply to their own tweets) tell you one half of the conversation. As always it's your friends' responses to your protected tweets that would likely give you away ;)

Just search for their @name in the search bar - to see all tweets sent to me you can type @JoBrodie. There are obviously quite a lot because I've been on Twitter for five years but you can add in keywords to narrow things down a bit.

Note: Echofon apparently will show you the private tweets of recently blocked accounts. Search for from:username to see the tweets.

3. Storify / screenshots in blogs / manual retweets / look at their phone
See if you can find their tweets in Storify or other archiving places. Storify traps tweets even after they've been deleted so it seems reasonable to suspect that it will keep them even after someone's account goes private.

By contrast embedded tweets in blogs will generally disappear because the bit of code will stop working if the original tweet is deleted or the account made private. Any blog posts that used screenshots to reshare a tweet won't be affected of course.

*Embedding a tweet means that each time the blog post loads the tweet it calls on Twitter to display it and if it's no longer publicly available then it won't show up.

If your account is private then your followers cannot retweet you as the retweet button is not offered to them. However they can still see the text of your tweet and interact with it. If they want to there's nothing to stop them from copying and pasting the text and retweeting you manually. I have done this - with permission I hasten to add - when someone tweeted something really interesting that I thought deserved wider sharing.

Tweets viewed on any screen can also be snapped as a screenshot.

Jon (in comment below) also points out that someone just has to gain access to your phone to see your protected tweets or the tweets of any protected account that you're authorised to view.

4. What about authorised third-party apps?
I don't know if it's possible for people or companies who've created Twitter apps to access someone's protected tweets. To read Twitter on my iPhone I use an app (not the Twitter app) and of course when I'm logged in it shows me my private messages, so the app can obviously 'see' my DMs. The app can see my private messages so it's logical to think that the people who own it might be able to as well, though I doubt they'd bother. I mean more that I don't know how these things are kept separate.

Probably misusing an app for that purpose would be both against Twitter's terms and conditions not to mention possibly illegal under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (UK) or Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (US).

People who use Echofon can see tweets of private accounts by searching from:username to view - this seems to be a time-sensitive thing and after a period of time the search 'cache' is cleared and this is no longer possible. Glitch now fixed.

5. Answers to specific questions people ask of Google
I have no idea who asked these questions, I just get a list of phrases that people used to search for information on Google and in which my blog appears to them in the search results. 
  • How can you tell if someones twitter acount is private?
    Visit their account page ( and if it says something like "Only confirmed followers have access to @THEIRNAME's Tweets and complete profile. Click the "Follow" button to send a follow request." that's your answer.
  • How can someone find me on Twitter although I have private setting?
    Only your tweets are private. Your Twitter name, bio and any web address details you've included in your bio are public.
  • How can you block someone from reading your tweets even if your profile isn't private? // How do I make it so only confirmed followers can see my tweets but not be private?
    You can't. Blocking someone stops YOU from seeing THEIR tweets in your timeline. You can still visit their page to view all their tweets. They can still visit yours (they mostly have to log out or use third party apps now).
  • If I block someone on twitter and my profile isn't private can they still read my stuff?
    Yes. They can just log out or use a third party app.
  • Can people still see at mentions if private? // Can people see tweets i'm mentioned in if my twitter is private?
    Yes. All they need to do is search on Twitter for @YOURNAME to see all tweets sent to you. They cannot see any tweets sent FROM you unless they follow you.
  • Can private account send mention // Can I still mention someone on twitter even though i'm private?
    Yes, but if they're not following you I think they won't actually be able to see it. 
  • Can you block someone on twitter even when your tweets are private?
    Yes, it just means that you won't see their tweets. They already can't see your tweets if you're private and not following you - there's no additional need to block them.
  • Did this happen because my account is private? you have been blocked from following this account at the request of the user.
    No, that just means that they've just blocked you. If you want to see their tweets you'll have to search for from:theirname or log out to view them.
  • Even tho I'm private on twitter how can people retweet my stuff
    Anyone who is following you is able to manually retweet you (by copying and pasting the words in your tweet). They might also take a screenshot. You can ask them not to but there's not much else you can do other than block them. It's also possible that the account of one or more of your followers has been compromised and someone else is seeing what they see and retweeting that (see 1c(ii) in the main list above).
  • Even though your private should you still see your tweets in search do others
    If you are logged in and search for things on Twitter then if your tweets contain them they'll show up to you, but not to other people. To check, log out of Twitter and search again - your tweets should not show up. An exception is someone using Echofon which may well show search results for 48 hours or so after you make your account private.
Related post
Don't assume that your private Twitter account is all that private (7 December 2012 - I only just noticed that I wrote that exactly a year ago!)

See also
Three fairly cool things you can do on Twitter (apart from tweet obviously) (4 November 2013)

History of this post
A few weeks ago I spotted a spike in the number of incoming searches to my blog from people looking for information on how to read protected tweets. First I wondered if there'd been something happening on Twitter that I wasn't aware of and secondly I wondered why they'd bother looking for that since, as far as I've been aware, it's never been possible to see the tweets of someone who's protected their tweets.

Today I learned that I'd actually been wrong although all the security glitches and workarounds that I've heard of from looking this up on Google appear to have since been fixed.

According to a 2009 LA Times story Google once (inadvertently) displayed protected tweets and it also seems to have been possible to view protected tweets through RSS feeds (again in 2009 but I think this was fixed back then) and Twitter no longer supports RSS anyway.

Glitch, from November 2015 - FIXED

This morning I learned that Echofon (and perhaps other apps) may display private tweets in search results. I spotted one that had been sent 17 hours previously and one that had been sent at 2am on 12 November. The tweets both showed up in search and when clicking on them (as if to reply) they still showed up. I could see the locked icon next to the people's names (I'm not following either of them). Clicking on their profile confirmed that their account was locked and I was unable to see their tweets that way. Presumably this only works on accounts that have made their tweets private within a particular time window, I suspect this won't work forever.

