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

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Home-made Pomodoro timings - a spreadsheet with hard sums pre-calculated :)

I've read positive and negative things about the Pomodoro technique (basically using a timer to restrict the time in which you work / break / work in the hope of reducing distraction and getting more stuff done in a shorter time-frame). I don't suffer from procrastination particularly (no more than the usual) but I do often find that (a) I think of something unrelated to the task and think 'well I'd better do that now' and / or (b) find that in order to do something I first need to do something else that is related to the task.

While I can't think of anything that will help with (b) I use for (a) and just enter a one-line reminder and then forget about it until I next have a break / bit of time to deal with it. What I've found with Pomodoro is that it removes me from the equation. I am the rate-limiting step in getting stuff done because other stuff pops into my head, but a combination of 'dump it here and forget about it for now' and 'get on with what I started' seems to be productive. Of course I may acclimatise and will have to add in 5 minute beatings to motivate myself ;)

It's easy to do, just start a timer for 25 mins, do something useful. Stop for 5 mins, do it again and so on with longer breaks in between 'sets' of Pomodoros. (Why aren't they called timeatos?)

But I wanted to see how a day would look if it were full of Pomodoros (I'd never do as many as listed but did a big calculation just in case). One of my afternoon tasks today (that I gave myself when I'd finished other stuff, which I did woohoo), was to create a shareable Excel spreadsheet with the timings I'd worked out this morning.

Here it is, instructions are appended below but also embedded in the first tab of the sheet.

Jo's Pomodoro pre-calculated time wrangling spreadsheet:
[View online] [Download Excel .xlsx file]  

and here's a better one from Alan Hennness, my new mortal enemy ;)
[View online] [Download Excel .xlsx file]

Hope you find it useful. Tough luck if you don't (no need to tell me, it works fine for me and that is its primary* purpose) ;)

*sole, but I'm being polite.

Basic instructions
Go to tab marked 'Pomodoro calculations'. Leave the 9am example (the one on the left) and use the one on the right - enter your preferred start time and press enter. The table should populate itself with the suggested timings.

Obviously you still need to use some sort of timer device, but I made this for myself so that I could see how a day might look. Feel free to ignore it entirely :)

Ones in green are timings you may wish to change as these are the breaks. You can amend the calculation in Cells L10, L18 or L26 and the remaining calculations should update accordingly.

Use the guide in columns J and K to amend any timings - this is based on the fact that there are 288 x 5 minutes in 24 hours.

The formula for adding 25 minutes to the time in a cell (where the cell is C3) is

The formula for adding 5 minutes to Cell C3 is

If nothing else, and let alone whether or not Pomodoro is of any use, I'm delighted to have learned how to wrangle time formatting in Excel. 

The locked spare is in case anyone mucks up the first sheet - the password is jobrodie
Since I made this for me, and it seems to work, I imagine that's the end of it but if you need to contact me I'm on but I'm afraid I'm not going to be doing any more calculations. I'm certain there's a better way of doing this sort of thing but since I've found a solution to how to do this my interest in it has dropped back to zero ;)

Happy productivity, or time-wrangling,

This page was what pointed out to me the 5/288 style of calculation for 25 minutes:

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

What is a misleading homeopathy claim, and how to report it to the ASA

by @JoBrodie,

This post is written for people who might not have made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority before. 

If you're irritated by homeopaths making misleading claims on Twitter, Facebook or on their websites (or in-shop leaflets or any other marketing) you can complain about those claims to the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA).

See part 4 below for info on just how busy the ASA is in general, and why, and note that your complaint about homeopathy will probably not be handled as a full complaint but be handled as a compliance issue. Also see part 6b for some reasons on why you may (or may not) want to blog about your complaint.

1. Make a complaint in the UK
This is the page on the ASA's website where you can make a complaint (you give your name and address but it isn't published): 

If you are a private individual complaining as a member of the public your name and address is not given to the person or organisation you're complaining about and is not made public at any stage of the investigation - you are completely anonymous (unless you choose to make your complaint public in your blog etc). If you are complaining as a company (eg a company selling the second-best-selling face cream complaining about an advert by the best-selling face cream) then your company may be named in the adjudication.

2. Make a complaint in other countries too
The ASA deals with claims made on UK websites or leaflets but, thanks to its cross-border agreements, it will liaise with the relevant advertising standards authority in the following countries too -
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and of course the United Kingdom.

