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 December 2017

Blog stats for this blog part 8 (27 December 2017)

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

There seems to be a correlation between the number of posts I write on this blog and its visitors / pageviews, apart from an odd blip in December 2016. I don't have a posting schedule, as the title of this blog suggests I literally only post 'Stuff that occurs to me', as and when it occurs. As I blog a lot elsewhere too this site has diminished somewhat.

  • Table 1: Blog posts per year, by year (= how many blog posts have I written each year?)
  • Fig 1: Blogger's 'all time view' for this site
  • Table 2: Blog stats, by month, for 2017 (= how many people visited this blog, per month, this year?)
  • Table 3: Annual and lifetime views of this blog (= how many people visited this blog each year and the overall total?)
  • Fig 2: Google Analytics 'all time view' for this site
  • Fig 3: The most popular posts on this blog, all time, Blogger stats
  • Particular features of this blog
  • All previous annual stats overview posts, by year

Table 1: Blog posts per year, by year

2009 (45)
2010 (77)
2011 (89)
2012 (141)
2013 (141)
2014 (100)
2015 (50)
2016 (40)
2017 (45 including this one)

Fig 1: Blogger stats 'all time view'.

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 2: Blog stats, by month, for 2017
Month              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google)         Page views (Google)
January (7) 36,563 6,583 7,508
February (1) 28,887 5,046 5,679
March (3) 27,220 5,055 5,593
April (4) 18,509 3,767 4,275
May (3) 18,409 3,775 4,314
June (0) 13,398 3,523 3,995
July (7) 12,298 2,905 3,430
August (2) 13,271 2,511 2,891
September (1) 10,992 2,336 2,657
October (3) 11,653 2,660 3,019
November (9) 11,409 2,327 2,818
December (5..)   8,679.. 1,602.. 1,831..
Total               202,609..                          42,090..                         46,179..

Table 2 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, this obviously affects the annual total too.

I briefly switched off this blog in Dec 2016 as I seemed to be getting a suspiciously high number of visits from Russia (I assumed bots) and January is still showing unusually high numbers. You can see the December blip in the all-time view from Blogger above (Fig 1).

Table 3: Annual and lifetime 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 (40) 379,613   66,614   77,092
2017 (45) 202,609   42,090   46,179
Lifetime      2,690,102                            657,004                 781,247
                                                                646,005^^              784,105

Table 3 info
Figures in brackets next to the year are the number of blog posts published that year. December is in red because I'm writing this on 27th not 31st so figures are incomplete by 5 days which marginally affects the final totals too.
*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 (Google Analytics)
^^) lifetime count as given on Google Analytics for whole year (there's a slight disparity)

Fig 2: Google Analytics 'all time view'.

 Popular posts for this blog (for all time)
Fig 3: The most popular posts on this blog, all time, Blogger stats

Features of my blog to take into account
Or, mitigating circumstances / excuses ;)
  • 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.
  • I now have a dedicated 'howto' blog where I post most of my instructional posts. That's on WordPress and as of 27 Dec 2017 has had 24,384 visitors (27,449 visits). I have several other blogs too (one for stuff near Blackheath, one to collect recipes that weren't too disastrous) not to mention two work blogs - so I am rather spreading myself thinly and this is reflected in fewer posts here and consquently fewer visits/-ors.

Previous posts about this blog's stats

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Why is UCL's School of Pharmacy hosting homeopathy conferences?

The other day I spotted this tweet highlighting that the School of Pharmacy (part of UCL) is to host the Society of Homeopaths' Annual General Meeting (AGM) next April.

Homeopathy seems very much at odds with an academic institution, and particularly one that concerns itself with health and medicine. Obviously the Society of Homeopaths is perfectly entitled to have an AGM but I don't think it's appropriate for it to take place on UCL premises.

UCL did previously cancel a homeopathy event in 2016 that would have taken place at the Institute of Neurology, but after complaints it was moved elsewhere. Apparently it was an erroneous booking and lessons were learned with something put in place to prevent it happening again however it's not clear that those lessons have been shared with other colleges and institutions within UCL.

It looks like UCL's School of Pharmacy also hosted the Homeopathic Medical Association's conference earlier in the year (I missed hearing about this one but here's the conference PDF).

These homeopathy events should go ahead (provided they're legal) but not at universities or similar establishments.

Keep an eye on small batteries in kids' toys this Christmas (and at all times)

Little flat batteries, often known as button batteries, can easily be swallowed by children and cause harm  If you think a child may have swallowed a battery take them immediately to A&E / the Emergency Room. 

"Most button batteries pass through the body and are eliminated in the stool (poo). However, sometimes batteries get “hung up”, and these are the ones that cause problems. ... When a battery is swallowed, it is impossible to know whether it will pass through or get “hung up”.  (Source)

Get the child checked out by a professional (they can do an X-ray to check if a battery's inside).

Flat batteries are not safe either and it's not to do with the batteries leaking, the danger is caused by a tiny electrical current (small enough that the battery won't operate the device, but big enough that it can cause problems inside a child's body).
"Severe tissue damage results from a build up of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda)
as a result of the electrical current discharged from the battery, and not, as
commonly supposed, from leakage from the battery. The sodium hydroxide
causes tissue burns, often in the oesophagus, which can then cause
fistulisation into major blood vessels, resulting in catastrophic haemorrhage.
Even apparently discharged (‘flat’) batteries can still have this effect, and
button batteries pushed into ears or nostrils can also cause serious injuries."
Here's a video illustrating a worst-case scenario, using batteries held between two pieces of ham to represent tissues inside the body. There have been cases of severe damage requiring several surgical procedures and some cases have resulted in the death of a child.

Keep your eyes on your batteries.

