Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A new Wikipedia page on CEASE therapy

Summary: I've created (with help from other Wikipedians) a new page on Wikipedia for CEASE therapy giving a brief overview of what the therapy involves and the regulatory action that's taken place against the misleading claims made for it. (Page last updated - 29 July 2018)

For some time I and others have been trying, not all that successfully, to get UK homeopaths / naturopaths to stop making misleading claims about curing or treating autism. The information accompanying their treatment promotes the idea that vaccines cause autism (which is a harmful idea to be promoting anyway) and the treatment itself involves the notion of 'vaccine detox' through large doses of vitamin C alongside a buffet selection of supplements, dietary restrictions and homeopathy. CEASE therapy (Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression - the name itself is problematic) is promoted to parents of children with autism and no evidence has been provided of it being of use to anyone. A related 'treatment' is Homeopathic Detox Therapy or HDT.

In 2015 Teddington Homeopathy was reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading CEASE-related claims and the ASA adjudicated against them and subsequently added them to their non-compliant online advertisers list. [I submitted a complaint myself but the ASA had already begun to take action based on someone else's prior complaint].

More recently we have asked the Society of Homeopaths to rein in their own members. There are several homeopathic societies in the UK and the SoH has its members' register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) so I suppose this offers a potential source of leverage. Happily the PSA listened to our* complaints and imposed conditions on the SoH when reaccrediting their register. The SoH published a position statement advising their members to take care about misleading claims relating to the treatment.

In my own complaint, to the SoH, I reported five of their members who had been making misleading claims, then I periodically monitored the five websites for any changes. Sadly the changes were fairly minimal - hence the 'not all that successfully' reference above. Most significantly one member has cancelled their SoH membership (so they are no longer required to follow the SoH's guidelines on marketing etc) but very little of the text has changed.

In July 2018 the ASA adjudicated against another CEASE therapist who offered CEASE among several other things, so it wasn't the main focus. I also discovered that they'd written to several homeopaths in May and June enclosing an Enforcement Note on CEASE therapy and asking them to ensure that their marketing material did not make misleading claims.

Hopefully the ASA might take some action on these and other homeopaths - I won't necessarily know about it because they do not need to adjudicate further on any homeopath. After several cases the ASA already knows that there's no good evidence for homeopathy and that it doesn't work so there's no point in revisiting the evidence and adjudicating. Instead each new complaint about homeopathy is handled by the Compliance team who, frustratingly, don't publish their activities. I don't think any of the homeopaths (from my complaint) have been selling homeopathic remedies in breach of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) regulations.

Since getting regulatory bodies to take action on misleading health advertising is a long, slow process I thought I'd try a parallel approach of creating a new Wikipedia page about the therapy. Wikipedia's pages can feature prominently in search engine results so I'm hoping that the page might appear when families are searching for information. No guarantees of course! No sign of the page in search results yet but it's only been 24 hours.

*our - I did put in a complaint however the timeline was such that the PSA had already had its meeting and taken action before I did, so mine's unlikely to have contributed much to the outcome.

After writing about the new Wikipedia page on Twitter I got a fair bit of push back from homeopaths and CEASE therapists who get a bit cross when anyone points out that they're making unsupported claims about an implausible treatment. One of them created a new account with a username that is typical of the lack of insight of some homeopaths I've spoken to (see screenshots below). Of course this certainly seems a bit intimidating and might put people off from writing about their activities on Twitter but it doesn't actually stop people from undertaking those activities (or getting other people to mention them instead).

Is it really like that I wonder ;)
A few more screenshots below.

There's still a lot to be done on CEASE. Getting the ASA and SoH to persuade homeopaths to remove misleading claims is only one small part. They are still attempting to treat children with autism which is beyond their level of competence and a safeguarding issue. The MHRA can block the sale of the 'remedies', local councils can take action around safeguarding and Trading Standards can prosecute.

Library of Things - borrow household stuff as well as books

Libraries of Things are community-run projects which let people borrow community-owned items for a small fee, for a week or so. Items can include musical instruments, camping equipment, household tools (drills, waffle-makers), arts and crafts and whatever the community makes available.

Inspired by @MooseAllain's post about a local project in Frome :) I looked for a directory and didn't find one so this is the next best thing. 

Google is full of suggestions, I just picked a few - another good way to find more is to do an image search for Library of Things and click on the different logos. Also search Twitter.