I was then surprised to find that, again on Echofon, if I searched from:username for this locked account I could see all of their private tweets. At some point their tweets will disappear from search results but I don't as yet know how long that takes.

Echofon for iPhone is basically a Twitter 'hacker' tool: it lets you see what apps / platforms people are using to send a tweet, it shows you profiles of accounts blocking you and it also lets you see private tweets (of recently-ish locked accounts) in search results.

For people with locked / private accounts
Be aware that it may take a while before your tweets stop showing up in search, on certain apps. It seems people can see all of your private tweets by searching from:yourname (though this is probably only temporary, so far no longer than 48 hours).

For people who want to read locked / private accounts
Try from:username or searching for keywords in a tweet you know they sent. Use Echofon for iPhone or other third party app (I doubt this will work on official Twitter apps / platforms though).

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sounds in the urban environment that aren't intended to give information, but do anyway

Today I went to another one of the Interactional Sound And Music (ISAM) reading group / meetings where I work. I don't work in the area and don't have any direct link with that type of research but I'm ridiculously fond of sound-related stuff and the group has made me feel very welcome. Their stuff fascinates me.

One of the things we talked about today was the type of sounds that people meet in their everyday urban environment - cars honking, train doors beeping etc and how some of these might be intended to convey some information (help, get out of the way, pay attention) and whether or not that works particularly well.

It appears that quite a lot of these sounds don't quite hit their mark - people might not understand what the sound is meant to indicate, the sound is unpleasant and avoided or the sound competes with other sounds (including headphones) etc.

People were talking about how to make the information a bit richer - for example microwaves beep when the cooking time has elapsed but the beeps don't tell you much about the state of the food (is it cooked? Presumably some information about the combined time it's cooked for plus temperature information in the oven could be used). I'm someone who's not a fan of microwave beeps so I hope any research-based developments here keep the beeps short and sweet.

I've thought up some of the sounds I'm aware of in London (and a little bit beyond) but wondered what other sounds you're aware of in your local area and what they're trying to tell you. I suppose it's meant to be just designed sounds, so the sound shoes make when someone's walking on different surfaces might indicate if they're walking on grass, tarmac or cobbles (and also indicate the type of footwear that's being worn) but the shoe designer probably wasn't thinking about the sonic properties of either shoe or environment.

Other non-designed sounds in our environment that can give info might be the sound an engine makes - people more familiar with them than me might know from the engine's sound if all is well or not.

It might be quite fun to have a quiz of sounds that would be familiar to a British audience. There was a crowdsourced project a few years ago collecting urban soundscapes and you could easily tell if it was London or New York for example.

Although not really related to my work on the CHI+MED project (about making medical devices safer) some bits of it do remind me of the concept of resilience strategies. These are unofficial practices that people adopt to prevent some problem or annoyance from happening - eg leaving something by the door tonight so that you don't forget to take it tomorrow morning. An example might be observing a particular sound and noticing that it tells you different information if the sound is different (eg the engine example above).

Here is my slightly random taxonomy of urban sounds that will probably have bits moved around and new sections put in, etc.

Sounds that are intended to give information, and mostly do
  • Alerts or warnings
    • 5 fake sounds designed to help humans Humans Invent blog (20 June 2011) - covers the car door 'clunk', the 'vroom' noise of electric enginers (which are otherwise almost silent), extra sounds added in to a mix, such as crowd sounds fed through stadium speakers, 'comfort noise' to radios broadcasting a minute's silence and a debate on whether or not the whirr of a cashpoint accurately reflects any real-time money-counting procedure.
    • Pings and buzzers on buses and trains, might also include spoken instructions over tannoys and the GPS bus location info ("341... to.... Chancery Lane.... this is... Angel"), as well as the ping to let people know that the bus is going to stop at the next stop (it also tells people that there's no need to press the buzzer temselves)
    • The alarm sound that Tower Bridge makes when it's about to open or close
    • The sound that larger vehicles make when reversing - this can be sonic (beeps) but some also have verbal warning ("whoop whoop whoop, this vehicle is reversing")
    • The alarm call that is fitted to all London buses that makes a high-pitched sound and then says "this vehicle is under attack, dial 999" - these ask passersby to take action
    • Emergency and police vehicles driven under blue light conditions with sirens on - these say get out of the way
    • Office telephones that distinguish between internal and external calls
    • The 'ping' that train doors make to indicate that it is now possible to open them (also matched with a flashing light on the button used to open them), similarly elevators often ping on opening and give verbal instructions 'the lift is on its way' or 'floor 3, ladies coats and handbags'. Not sure that this really counts as urban but aircraft also have a 'you may now unbuckle your seatbelt' that has an accompanying ping. It's so recognisable I can hear it in my head.
    • Oyster reader units (the bits you touch in / out) make a single pitched beep when an Oyster card is successfully read and there's enough money on it. I don't have an Oyster card but I do have a card with a chip in it that the readers don't recognise. This results in a lower-pitched 'annoyed tone' of two beeps (the error message is '77'). This YouTube video explains how to use Oyster card and also has examples of the two different beeps.

      This is more for the next section but in googling Oyster card beeps to see if there was much info about the different kinds and what they mean I discovered something I'd spotted but forgotten - a child's card also makes multiple (assume 2) beeps. Someone's noticed it though and created a Facebook page with the title "If her Oyster card beeps more than once she's too young for you bro". Lovely ;)
    • Air raid siren - very evocative. Most people living in Britain would recognise this even if they weren't alive when they were used to indicate danger - we've all seen the films and understand their meaning. Nowadays we might not know what to do if we hear one in real life - is it a surprise fleet of enemy aircraft or just testing the flood warning?
  • Communication
    • Horn-honking from lorry drivers, sometimes used to show solidarity when a lot of lorry drivers are campaigning or annoyed about something, obviously cars use them to say 'get out of the way' and the Thames Clipper ferry captains use them to acknowledge other vessels. Cyclists also have bells or horns.
    • That three note rising tone that indicates to on-board train staff that it's time for them to go and collect rubbish or distribute beverages - I don't know which trains it's in use on but when I mentioned it today a few other people were familiar with it. I only found out what it was when I happened to be sitting in part of a train that had the on-board staff sitting behind me and every time the sound went off they'd leap up to go and do stuff. Previously I'd not spotted the causality because I was sitting somewhere else in the train and so the sound wasn't temporally linked to any obvious event.
    • bing-bing-bing, three tone dropping in pitch, of old-fashioned public address systems to alert people that a message is about to begin
    • The Audio Captcha which plays a scrambled message and asks you to pick out words that you can hear (it sounds rather spooky) [recording]