Other things to watch out for: toys with a battery compartment that's easy to open (encourage manufacturers to make lockable battery compartments that need to be opened with a screwdriver), plastic packs of batteries with perforated card backing - these are also quite easy to open.

Further reading
Button batteries can kill if swallowed - a post I wrote for the CHI+MED blog in 2016 (our project looked at ways of making medical devices safer)

Family Safety: Button Batteries (Suffolk Trading Standards, writing on Families Online in 2016)

The blog post above was prompted by this tweet -

Saturday, 9 December 2017

I have written to the Society of Homeopaths about their members who are promoting CEASE therapy

Last updated: 12 September 2018, changelog is at the end

Below is a redacted version of the email I sent on 9 November 2017 to the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) about some of their registered members. These homeopaths are referencing a treatment whose name alone implies that it can treat autism - CEASE stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression. Some of them are making other claims about autism (and other conditions) too.

I am not sure what the SoH can do as it would seem a bit strange for them to ask people to stop using the name of the treatment (but I think it should be renamed), but I hope at least that they'll ask their members not to make other claims about autism at least.

After writing to the SoH I set up a tracker on each of the relevant pages (using which reports back to me if a page has been changed. So far only one page has been in any way amended.

The Society of Homeopaths' Register of homeopaths is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). Accreditation makes no consideration of the fact that homeopathy doesn't really work - yes it is quite an odd situation. The PSA is "just there to make sure that, if someone's practicing in one of these fields, they're meeting the standards that the body representing that field demands" - I suspect the homeopaths below are not doing that and they're overclaiming how they can help people with autism.

While there are some efforts ongoing to get this inexplicable accreditation rescinded my main interest is just in getting misleading health claims removed.

Please don't go looking up the homeopaths' details from the info below and hassling them. It's not really about individual homeopaths but about problems across the entire sector. There are plenty of people making similar claims, these are just some test cases.


A number of your members seem to be implying on their websites that they are able to eliminate autism.

The use of the term 'CEASE', or worse, writing it out in full ("Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression") implies that autism can be 'stopped' or 'eliminated' by following the treatment protocol. This would seem to go against #41 and #47 of your 2015 code of ethics "...No promise of cure, either implicit or explicit, should be made of any named disease...". Also concerning is that some of these websites refer unhelpfully to mistaken anxieties about vaccination and autism. They also make claims about other named health conditions.

I hope that you will consider asking the following people to stop making these implied claims, particularly those about eliminating autism, and look forward to your reply.

Thank you

1. Homeopath One (homepage)

  • "I am a professionally trained classical Homoeopath and registered member of The Society of Homoeopaths." - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
  • "The Second Component is ISOTHERAPY which is the homeopathic version of the specific obstacle to cure..." - claim remains in June 2018, July 2018
  • In the section "What can homeopathy be used for?" a shopping list of conditions is given, the most serious of which include asthma, psoriasis and bronchitis - surely these should be under the care of a GP? No mention is made on that page about seeking medical advice. 
    - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
December update: no change has been made
June 2018 update: still no change has been made - still SoH member, still claiming to eliminate autism
July 2018 update: as for June
    Homeopath Two (About Me page and another page on CEASE therapy)
    • "I am registered with The Society of Homeopaths, which is the largest organisation registering professional homeopaths in Europe. I practise in accordance with The Society’s Code of Ethics and Practice..." - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
    • "I am one of the few specially trained and qualified homeopaths to offer CEASE Therapy (Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression) which is a very effective and safe way to treat conditions arising in Autistic spectrum. It combines homeopathy and nutritional supplements alongside a gentle, structured detoxification.  This protocol has been not only been successful in treating people on the Autistic Spectrum but also people suffering from a variety of other chronic conditions. For more information about CEASE click [redacted]." - text no longer has "Complete Elimination..." written out in full in June 2018 // As of July 2018 the new text now reads "I am a qualified CEASE practitioner and as such an specially trained and experienced in the use of protocols devised by the late Dr. Tinus Smits.  It was originally desiged to help children medically diagnosed with Autism but has been found to have a much wider use in practice".
      Linked above is [Homeopath 2]'s page about CEASE therapy [redacted link], there are some potentially problematic claims there too [this page was removed on or before June 2018]
      • "The treatment of Autism, Autistic Spectrum Diseases and other Modern Diseases with Homeopathy"
      • "The CEASE approach to treating autism…."
      • "[Tinus Smits - inventor of CEASE]...successfully treated over 300 autistic children, many of whom totally recovered from autism [emphasis added - what is this meant to imply if not that CEASE can help people 'recover from' autism?]. All of those treated saw improvements in their symptoms and consequently their quality of life and that of their families."
      • "The CEASE Therapy consists of systematic detoxification and elimination of causative factors that contribute to the illness, which can include vaccinations, medications, environmental toxins." - unhelpfully implying that autism might be linked with vaccinations
      • "Follow this link to Tinus Smit’s website to read about some of his successful cases: [Official CEASE Therapy website page on successful cases redacted]" - again it is difficult to see how anything other than a cure is implied by this web address and its framing in the text on this website
      December update: no change has been made
      June 2018 update: CEASE page has been removed, wording about it changed on About Me - still SoH member, amended claims about treating autism, now treating 'conditions arising IN autis[m]'. Removed text referring to CEASE in full. 
      July 2018 update: changes to the text in 'About Me', no return of removed page

