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

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 :)

    Saturday, 11 November 2017

    Updating my list of places that might employ science communicators

    In 2003 when I began working in science communication I didn't know about all the different type of jobs available or the different sectors, so I began collecting examples of places that had employed, or seemed likely to employ, science communicators. 

    That list became a hugely popular blog post in 2009 and I have been perennially updating it ever since. The latest version (checked Nov 2017) now lives in a Google Spreadsheet: Scicomm jobs - list of vacancies pages employing science communicators

    Science communication happens in medical research charities, schools, newspapers, museums, universities, community groups, learned societies, pharma companies, government - it is impossible to completely map all the possible ways that one can do scicomm.

    The jobs are hugely varied too - health information professionals (my own background), PR people, journalists, museum explainers, bloggers, television or radio presenters and vloggers, scientists who talk about their work, non-scientists who talk about other people's work. It's a big sector!

    Anyway if you're new to science communication I hope you'll find something interesting among the suggestions.

    Note that these employers also employ IT specialists, HR personnel etc so the vacancies pages will probably be of use to anyone looking for a job, but the focus is on scientific (broadly) institutions.

    Note to employers
    PLEASE consider adding a /jobs redirect to the end of your homepage address and pointing that to wherever you're currently keeping your jobs. The reason this list of science communication vacancies pages needs updating so frequently is partly because you keep moving your jobs around every time you have a website refresh but also because you use different terms to describe jobs (jobs, vacancies, recruitment, work for us, work with us, opportunities). 

    Obviously you are free to put your vacancies pages wherever you wish and call them whatever you like but please let's all point to them with /jobs for simplicity. Thank you. This will let anyone type /jobs at the end of your homepage URL and go straight to your vacancies page, hooray!

    Tuesday, 7 November 2017

    I've had it up to here with homeopaths marketing CEASE therapy quackery for autism

    UK homeopaths are not allowed to make misleading claims about homeopathy (no marketer is allowed to make misleading claims about any product or service). We have a fairly strange situation with the marketing of CEASE therapy in the UK though, which I have written about before, in passing, in October 2016 and July 2015.

    CEASE stands for 'Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression' - a name that belies its intention despite advertising regulations. As marketers are allowed to write out acronyms in full they are able to strongly (and wrongly) imply that the treatment can help people (typically children) who have autism.

    I shan't link to it but there's an official CEASE therapy website which has recently been strongly criticised by the Dutch equivalent of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). However that website, not being hosted in the UK, is more able to ignore the ASA's requirements for advertising. Homeopaths around the world who have completed the CEASE training can also have a page about them in the practitioners section of the website.

    UK homeopaths can therefore bypass advertising regulations while still obliquely promoting CEASE as a treatment for autism by
    (i) avoiding making direct claims about homeopathy, CEASE and autism on their websites (some of them instead say that the ASA forbids them from making certain claims, or that the ASA has told them to remove certain claims etc)
    (ii) spell out the acronym CEASE in full
    (iii) link to the official CEASE page which is currently free-er to make claims. That is, defer the actual marketing to another site
    (iv) leave page visitors to draw the hoped-for conclusion

    Basically it's "I can't say anything about this treatment (or I'll get in trouble with the ASA) but go and have a look at this website that can say stuff and then come back here and make an appointment." As an added bonus the sites often talk about detoxing from vaccinations, thereby maintaining the background anxiety that autism and vaccinations are linked in some way (they're not).

    I would like to see the term 'CEASE' ceased and no longer used in marketing, also no more linking to the 'cease-therapy' website. Ideally the homeopathy professional societies would sanction their members for implying any treatment was useful for autism.

    ~oOo~    •••    ~oOo~

    Teddington Homeopathy (Melissa Wakeling) has been on the ASA's non-compliant list of online advertisers since August 2015 for failing to make all the required corrections to her marketing of CEASE therapy. She did make a few changes, but the website still makes misleading claims.

    Interestingly one of the criticisms in the original adjudication was that Teddington Homeopathy linked to two websites which contained problematic phrases in their URLs (web addresses). Here's what the ASA said -
    "The page also contained links to external websites containing "homeopathy-for-autism" and "homeopathy-and-autism-faq" in the visible URLS..."
    "We welcomed Teddington Homeopathy's decision to remove the testimonial and other material from the page, but considered that the information about Tinus Smits and the URLs still implied a benefit for homeopathy and CEASE therapy for autism, and that the intention of CEASE therapy was to treat autism."
    Comparing what the page was like on 23 December 2013 and currently (screenshots below) shows that some changes have indeed been made, though the current version is at pains to imply that they haven't.

    Teddington Homeopathy's page on CEASE therapy in 2013 before the ASA made them change it.

    Teddington Homeopathy's page on CEASE therapy after amendments were made, in line with ASA's requirements. As not all the amendments have been made yet the site has been listed as a non-compliant online advertiser.

