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, 26 July 2015

Adjudications etc by the Advertising Standards Authority against misleading homeopathy claims

These days it's fairly rare to get an actual Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) adjudication on a misleading homeopathy claim. That's because most homeopathy complaints are fast-tracked to the ASA's Compliance team rather than being investigated (because the ASA, like so many others, has previously investigated homeopathy and found there's no evidence that it's effective for any condition) and the Compliance team doesn't publish its findings.

Last week there was a new adjudication, against Teddington Homeopathy, for claims made about using 'CEASE Therapy' for treating autism.

There are now 11 ASA adjudications upheld against misleading homeopathy claims, 2 upheld in part and 1 not upheld. There are also 11 'informally resolved' complaints where the homeopath has agreed to amend their website and remove the incorrect claims, so no further action needs be taken.

Since most homeopaths do amend their website when asked by the ASA relatively few of them find their way to the non-compliant online advertisers but the Islington Homeopathy Clinic has managed to make it there.

Here's the list.

ASA adjudicatons upheld

Teddington Homeopathy
Re: CEASE therapy
Date: 22 July 2015
Decision: Upheld

Happy Homeopathy
Re: menopause relief
Date: 11 June 2014
Decision: Upheld

Islington Homeopathy Clinic
Date: 26 February 2014
Decision: Upheld

Steve Scrutton Homeopathy
Re: homeopathy for depression
Date: 18 September 2013  
Decision: Upheld

Steve Scrutton Homeopathy
Re: homeopathy for influenza
Date: 8 August 2012  
Decision: Upheld

Society of Homeopaths 
Date: 3 July 2013
Decision: Upheld

Dr Batras Positive Health Clinic (UK) Ltd
Re: homeopathy for psoriasis 
Date: 27 April 2011  
Decision: Upheld

British Institute for Allergy and Environmental Therapy
Re: allergy testing
Date: 9 March 2011  
Decision: Upheld

The Homeopathic Clinic
Re: thermal mammography
Date: 2 March 2011
Decision: Upheld

Comfort Click Ltd t/a
Re: homeopathic genital wart relief spray (!) 
Date: 4 July 2012  
Decision: Upheld

CNM The College of Naturopathic Medicine Ltd
Re: naturopathy
Date: 13 March 2013
Decision: Upheld

ASA adjudications upheld in part

Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century
Date: 3 July 2013
Decision: Upheld in part

Ainsworths (London) Ltd t/a Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy
Date: 27 July 2011
Decision: Upheld in part

ASA adjudications NOT upheld

Neals Yard (Natural Remedies) Ltd
Date: 2 February 2011
Decision: Not Upheld

Informally resolved cases

Happy Homeopathy                                         23 Oct 2013
Maya Homeopathy                                           23 April 2014
Naturally Well Homeopathy                            12 Feb 2014
Amanda Hughes Homeopathy                         12 Mar 2014
Classical Homeopathic Healing                       22 May 2013
The Kernow Chiropractic Clinics                     19 Jun 2013
Team Health Windsor                                       14 Aug 2013
The Rock Clinic t/a Rock Clinic Association                   19 Jun 2013
North Lakes Clinic                                                            19 Jun 2013
University College London Hospitals t/a
The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine        2 May 2012

Saturday, 25 July 2015

DWP funding 'Start Smiling Again' etc - a potted update

Last week Johnny Void's blog post highlighted that the Department for Work & Pensions had awarded a £48,000 grant to lifestyle coach David Rahman (website: Start Smiling Again, currently offline since last week) to support jobseekers with mental health issues in Wales.

While his website (see screenshots) highlighted his successes in helping people change their lives, and also overcome depression or fibromyalgia, it was short on evidence and the therapies listed (including Neurolinguistic Programming [NLP] and the Chrysalis Effect [recently upheld adjudicated by the Advertising Standards Authority]) are known to be hokum.