      Homeopath Three (homepage)
      • "I am registered with the Society of Homeopaths..." - text was removed by Dec 2017
      • "I am also a qualified CEASE therapist. CEASE stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression and it is a step by step detox program using homeopathic remedies and supplements to remove the autistic qualities. You can read more about it here: [Official CEASE Therapy website redacted]" - other than writing out the term CEASE in full to imply the treatment can 'remove the autistic qualities' this website simply links to a separate website which is much more able to make claims than UK marketers are usually permitted. The linked website repeats the misinformation about links between vaccines and autism.
        - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
      December update: the reference to their registration with the Society of Homeopaths has been removed.
      June 2018 update: no change since December. Apparently no longer an SoH member (or still a member but no longer announcing that fact), still claiming to 'remove the autistic qualities' with CEASE. 
      July 2018 update: I have received confirmation from the Society of Homeopaths that this homeopath is no longer registered with them. Their misleading text remains.
        Homeopath Four (Qualifications page)
        • "...I am a fully insured member of the society of homeopaths, working to their strict code of ethics and best practice levels." - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
        • "I am also qualified as a CEASE therapist. Cease stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression and therapy is an effective a way of treating autism through elimination of causative toxic exposures such as vaccines and regular medication." - text remains in June 2018, July 2018, Sep 2018 (how hard would it be to not imply that CEASE can treat autism?)
        Another page on this site [redacted link] says
        • Below that is a section on "conditions that patients have consulted" the homeopath for which include a number of serious ones such as psoriasis, herpes, thyroid problems and endometriosis. - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
        December update: no change has been made
        June 2018 update: no change. Still an SoH member, still claiming to 'treat' autism, and linking it to vaccination.
        July 2018 update: as June 2018.
          Homeopath Five
          • "I am registered with the Society of Homeopaths..." - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
          • "I am a certified "Cease Therapist" treating children with Autism and Autism Spectrum problems." - text remains in June 2018, July 2018
          December update: no change has been made
          June 2018 update: no change. Still an SoH member, still claiming to treat children with autism.
          July 2018 update: as June 2018.


          Edit: 5 Jan 2018 - while looking up the tweet sent to me by UKHomeopathyReg (see comment below post) I spotted that s/he had just published another post today about the SoH which is pretty interesting: Antipathy Towards the Advertising Standards Authority #3

          Regarding the post above, I'm not sure what to do next - hardly any no text has changed seven two months on, people who are members of the SoH are still making these claims about autism.

          Edit: 28 Feb 2018 - the Professional Standards Authority, who accredit the Society of Homepaths' register has taken some rather positive action on this matter.

          Edit 2 June 2018 - the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) has now published its position statement on its members marketing and use of CEASE therapy. The news item implies that CEASE is a powerful detoxing tool (oh dear) but the actual statement says that members should not claim to treat autism and it looks like they're not allowed to write out the full name of the treatment either. I've also re-checked the website of each homeopath below again and provided an update.

          Edit 15 July 2018 - I did another sweep / check before writing back to the SoH. I've also created a new Wikipedia page on CEASE therapy.

          Saturday, 2 December 2017

          From 2014: When homeopaths go too far (collected vaccination statements)

          This post was originally published on a Woto page but it seems that you can no longer log in with Twitter credentials so instead of trying to update it there I've migrated it here.

          When homeopaths go too far

          Image from page 205 of "Natural history of birds, fish, insects, and reptiles" (1808)

          Image from page 205 of "Natural history of birds, fish, insects, and reptiles" (1808)

          Reining in the homeopaths

          Homeopathy is mostly harmless in that it contains no harmful ingredients (assuming it is prepared correctly, this was not the case for Nelsons in 2012). It is the medical equivalent of 'doing nothing'. But sometimes doing nothing can be a reasonable thing to do (eg 'watchful waiting') but sometimes it's a very bad idea. By taking homeopathic "medicine" people may be under the false impression that they are doing something useful, when instead they need real medicine.

          There are a number of examples where organisations, both medical and homeopathic, have had to issue a statement to rein in some of the stranger notion that homeopaths have taken off and run with. Here are some of them.

          The World Health Organisation made it clear in July 2014 that homeopathy is of no use for treating Ebola.

          The Society of Homeopaths reminds its members, in June 2014, to be careful about the claims made about homeopathy in any marketing material...

          The British Homeopathic Association, the Faculty of Homeopaths and the Society of Homeopaths agreed, in April 2013, that people should get their children vaccinated.

          The BHA, British Homeopathic Association
          "Vaccinations for infectious childhood diseases is currently a major news story. There is no evidence to suggest that the measles outbreak in Swansea or the fall-off in MMR vaccinations in the Totnes area are as a result of people choosing to use complementary medicines instead of conventional immunisation. However, we would like to state that on the issue of immunisation the BHA has for many years taken an unequivocal position.
          In line with the Department of Health’s advice, the BHA recommends that immunisation should be carried out in the normal way using the conventional tested and approved vaccines."
          Vaccinations statement British Homeopathic Association (date not given)

          The FoH, Faculty of Homeopathy

          "Vaccinations for infectious childhood diseases is currently a major news story.
          There is no evidence to suggest that the current measles outbreak in Swansea or the fall-off in MMR vaccinations in the Totnes area are as a result of people choosing to use complementary medicines instead of conventional immunisation. However, as a responsible registering body for statutorily regulated healthcare professionals we again want to make clear our unequivocal and long-standing position on this issue.