And that's it.

There's some background information below too.

3. What happens next?
It used to be that any complaint to the ASA would result in them asking the homeopath for evidence and then considering each case. If the marketer agreed to amend their website then the case was closed and it appeared on the ASA's website as an 'informally resolved' case. If the marketer argued their case then the complaint went to the Board for an adjudication. Either the case was upheld against the marketer or it wasn't, and these were listed on the ASA's weekly adjudications. Persistent web marketing offenders find themselves on the non-compliant list of online advertisers.

4. Things changed in 2011
However after it became possible to complain about marketing material on websites too (from March 2011) the number of complaints about misleading homeopathy claims increased dramatically.

The ASA handled so many complaints about homeopathy in 2011 that it undertook a review of the evidence and, finding none of good quality, appears to have simplified the complaints procedure - it seems that the ASA no longer asks homeopaths for evidence for their claims but instead passes the complaint directly to the Compliance team (they're the ones that ask the marketer to remove the claims for which there's no evidence).

Because the Compliance team don't report on their work directly you may not hear about the outcome of your complaint in quite the same way but you can follow @NightingaleC on Twitter to see published lists of adjudications / rulings and informally resolved cases.

5. What can you complain about?
It is perfectly legal to sell homeopathy pills or consultations / treatment. Most homeopaths comply with advertising regulations and their websites talk about how they support people's health (which is true). The Society of Homeopaths has worked with the ASA to encourage their members to ensure that their marketing material is acceptable, see their guidance document for more info:

However, if a homeopath is not medically trained and their website...

(a) claims that homeopathy is effective in treating various conditions for which there's no good evidence or
(b) refers to serious medical conditions

...then they may be in breach of the advertising recommendations. Following the 2011 review the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP code) produced a set of guidelines for what is / isn't permitted in homeopathy marketing, it's worth a read. Note this sentence in particular:
"Those practitioners who are not medically qualified should not make claims about the efficacy of their treatments and should not refer to serious medical conditions..."
5a) for which conditions is homeopathy already known to lack evidence?
From a look at several adjudications in which complaints were upheld against homeopathy sites the following conditions were listed as being of concern. That is, the ASA asked a homeopath to remove reference to one or more of these conditions from their website after finding the evidence was insufficiently good.

acne, anxiety, arthritis, Candida, cataracts, cold flushes, dengue fever (prevention of), depression
diphtheria prevention, genital warts, hot flushes, exhaustion, heavy periods, influenza (prevention of)
irregular periods, irritability, Japanese encephalitis prevention ('homeoprophylaxis'), loss of libido, low mood, malaria prevention, menopausal symptoms, meningitis prevention, mood swings, mosquito bites, night sweats, other skin problems, PMS, PMT, polio prevention, psoriasis, serious medical conditions (this could include asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure etc), side-effects of the Pill, tetanus prevention, tick-borne encephalitis prevention, tiredness, typhoid prevention, vaginal dryness, yellow fever prevention.

It's not an exhaustive list.

5b) what are serious medical conditions?
Any condition where you'd reasonably expect someone to be under the care of a qualified medical doctor might include hypertension, asthma or diabetes and they're generally bit of a no-no on websites. Obviously there's no good evidence that homeopathy's of any use but the ASA is additionally concerned if, by mentioning serious conditions, consumers may be discouraged from seeking appropriately qualified advice.

5c. A note on cancer
In the UK it's actually illegal to make any claims to treat cancer - there is a separate act for this (the Cancer Act 1939) - very few homeopaths mention cancer on their website for obvious reasons.

6. What else can you do?
a) ask marketers to amend their website directly and / or
b) blog about misleading claims 

The ASA has to deal with a lot of enquiries, some of them much more problematic than minor misleading claims on homeopaths websites, so don't assume that your complaint will be a priority unless it's a seriously dodgy claim. So what else can you do?

a) Ask them yourself to amend their website
There's nothing to stop you from contacting a marketer directly and asking them for evidence for their claims or pointing out that you have concerns about what their website says. But go carefully. You are not there to tell people what they can and can't advertise (that's what the ASA is for) and it's a bad and unpleasant idea to go around threatening people and generally being a jerk. It's fine to contact people politely and express reservations about their adverts but let's not be mean-spirited about it. I've seen comments on some skeptic blogs that make me a little worried about people's motivation - it really comes down to the fact that people should be advertising their wares responsibly.