Sounds that are not intended to give information, but do
  • Ridiculous ring tones broadcast to everyone in the vicinity that their owner is a bit of an idiot and this might well be combined with a loud one-sided conversation which further confirms it. But if people use key-clicks with a dual-tone multi-frequency (such as you get on most touch tone type phones) then it would be possible for someone with a good pitch awareness to work out what numbers are being pressed, and possibly surmise something about the letters used in a text. The video below shows a two year old child doing this with ease.

  • The 50 or 60Hz mostly inaudible hum from mains electricity has been used forensically to pin down the time, from fluctuations in the frequency, that an audio recording was made "Any digital recording made anywhere near an electrical power source, be it plug socket, light or pylon, will pick up this noise and it will be embedded throughout the audio." More info at - not a designed sound, but nicely exploited.
  • Alice Bell's post on How the refrigerator got its hum charts the history of competing refrigeration technology but also gives an example of a friend of hers who noticed that the sounds her fridge made gave an indication of when she needed to put another 50p in the meter. I've just added, to my Soundnoticeboard blog, a related example of an Electrolux freezer manual that includes cartoon images of the freezer and words indicating the sounds it should be making under normal operation. I've never seen anything like it!
  • It's pretty easy to tell the number of carriages making up a train solely from the sound made as the wheel units pass the points - the traim below, with 4 carriages would sound like this:
     o-o           o-o   o-o           o-o   o-o           o-o   o-o           o-o
    - although this isn't really a designed sound. And now I'm wondering if the 'da-dum' isn't actually the last wheel of the carriage followed by the first wheel of the next carriage, ie not da-dum, da-dum but just da-dum. More research needed.
  • The sound that rails make when a train or tube is approaching, this sound often appears before the train is visible where there's a curve, there are other sounds that the train itself makes but the flexing of the rails ahead of the train heralds its arrival // the sound that points make when they click, which indicates when another train is coming and might indicate something about its direction (I've not worked it out). Again, not a designed sound, just the sound something makes.
  • It's pretty obvious when my toaster's stopped toasting ('pop') and my kettle's stopped boiling (the on-button pops to off).
  • See the bit above on Oyster beeps. A child's card makes a different sound from an adult's - presumably the intention is to alert bus drivers etc that the card sound matches the apparent age of the child and not someone using the wrong ticket. But people have surmised another meaning from it. 
  • Edit 16 September 2014 - our printers have been offline this morning, don't know why, thought I'd wait a bit before pointing it out. Then I could hear the sounds of the printer outside my office springing into life so this obviously communicated to me that the servers were back online.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A talk at Gresham College today on blood microscopy and pathology

When I discovered that Dr Archie Prentice of the Royal College of Pathologists was one of several people doing a free lunchtime talk on 'The Story of Your Blood' at Gresham College today I smiled. He was the expert commentator on an episode of You and Yours talking about a bogus diagnostic blood test that was under investigation by the ASA and which has irritated me for three and a half years.

It irritated me so much that after numerous ASA adjudications (lost count) against a variety of people who sell it, I wrote to the ASA and asked if they would add some CAP guidelines on the test, which they did. I strongly suspect others requested this too as there seem to be rather a lot of people who've reported this misleading blood test to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Today was about celebrating three objects used in the everyday lives of pathologists, and part of the wider 'A history of pathology in 50 objects' that was published by the RCPath in 2010 to celebrate their 50th anniversary. I picked up a copy of the booklet (they were handing them out free) and got stuck in on the train home. It's FANTASTIC. There's an online version but the physical copy is a lovely thing, with each page having a little introduction to a particular object / tool that's used now or in the past by pathologists. Obviously I was pleased to see a mention of the AMES Reflectance Meter (the first blood glucose meter) and Dextrostix (aka Boehringer Mannheim [BM] sticks) for testing blood glucose levels in diabetes.

Dr Prentice spoke first and gave an overview of the history of pathological investigations into blood and then Dr Deepti Radia spoke about three objects that she uses on a daily basis (microscope, glass slide and Coulter counter, which automatically does a cell-count saving a lot of time). Finally Dr Joel Newman gave some patient journey examples of what might lead someone to a blood testing unit (medical assessment unit) and what might be gleaned from their blood smear and other blood tests.

Joel's talk made me even more angry at those who flog bogus diagnostic blood tests than I was before. He mentioned that a blood smear could indicate some blood cancers (the presence of a lot of white blood cells is indicative) though other tests would confirm more strongly. He gave examples of two patients with CML (chronic myeloid leukaemia) and CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukaemia). In one, I'm afraid I've forgotten which, it was previously a fairly poor prognosis but with a new drug (imatinib, quite pricey) people can remain in good health for a long time - as Archie noted later, perhaps until they die of something else like old age! In another the condition is one that just needs close monitoring and both cases require regular blood tests to see that all is well, or not.

The idea that someone might be told by someone with minimal science qualifications that they have "markers for cancer" (when it turns out that they do not) and might need vitamins or other supplements (just listen to that radio programme linked above) made me quite livid. A real blood test by someone competent, taken under appropriate conditions with the appropriate awareness of symptoms and perhaps medical history could actually tell someone what type of cancer they have, if they have it, and whether or not a particular treatment is the most appropriate response, or if it should just have an eye kept on it.

Archie also mentioned that he gets to write difficult exam questions and gave an example where someone might be asked to discuss the pros and cons of treating someone, who has a very particular form of blood cancer, with one of the drugs like imatinib long-term versus giving them a stem cell transplant that would replace their iffy cells with new unaffected ones. (Note that stem cell transplants aren't suitable for everyone).