          In line with the Department of Health’s advice, the Faculty of Homeopathy recommends that in the case of infectious childhood diseases immunisation should be carried out in the normal way using the conventional tested and approved vaccines." 
          copy of Vaccinations statement, archived on 21 Apr 2015  Faculty of Homeopaths (date not given)

          The SoH, Society of Homeopaths
          Philip Edmonds, chairman of the Society of Homeopaths said: "The Society does not endorse the use of homeopathic medicines as an alternative to vaccination for the prevention of serious infectious diseases and recommends that members of the public seek the advice of their GP, and/or relevant Department of Health guidelines, concerning vaccination and protection against disease."
          Parents need to know homeopathy does not protect against measles, says MP The Guardian 15 April 2013

          Public Health England, in February 2011, issued a statement about malaria and homeopathic remedies clarifying that
          "The Health Protection Agency Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention does not recommend relying on any herbal or homeopathic remedies for the prevention of malaria." Guidance: Malaria: Homeopathic Remedies Public Health England 1 February 2011 

          Dr Peter Fisher, a homeopath, acknowledged in 2011 that homeopathy is of no use in preventing malaria and that fellow homeopaths do themselves no favour when pretending that it does

          "So, yes I believe that eventually something, maybe descended from homeopathy, using the key techniques of homeopathy, will be accepted. I have to say I think the homeopathic community is in many ways its worst enemy, particularly in this country [UK]–we have people who make silly claims, frankly, who are not qualified and say things they really shouldn’t say, for instance, about preventing malaria.  That is potentially very dangerous and gets us a bad press."   An interview with Peter Fisher World of Homeopathy 4 July 2012
          Useful as it is to have a senior homeopath acknowledge this @Blue_Wode has pointed me towards this nice quip (curated here on EBM-first, originally posted at Skeptico) from a skeptic, which makes a good point and references similar comments made by Dr Fisher in 2007.

          The World Health Organisation made it clear in August 2009 that homeopathy is of no use for HIV, tuberculosis or malaria (or infant diarrhoea, or flu)

          "People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned."
          Homeopathy not a cure, says WHO BBC News 20 August 2009
          "WHO also said that it does not recommend homoeopathy for treating diarrhoea in infants or flu. WHO experts, who have clearly criticised the use of treatments that have not been proved clinically and that are not evidence based, said that homoeopathy had “no place” in treatment of these five dangerous diseases."
          WHO warns against using homoeopathy to treat serious diseases BMJ  24 August 2009

          Dr Michael Dixon, Medical Director for the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health also lent his support to the WHO's statement on homeopathy, agreeing that

          "There is no place for homeopathy in treating serious illness such as HIV, TB, malaria and infant diarrhoea in developing countries. The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health absolutely supports the recent statement by the World Health Organisation."
          WHO warns against using homoeopathy to treat serious diseases (response) BMJ 11 September 2009

          From this it's clear that both homeopathy organisations (in the UK at least) and medically qualified people agree that homeopathy is no substitute for vaccination, does not prevent or treat malaria and cannot treat HIV, TB, diarrhoea or flu.
          I'm not aware of any homeopathic organisation which has acknowledged publicly that homeopathy is of no use in treating Ebola though. Which is a shame because, as @sciencebabe puts it bluntly, homeopathy contains #NoFuckingMedicine.

          Apparently a team of homeopaths have taken themselves off to Liberia with a box of 'remedies'. It seems like they could cause problems in several ways:
          • giving people who may need actual medicine medicine that isn't actually medicine
          • generally getting in the way and making a nuisance of themselves
          • harming themselves by getting infected and increasing the workload of real doctors and support staff, coffinmakers etc.

          Thursday, 30 November 2017

          Homeopathy no longer to be prescribed on the NHS (but not banned)

          In haste, quick lunchtime post - please let me know of any errors.

          NHS England's Board has agreed today with NHS England's recommendations (following a big consultation) that homeopathy should not be routinely prescribed. It should not be prescribed for new patients and prescriptions already happening should be wound down.

          There were several papers and topics under discussion at NHS England's meeting today, the relevant Board Paper discussing homeopathy is Items which should not be routinely prescribed in primary care: findings of consultation and next steps – for decision (see sections 34 to 38 on Homeopathy, also reference made in the next section, on Herbal remedies in section 40).

          Note that this is not a ban on homeopathy. NHS England does not have the legal powers to prevent doctors from prescribing anything that is not on the Department of Health's blacklist (I think in practice it is less a ban on prescribing, more an acknowledgement that it will not be reimbursed which is probably effectively the same). However Section 43 of the document linked above specifically proposes that the Secretary of State should add homeopathy, and several other things, to the blacklist. That would involve a separate consultation and then a decision.
          Edit 2 Dec: "In October 2015, Good Thinking wrote to the Department of Health to highlight that under all applicable criteria, we could see several reasons why homeopathy should be added to the Blacklist, in line with the Department of Health’s legal obligations. The Department was reluctant to respond positively, but in November 2015, the Department agreed they would hold a consultation, and in July 2017 the Department of Health directed us to NHS England’s consultation as their response to our request.

          Michael Marshall, Project Director of the Good Thinking Society, said: “We are very pleased to see these recommendations by NHS England, coming two years after we first raised the issue of blacklisting homeopathy to the Department of Health. It is particularly commendable that NHS England took the additional step of actively recommending to that homeopathy be blacklisted. We will be writing to the Department of Health to urge them to take this recommendation seriously and to take swift action." Source.


          At the time of writing (2pm, 30 Nov 2017) the British Homeopathic Association (BHA) hasn't include any reference to this news in their latest tweets. However over the last few days they have been successfully raising funds to request a judicial review of the process used by NHS England in this consultation. As I understand this is a two-step process - first permission must be given for the review, second the review must take place.

          The previous judicial review (by a member of the public but considered by the Judge to have been steered by the BHA's hand) did not go well.

          But it's been a good November for people and piglets - both the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the NHS have come out against homeopathy.

          Even if NHS England's decision had gone the other way homeopathy is still in a perilous state on the NHS and prescriptions have been falling over the last 20 years.

          Thanks to @fermi239 for the heads up on Twitter earlier today and thanks also to @zeno001 and  @UKHomeopathyReg for further discussion and clarification.

          Further reading: this story in the news
          As Edzard Ernst noted in July 2017, the tenor of media articles covering NHS funding has generally become much less favourable towards homeopathy, and more favourable (in general) towards a skeptical view of homeopathy than has been seen in previous years. This itself is encouraging - when you want to get something changed it's a lot easier if the prevailing view matches. For a long time it didn't.

