Mis establos!!!

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'.

I work on the EPSRC-funded @CHI_MED project; all views are my own. I used to work at Diabetes UK (until 22 June 2012) as a Science Information Officer (effectively a science-specialist librarian but not quite a clinical librarian). Before that it was ScienceLine and back in the mists of time it was lipid chemistry & neuroscience.

Contact: @JoBrodie or reconfigure this email address me.meeeee @ gmail.com (replace me and meeeee with obvious letters, eg... jo.brodie@ etc).

Oh OK then it's jo dot brodie at gmail dot com

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Currently blithering about: a science communication / public engagement continuum, possibly spiral

Science communication and public engagement are overlapping things that I'm involved in to various degrees.

When I worked at Diabetes UK one of my roles was to answer medical* / science enquiries from members of the public (and colleagues). For example "why shouldn't I drink grapefruit juice if I'm taking statins?", "why can't you just transplant beta cells from an identical twin in someone with type 1 diabetes?", "will taking these herbal pills cure my diabetes?", "how many people have [this complication] in [City / UK]?" etc.

*not giving medical advice as not qualified to give any!

While providing this service certainly counts as engaging with the public to a degree I never really thought of it as public engagement in a classic sense and more along the lines of 'educating' people for want of a better word. They rang up asking for info and we did our best to provide it.

As an organisation we did other more 'engagey' things - people with diabetes were involved in the decision-making about what research we'd fund (they were on the research committee along with scientists, psychologists etc), we liaised with the UK Diabetes Research Network to share opportunities for people to get involved as participants in research and we gave talks to groups about our research (again, more 'informing').

The work I do on CHI+MED is a bit of both - I write stuff for our website and blog which hopefully informs people about what we've been up to, but I'm also involved in 'co-ordinating' the public engagement work of colleagues who are directly involving people (sometimes patients) in research, as well as stakeholders.

You can imagine researchers doing a piece of research and then, once finished, publishing it in an academic journal ... and then telling journalists about it via press releases or appearances on TV or in newspapers etc. While there's nothing particularly wrong with this many universities are trying to involve / engage people in research a bit earlier.

But even this 'informing about outputs already achieved' (ie it's now too late for any opportunity to 'feed in') presumably counts towards sparking interest and getting people involved in the researchers' next project...Possi

I have been mulling over the idea of a continuum. I rejected an oval shaped thing where you start with research being done and go to research being published academically with a line taking you back to the beginning and am instead thinking of something that's more of a spiral (it goes back to the beginning but of the next research project).

Then I asked Twitter and got lots of interesting and helpful replies (now added at the end), and a whole load of things to read - Twitter is rather good at helping you avoid reinventing the wheel!

But despite this - here is my draft wheel for everyone to poke fun at and go "no you've got it wrong". This is because I'm involving you in my 'research' here :)

The above is a slide that I'm probably not even going to use in a talk I'm giving in a couple of weeks for CHI+MED, but I needed something concrete to help me put the talk together and to talk about different stages and audiences for our work.

As I see it, research happens (the 'Research is done' to 'Research is published in academic journals' (#1) and there are opportunities for the public to feed in, alongside scientists, politicians, others to determine what research should be funded (#2) and opportunities to be participants in research. This can be participating in a clinical trial, or co-designing a product etc. At the 'end' of the research the academic output often finds its way into other media as well (#3) and it often finds its way there at earlier stages in the research too.

The continuum-y bit (#4) where a black arrow goes back to the start is a bit confusing cos it's obviously not going back in time (research has been done) but possibly feeds into later projects. So it's more of a Science Communication Spiral.

Aren't you glad I didn't try and express this in a Venn diagram :)

Helpful replies from chums on Twitter

and Jon Mendel also wrote critically about the 'Science: So What? So Everything' campaign of science communication

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Twitter dot com is now embedding tweet links (and so are some phone apps) - looks nice but best for single tweets

This post is really only for Twitter completists interested in its changing appearance / interfaces.

Twitter's changed the way it displays tweets on the desktop version (and apparently on some of the third party smartphone / tablet apps too) where you include the address of another tweet. Here's what a tweet used to look like if it included a link to another tweet (the bit that says "twitter.com/JoBrodie/statu..."). You had to click on the link to see what it said.