And apparently such transfusions can change your blood type - and I think I heard someone say that in exceptionally rare circumstances blood type can even change spontaneously (!). Wikipedia mentions something about infection or autoimmunity etc. News to me anyway. Though I am familiar with the chimaera stories of people being told that their relations aren't theirs, because the blood tests imply no match, though tissue samples indicate that they really are (briefly: they are the combination of two, fused non-identical twins in one body).

Previous experience suggests that notes from the talk will shortly appear on Gresham's site so if you're interested it's worth visiting the first link again later.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pop-Up Screens has some festive film delights, in Notting Hill

Pop-Up Screens are showing several Christmassy films in the 20th Century Theatre in Notting Hill.

Friday 13 December 2013
  • The Muppets Christmas Carol, 8.30pm

Saturday 14 December 2013
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrop, 1pm
  • Elf, 5.30pm
  • Miracle on 34th Street, 8.30pm

Sunday 15 December 2013
  • Home Alone, 1pm
  • The Muppets Christmas Carol, 5.30pm
  • Santa Claus The Movie, 8.30pm

Monday 16 December 2013
  • Home Alone 2, 1pm
  • A Christmas Story, 5.30pm
  • Nightmare Before Christmas, 8.30pm

Tuesday 17 December 2013
  • Polar Express, 1pm
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, 5.30pm
  • Home Alone, 8.30pm

Wednesday 18 December 2013
  • The Santa Clause, 1pm
  • Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, 5.30pm
  • Love Actually - 8.30pm - SOLD OUT

Thursday 19 December 2013
  • Arthur Christmas, 1pm
  • Nightmare Before Christmas, 5.30pm
  • Bad Santa, 8.30pm

Friday 20 December 2013
  • Scrooged, 1pm
  • Die Hard, 5.30pm
  • Elf, 8.30pm

See also
How to watch #Elf in London this December
Films (and music, storytelling and other events) at the Shuffle Festival
Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square - loads of lovely films too.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

How to watch #Elf in London in December 2013

I've just learned that Sky has bought the rights to show Elf and it won't be on terrestrial UK television this Christmas (ie, Channel 4). That's a shame, I've fond memories of watching it while being on Twitter and it was nice with lots of other people joining in too - in 2011 I seem to remember that it trended in the US and UK around the same time and the director, Jon Favreau, joined in as well and sent tweets expressing his delight that lots of people were enjoying it.

The film is only ten years old but seems like the sort of Christmas classic that was just always there. Another of his films that I rate highly is Zathura: A Space Adventure but Elf is spectacularly Christmassy.

I'm sure lots of people will enjoy watching it on Sky but I don't have a subscription so I can go and watch it in a cinema instead.

Here are the London showings that I'm aware of, to find other ones that I've not listed / don't know about please see the excellent LondonNet film guide:

I've included ones that are already sold out for completeness and also to remind me to pay better attention to them next year ;)

Where you can see Elf in London this month.

By date  
Wednesday 4 December 2013, 6pm - SOLD OUT
Hot Tub Cinema, Factory 7, 13 Hearn Street, Shoreditch

Saturday 7 December 2013, 6.30pm
Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square
Elf - Quote Along

Tuesday 10 December 2013, 4.45pm - SOLD OUT
The Nomad Cinema, The Lookout, Hyde Park

Saturday 14 December, 2013, 5.30pm
Pop-Up Screens, 20th Century Theatre, Notting Hill

Saturday 14 December 2013, 6.30pm
Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square
Elf - Quote Along

Friday 20 December 2013, 8.30pm
Pop-Up Screens, 20th Century Theatre, Notting Hill

Sunday 22 December 2013, 6.15pm
Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square
Elf - Quote Along

Tuesday 24 December 2013, 6.15pm
Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square
(don't think this one, a little cheaper, is a quote along)

At the BFI for Mark Gatiss' "Tractate Middoth" and "MR James: Ghost writer" plus Q&A

I'm a member of the BFI (British Film Institute) which is a great place with a useful library, a nice bar, tempting shop and in a wonderful part of London, on the riverside. Unsurprisingly it also shows lots of films and occasionally television programmes.

Not that long ago I wondered why they didn't show more television programmes and then discovered that they do actually show a fair few of them (I have a few more suggestions too). And last night I went to see one of them.

Mark Gatiss (clever chap) has adapted one of MR James' ghost stories (The Tractate Middoth) for the BBC to be shown at Christmas. He grew up watching BBC2's traditional ghost stories at Christmas and his contribution (his directorial debut) brings the idea back to our screens - it's brilliant. I have to confess the work of MR James was unknown to me but in the later Q&A Mark highlighted the humour in his work as well as the horror and this was definitely clear in the production. There were lots of funny touches and we all had a good giggle (the screen, NFT1 has a capacity of 450 and it was packed - it's really fun watching television programmes on a big screen with a big audience).

There was a properly unsettling bit on a train though, scary yes but more disturbing, and rather well filmed so that it crept up on you. Mark mentioned a particular type of camera thingy that they used to achieve certain effects - I think it was a Lensbaby. A couple of people next to me jumped and I was surprised that I didn't but I might have had my eyes closed at that point...

We also got to see Mark's new documentary on the life of MR James and I think after you see it you'll wish that Mark would run holiday tours of French churches and cathedrals and the English countryside. I'd definitely sign up for that! Anyway it was a warm portrait of an interesting character.

We then had a Q&A with Mark, John Das (the producer), cast members John Castle and Sacha Dhawan and hosted by Neil Brand who presented the wonderful BBC Sound of Cinema series on BBC Four recently (also produced by John Das).

Given that it was a bit of a special event I bookended it with the loveliest journeys I can take in London. I walked from my office near Mile End to Tower Gateway and took the heavenly RV1 bus to Royal Festival Hall. It's the finest bus journey in London and passes Tower Bridge and London Bridge station before heading off to Southbank / Waterloo / Covent Garden. Afterwards I took the Thames Clipper ferry home and saw all the lovely twinkly lights of the Thames.

