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

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Blog stats for this blog part 7 (27 December 2016)

Every year I post the blog stats for this blog, and this is my seventh year of doing so. I do it in case other people might be nosey :)

The most interesting thing about the stats for me is always the vast difference between Blogger's pageviews (1st column in Table 1) and Google Analytics' (3rd column in Table 1). This is generally understood to be because Blogger counts every 'hit' including Google's indexing crawlers and not just real people. I've also included the number of people visiting each month (2nd column), to my knowledge Blogger doesn't provide that info. Odd because Blogger 'is' Google. See explanation below for what numbers in brackets or coloured red mean.

Table 1: Blog stats, by month, for 2016
Month              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google)         Page views (Google)
January (7) 35,092 7,421 8,466
February (1) 27,505 6,671 7,668
March (4) 31,880 6,704 7,602
April (3) 25,857 6,041 6,877
May (2) 37,151 5,173 5,923
June (5) 29,389 5,669 6,550
July (2) 35,874 4,842 5,578
August (4) 30,244 4,957 5,877
September (0) 25,266 4,197 4,776
October (6) 27,249 5,611 6,391
November (3) 26,971 5,491 6,512
December (2) 53,578 5,145 5,898
Total                 386,056                           67,494                           78,118

Table 1 info
Figures in brackets next to the month are the number of blog posts published that month. 

Figures in red are uncorrected because the month hasn't finished yet. December has had a massive increase in Blogger views - I took my blog offline yesterday for a few hours and it seems to have settled back again. Looked like lots of 'views' from Russia but no-one actually viewing any posts (at least the numbers don't match). Nothing against real visitors from Russia but a sudden spike from 1,000 to 4,000 in one day seems a bit suspicious.

Not only is there a disparity between Blogger and Google page views for every month there's also an inconsistency in the mapping (eg 1,000 Google page views doesn't equal 2,000 Blogger ones - there's no obvious mathematical relationship between them).

Table 2: Lifetime and annual views of this blog
Year              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google) Page views(Google)
2010 (77) 23,351     9,630*   18,958*
2011 (89) 65,972   22,343   40,263
2012 (141) 187,506   57,040   77,869
2013 (141) 553,064 136,941 164,352
2014 (100) 779,632 199,217 226,419
2015 (50) 498,355 113,129 130,115
2016 (39) 379,613   66,614   77,092
Lifetime      2,487,538                            491,785^                735,068
                                                               603,408^^               735,068

Table 2 info
Figures in brackets next to the year are the number of blog posts published that year.
*I began counting stats on Google Analytics in April 2010. Blogger began its own stats system in July 2010.
^) Count of everything in the column above it 
^^) lifetime count as given on Google Analytics - no idea why there's a difference, especially as the 735,068 is the same for both.

Popular posts for this blog (for all time)

Features of my blog to take into account
  • People find my posts almost entirely through search engine results (I don't promote my blog heavily on social media, though I do mention it fairly regularly)
  • The most popular posts here are about how to do something, often on Twitter - the answer to people's question(s) can usually be found within the first paragraph or the title, with the rest of the post containing supplemental information. This means that I have a VERY high bounce rate - people arrive, see the answer, leave. If this were a sales website that would be disastrous but as a largely 'how to' info blog that's OK. 
  • My blog is about many different things and therefore unfocused.
  • I don't have a regular posting schedule and literally post stuff as it occurs to me, which is appropriate given the name of the blog.

Previous posts about this blog's stats

Sunday, 18 December 2016

My experience of something like walking pneumonia - hospital admission and recovery

Homeopathy enthusiast Laurie J Willberg implies, rather overconfidently, that no-one has ever written a blog post about a pharma drug curing them.

Here's one.

Certainly there are plenty of others. I encourage anyone who feels like doing so to write up a brief report of any medication they've taken that's solved any illness they've ever had. The nice thing is that homeopaths accept anecdotal evidence so a simple report of the nature of the illness and the medication taken will suffice ;)

Then let's have a blog carnival (not heard that term in years! Perhaps this is why.) and I'll link any posts I hear about below. Probably we can't include conditions like Type 1 diabetes and insulin treatment though because insulin doesn't cure someone of diabetes (they still have the condition) but it does allow people to stay alive in a way that they really might not have in the time before insulin injections were available. But 'cure' has a very specific and pedantic meaning, so... anyway here's the tale of my pharma-based recovery.