          NHS tells Jeremy Hunt: Homeopathy on prescription should be 'blacklisted' because they don't work Independent 30 November 2017

          Humanists celebrate end of NHS homeopathy prescriptions in England Humanists UK 30 November 2017

          NHS England calls for homeopathy to be blacklisted; Enfield CCG ends homeopathy funding Good Thinking Society 30 November 2017

          Thank God the NHS has come to its senses over homeopathy Independent 30 November 2017

          Wednesday, 29 November 2017

          Has anyone already invented... a way to gather multiple URLs more efficiently?

          One of my tasks today has been to let people (teachers in London who've signed up to hear from us) know about our new CPD courses in the New Year. I sent lots of emails and posted on Facebook, and our website, and another website etc etc.

          In doing so I shared (by copying and pasting into various posts and emails) four URLs aka web addresses or links
          1. A reminder of a free event on robotics for schools at QMUL

          2, 3 and 4 - for the three computing CPD courses for teachers running at KCL next year.
          Computing Science and Education: Theory & Practice 2018

          Teach KS3 Computing 2018

          Teach Algorithms and Data Structures to A-Level using Python 2018

          Initially I had the four tabs open with the four links 'active'. That's a very efficient way to collect the URLs for pasting into an email or editing window (either as is or more usually hyperlinked beneath text) because the minute you put your mouse cursor into the browser address bar it automatically selects all the URL text (at least it does on Firefox) and you can just Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V (paste wherever you want it). Peasy.

          Sometimes when I've lots of other tabs open - the main website, other website, Tweetdeck, Facebook etc I don't want to have too many additional ones (at time of writing I only have 15 tabs open) so I use Notepad (actually TextEdit on a Mac) and store the URLs there for later collection.

          Collection using notepad involves only a little extra effort - I have to position the cursor at one end then click and drag to select the link before placing or pasting it where I want it. For URLs that I visit frequently over a longer period of time I store them in Workflowy (select, copy, paste) or bookmarks (right-click, copy) but that still involves a bit of fiddling about.

          I seem to do this sort of task, with multiple URLs, a lot. 

          What I would love is a 'thing' (as yet unknown) that would let me load up a bunch of URLs and then when I want '1' I click on the '1' and it copies it to my clipboard for pasting, then if I want '3' I click on '3' and so on.

          Does this exist? Does it even make sense? How do other people do it? Any ideas? Here's my crappy prototype ;)

          This is literally only useful if you're using LOTS of URLs, if one or two then whatever you're doing now is best. So... this could be a grid, doesn't have to be. When text is black you click the number to load your URL and it goes blue. You can then click the blue version to COPY the URL to the clipboard before pasting. Ideally I should have included a bit where you can 'name this URL' so for '1' and '2' here I'd call the first 'robots' and the second 'CSE' etc.

          A note on avoiding pasting formatted text
          Incidentally these days I paste almost everything into either TextEdit first to get rid of all the formatting (I keep it plain text). If I don't have a background copy open (rare) then I paste it into the address bar of any tab (as long as you don't press enter you're fine) as that's another great way to get the text-only version of any bit of text, doesn't have to be an URL. If I need to collect the address itself then obviously I collect that first before covering it with other text.

          The process is (a) carefully select the (formatted) text,  Ctrl+C to copy it (b) cursor into address bar and Ctrl+V to paste, (c) Ctrl+A to select all then Ctrl+C to copy the now unformatted text and (d) cursor to destination: Ctrl+V to paste

          Tuesday, 21 November 2017

          Pointless arguments in the #homeopathy-sphere that you can safely ignore, saved for interest (mine)

          Yesterday (20th Nov) I was surprised to be alerted to a 19th Nov post published on homeopathy enthusiast Sandra Hermann-Courtney’s (@BrownBagPantry on Twitter) blog, a screenshot below.

          It turned out to be my blog post (from 15th Nov) copied and pasted without attribution but with a disclaimer stating "No restriction to its unedited re-use for informative purposes was declared." For the record no-one needs to write this on their blog posts, as copyright is implied.
          The post in question:
          Alternative medicine conferences and events - a guide for hotels and conference centres
          (15 November 2017)

          I asked her, through her commenting system, to take the post down and also pointed out that she could have published it unimpeded if she'd interspersed some commentary to at least make it look as if she’s re-using my content as fair use. It is generally OK to publish a line by line rebuttal, it is not OK to steal the content wholesale and publish without attribution (she did include a link to my post). She subsequently did add in commentary and I left her a note saying thanks and that there’d be no further action from me.

          So I was surprised to see that she’s edited the same post (at least) three times today. Once to remove it entirely, including two of my comments, with just a link to my post. Then a second time to add in a couple of paragraphs with further bleating and an accusation that I’d threatened her with a DMCA notice to take down her entire blog. You can see exactly what I sent in the screenshots of my comments below (Sandra regularly edits her content after the fact and we’ve all learned to screenshot things in any dealings with her).

          Here's the thrilling timeline... dun dun duuun...

          Sandra publishes my entire post (losing the links and the formatting, for shame) without attribution and so I send this comment [she published the comment]

          Screenshot 1 - click to enlarge
          She later adds attribution and announces that the post is ‘editorial’ (it isn’t) and I send this comment [which she doesn’t publish]

          Screenshot 2 - click to enlarge

          She finally intersperses some comments, for which I thank her in a third comment explaining that no further action will be taken. It was brief and amiable, she might have published it but I forgot to screenshot.

          Here’s the text of her post now, as at 7pm 21 Nov, it's already changed several times since 5pm today… her text is in italics, my comments interspersed between.

          "UK homeopaths, homeopathy users, supporters, homeopathic organizations, hotels, universities and other venues that host informational gatherings to inform the public about alternative health care options, need to be aware of the content on the blog of JoBrodie "Stuff that occurs to me."