Keep your beadies open for the Tractate Middoth and MR James: Ghost Writer making an appearance on BBC2 at Christmas.

Further reading

How to make it easier for people to find your jobs

Creative Commons License
How to make it easier for people to find your jobs by Jo Brodie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

This post (but no other post on this blog) is made under a Creative Commons license for anyone to pinch, rewrite and share with attribution and linking back to this post. You don't need to ask my permission to use it, even for commercial use, but you need to apply the same type of license to your version as I've used here. That's the deal :)

Dear organisations, companies, charities, people who employ other people...

There are lots of people looking for jobs at the moment and many of them will be spending some time looking online, so let's make it easier.

Although there's an almost limitless supply of websites that list job vacancies most organisations will also post their own jobs on their own website in addition to advertising elsewhere. Sometimes they can be a bit hard to find and require hopeful candidates to spend time hunting on your website.

Here's my big suggestion for making it easier for everyone to find your latest job vacancies.

Create a page which has the following type of address

This means that anyone visiting your site only has to type /jobs at the end of the address of your homepage to be immediately taken to your page about jobs.

Most web users know or have learned, through experience, that clicking on the organisation's logo (generally on the left hand side of the page) will return them to the homepage. I'd love it if people could similarly learn that typing /jobs was a quick shortcut that would always lead them to a page of info about working at your company.

It also provides people with a page that they can bookmark and link to (eg on sites where vacancies pages are collected). It's even better if you set up an RSS feed on it so that your new jobs are sent to RSS subscribers whenever you make a change on that page.

Possible objections
1. People can use our search box to find jobs
I'm sure they can, if they're on your site. But should they search for job, jobs, vacancy, vacancies, work with us (for us) or recruitment? Do all those words lead them to your page on jobs?

2. Way ahead of you, our jobs page is at
Fantastic. Any chance you could humour me and set up a /jobs page that redirects to your vacancies page as well?

Don't forget, after a website reshuffle, to point your new to the page though.

3. We're a small company so we don't have a page on jobs
Well... can't force you, but would it damage your Google ranking to have a page saying that jobs will be posted there when they become available?

How about using such a page to talk about what a great place you are to work, perhaps some profiles celebrating the diverse mix of skills and backgrounds of your members of staff, and why they've chosen to work there.

4. Well we do have a jobs board
Great but that's you advertising jobs at other organisations (very helpful of course) but is it easy for people to find out how they can work with you too?

See also - my other regular bleats on this topic :)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

WDDTY 'exposes' the ASA but slightly misses the point I think

Since I've been blocked from the "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Facebook page I can't comment there and I doubt they'd publish a letter from me so I'm posting it here. I'm still smarting a little bit from the ban to be honest as I don't think I could have been any more polite while disagreeing with someone - I pointed out that people who are critical of WDDTY might not be 'Big Pharma shills' (after all, I'm not).

Of course my blog is indexed in Google (nothing unique to me, most blogs are and Blogger is owned by Google) so this text may well show up when people search for WDDTY-related material in a way it probably wouldn't if I'd posted it on Facebook. So swings and roundabouts.

I've had a look at the December edition of this magazine and was disappointed though not surprised by the WDDTY Opinion Piece on the Advertising Standards Authority. I think bits of it are wrong, but bits of it are also encouraging people to focus on the wrong battle. In addition to the ASA there's a lot that a knowledgeable, motivated, collaborative and snarky bunch of bloggers can do and have done to try and tackle misleading advertising claims.

If you spot any mistakes in my arguments below please let me know, thanks.


There seems to be some confusion in your opinion piece on the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and its role. Since the pharmaceutical industry is not allowed to advertise directly to the public in the UK the ASA does not rule on any of its marketing material. The PMCPA (Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority) is the body that makes sure that pharma companies are operating within the ABPI's (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) code - if drug advertising (found in the medical not general literature) is misleading then the PMCPA can take action against it. The ASA instead ensures that marketing material is compliant with the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) code.

In both cases the two agencies are paid for by the industries that they regulate, so I don't think the ASA is paid for by pharma companies. Undoubtedly some pharma companies have a non-prescription only medicine wing that they might advertise to the public so I'll accept that there might be some money from them.

I am more concerned that the tone of the article suggests to readers that the ASA is getting a bit above itself and can be ignored. I'm not sure that this is helpful to any of your readers who are making health claims without robust evidence because they may not realise what happens if someone reports them to the ASA.

I've probably reported only around 30 adverts or marketing items to the ASA. In one or two cases the ASA disagreed with me and felt there was no case to answer, a few more have been resolved informally but rather a lot have resulted in an adjudication in 'my' favour. To be honest I'd have preferred that the organisations involved just amended their pages when first asked, and saved themselves and the ASA the bother.

Within this relatively small, compared with other skeptic bloggers, number of complaints I have had a pretty high success* rate and this is what I've learned from going through the process several times.

*I think it's important to say that my definition of success is a misleading claim being removed or modified and not just someone getting told off. I'd be lying though if I said I hadn't also enjoyed some of the worst cases being told off.

A complaint is made to the ASA
Initially the ASA will probably contact the organisation / marketer and ask them to amend any misleading claims. Even if they do so promptly the ASA will still list this on their website as an 'informally resolved' case - i.e. the mere act of me reporting a website tends to result in their trading name being listed on the ASA (this is why I'd prefer to have a quiet word with the marketer first but this rarely goes well).

Marketer decides to defend their claims
If they decide to challenge the ASA by providing evidence then the ASA will deliberate further and make an adjudication. Either it will go in the marketer's favour (not upheld) or it won't (upheld) but again in either scenario the case will be listed on the ASA's website on its own separate page and will likely be tweeted.