For balance I recommend reading Ben Goldacre's Big Pharma book which is critical of some of the systems and pressures that affect the way medicine works, including problems with trial design and reporting.

Jo's anecdotal report of being cured by pharma drugs

I didn't receive a formal diagnosis of whatever it was that made me ill but it seems quite possible that it was something very similar to 'walking pneumonia' which appeared to have both a viral and bacterial component (or possibly sequentially). I was really not well but I fully recovered in a few days with paracetamol, antibiotics (pharmacology), fluids (sort of pharmacology) and monitoring (good care) so here's my post explaining how paracetamol, clarithromycin and amoxicillin cured me of a chest infection helped along by nutrients like glucose and saline and measuring blood pressure, pulse and temperature to see how things were going.

That time I was a bit ill in January 2016On Thursday 7 January 2016 I woke up at 5am with a nasty cough which kept me awake on and off until 10am (at the time I didn't work on Thursdays so it was a day off anyway) and was annoying but no more than any other cough / chest infection.

I had breakfast and checked emails etc and pottered around for a bit but noticed that I felt a bit spacy and not quite right, and then I noticed my heart rate - it was 100. My resting pulse varies between 62 and 72 but I wouldn't have minded even 80 or 90, but 100 seemed a bit much. I went to sleep for a couple of hours to see if that helped but woke up and felt worse and pulse was up to 120. A shower didn't help either and I realised that it was getting faster, to the point that it was difficult to count the beats. Plus I felt not at all well and had found the exertion of getting in and out of the shower quite hard, normally it's not exerting at all.

By the time I'd got a taxi sorted to take me to A&E (it wasn't quite a blue-light ambulance situation, though in retrospect perhaps it should have been) I was quite breathless and finding it difficult to talk. Once I got to A&E I felt quite panicky, a sort of dawning realisation that I can't be very well if I'm in A&E and began to get tingling in my arms and hands (not legs or feet though). Things moved very quickly after I was triaged by a lovely person who tried to relax me, despite telling me I was in 'high AF' (atrial fibrillation where the heart rhythm goes awry and the sequence of events that brings blood into the heart and pumps it out again gets out of sequence, my heart was going so fast it was kind of missing steps out!) and I was put on an ECG machine and hooked up to blood pressure (184/something or other so very high - it went up to over 200 before dropping later). I didn't have any chest or left-arm pain - they asked, and I said my chest felt a bit exhausted, but no crushing or burning sensations.

Lovely nurse and doctor came and had a chat and asked me lots of questions about my medical history (uncomplicated picture of health) and I noticed that everyone seemed to perk up a bit when I said I'd never smoked. I had been put on fluids and must have been feeling better because at that point I asked the doctor about that - it seemed counterintuitive to me that if my pressure was high, then introducing more fluids into the situation seemed like a bad idea. It apparently doesn't work like that and he said I was quite dehydrated, which surprised me no end as I'd had a pint of milk and a 500ml bottle of water earlier in the day. But when you're fighting an infection your fluid requirements might be a bit higher than normal and to be honest I'd probably panted quite a lot out trying to breathe / cool down!

Possibly my use of the word 'tachycardia' rather than fast heart-rate prompted the doctor to ask if I had a medical background. I explained that I didn't but had worked in the area so understood a fair bit (though I'm obviously not medically trained). This made things quite interesting as I got to hear a bit more about the tests they were doing, and the worst one was coming up.

If you are ever told you'll be having blood drawn from the artery in your wrist (an ABG [arterial blood gases] test) and they offer you a local anaesthetic, accept that anaesthetic. I thought having a line for a drip put in the vein my front elbow (is there a word for that, medical or otherwise... crook?) was uncomfortable. My veins are quite deep so it was quite an effort for people to get bloods out of me for the morning tests, and to get fluids in. I was a pin cushion of bruises.

Anyway after a bit of jabbing they got some blood out of the artery but unfortunately the machine stopped working so they had to do it again. I insisted they give the other wrist a go to let the first recover (by this time is was after 9pm so I'd been there for four hours) and didn't have anaesthetic there either. At one point the needle contacted my radial nerve and I must have let out a bit of a yelp as that was a pretty acute and unpleasant experience - it felt as if molten lava was flowing across my hand. For a week afterwards every time I put on a jumper and stretched out my arm I got a shooting pain along the nerve but thankfully nerves recover and that went quite quickly.