          In the first paragraph Sandra focuses on homeopathy but my blog post is about all forms of quackery. In fact my post is specifically only about misleading advertising for quackery. There are numerous talks and events happening every so often in London about homeopathy and I’ve not complained about any of them for the simple reason that they have not claimed they can cure or prevent any disease.

          People who are putting together informational events for the public about alternative health may want to make themselves aware of advertising regulations, medicine regulations and the Cancer Act 1939. Trading Standards has shut down a variety of events that would have likely broken the law if they’d continued. Alternative medical folk may detest skeptics but when we point out that something might be a bit dodgy we might actually be saving you a lot of future grief from authorities.

On one blog page, Brodie describes in explicit detail what and how anti homeopathy skeptics do and can stop educational and/or informational presentations at schools, universities and other organizations. She lists resources for more help as well as successes skeptics have had stopping the informational presentation of alternative health care options, primarily homeopathy. This practice by anti homeopathy activists is dangerous to society. It's bullying. It's disgusting. The title of this blog post reflects my fears in this regard." 

          Well obviously I think homeopaths and other quacks claiming that they can cure autism or cancer are quite dangerous to society...

          "As I interpreted one of Brodie's comments (I deleted them), she threatened to proceed with a DMCA take down notice of my entire blog. I understand how embarrassing this must be to have the skeptics' tactics exposed. Someone has to do it. I did. I will. No regrets."

          Sandra has changed this third paragraph several times, this is the current (at 7pm) iteration, two earlier versions are in the tweet below. Edit 22 Nov: she keeps tweaking the post so I've set up an automated change detection to email me when there's been further tinkering ;)

          Threatened [to proceed] with a. DMCA take down notice of my entire blog” - well, see what you think from the text in Screenshot 2 above. I think I’ve included it more as a “well I’d rather not, but it’s an available option isn’t it?” rather than a threat per se, but fair enough it was certainly mentioned. However it then becomes clear that Sandra has panicked somewhat due to misunderstanding what a DMCA notice is. I cannot take down her entire blog, I can only ask for Google (who own Blogger) to remove the content for which I have the copyright. Since I don’t own the copyright for any other content on her blog (to be fair, neither does she as it’s mostly screenshots of other people’s tweets, plus bleating) I cannot have any effect there.

          A DMCA notice would likely cost me a couple of hundred pounds as I’d go through a lawyer (to avoid handing over my contact details) and it would also expose me to the mockery of fellow skeptics (and probably a bunch of other people too) for using a sledgehammer to crack a nut - so it’s not something I’d rush into with that much enthusiasm.

          The final lines of her third paragraph made me laugh out loud though. It reads as if she thinks I wanted her to take down my post because she was exposing the content to a wider audience. The fact that I’d already published the content to my own blog, then tweeted it and had it further RTed rather suggests I wanted it ‘exposed’ to a wider audience. I just didn’t want it stolen and reposted without attribution. Fortunately she seems to have taken it down. For now...

          Admittedly I don’t always succeed in getting people to take content about quackery down, the irony of this success is that the content was my own.

          I do hope Sandra isn't cross at me lifting her content and adding my commentary, after all I didn't see anything written on her blog post to indicate the contrary, so I'll assume her agreement since "No restriction to its unedited re-use for informative purposes was declared."

          25 November: Edit after she changed her post again
          "...someone (perhaps a member of the Society of Homeopaths) in London might want to share a link to her blog with meeting room bookers (, institutions of higher learning and health care centers in London."

          Quite amazing. This is literally what I want to happen. My post is about gathering information that might be of use to people working in hotels, conference centres or any event bookers wherever they work. The 'end product' from the post should be a set of recommended guidelines on how to spot quackery / misleading health claims and why it's a good idea not to let it flourish by making space available for meetings about it. I'd never heard of meetingsbooker before but if this flags up to them the problem of quackery that's great. She seems to think she's 'exposing' the content on my blog, as if me publishing it and sharing it on Twitter / Facebook etc is somehow keeping it secret. Baffling.

          "If the like minded anti homeopathy skeptics need help, Brodie has posted links to the blogs and/or websites of the "Good Thinking Society; the Nightingale Collaboration; Sense About Science and then a Skeptics in the Pub (various around the UK)" where you can, well....learn how to combat the spread of homeopathy over a pint or two..... "

          Goodness, how can one person misunderstand so much. The listing of the groups isn't for homeopathy skeptics, or any other kind of skeptics, but for event bookers who are faced with an event they're not sure about and would like to ask someone about it. Those are the people they might ask...

          22 Nov, around ten to midnight.             

          22 Nov, Twenty past midnight...

          Sunday, 19 November 2017

          The lovely church music in Rev. S2E6

          tl;dr the episode features some lovely church music including Allegri's Miserere, Bach's Jesu, meine Freude, Palestrina's Jubilate Deo and another one I couldn't get on Shazam ;)

          Last week I attended the magnificent Polyphony Down The Pub which is an amateur choir that enjoys singing remaissance motet type music, lots of it church music (some secular music too) while enjoying a pint. I can't sightread so I just listen rather than sing. We (they) did it as a two-choir, 8 parts thing with the room split into choir 1 and choir 2, then swapped. Much fun.

          I have also been thinking a bit about some of the music used in Rev. (Series 2, episode 6, script PDF) when Adam Smallbone is trying to find something suitable to play on a small CD player in the church for the Dedication Festival, the church organ having largely given up. Quite a few bits of church music (and other stuff) crop up and while I'd recognise Allegri's Miserere anywhere the other pieces I had to Shazam as I wasn't familiar with them, despite having heard quite a lot of church music in my life (see background below).

          6m10s - while Adam and Colin share a pizza there's some music that I can't get on Shazam - anyone know?