Marketer told to amend claims, marketer doesn't
If, after an adjudication is upheld, the marketer still doesn't amend the claims then the ASA may add them to its list of non-compliant online advertisers. It can also work with search engines to remove paid-for advertising and take out an advert itself about the misleading claims. In parallel with this there's a high chance that it will be tweeted and blogged about and may even make it to the mainstream press. The ASA has recently (as of 21 November 2013) strengthened its relationship with Trading Standards and if the claims are still problematic then the ASA can refer the marketer to Trading Standards. At that point things could well become rather serious as Trading Standards can bring a case against them to court which is likely to result in a fine or (rarely) a prison sentence.

Bloggers and newspapers might publicise this further
Again, in parallel, there will probably be some blogging and possibly mainstream news articles about this which can damage search results (when people look for information or a company website they will find information pointing out that the company has been making misleading claims).

'Using' the ASA
To say that Simon Singh and the Nightingale Collaboration 'use' the ASA is a bit silly, since that is the body that deals specifically with misleading consumer advertising. Though on a much smaller scale you could also say that I 'use' the ASA to persuade marketers to make their claims more reasonable.

In some cases I report people to Trading Standards, sometimes to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority. More recently I have reported some marketers to the CHNC (Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council) for misleading claims, where that marketer is registered with that professional body. The CHNC has suggested that its members should follow ASA / CAP guidelines.

Credit where it's due
Simon Perry devised the Fishbarrel tool which is a plugin for Chrome. However if readers of the Nightingale Collaboration's newsletter want to take part in a particular claim they rarely submit complaints to the ASA precisely for the reason of not swamping them. The Nightingale Collaboration usually asks readers to share relevant examples with them, and then they submit a master complaint - this is more efficient.

Don't get bogged down with just evidence - medical governance is important too
The ASA isn't just interested in evidence (robust evidence please, not these feeble little studies that show a small positive effect) but also what types of conditions people are talking about. There are a number of serious conditions that require the care of appropriately qualified doctors and if a website or leaflet is claiming to treat people with those conditions, but doesn't have a doctor on-site, then this is problematic - irrespective of the quality of any evidence.

Be careful what you wish for
Dismantling the ASA will not stop bloggers from reporting misleading trading claims to Trading Standards or other regulatory agencies. It also won't stop them writing about misleading claims, and in terms of search engine results that may be the bigger problem for those who rely on online reputation. I certainly can't imagine things would be much better for sellers of alternative medicine if the government began regulating it directly.

Friday, 29 November 2013

David Arnold's introducing You Only Live Twice at BFI in January - need to be a member and apply for free tickets

Edit 10 December 2013
The members' ticket ballot has now finished and the event is sold out / full. Members have until 20.30pm on Friday 13 December 2013 to claim the ticket(s) they've won in the ballot and if they don't claim them then any remaining tickets will be made available from Saturday for other members to buy. If you want a ticket you need to be (a) a BFI member and (b) get ready to buy on Saturday. If that fails then try again a bit nearer the time (and on the day too of course) as someone may return a ticket at the last-minute.

Oh this sounds cool!

BFI Screen epiphanies in partnership with American Express present
David Arnold introduces You Only Live Twice
Thursday 23 January 2014
NFT1, BFI, Southbank

David Arnold is talking about and introducing You Only Live Twice which is one of the films and film scores (music by John Barry) that inspired him to become a film composer (and he's scored a fair few Bond films himself).

I like David Arnold and have heard him speak at a couple of events. He's funny, thoughtful and knowledgeable and has a really good strategic overview* of what it is that needs to be done in terms of creating music for the screen. Not to mention he's written some lovely music for all sorts of films and television programmes. Highly recommended.

*Yeah I was looking for something a bit less business-speak but I suppose that will do.

To get tickets...
NFT1 has a capacity of 450 seats.
    If you like John Barry you might like:
    Blow the bloody doors off! An evening of film music from Michael Caine films at Barbican on 6 February 2014, including The Ipcress File (John Barry), Alfie, Get Carter and The Italian Job

    See also

    Thursday, 28 November 2013

    Is there a website that matches student surveys with willing survey fillers-in?

    I'm lucky enough to have two academic email accounts at different universities and consequently I get a steady stream of all-users requests from students who ask us to fill in a survey or take part in an experiment etc. These are generally good-will-based although some involve a small payment for time / expense.

    Clearly, despite faculty and student diversity, this is still going to a fairly defined 'university population' rather than the wider general public.

    There are several ways of getting your survey (or requests for participants) under the eyeballs of more people and they'll have varying degrees of success. I've never tried to do this myself but my top-of-head suggestions might include the suggestions below, but here's my main question.

    Is there a website / database to which students can add details of their survey, perhaps categorised by topic and type of help wanted?

    It sounds like the sort of thing people like MySociety might build, or a few enterprising university-based nerds. Possibly JISC might help. Maybe not.

    I'm thinking of something that would be available for any student at any UK university, so it would need some buy-in from all UK unis. It would - in my fantasy world - be promoted by all public engagement / outreach officers at events and on websites, and members of the public would be able to help out on a student's research project. Possibly people could sign up or get RSS feeds telling them when something to do with a particular topic becomes available. Where appropriate students could post results arising from their work and what this has added to our knowledge of a topic, or validity of a new method etc.

    Aeons ago I signed up to Focus Force which lets people hear about focus groups happening for various things. That's a commercial venture but I'm sure something similar could be organised without great cost and it would seem to benefit an awful lot of people in universities.

    UCL has a scheme in place for people who want to take part in its lab experiments, possibly other universities have other arrangements - it just seems odd that surveys especially (online, one's location is likely irrelevant unless the survey is about 'living in Bristol') can't get a wider audience.

    Anyway here are my suggestions - it's entirely possible they're crap, as I say I don't run surveys and don't recruit anyone to them.

    Facebook - ask your friends to do the survey, ask them to share it. You can even pay to promote it to a particular demographic if you wish. Obviously if it's just your friends then there's another risk of biased results.

    Post your link more than once a few hours or day(s) apart but intersperse it with other things too. You can also tag a few people and ask them to help out but don't spam people.