People are also concerned about whether jobseekers who are referred to these sessions will lose support if they refuse (which also brings up the ethics of enforced 'treatment', not to mention the ethics of using underevidenced treatments in the first place). Also concerning is how lifestyle coaches sometimes frame mental health issues as some personal failing, and by implication how the DWP treat people who have them.

DWP spends £48,000 on Chrysalis Effect, NLP, Hypnosis & Time Line Therapy - 95% success (19 July 2015) - request has been acknowledged, page has also been annotated with additional information.

In response to a previous FOI request for information about the DWP's "evaluations and research into the efficacy and use of neuro-linguistic programming for people claiming welfare benefits" the DWP replied 
"DWP does not hold any recorded information in relation to your requests around Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). 

In general terms, information provided in a tender proposal enables DWP to carry out a qualitative evaluation of the received proposals. The information provided is evaluated against a pre-determined Award Criteria, as stated in the Invitation to Tender.
Inspection records for Start Smiling Again - FOI request to Care Quality Commission (22 July 2015) - reply clarifies that the "CQC does not have a legal remit for any care delivered in Wales" and suggests submitting a complaint to other organisations, which the requester put in as listed below.

Inspection records for Start Smiling Again - FOI request to Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (22 July 2015) - they do not hold this information "CSSIW regulates and inspects care and social services in Wales, such as child minders, nurseries and homes for older people (a full list of the
type of services we regulate is available on our [1]webpage).

‘Start Smiling Again’ is not a service which is required to be registered and regulated by CSSIW therefore we do not hold any information relevant to your request.

Inspection records for Start Smiling Again - FOI request to Health Inspectorate Wales (22 July 2015) - request has been acknowledged

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Barbican Centre is doing a sort of Benedict Cumberbatch Festival

Benedict Cumberbatch seems a well-known sort of fellow, been in a few films and on-stage, that sort of thing :)

The Barbican Centre says -
"To celebrate Benedict Cumberbatch’s sell out run in the Theatre, we celebrate his greatest hits on screen."

This includes Sherlock! Which I've seen on the big screen and it's amazing.

a (cumber) batch of benedict
Several screening events running between 8th and 30th August 2015

Star Trek Into Darkness (12A)
8 Aug 15 / 18:00 / Cinema 3
Information info  book tickets to A (Cumber) Batch of Benedict: Star Trek Into Darkness (12A) book

Sherlock - The Cliffhangers (12A)
13 Aug 15 / 18:00 / Cinema 1
• The Great Game (Sherlock Season 1, Episode 3) 
The Reichenbach Fall (Sherlock Season 2, Episode 3)His Last Vow (Sherlock Season 3, Episode 3)
Information info  book tickets to A (Cumber) Batch of Benedict: Sherlock - The Cliffhangers (12A) book

Stuart a Life Backwards (18)
15 Aug 15 / 18:00 / Cinema 3
Information info  book tickets to A (Cumber) Batch of Benedict: Stuart a Life Backwards (18) book

Parade's End (15)
16 Aug 15 / 13:00 / Cinema 3
Information info  book tickets to A (Cumber) Batch of Benedict: Parade's End (15) book

Hawking (PG)
23 Aug 15 / 16:00 / Cinema 3
Information info  book tickets to A (Cumber) Batch of Benedict: Hawking (PG) book

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (15)
30 Aug 15 / 16:00 / Cinema 3
Information info  book tickets to A (Cumber) Batch of Benedict: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (15) book

Sunday, 19 July 2015

DWP in Wales has commissioned mental health support services from an unconventional source

Edit: 20:30pm 19 July - Someone called Frank Zola has put in a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Work and Pensions, via the WhatDoTheyKnow website, about mandatory psychological treatment of people seeking work. It mentions the website discussed below (Start Smiling Again).

Edit: 10:00am 20 July - Frank Zola's also put in a specific FOI request regarding the contract with Start Smiling Again, querying the evidence for the programme - DWP spends £48,000 on Chrysalis Effect, NLP, Hypnosis & Time Line Therapy - 95% success - hat tip @JayneLinney

DWP Hires Miracle Lifestyle Guru Who Claims 95% Success Rate In Curing Mental Health Conditions! on

Yesterday I read the above blog post by @johnnyvoid which expressed skepticism and concern that a contract has been awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to "Start Smiling Again" aka David Rahman to support people with mental health issues in returning to work.

