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.