    The Society of Homeopaths has noted in their 2016 annual report that CEASE therapy was something that a lof of their members were keen to learn about, as part of their continuing professional development... obviously I'd prefer that they take to task their members who are promoting a non-therapy to vulnerable families.

    Friday, 3 November 2017

    Invented words and phrases (by me) - a small collection

    Sometimes the existing language won't do and you have to create a new word, or one suggests itself. A lot of the time it's just recombining prefixes, infixes and suffixes but occasionally one that I quite like emerges. I'm sure you have your own, here are mine. If you tell me yours I might add a section at the bottom for them :)

    While you're listening enjoy the excellent poomphing sounds of Groove Armada's Chicago.

    Apostroppy - people who get extra miffed with misplaced apostrophe's (see what I did there!). Inspired by @PenguinGalaxy's misspelling of 'apostrope'

    Damplitude - a measure of how hard it's raining, from how high the drops bounce on the pavement

    DNAouement - the conclusion of a Jeremy Kyle show

    Flim-flammable - a phrase looking for a use, without much hope of a resolution unless there are some good fire myths it might be applied to

    Lipidome / lipidomics - I came up with this in 2000 after attending a conference on lipid chemistry. Around that time proteome (and later metabolome) was all the rage I think and I, being the only lipid chemist in the department, jokingly suggested the lipidome - which has since become a real word. I doubt I was the first to think of it! [Edit - I can confirm it was in the academic literature before I 'invented' it independently.] The lipid-ome is the full complement of all lipids (eg cell membrane lipids).

    Malheureuse legumes - reaching for a description for poisonous mushrooms during an O Level French oral exam in which I had to role-play the sister of a boy who'd eaten them in the forest. I'd forgotten the word 'champignon'. Fortunately I never had to use it as the examiner used the correct word in the preliminary introductions to the role play.

    Quantumacious - the absolute determination, despite no evidence or even evidence to the contrary, that your particularly brand of quackery can be explained by 'quantum' something or other

    Monthabetically - my efforts to solve the fact that the months of the year are not alphabetic (and a column with January and May in it won't naturally re-order by calendar date) so I've renamed them Anuary, Bebruary, Charm, Dapril, Ey, Fune, Guly, Haugust, Iptember, Joctober, Movember, Zecember for my own filing purposes. These days I tend to just go with Bruary for Bebruary, there's no need to overdo it.

    'ping it me-wards' - please send me a copy. I don't really know what I was thinking there

    Teledelegates - people attending a conference solely via the Twitter hashtag

    Timeato - my preferred rendering of Pomodoro, the productivity tool named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. 

    A 'timeato'

    Whirritation - persistent helicopters overhead (to be honest I do quite like the sound, especially if Chinooks though they never seem to hover sadly), often heard early on Sunday mornings at the London Marathon which runs through bits of Blackheath near where I live. Those can be quite whirritating.

    Thursday, 2 November 2017

    Seller of GcMAF on trial - 'banned' product, unlikely claims made for it

    Some of the people behind Immuno Biotech Ltd are to stand trial later this week for selling products containing GcMAF which has been wrongly touted (papers retracted by the journals that published them) as a cure-all for a number of conditions, including cancer. Despite that this trial does not appear to involve the Cancer Act 1939.

    There's no good evidence that GcMAF is of any particular use as a treatment for anything and the fact that it's derived from blood products means particular care would be needed when giving this sort of thing to people.

    In 2015 the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) shut down a Cambridgeshire factory (UK's MHRA Shuts Down GcMAF Plant, 27 Feb 2015) that had been producing GcMAF (also known as First Immune).  The product itself is unlicensed / unapproved (effectively 'banned') so may not be marketed for anything and the equipment used to produce it may have been contaminated because poor manufacturing processes were in place.

    It was also banned from import into Guernsey in Feb 2015 and their health department urged users or former users of GcMAF to contact their GP.

    David Noakes, CEO of Immuno Biotech Ltd, is a former Guernsey resident who appeared on The One Show in 2015 talking about GcMAF - the interview did not appear to go well.

    He and colleagues* appeared at Southwark Crown Court yesterday before their trial begins on 5 Nov (or possibly in 2018, conflicting reports "All four will stand trial at the same court next year.") - it's expected to take six weeks.

    Further reading
    *David Noakes - CEO, Brian Hall - associate, Emma Ward - biochemist and Loraine Noakes - distribution firm director and also his ex-wife.

    Things to bear in mind
    There are several different ways in which an untested alternative "treatment" can cause harm -
    1) by containing an ingredient that's harmful, or by being prepared in such a way that means harmful ingredients are present at problematic doses
    2) by being utterly harmless but containing nothing of use and offering no real help - wasting time for getting real treatment and wasting money
    3) by offering false hope