          11m10s - Adam considers his fridge while listening to the ending of Palestrina's Jubilate Deo ("et in saecula saeculorum amen" from ~3m12 in vid below) on his headphones, Shazam tells me it's the 1991 Remastered version, Choir of King's College & Cambridge & St Philip Ledger.

          15m - as Adam cycles to church he's listening to another Jubilate Deo (Shazam gives it as James Lancelot & Choir of King's College & Cambridge & Sir Philip Ledger - seems to be a different one from the last)

          18.00 - Allegri’s Miserere, Armonica Consort
          19.31 - Allegri’s Miserere again

          Couldn't find the Armonica version of Allegri's Miserere but there are plenty of examples on YouTube including this one above from The Sixteen.

          23.48 - Bach's Jesu Meine Freude, BWV 277: I, The Sixteen (I saw them live at Spitalfields Music Festival last year, fantastic).

          Different version from the one used in the show but all fairly similar.

          There's also a lovely piece that Rev. Adam Smallbone sings at the end of S3E6 (the final episode overall) which, despite nine years of church schooling, I'd never heard of. Because he sings it it's unShazamable so I had to pay attention to the Latin to discover that it's the Praeconium Paschale or 'Exsultet'.

          I spent the second nine years of my life at an Anglican boarding school and our days revolved more around the Christian calendar than mere 'start of term' and 'end of term'. Although every four weeks we had permitted weekends away, called exeats, the word being a cousin of exit and exeunt, and there was a half-term in the middle. Hardly any event could pass without a religious ceremony and we had bonus ones including Leavers' Day and something like Founders' Day but I'm not sure we called it that. I remember Ascension Day and Harvest Festival (involved polishing apples on our jumpers for some reason). Every so often (quite possibly every three years) we had a Triennial service which the bishop attended. We had to wear our school ties for that, not our house ties so it was a big deal. These larger events took place at an external church too, sometimes their choir would be combined with ours.

          As an avowed atheist (from about the age of four, I was very troubled at church seeing my parents bowing their heads and muttering to no-one) I tried to make these interminable services (assembly every day, chapel on Sunday) go more quickly by speed reading multiple times whichever bit of liturgical prose our chaplain was currently on. It was always a relief whenever the organist piped us out with something nice and chirpy at the end.

          Except Ash Wednesday which had the best cheerless music ever, a particular favourite was Attende Domine which we sang in English ('Hear us O Lord'). I think it was just the choir that sang it (possibly during the communion bit) but it wasn't that long before I was in the choir myself. They signed us up to choir using a sort of exception reporting - everyone was in the choir until proven otherwise. The least pleasant teacher in the school took us one by one into one of the practice rooms with a piano and she made us sing a hymn of our choice, then played us a chord and we had to sing the middle note. Somehow I passed.

          Anyway, while I did not love boarding school I left with a fondness for church music. We had quite a lot of church music at home too (though for most of the year I was at school!) as my parents met through a church choir in Glasgow (Wellington Church). A few years after leaving school I voluntarily attended sat through an Ash Wednesday service at St Paul's Cathedral because they were doing a proper two-choir version of Allegri's Miserere. As a big fan of Tom Hollander (who plays Rev Adam Smallbone in Rev.) I was quite pleased to read in an interview that his own schooling (he was head chorister) had left him with an 'abiding love of church music' too.

          Wednesday, 15 November 2017

          Alternative medicine conferences and events - a guide for hotels and conference centres

          tl;dr is it a good idea to produce a checklist for hotel event bookers so that they can avoid hosting out and out quackery? What would go in the checklist?

          Edit 30 Jan 2018
          I could have saved myself writing the post below if I'd remembered these :) Here are two clear guides on things to think about, and things to watch out for, when considering the suitability of a topic or speaker for an event.
          A letter to the TEDx community on TEDx and bad science (3 October 2013)
          10 Questions To Distinguish Real From Fake Science (8 November 2012)

          Occasionally skeptically-minded people* will learn that a hotel's conference rooms are to be used for a health-related event on a topic that is quackery and which has the potential to be harmful and costly to customers ('patients'). Occasionally such talks take place at universities or on hospital trust grounds too.

          Universities and hospitals generally don't want to be associated with quackery, particularly dangerous stuff, and tend to be pretty amenable to cancelling the event or having it moved off-site. That's not always the case with hotels. Many of us would prefer that these events were cancelled completely but as long as the event is legal then there's not much we can do.

          Cancer-related alternative health events, however, may be in danger of breaching the Cancer Act 1939 and it may be more appropriate to cancel them. Of course it's entirely possible that someone wants to talk about complementary support for people with cancer with no problematic mentions of stopping their treatment and no advice given about undertaking unevidenced treatments - despite the treatment being quackery it's probably fairly hairmless and I suspect we don't really have much of a valid objection.

          This example below though - where a speaker encouraged audience members who had cancer to give up their medication (or avoid taking it in the first place) - that took place at a hotel in Liverpool would seem to be one of the ones that should not have gone ahead. The report, from Michael Marshall of the Good Thinking Society, is a startling read: Cancer ‘Cure’ is Quackers Skeptical Magazine, November 2017, by Michael Marshall

          Hotel event bookers might not know that a health-related talk (perhaps badged as a 'wellness' event) is unevidenced quackery or how to tell it apart fom something useful that everyone should know about - and that's where the skeptical-minded community might be able to help.

          I wondered if we skeptics might put together a short checklist to help people appraise whether events are likely to cause problems. Does this idea have 'legs' as they say?
          Edit 10 January 2018 - one of the topics I wasn't envisaging a university having many problems with, in terms of finding they've unwittingly said yes to room bookings, is conferences by white supremacists on eugenics with a side order of anti-Semitism. Today UCL found itself in this unfortunate position after a story uncovered that such a conference has been hosted at their site for the last four years. UCL has acted quickly to distance themselves from it, suspend future bookings from the staff member involved and are seeking an explanation from them.