In general I'm not hugely in favour of contacting people directly though I do do it on occasion (politely) to see what happens (not much). You might think that discussing it informally (ie without involving regulatory bodies, saving everyone time) might be a positive thing but it can easily be misinterpreted and relations between skeptic bloggers / activists and homeopaths are at an all time low. So don't be surprised if your approach is not met with enthusiasm. Proceed with caution. I've written more on the 'ethics' of contacting misleading advertisers directly.

a) Blog about misleading claims and good evidence
Blogging is just a way of increasing the amount of information about a topic. You may not be able to remove bad information from the internet but you can slightly increase the amount of better information. When people search for a topic there' s a chance that they'll read your information instead of something worse. Blogging also raises awareness of a topic and connects you to a network of people who are trying to improve online information about health.

Do be careful about how you phrase things if you are naming a homeopath or company - it is fine to point out that their website contains information that has previously been shown to be in breach of the CAP code or that the information could be misleading. It is not fine to imply that anyone is being deliberately underhand and intending to deceive punters by telling them that homeopathy can cure things that it can't - avoid libelling people. From many years' immersion in homeopathy websites I'm genuinely convinced that, with the majority of homeopaths (and other alternative practitioners), there is no intention to deceive and that people truly believe the claims that they make - they are mistaken, not liars.

Be aware of nuance too. Although there's literally nothing in the homeopathy pills (because they dilute the starting material so much, to the point that the final remedy is 'empty') there is something in the 'theatre' of buying and taking pills, or the time spent with customers and kindness offered to them in a treatment setting. This has value to people and let's not assume that all homeopaths are idiotic moneygrabbers, they're not.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

How the pharmaceutical industry interacts with healthcare professionals, etc - consultation closes 5 Sep

Before we get going let's familiarise ourselves with some acronyms...

ABPI = Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
EFPIA =  European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations
MHRA = Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
PMCPA =  Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority 

This arrived in my inbox yesterday from the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) and is about a consultation that's currently taking place regarding several things including the way in which the pharmaceutical industry interacts with healthcare professionals.

Consultation on proposals to amend the 2014 ABPI Code of Practice (14 July 2014) ABPI

"Consultation launched on proposed changes to the ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Constitution and Procedure for the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority

Changes are proposed to the 2014 ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry and the PMCPA Constitution and Procedure.

There are a number of reasons for the changes including the work done by the group established by the ABPI Board to review the Code. Additional changes are also needed to implement fully the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) Code on Disclosure of Transfers of Value from Pharmaceutical Companies to Healthcare Professionals and Healthcare Organisations. Updates to the EFPIA Disclosure Code and the EFPIA Code on the Promotion of Prescription-Only Medicines to, and Interactions with, Healthcare Professionals were agreed at the EFPIA General Assembly on 6 June 2014. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) consultation as part of the red tape challenge and the regular update of the Code and its operation have also resulted in proposals."
I'm not sure why it arrived by email yesterday when the consultation begain in July and ends in a couple of weeks - I've only found one mention of it on Twitter too.

Here are the documents, however the link for the "copy of the draft Code of Practice" which is given on the site doesn't work.
  1. Proposals to amend the ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry
  2. Proposals to amend the PMCPA Constitution and Procedure
  3. EFPIA Disclosure Code
  4. EFPIA template
  5. EFPIA HCP Code
  6. Draft template (UK amendments to EFPIA version).  (Further work maybe required.  The differences between the EFPIA template and the UK template are limited to those changes necessary to reflect requirements of the ABPI Code and to provide the data in a form suitable for the ABPI searchable database.)
Visit the website for info on how to contribute to the consultation: Consultation on proposals to amend the 2014 ABPI Code of Practice (14 July 2014) ABPI.

This list of health conditions should not be on homeopathy websites

Homeopaths have to be a bit careful about mentioning conditions on their websites, particularly conditions that would be considered serious and that would typically be under the care of a qualified doctor.

Advertising Standards in the UK do not permit homeopaths (the ones that aren't medically trained at any rate) to make claims about treating anything if they do not have any evidence (and let's face it, their evidence is uniformly poor) - they should not "make claims about the efficacy of their treamtents..."

But, and this is an important but, the authority that regulates advertising and marketing claims additionally does not permit homeopathy marketers to "refer to serious medical conditions" (this is irrespective of any evidence) if the marketer is not medically trained or if there's no doctor working at the clinic.