The test lets them infer what any bacteria might be doing, presumably I might have been at risk of having bacteria in the blood (or worse, bacteria in the blood that weren't responding to medication) but the results were only a little higher than normal and not a cause for alarm, at least that's my understanding of it. The doctor also mentioned that I'd been cyanotic when I arrived (blue around the edges, not a good sign if it comes on suddenly - I'd not noticed it) but by now I was 'back in sinus rhythm' which is good news in my book.

Two days later everything had returned to 'higher than normal' rather than 'blimey, high' and being out of danger I was allowed to go home and continue getting things back to normal myself, with the medication highlighted above. I set myself up a list with timings and the medications I should take at times throughout the day and followed it religiously, also monitoring my temperature which remained normal. I didn't overexert myself (another doctor cautioned against treating myself as if I was much better before I really was, to avoid some sort of post-viral fatigue thing - I don't know much about that but cheerfully followed the advice to chill out).

Without a formal diagnosis I can't prove what I had, or how seriously ill I was. For example I don't think I had sepsis but perhaps if I'd not gone to hospital promptly things might have headed in that direction. If you're a doctor reading and can clarify anything I've misunderstood I'm happy to hear about it. I was relieved to recover and am happy to write this, and indeed any, post highlighting that homeopathy is a load of twaddle and won't cure anyone of anything.

Blog carnival placemarker for others' anecdotal cures
• your blog post here...

Sunday, 11 December 2016

There's a petition to Wikipedia asking it to be less mean to homeopathy + FTC action in US

Wikipedia petition
By any metric this is a very successful petition. At the time of writing it is 531 people shy of reaching 15,000 signatures all of whom are signing in support of the petition's aim to amend Wikipedia's article on homeopathy. Many fans of homeopathy are concerned that the article, as it currently stands, is biased against homeopathy and excludes evidence of its successes in treating people (and animals). The fact that the evidence is not of sufficient quality is neither here nore there.

What amuses me most about the petition is that it is TO Wikipedia, an organisation whose founder agrees that the best evidence shows homeopathy to be no better than placebo.

I am one of many people who have edited the homeopathy page on Wikipedia. Anyone can edit it, and the edit will remain as long as they have made a sensible contribution. If not, their contribution is either simply wiped by reverting the page to its previous edit or the contribution is amended by someone else.

Sending a petition 'to Wikipedia' is sending a petition to me and to all other people who've edited that page. Obviously I can only speak for myself but 'bad luck' is my official response to this petition ;)

Have a giggle over at

FTC toughens up on labelling rules for homeopathy pills
There's been quite a lot in the news lately about the US's Federal Trade Commission's toughened stance on the labelling of over the counter (OTC) homeopathy pills. Homeopathy confections must now include text on the packaging which makes it clear that there's no scientific evidence supporting the use of the pills for health conditions. This is a big deal, but it is not quite right to say - as headlines have - that the FTC requires manufacturers to say the pills don't work. Although it is rather implied.

It would be interesting to know if consumers pay a great deal of attention to the labelling and, more importantly, if they understand its implication. Saying something has no scientific evidence in its favour is vastly more oblique than saying "these pills do not work".

The FTC's publication "Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for OTC Homeopathic Drugs" on the updated rules for homeopathy marketing says
"In light of the inherent contradiction in asserting that a product is effective and also disclosing that there is no scientific evidence for such an assertion, it is possible that depending on how they are presented many of these disclosures will be insufficient to prevent consumer deception. Marketers are advised to develop extrinsic evidence, such as consumer surveys, to determine the net impressions communicated by their marketing materials." (emphasis added)
Telling people homeopathy doesn't work hasn't stopped people from using it so I can't really see that obliquely implying it by phrasing it as 'there's no scientific evidence that homeopathy works' would make a great deal of difference.

I also wonder if this updated labelling will make it harder for consumers, on realising they've been duped, to get their money back. After all the products will now say (or at least more strongly imply) in the small print that there's no good evidence that a 'pill for self-limiting condition X' is any good at helping the symptoms of X. Buyer beware.

Homeopathy 'treatments' must be labelled to say they do not work, US government orders (21 November 2016) The Independent
The Federal Trade Commission has demanded that producers of homeopathic treatments say on the label that they do not work