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, 17 April 2016

UK researchers might be gagged from lobbying - I have a cunning plan

There are moves afoot that may prevent scientists, and indeed any academic researchers, (who receive funding from the UK Government) from being able to lobby the Government, with evidence from research that the Government has funded - which seems pretty daft and problematic. This may have originated with benign (your mileage may vary) intentions while trying to address a different 'problem' (again, YMMV) and began with this announcement, on 6 February 2016 -

Organisations receiving government grants will be banned from using these taxpayer funds to lobby government and Parliament Press Release from Cabinet Office

The announcement clarifies the intended audience...
"The Institute of Economic Affairs has undertaken extensive research on so-called ‘sock puppets’, exposing the practice of taxpayers’ money given to pressure groups being diverted to fund lobbying rather than the good causes or public services.

A new clause to be inserted into all new and renewed grant agreements will make sure that taxpayer funds are spent on improving people’s lives and good causes, rather than lobbying for new regulation or using taxpayers’ money to lobby for more government funding."

...and although it doesn't mention research institutions or universities specifically, their omission means they may be automatically subsumed into this edict unless there's an exemption put in place.

Here's what the text that's to be inserted into grant applications will say
"The following costs are not Eligible Expenditure: Payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action." (emphasis added).
The more detailed document Implementation Guidance for Departments on Anti-Lobbying Clause(Q&A format) makes several mentions of the option for Ministers to make exemptions, see in particular answers to Qs 4, 7, 8 and 9.

My cunning plan(s)
1) Sign this petition
Please sign this petition which asks the Government to consider declawing this new policy by explicitly including an exemption for academic research.
Exempt grants for academic research from new 'anti-lobbying' regulation

2) Raise money that can be used to lobby
While I'm sure some lobbying doesn't need to cost anything there are nearly always hidden costs (taking time off work, printing off materials etc). Hopefully it won't come to this if (1) works but I also think (3) might be better anyway, but note that the press release also says that...
"It will not prevent organisations from using their own privately-raised funds to campaign as they see fit."

3) Lobby the Government yourself
A great deal of academic output is increasingly widely available to anyone with access to a computer. People can download PDFs of published papers and can use them (along with other resources) to make sense of complex information, and act on it if they wish. People with health conditions are good examples of types of people that are motivated to learn more about a topic that affects them, and to learn how to get to grips with academic literature. Having an Open Access culture - in which published research articles are freely available rather than costing $30 per paper - will (hopefully) only increase that.

Obviously there are journalists, science writers and bloggers who can help people make sense of a complex topic too.

This was my cunning plan, in two tweets.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Homeopathy clinging to NHS by its fingertips, not far to fall

Every year the UK Government's Department of Health publishes (through the Health and Social Care Information Centre, HSCIC) the latest figures for money spent on prescriptions in the NHS in England. This is known as prescription cost analysis data and this year it was published on 7 April.

The data include the number of prescription items and the cost of those items. In many cases, and partiularly in the case of long term conditions like diabetes, numbers of prescription items tend to increase each year.

But not for homeopathy prescription items (which, anachronistically, are still permitted on the NHS where doctors (presumably?) want to give patients 'a pill' without actually giving them a pill)...

The graphs below (prepared by the Nightingale Collaboration) show the number of homeopathy items prescribed and the overall costs associated with prescribing them. As you can see homeopathy is plummeting on the NHS and has been for some time. That's quite a ski slope there.

The peak number of prescribed items was in 1996 at about 170,000 items. By 2005 this had roughly halved to about 80,000 and, rather dramatically, had halved again two years later in 2007. In 2015 the number dips below 10,000 items, to 8,894.

Graphs made by and stolen from Nightingale Collaboration, click to enlarge
With fewer items being prescribed overall costs are dropping too though the relative cost per item has doubled in 20 years (the cost per item was £4.97 in 1995 and in 2015 was £10.60, thus allowing me to make the joke that homeopathy is most certainly not cost-effective* on the NHS).

You can find a summary of the original data on page 381 of this 711 page PDF ;)

Click to enlarge image.

It's World Homeopathy Awareness week from 10 to 16 April 2016 but it looks like the UK at least is wise to the nonsense of homeopathy. If you plan to share one homeopathy-related article during the week please make it the Nightingale Collaboration's careful analysis of homeopathy's plummetous drop on the NHS which you can find and enjoy here - Homeopathy on the NHS: at death's door

*technically cost-effectiveness-ness for drugs would weigh the effectiveness of the medication (for homeopathy that's zero) against the cost (anything other than free is a waste of money) but here I am mean-spiritedly demonstrating that even compared against itself it's useless. Ha!

Version for homeopaths
Well done homeopaths! You started the year with zero prescribed homeopathic items and ended it with nearly 9,000 - a massive increase, great work everyone :) 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Open air cinema screenings - London 2016

Woohoo it's time for the annual Open Air Cinema Screenings in London post. The text below actually lives in a Storify story and has been embedded here. I'll update the original Storify post so feel free to embed it into your own blog post so that more people know about open air film options in London. Think of it as creative commons.