They can't mention conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure etc. In the UK cancer is always an extremely unwise thing for a homeopath (or anyone for that matter) to claim to treat as there is actually an Act that makes doing so a criminal offence (the Cancer Act 1939), most people do not mention cancer treatments on their website for that reason.

If a homeopath lists on their website one or more serious medical conditions then they are going beyond the limits of what is possible for them to mention in their marketing material.

There are two separate things here
(1) evidence, or not and
(2) merely mentioning serious healthcare conditions

To the best of my knowledge the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) are no longer seeking evidence about homeopathy because they did a massive investigation into it a couple of years ago. This resulted in guidance which informs their future decisions about misleading marketing claims.

Additionally, my experience has been that where a homeopath has listed conditions the approach has been to focus on (2) rather than asking them for any evidence.

However these days the ASA no longer seems to be adjudicating on homeopathy claims and they don't appear to be taking them on as individual cases. Instead they seem to be simply asking the homeopath to remove the misleading claims. Failure to do so can result in the website being listed on the ASA's non-compliant online advertisers page and may also result in removal of any paid-for search-engine ads and in addition the ASA may publish an advert to appear in search engine results, warning consumers of the organisation's advertising status.

When I put in a homeopathy ASA complaint now I no longer get updates on how it's going because the case is immediately passed to the Compliance team, who do not report directly to the public. I generally hear only if the website is added to the non-compliants list (eg Islington Homeopathy)

With that in mind, it's entirely possible that I won't hear anything much about the outcome of my complaint about the website below, which I've recently submitted.

The web address is embedded here

There is sliding scale of fees for a consultation, depending on its length and costs for individual remedies so this site is marketing a service for which people pay.

Here is the list of conditions, apparently "just a small selection". Oh dear.

The ones that particularly concern me include asthma, bronchitis and depression but 'hormonal imbalances' should clearly have support of a doctor or endocrinologist. There are plenty others listed that worry me but those were the ones I highlighted in my complaint to the ASA.

Amazingly and amusingly there's also a seminar listed on that site, all about endocrinology. Clicking through to the seminar's own page (on another site) suggests that discussions about chakras will feature.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

How to favourite tweets covertly, thwarting this new irritation from Twitter

I've not seen it myself but apparently Twitter's rolling out a new irritation for its users - showing in people's timelines some of the tweets that their followers have favourited. While it's always been possible to find out what people you follow are favouriting this is the first time it's been presented in your timeline. Possibly this will delight everyone but so far everything I've read on the topic suggests the opposite (it's been rolled out in a small number of users).

If you're favouriting a tweet to send a message to someone, eg "I liked your tweet" or "I've read your tweet" - carry on, but be aware that if this new thing rolls out to all users then this may be made more obvious to your followers (though it has always been public information, just not 'surfaced' in this way).

If you use favourites more as a 'saving for later' bookmarking kind of thing then do any of these instead. Instructions are for people using Twitter via a web browse.

1. Bookmark the tweet
Each tweet has its own web address. You can find it in its timestamp and right-click, bookmark the link, copy or save it into a new tab and bookmark it that way (this will depend on your browser settings).

2. Email it to yourself
Look for the "More..." option when is more visible when you hover over the tweet - emailing the tweet is an option there

3. Take a screenshot and save the image as a file

4. Storify it
Storifying is an imperfect tool for covert tweet-saving because if you publish the Storify and the person whose tweet you've saved has also registered with the site then I think they will be auto-informed by email and there's not much you can do about it, even if you avoid sending them the 'I've included one of your tweets in my Storify' tweets. However if you keep it as a draft it's nicely under the radar.

Further reading
Twitter starts to change the central logic of its service (17 August 2014) The Atlantic
How to understand Twitter's new bad direction (23 August 2014) Computerworld (page three)
"Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that's popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don't follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting."
From What's a Twitter timeline? (date unknown) Twitter Help Center

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Currently blithering about: a science communication / public engagement continuum, possibly spiral

Science communication and public engagement are overlapping things that I'm involved in to various degrees.

When I worked at Diabetes UK one of my roles was to answer medical* / science enquiries from members of the public (and colleagues). For example "why shouldn't I drink grapefruit juice if I'm taking statins?", "why can't you just transplant beta cells from an identical twin in someone with type 1 diabetes?", "will taking these herbal pills cure my diabetes?", "how many people have [this complication] in [City / UK]?" etc.