Community fridges (avoid wasting food within use by date)
Frome has a Community Fridge and Brixton has a People's Fridge

Libraries of Things
Library of Things - Crystal Palace / Upper Norwood

Share Frome

Borrow Don't Buy - Plymouth

Local Tool lending library - worldwide

Pimlico Toy Library

Oxford Library of Things (coming soon, as of Nov 2017)
from Low Carbon West Oxford (see also Facebook)

Guildford Library of Things (opened June 2018)

Cardiff, Wales
Benthyg -

Dublin Library of Things

United States
Brighton, MI - Library of Things

Capital Area District, Lansing, MI - Library of Things

Hillsboro, Oregon - Library of Things

Connetquot Public Library, Bohemia, New York (electronics / hardware)

Ann Arbor District Library - Unusual Things to Borrow

Kitchener, Ontario - Library of Things

Repair cafes

Restart Project

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Learning Morse Code online

Click the pic above (or and then on Play a demo on desktop to go through the interactive Morse-learning demo. I discovered this thanks to this post from Lifehacker.

Google have arranged things so that smartphone users can type or receive a series of Morse dashes and dots. It's rather good fun and you can also do it on a desktop too (link above). The intention behind this is not just fun but as part of their programme to help people with more accessible communication. In the example given, someone can use head movements to produce either a dot or a dash and the sequence of these is converted into English text (or can be converted into any language).

To introduce this they've also created a really simple and clear method for training people in Morse code ( which is fun and delightful - really good use of visual design - and I'd learned all the letters within an hour. The morning after I can still remember most of them. Isn't the U for Unicorn (.._) cute.

There are several 'directions' in learning Morse and this uses only one of them. You are given a letter in English - P - and you have to respond with the correct Morse letter - . _ _ . It's quite similar to how I learned to touch-type. First you start with f and j which are the 'home' keys on a keyboard, they have the little raised bit so your fingers can always find them. Then the other letters are brought in and soon you're confidently typing gibberish like fdf dfd jkj kjk and so on and after two weeks you're 50+ words a minute.

'Real' Morse, although no longer in official use (it's not used by the military and I think even amateur 'ham' radio enthusiasts are no longer required to be proficient), would never learn it just like that - you'd hear a series of dots and dashes and have to be able to transcribe back into English letters and numbers, and into words. This system doesn't teach that. Similarly it doesn't teach the reverse in that it doesn't present you with ... _ or _ ... and wait for you to provide V or B respectively (not a criticism, it's really fun and I think it's great and I know more Morse now than I ever did).

Learning Morse uses several 'sensory modalities' in that you have to listen (or see) and press buttons or write and ideally you'd learn to cross-convert an English letter to Morse and a Morse letter to English.

This morning I tried the Morse Code machine tester from Boy's Life (even though I am a girl, ) and was pleased that I got most of them right (but got a few wrong). In the picture below it's the letter 'H' shown.

I am fascinated by Morse Code, its history and use, and always feel that I want to be able to make sense of the dits and the dahs. However there's absolutely no reason for me to do so, so no impetus to learn beyond my curiosity.

This enthusiasm probably began about fifteen years ago when I was lying in bed at my parent's house fiddling about with a bedside radio and I came across a radio station broadcasting a series of beeps and beeeeps and wondered what it was. I tried to write them down but of course I couldn't work out where one letter began and ended, or where the sequence started. It took a few listens to make sense of where the spaces were and, with a bit of Googling later and I eventually worked out that the letters were CHT _._.  / .... / _   and that it wasn't a radio station but just the Chiltern Non-directional radio beacon for aircraft which was pinging out its location info which my radio had picked up. My parents lived within radio-listening distanced from the Chiltern beacon which is located at RAF Northolt (you can hear it in this old Audioboom of mine). Further googling also led me to this song 'The Slow Train' by Andy Lewis, which features the beacon as a backing track.

Morse is kind of a binary thing (well, not really as there's ON (dot or dash) and OFF (silence) with the transmitting units being built up to form letters, words and numbers. It let people send messages via telegraphy through a series of electrical pulses - not wildly dissimilar to the way in which nerves work - which converted the signal to marks on a bit of paper that were meant to be read. Early telegraphy operators found that they could just as easily translate into dots and dashes the sound the device made as it converted the electrical signal into an indentation on a paper tape. The paper tape became unnecessary and later when Morse was used in radio communications people realised it was quicker just to hear it as an audio transmission rather than as something you translate from a written page. [Wikipedia's page on the history of Morse code]

Below is a picture I took at the Orkney Wireless Museum showing the Morse alphabet. I was surprised to see accented letters.

Further reading
Make your own Morse key USB keyboard

Test yourself in Morse
Quiz: How well do you know Morse code? (27 April 2018, BT)
Morse Code test (
A real-world test for certification with the Radio Society of Great Britain