According to the Gov.UK website's Contract Finder the contract was awarded in April and will end in December this year (hat tip to @JayneLinney) and is for just under £50,000. Taking a wider perspective, this is a relatively small amount of money however it will be interesting to see how it's leveraged in future, for example the company's marketing website highlights the link with the UK Government (see pic below) and according to MP Justin Tomlinson there is more money available for this sort of thing.

part of Start Smiling Again's page

Separately, the Start Smiling Again website also makes some claims about treating people with a variety of health conditions including fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. These are conditions that would usually be managed under the care of a healthcare professional and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has usually taken an unfavourable view of marketers making claims about treating them, unless they are working very closely with a GP or similar.
Two things interest me but I am focusing on just the second one for the time being.

1. What evidence does the Government / DWP have that this programme works (and how does it compare with other programmes, if any)? - this is something that might require a Freedom of Information request (I've never done one before) but I've asked Justin Tomlinson (the MP for Disabled people, he also features in one of the TV news segments talking about the programme) via Twitter what evidence there is for its adoption in job centres in Wales.

2. The website for Start Smiling Again, which relies heavily on testimonials, makes what I believe to be under-evidenced marketing claims that the treatment can help people with a variety of health conditions.

I asked David Rahman (on Twitter, 18 July) about the evidence for the claims but I've received no answer and as of 19 July the website is suddenly 'under construction' - however everything is currently visible via Google's cache of the pages (for those new to Google cache I recommend using Below is my draft complaint to the ASA but there may be no point in sending it if the claims on the website are already being addressed, evidenced or removed.

Draft complaint to ASA
The 'Start Smiling Again' website [cache] of David Rahman suggests that through his 'Blueprint Therapy and Coaching (R)' (BTC)  he can treat depression, ME and fibromyalgia. I have not been able to find any evidence on the website for this, beyond a series of testimonials and videos with satisfied clients.

Although one testimonial (for depression) highlights that he recommended that the client consult their doctor bforehand, this general advice doesn't seem to appear prominently elsewhere on the website. I do not believe that Mr Rahman is medically trained (his qualifications lie elsewhere, including being a Chrysalis Effect practitioner) and he does not seem to be working closely with healthcare professionals. He has not listed any professional membership on his website.

Claims about depression
On the About page ( [Google cache]) David Rahman claims to treat clinical depression and to get people off medication: "Having successfully treated sufferers of anxiety, stress and depression for over a decade, I have dedicated my career to finding long-term solutions for these often misunderstood conditions." and "95% of my clients have returned to normal health following a battle with clinical depression. You too can look forward to a happy, healthy and medication-free life." No evidence (beyond the testimonial) is offered for the treatment's success, nor for its high success rate.

On the Depression page ( [Google cache]) the information given seems rather glib and simplistic and, again, no evidence is offered for the treatment's success.
"Even though you may feel trapped in the negative and seemingly endless cycle of depression, you can rid yourself of these feelings with the right treatment. And you can become depression and medication-free. Depression appears for specific reasons and there are also very definitive reasons why it persists. Once the cause of your depression is identified and correctly addressed, those debilitating and limiting symptoms can and will disappear."

Claims about ME and fibromyalgia
On the testimonial page "I've recovered from ME and fibromyalgia" ( [Google cache]) credit is given solely to David's therapy with no evidence offered for the claims. The statements on the page (examples below) seem to imply that the therapy is efficacious and that a reduction in medication is a possible consequence. I think this is worrying. 

"After only one session with David, I was in a better place mentally than I had been for many years and actually excited about the future. I was already waking up in the mornings without the heavy feeling of dread and actually looking forward to the day ahead."