          For example I might include things like
          • if it mentions cancer at all ask them to assure you (the hotel booker) how they will ensure that the content of the presentation and any responses to questions don't breach the Cancer Act 1939 (Trading Standards can veto these events, or bring criminal proceedings against the speaker - I've never heard of venues being prosecuted though, anyone know?)
          • if it talks about curing or treating (or 'helping with') any health condition beware - this may fall within misleading advertising (overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority in general, anything relating to the use of medicines would fall under the MHRA [Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Authority]
          • also be wary of any "that doctors don't want you to know about" hyperbole
          • be aware that skeptically-minded people often attend these events for monitoring purposes, and general interest (there is always new quackery to discover)
          • the possibility of the whole social media backlash thing, though I think hotels can probably weather that!
          • the very real possibility of doing harm to members of the public either by them paying out money for a duff event, or a duff treatment (or them failing to follow better treatment advice) - this is not a good look.
          • a list of 'treatment modalities' known to be unevidenced twaddle (eg homeopathy, MMS aka Master Mineral Solution or Miracle Mineral Solution, it goes by other names too)
          • a list of treatments for which the evidence is not very good
          • how the skeptic-minded community can help beforehand 
          • (afterwards is probably a bit late!)
          • links to other 'how to spot quackery' checklists including these red flags, or this rough guide to spotting bad science
          *healthcare professionals, scientists, skeptical activists, concerned members of the public etc
            Skepticism-based clearing houses
            Any of these organisations would possibly be able to field, or forward on, enquiries from hotels or other event-conference-centres about potentially problematic health events.
            Obviously if your organisation is listed above and you're thinking "hang on, we don't really have the capacity for that!" I can remove you (or amend the listing to clarify the way you might like to be involved, if at all).
            • Are there any good skeptic-monitored hashtags? (Beyond #homeopathy and #Burzynski?).
            • Do we have examples of successes (from our point of view) where an event has been cancelled or moved?

            Example of events not yet cancelled or moved

            Examples of events being cancelled or moved
            Manchester United cancel David Icke show at Old Trafford after backlash (17 November 2017)  The Guardian - the cancellation possibly more to do with alleged antisemitic remarks than quackery per se but an interesting example of social media backlash causing a venue to investigate further.

            Homeopathic College Pays Heavy Price for Helping to Screen VAXXED (17 February 2017) Quackometer blog - in this case the screening of the film 'Vaxxed' was not able to be prevented and it was shown at the Centre for Homeopathic Education within Regent's University in London. When it transpired that the university had not been properly informed of the film's contents they cancelled the contract with the Centre (in reality I think they'd hired a few rooms) rendering them homeless. The film was moved from the Curzon Soho screening after it had been cancelled.

            A Cinema In London Has Pulled A Documentary By A Disgraced Anti-Vaccine Activist (January 2017) Buzzfeed - Vaxxed, an anti-vaccination film directed by Andrew Wakefield, was to be screened at Curzon Soho but an outcry from scientists and the public stopped that. The film had previously been removed from the Tribeca Film Festival.

            UCL cancels homeopathy event by Indian docs after complaints (2 February 2016) The Wire - see background to this story in Andy Lewis' blog Indian Homeopaths come to UK to Lecture on Treating Cancer (comment: “Event cancelled. Booking made by junior sec unaware of issues. Lessons learnt process set up. New instructions on booking in IoN now in place.”)

            Cancelled: Man who claims to have cured cancer will not be speaking in Ireland (16 June 2015) The Journal - one event was scheduled to take place at the Clayton Hotel in Galway but was moved to another hotel, which later cancelled once the organisers learned how controversial the speaker's views were, a second event in Dublin was also cancelled. More info at Cork Skeptics' page (they led the campaign).

            The fake cancer cure conference the 'healers' tried to keep secret (25 May 2015) - this event (the 'Spirit of Health Congress 2015') went ahead after having been moved twice. Delegates were told to attend a meeting point where they were given train tickets and further instructions, video footage (not shown in link) was obtained of the event.

            A cancer-related event, due to take place in June 2014 in Bristol attracted concern from Trading Standard and the organiser of the event first cancelled it then later moved it to Exeter (9 Mar 2014)
            [Event initially cancelled][Move to Exeter]

            Totnes cancer conference forced underground by Trading Standards (23 March 2012) Josephine Jones' blog - a cancer event was due to take place in Totnes at the Civic Centre. The local MP supported efforts to get the event moved off council property or ideally cancelled and Trading Standards intervened. The event was initially cancelled but later went ahead at a different venue.

            The supramolecular chemistry of the homeopathic remedy (1 October 2010) - amazingly this event was scheduled to take place at the University of Cambridge (!) but people managed to get it cancelled by mid-September.

            Other responses to quackery

            Sandra Hermann-Courtney's strange behaviour...
            The homeopathy enthusiast Sandra Hermann-Courtney (@BrownBagPantry and @OnFluff on Twitter) is not happy at all about my post above. She stole its entire content and republished it on her own blog, with no attribution. After I tried several attempts at getting her to add commentary ('fair use') or remove the post she finally took it down. Then she replaced it with her own post bleating about this one and complaining that I'd threatened her with a DMCA takedown notice. Mmm, not quite but you can enjoy seeing how duplicitious she's been here.

            She has form on using people's content without permission and also behaving abominably to someone who lost a child to sepsis (it started badly when she suggested they might have saved the child if they'd tried homeopathy, and somehow managed to get worse). This blog post above isn't 'against' homeopathy per se, it's against misleading promotions or wrong health advice. Non-misleading homeopaths etc are probably perfectly nice people, I've no argument with them :)