*not giving medical advice as not qualified to give any!

While providing this service certainly counts as engaging with the public to a degree I never really thought of it as public engagement in a classic sense and more along the lines of 'educating' people for want of a better word. They rang up asking for info and we did our best to provide it.

As an organisation we did other more 'engagey' things - people with diabetes were involved in the decision-making about what research we'd fund (they were on the research committee along with scientists, psychologists etc), we liaised with the UK Diabetes Research Network to share opportunities for people to get involved as participants in research and we gave talks to groups about our research (again, more 'informing').

The work I do on CHI+MED is a bit of both - I write stuff for our website and blog which hopefully informs people about what we've been up to, but I'm also involved in 'co-ordinating' the public engagement work of colleagues who are directly involving people (sometimes patients) in research, as well as stakeholders.

You can imagine researchers doing a piece of research and then, once finished, publishing it in an academic journal ... and then telling journalists about it via press releases or appearances on TV or in newspapers etc. While there's nothing particularly wrong with this many universities are trying to involve / engage people in research a bit earlier.

But even this 'informing about outputs already achieved' (ie it's now too late for any opportunity to 'feed in') presumably counts towards sparking interest and getting people involved in the researchers' next project...Possi

I have been mulling over the idea of a continuum. I rejected an oval shaped thing where you start with research being done and go to research being published academically with a line taking you back to the beginning and am instead thinking of something that's more of a spiral (it goes back to the beginning but of the next research project).

Then I asked Twitter and got lots of interesting and helpful replies (now added at the end), and a whole load of things to read - Twitter is rather good at helping you avoid reinventing the wheel!

But despite this - here is my draft wheel for everyone to poke fun at and go "no you've got it wrong". This is because I'm involving you in my 'research' here :)

The above is a slide that I'm probably not even going to use in a talk I'm giving in a couple of weeks for CHI+MED, but I needed something concrete to help me put the talk together and to talk about different stages and audiences for our work.

As I see it, research happens (the 'Research is done' to 'Research is published in academic journals' (#1) and there are opportunities for the public to feed in, alongside scientists, politicians, others to determine what research should be funded (#2) and opportunities to be participants in research. This can be participating in a clinical trial, or co-designing a product etc. At the 'end' of the research the academic output often finds its way into other media as well (#3) and it often finds its way there at earlier stages in the research too.

The continuum-y bit (#4) where a black arrow goes back to the start is a bit confusing cos it's obviously not going back in time (research has been done) but possibly feeds into later projects. So it's more of a Science Communication Spiral.

Aren't you glad I didn't try and express this in a Venn diagram :)

Helpful replies from chums on Twitter

and Jon Mendel also wrote critically about the 'Science: So What? So Everything' campaign of science communication

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Twitter dot com is now embedding tweet links (and so are some phone apps) - looks nice but best for single tweets

This post is really only for Twitter completists interested in its changing appearance / interfaces.

Twitter's changed the way it displays tweets on the desktop version (and apparently on some of the third party smartphone / tablet apps too) where you include the address of another tweet. Here's what a tweet used to look like if it included a link to another tweet (the bit that says ""). You had to click on the link to see what it said.

Here's what that tweet looks like now - you no longer have to click on it to see what I originally said. I've displayed it both as a screenshot and an embedded tweet because - obviously - Twitter keeps changing how stuff looks (hence this post!) so I thought it was best to capture it as I saw it.

(1) screenshot

(2) embedded

To find the original copy of this tweet I searched for from:jobrodie samuelfurse, the tweet actually looked 'old style' in the list of tweets that resulted, and when I clicked on it (which makes it expand to show the conversation). When I clicked on its address (click on the timestamp) to open it up in its own window it changed to the new embed style.

This tweet is over a year old but tweets sent more recently no longer even show the but miss out the address entirely, the embedded picture of the tweet is clickable and goes to the tweet's page.

Here's me trying to see how many tweets can be embedded within it ;)

(1) Screenshot

(2) embedded

Where Twitter shows the URL and the picture (as above) only the picture appears to be clickable, the address seems to have stopped working. This isn't really a problem if only one tweet is included because you just click on the picture but if more than one tweet-link is included only one will be accessible to the reader.

Apparently it works fine on smartphone apps but if you're trying to read it on desktop Twitter it might be a bit fiddly. You don't seem to be able to right-click / open in new tab - hopefully this is a temporary glitch.