    Twitter - obviously. Great way to reach people. Best to spend a bit of time getting to know it first though. If you want to reach a particular target audience it's wise to spend some time searching, by keyword, for accounts that talk about what you're interested. See who they're following, see what hashtags they're using, get to know them. Twitter's more about building relationships than spamming people.

    I recommend posting the link a few times at different times of day and on different times of day. Make sure you post other things in the interim otherwise your portfolio of tweets will look spammy and dull.

    Hopefully other people will retweet your request, here are examples of where I've done that:

    Newsagents' windows / supermarket community boards - in among the ads offering a child's bike and three piece suite why not add your request.

    Gumtree - do people ever use the site for that sort of thing? It seems to get used for everything else so sounds like it might be worth investigating but I've never used it.

    Create a mini site - you can create a really nice free website on Wordpress or even here on Blogger and put up a bit of information about your research, how people can help by taking part and a link to your survey. You can add new bits of information about it but it might be a lot of work for very little return.

    Here's an example though by a student at UCL

    Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    If you've received an #askforevidence tweet or email from me it might mean the following


    You might have received a message from me asking for some evidence for a claim you've made in your marketing material. My request might have taken you by surprise and you might be rather annoyed to be challenged in this way. I expect I would be a bit surprised if someone contacted me too, so I've written this post to try and explain what it is that I'm trying to do.

    I regularly report what I believe to be misleading marketing claims to the Advertising Standards Authority. Many (by no means all) have resulted in an adjudication being upheld against the marketer with the details listed on the ASA's website. In fact even if the case doesn't get as far as an adjudication (usually because the marketer agrees to the ASA's request to amend the claims) the marketer's trading name will still appear on the ASA's pages in the 'informally resolved' section.

    It seemed like a good idea, in terms of saving time and effort and avoiding names being listed, for me to try asking people if they will amend their claims before reporting them to the ASA. If claims are amended then there's nothing to report to the ASA. It may not work of course but I thought I'd give it a go.

    The reason I'm asking is that I'm not convinced by the claim(s) that you've made on Twitter or on your website (or leaflet). The claims are possibly in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) and Committe for Advertising Practice's (CAP) advertising codes and it may be advisable for you to think about changing your wording.

    Please have a look at the CAP's AdviceOnline database or browse the Advice Index to search for your treatment to find out what you can say about it in your advertising material. You can also browse this alphabetic list of therapies for information.

    Don't forget that the ASA aren't just interested in evidence for your claims. If you mention serious conditions or diseases (the sort that anyone would expect to be under the care of a doctor) and you don't have a doctor at your clinic or place of treatment then the ASA may want to know more about this. From previous adjudications they tend to take a dim view of people or companies claiming that they can treat a long 'shopping list' of diseases and they have frequently mentioned their concerns about a website failing to encourage people to visit a doctor for essential treatment. A medical disclaimer is not sufficient to get around this and it is generally inadvisable to say anything that could be understood as you offering to diagnose, treat or cure any disease - unless you have robust evidence.

    You may very well think that I am wrong or that your treatment is fantastic, and of course I am easy enough to ignore. But if the evidence doesn't satisfy CAP's requirements for 'robust evidence' then the ASA may well ask you to amend claims made on your website.

    If you decide not to amend your advert (and a number of people are standing their ground and defying the ASA) then a number of potentially annoying things can happen -

    1. Listed on ASA's informally resolved page
    Even if you do amend your ad I think your company will probably still be listed on the 'informally resolved' section of their website. That is what has happened in the past (and precisely why I thought "wouldn't it be great to avoid this by asking people to change their claims before getting the ASA involved?").

    2. ASA investigations and adjudications
    The ASA might undertake a more formal investigation which can result in an adjudication. These are listed on individual pages on the ASA's website, tweeted by the ASA and usually a few others and occasionally picked up by mainstream media, more frequently by science / skeptic bloggers. The adjudication may be upheld (against you) or not upheld (that is, it's actually in your favour) but either way it's on their website.

    3. ASA's list of non-compliant advertisers
    If an adjudication is upheld and you still do not amend your website then the ASA may add you to its list of noncompliant online advertisers. These events are tweeted by the ASA and by a number of other people. To be honest it doesn't look good to people who are searching online for information about your company, though some people seem to treat these citations as a sort of 'badge of honour', and as proof that the ASA is oppressing them in some way.

    There's also quite a high chance that bloggers will write about the listing and a low to medium chance that it will be picked up by the mainstream press. The ASA also do proactive press work, speaking on radio as well as being invited to comment in written pieces too.

    The ASA can take further action against you though. They can take out an advert that is critical of your marketing claims, they can also work with search engines to remove your paid-for advertising. Their adjudications seem to feature prominently in search results too.

    Although the ASA has no legal sanction over you itself (that I'm aware of) their activities and the follow-on results of those (including blogging), might damage your reputation online.

    4. Trading Standards, courts, fines, trading restrictions
    The most annoying thing that the ASA can do though is refer you to Trading Standards. Because there are trading laws and acts in place Trading Standards can use the power of a court to stop you trading, or fine you for continuing to make misleading claims (ie trading unfairly). If you are making claims about curing cancer then you are probably also in breach of the Cancer Act of 1939. It is likely that you will get a fine and nothing more, though if you continue I think the next fine will be larger and I believe that after that (certainly in the case of the Cancer Act) you may be looking at a prison sentence. These are definitely picked up by the mainstream press, bloggers etc.

    The ASA recently announced that they'd strengthened the processes involved in working with Trading Standards: Trading Standards becomes ASA’s legal backstop power (21 November 2013).

    See also
    • Asking for evidence when companies make misleading claims - but whom should we ask? #askforevidence  (22 September 2013)
      This post is basically me deciding not to ask people first, because it's never gone down well in the past! However on reflection while there are certainly cases that I'll just report directly I still want to try out a bit of negotiation first.

      Here's a bit of what I wrote there -

      "A question for fellow skeptic bloggers / activists... and perhaps for 'quacks'
      I've always thought that it would seem to be a kindness to give a company an opportunity to avoid a citation on the ASA's website by seeing if it's possible to resolve the misleading claims before snitching on them.