Here's what that tweet looks like now - you no longer have to click on it to see what I originally said. I've displayed it both as a screenshot and an embedded tweet because - obviously - Twitter keeps changing how stuff looks (hence this post!) so I thought it was best to capture it as I saw it.

(1) screenshot

(2) embedded

To find the original copy of this tweet I searched for from:jobrodie samuelfurse, the tweet actually looked 'old style' in the list of tweets that resulted, and when I clicked on it (which makes it expand to show the conversation). When I clicked on its address (click on the timestamp) to open it up in its own window it changed to the new embed style.

This tweet is over a year old but tweets sent more recently no longer even show the twitter.com/NAME/statu... but miss out the address entirely, the embedded picture of the tweet is clickable and goes to the tweet's page.

Here's me trying to see how many tweets can be embedded within it ;)

(1) Screenshot

(2) embedded

Where Twitter shows the URL and the picture (as above) only the picture appears to be clickable, the address seems to have stopped working. This isn't really a problem if only one tweet is included because you just click on the picture but if more than one tweet-link is included only one will be accessible to the reader.

Apparently it works fine on smartphone apps but if you're trying to read it on desktop Twitter it might be a bit fiddly. You don't seem to be able to right-click / open in new tab - hopefully this is a temporary glitch.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Possibly the best spam email I've ever received

As suggested I have immediately stopped communications with non-governmental prostates (!), finance companies and online lovers ;-)

There may be someone reading who's less familiar with types of email spam but I hope it's obvious that it's a bad idea to hand over your name, address, telephone, occupation and age to anyone that asks, without good reason.

I've made the email addresses non-functional.


From: Ban Ki Moon annmarieDELETEe@1199.org

Reply to: bankimoDELETEon1313@gmail.com

28 July 2014

Subject: The Truth About your Fund.

Dear Victim,

This is to intimate you of a very important information which will be of a great help to redeem you from all the difficulties you have been experiencing in getting your long over due payment due to excessive demand for money from you by both corrupt Bank officials,Online Lovers and Courier Companies after which your fund remain unpaid to you.

Due to over rampant internet Banking corrupt activities, and also the High rate of scam on internet, compensation payment was stop. On our information we got about you, we found out that you are among those that have lost money to those internet scammers that claim to pay you back. The Board of Trustees decided to cancel the award payment with the bank, This meeting was held in London on 3rd of June, 2014.

I am Ban Ki Moon Director of international affairs in the United Nation (UN). It may interest you to know that reports have reached our office by so many correspondences on the uneasy way which people like you are treated by Various Banks, Online Lovers and Courier Companies Diplomat(s) across Europe to Africa and Asia London UK, and we have decided to put a STOP to that and that is why I was appointed to handle your transaction here in Malaysia.

After the meeting on 31st of June, 2014. an official agreement was reached on Tuesday 1st of July 2014, between the Board of Trustees and Security Company which took an immediate effects for the Security Company to issue all the victims a Certified International Master Card worth Ten Million Five Thousands United States Dollars (USD 10,500,000.00).

All Governmental and Non-Governmental prostates, NGO's, Finance Companies, Banks, Online Lovers, Security Companies and Diplomat(s) which have been in contact with you of late have been instructed to back off and you have been advised NOT to respond to them anymore since the United Nation is now directly in charge of your payment. Your fund will be release to you directly from our source with immediate effect and we shall give you further details on how your fund will be released.

You are hereby advice to provide your information as stated below:

Full Name: ...Address:. ...Telephone:....Occupation:.......Age :..........

Name: Ban Ki Moon

Email: bankimoon1DELETE313@gmail.com

Note: You can also receive your Funds via Bank Draft Check or Bank Wire Transfer depends on your choice.I hope this is clear. STOP any further communication with ANYONE, any action contrary to this instruction is at your own risk.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

I've no idea which Raspberry Ketones weight loss products can legally be sold in the UK

Short version: (1) Bottles of pills containing raspberry ketones may be being sold illegally in the UK because they are an unauthorised novel food whose safety hasn't been assessed properly. (2) Raspberry ketones are a waste of money as a weight loss supplement (no good evidence they work, any weight lost is solely due to changes in diet / exercise.