"Within two weeks of starting therapy, I no longer had any need to use my wheelchair, or even my walking stick.  My energy levels were increasing very quickly and my pain was starting to subside."

"By the sixth week, I had reduced my prescribed and very strong pain relief medication by 50%, which was a double positive as every drug has its side effects on your body and I was soon feeling the benefit of no longer pumping them into my system."

[Edit: because the website is currently down and the Google cache may eventually disappear I've added some screenshots at the end of this post.]

Further reading / viewing
Relating to the DWP partnering with Start Smiling Again...
  • BBC Wales' Ben Price reports on the new 'Moving Forward' scheme established in Swansea to help people with mental health issues return to work.
    "Around 80 people have already taken part in the initiative and, after a successful pilot, it is now being extended."
  • ITV news: Job centres to overcome mental health barriers to work. The report highlights the "Press Pause to Play" scheme (I'm not sure why the project names differ but it's the same person / company): Job centres to overcome mental health barriers to work
    "A Wales-based company is partnering with the Department for Work and  Pensions to roll out an initiative in South Wales job centres. to get  people with mental health problems back into work."
  • The Wave 96.4FM: Unemployed have reason to smile again
    ...Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People, added: “This excellent scheme is not only helping jobseekers find work but is also informing wider government activity on mental health. Combined with the recent naming of Swansea as the UK’s first Disability Confident city, it marks out South Wales as part of the country truly leading the way on mental health.
    “Supporting people with mental health conditions is a priority for this government. We have allocated over £43 million to pilot services which will help people with such conditions find and stay in work and are determined to continue building on the progress made.”

    "David Rahman has a decade of life coaching & therapist experience, based in Cardiff and Harley Street, London.  He has painstakingly researched, piloted and delivered the innovative Blueprint Therapy & Coaching model, which has been adapted for Press Pause To Play."
  • DWP Hires Miracle Lifestyle Guru Who Claims 95% Success Rate In Curing Mental Health Conditions! by johnnyvoid

Relating to advertising claims on the website...
  • Therapies: References to Medical Conditions from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) which produces the CAP code on marketing / advertising that the ASA upholds.
    "Any claim that a particular therapy can treat or cure a medical condition is unlikely to be acceptable unless the advertiser is considered suitably qualified (Rule 12.2) and holds robust evidence to support the efficacy claim (Rule 12.1)."

Screenshots - click to enlarge
Qualifications and accreditations
Claims about depression on the About page

Claims about depression on the Depression page

Claims about ME and fibromyalgia on a testimonial page

Friday, 17 July 2015

Spambots that favourite random tweets on Twitter - a possible (gradual) solution

I am a bit surprised that @Twitter's not suspended these accounts. They are not necessarily posting spam (mostly sharing identical tweets with photos of underdressed people) but I don't think they're contributing that much to Twitter. I've blocked all of them after they've favourited tweets of mine. I assume favouriting is to make the account look like it's engaging in 'normal Twitter behaviour'. But perhaps I am just a terrible prude ;)

There are instructions below if you want to block them in one go. I've used TweeterID to convert their Twitter names to their Twitter ID, which Twitter uses for blocklists.

There seem to be hundreds of them but here's a selection: [Google search results for 'her' image -] - not awfully safe for work ;) - OK this one might just be a webcam sort of thing

INSTRUCTIONS for spamblock2015 file
Save a copy of
Delete Column B - all that should remain is a single column of numbers

Using the desktop version of Twitter log in and go to Settings / Blocked:
Click the 'Advanced options' link then 'import a list' then 'Attach a file to upload' - upload the file. To be honest I've no idea what happens after that!

Every so often I'll update the file with the new ones I block, filename won't change. Assuming it works if you check back and download then upload a later version of the file it will overwrite and you'll be blocking more of the spammers. I'm hoping that this might get Twitter to start suspending these accounts (in which case the list of accounts to block will actually reduce).

spamblock2015.csv file last updated 20 July 2015, 14:45 BST (prev 17 July 2015, 22:20).