      However I'm yet to find the right way to do this - and wondered if anyone had any ideas or if we've all agreed to just get on and report it. I wonder if people who are (let's charitably assume they're doing it unwittingly) making misleading claims would rather skeptics 'had a quiet word' before bringing things to the ASA's attention.

      I've tried face to face, telephone conversations and emails but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way of communicating to someone that their advert is misleading without getting their hackles up. Or if there is I've not managed it (and I'm always Britishly polite about it even if they aren't).

      Worse, I feel that I do have to tell them that if they don't change the advert I'm going to report it to the ASA and that just sounds threatening. So, much as I'd like to, I'm afraid I don't bother with the preliminaries and just report the misleading claims."

    It's a bit tedious when people assume that anyone who reports misleading health claims is a secret member of some group of people paid by 'Big Pharma', rather than someone who is simply a bit annoyed to see potentially dangerous claims made on the back of poor quality evidence. However I am happy to state that I do not receive any money or other benefits from the pharmaceutical industry either directly or indirectly, nor do I have any stocks and shares in any of the pharmaceutical industries.

    I am not a member of the Nightingale Collaboration (no-one is, they do not have members, though I do read their newsletter and am supportive of their aims and sometimes their campaigns). I am not a member of Sense About Science (don't think they have members either) but I have donated money to them and will happily do so again - not large amounts of money either.

    My interest in taking action on misleading claims arose from reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Guardian column, his blog and the forum he created and coincided with hearing about crazy adverts for diabetes cures when I used to work at the health charity Diabetes UK. As part of my (then) job I received a number of enquiries from people who'd come across miracle cures and wanted to know more about them. I wanted to know how it was possible that such claims could be made, discovered that they couldn't and began reporting them.

    You might also argue that there are more important things to worry about, however I might well be worried about them too, or I might not - it's not actually relevant. I do worry that the pharmaceutical industry has not been transparent about the effects of drugs and I have signed the #AllTrials petition to make it harder for them to keep hidden what they want to keep hidden. It would be great if you did the same. The petition comes from Sense About Science, Ben Goldacre and others that you might not approve of - however the aim of the petition is to make Big Pharma publish ALL of its clinical trial data and not just the bits they like. I think we'd all agree that that's a good idea even if you don't like who's calling for it to happen. Hope so.

    UCL Computer Science opens its doors to the public - 9 Dec 2013

    I have basically churnalised and adapted this from an email sent round to people at UCL :)

    CS Unveiled
    Monday 9 December
    UCL Computer Science Department

    Ever wanted to know what goes on in one of the biggest Computer Science departments in the world? What new inventions are emerging? What innovative teaching is taking place? And what Computer Science will be about in the year 2020?

    On Monday 9 December, UCL Computer Science Department opens its doors to the general public, giving an exclusive peek at the cutting edge research and teaching facilities that will change the world in the future. You will discover what makes computers tick and people touch. You will learn how Computer Science will continue to underpin every aspect of our lives.

    UCL Computer Science has a long and impressive history. For example, we were the first to host the Internet outside the US, we have developed photographic technology that transforms every camera image, we have revolutionized online safety and the privacy of data and we are working on the robots of the future. We’re also developing tools to help teachers in the classroom so Computer Science will become mainstream in all primary and secondary schools.

    The event will de-mystify the discipline and showcase the challenges and opportunities. You will have the opportunity to speak with leading researchers, students and innovators in Computer Science. This is your opportunity to see tomorrow's technology today - book now at .

    For more details about the day see here Please send any questions to

    What's happening?
    2pm Unveiling CS in Industry
    Find out more about our collaborations with multinatational companies and tech start-ups and hear from students who have rolled out projects to industry.

    3pm CS tours and demos
    To include the CAVE: Immersive Virtual Environments Laboratory for 3-D simulations; Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory; Secure Data Laboratory: a new £1m facility launched this year.

    5pm Unveiling CS Research Impact
    Hear about our cutting edge research through our latest case studies and see the impact it has on society beyond academia. Followed at 6pm with a reception and chance to meet our impact story authors and learn more about their work and how it changes lives.


    Monday, 25 November 2013

    OSCHR - Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research - more info needed

    See acronym buster at end.

    I was a bit surprised to discover, three weeks ago, that there was such a thing as OSCHR. It's been around since the Cooksey Report (2006, see also House of Commons Sci & Tech report) and you would think that I might have clocked its existence given that I've been working in a sphere that's at least peripherally related to health research. In fact I even spent some time in the Research Team as a grants administrator.

    True, charity funded research is a bit separate from government funded research but I was still a bit surprised at my ignorance here. I wonder what else I've missed.

    Anyway... as I see it OSCHR oversee the funding (both spend and decisions made) that MRC and NIHR do and it reports back to BIS and Department of Health.

    From the UKCRC there's this, which explains how it all hangs together, but I still feel I need a bit more.

    "In 2006, Sir David Cooksey published a review of the institutional arrangements for the public funding of health research in the UK, which proposed the establishment of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) to act as a central coordinating body for health research. The UK health research budget is now ring-fenced into a single fund, and OSCHR provides strategic oversight of the budgetary division and research strategy of both the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research.

    OSCHR reports to the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills , and includes structures to allow strategic input from the devolved administrations."

    I know who's on the OSCHR board and that it holds the purse strings but how does it make decisions and are there any reports more recent than the 2008 one? Presumably it puts out calls periodically for funding (or is this done via MRC / NIHR?) as a charity would, perhaps in addition to 'apply any time' grants. Does it fund anything through an acronym other than MRC / NIHR? Does it get money from anywhere other than BIS / DH?

    Thank you :)

    Acronym buster
    BIS - Governmental Department of Business, Innovation and Skills
    DH or DoH - Department of Health. I think they lost the 'o' in a reshuffle
    MRC - Medical Research Council (one of 7 research councils, all fall within UKRC)
    NIHR - National Institute for Health Research
    OSCHR - Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research
    UKCRC - UK Clinical Research Collaboration
    UKRC - UK Research Councils