Full post: A couple of weeks ago I learned from BBC1's Watchdog that it might actually be illegal for companies to sell Raspberry Ketone products in the UK (if you've bought some online with a credit or debit card you may be able to get your money back - there's no evidence they help with weight loss), and tweeted the following:

Were I sending that tweet now I'd probably add a couple of caveats: (1) I don't know what sort of crime it is (unfair trading? mislabelling?) or what the punishment would be (fine more likely than jail I'd think) and (2) it seems to depend on the type of product on sale.

In October last year the Food Standards Agency (FSA) opened up a consultation with people who sell raspberry ketone products and asked for information about the products. One thing the FSA were keen to find was evidence that these products had been widely consumed in the UK since before 1997.
Under Regulation (EC) 258/97, novel foods and food ingredients may only be marketed if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation. A novel food or ingredient is defined as one that was not consumed to a significant degree in the European Community before 15 May 1997. Raspberry ketones have not been authorised under this regulation.

The Agency is not aware of any evidence for a history of consumption of raspberry ketones anywhere in the EU before May 1997 and we are therefore minded to view it to be a novel food, which cannot be sold legally until it has been formally authorised. As such, any companies who wish to market foods containing raspberry ketones in the EU will need to apply for an authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU Member States, demonstrating that the ingredient (a) does not present a risk to the consumer; (b) does not mislead the consumer; and (c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet.
Source: Request for information from businesses: Raspberry ketones FSA 24 October 2013 [emphasis added by me]

In March they published their findings and I have to say I'm still a bit confused. Very reasonably the FSA makes a distinction between different types of raspberry ketone products noting that some can be sold without problem, but that some need to have some sort of authorisation.

Some raspberry ketones are fine...

"We received and reviewed information from a small number of interested parties. We have confirmed that some raspberry fruit extracts, which may or not be marketed as “raspberry ketones”, are outside the definition of a novel food, based on conclusions reached in other EU Member States. This is limited to extracts prepared using water or 20% ethanol (1:4 ethanol:water). These extracts therefore do not require authorisation as novel foods."
Source: Raspberry ketones (letter to interested parties) FSA 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

but some are not...

"We have not received any other information that provides evidence of a history of significant consumption of raspberry ketones prior to 15 May 1997. We therefore remain of the view that raspberry ketones, other than the extracts mentioned above, are novel and fall within the scope of the EU legislation on novel foods
Under Regulation (EC) 258/97, novel foods and food ingredients may only be legally marketed in the EU if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation, raspberry ketones have not undergone this process. Any companies who wish to market a novel food in the EU will need to gain an EU authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU member states, demonstrating that the product a) does not present a risk to the consumer; b) does not mislead the consumer; and c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet." Source: as above, 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

But wait...

"This advice does not apply to the use of the chemical substance “Raspberry ketone” (4-(p-hydroxyphenyl)butan-2-one) as a flavouring. This compound is a permitted flavouring substance in the EU and small amounts of raspberry ketone can be used as a flavouring, in compliance with the EU Flavourings Regulation (1334/2008/EC). If used for any other purpose it would have to comply with the novel foods regulation." Source: as above, 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

There seem to be three different classes of raspberry ketones
(1) Those that are a particular kind of water / ethanol extract
(2) Naughty raspberry ketones that can't be sold without authorisation
(3) The butan-2-one chemical compound

If you're buying raspberry ketones online or from Holland & Barrett (really, really don't bother, try and get your money back, there's no evidence that they can do anything for weight loss) then how do consumers know whether the product is being sold legally (though uselessly), or illegally as a novel food of unknown safety (also uselessly).

I had a look at the online Holland and Barrett shop page for Raspberry Ketones and didn't find any information about EU authorisation.

Similarly I've no idea if the raspberry ketones on offer from Groupon are being marketed legally or not. I've asked them to clarify.

Personally I don't think anyone should be wasting money on these products at all but if you do want to, how do you know which ones are "OK" to buy? There seems to be insufficient information for consumers.