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 scientific society talks in London blog post

Friday, 16 March 2018

You can watch some science-themed films at the Royal Albert Hall this year

As part of the RAH's inaugural Festival of Science: Space (5 May to 10 July 2018) there are several film screenings happening - along with a whole bunch of other science-related events. You can "explore Space through a series of concerts, talks, screenings and comedy events for space and sci-fi fans young and old."
  • Wall-E - Sunday 6 May (Elgar Room)
  • Science behind the movies with Roberto Trotta - Saturday 2 June (Gallery)
  • Star Trek Live - Saturday 2 June (Auditorium) - Michael Giacchino's fantastic score performed live by a massive orchestra while watching the film. Awesome.
  • Moomins and the Comet (live re-score) - Sunday 3 June (Elgar Room)
  • Star Men - Sunday 24 June (Elgar Room) + talk with astronomer Donald Lyndon Bell
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich has a planetarium which also hosts science-themed films. There's a lot of it about :)

Sunday, 11 March 2018

You can occasionally watch science-themed films at Greenwich's Planetarium

Image credit: Greenwich Park by "12019", Pixabay CC0 licence
(the main exit gate into Cutty Sark is to the left of this picture)

Last night I went to see Hidden Figures at the Planetarium by the Royal Observatory near the top of Greenwich Park - it was fantastic. I had previously heard of their Silver Screen series but hadn't been along to one (though I did attend a screening of Sense and Sensibility at the National Maritime Museum a few years ago) so I was curious to find out how it all worked.

The Planetarium has a hemispheric screen all of which can be projected on during planetarium shows. Obviously this isn't quite what's wanted in a regular screening. Fortunately a rectangular area of the screen (in front of the seats!) was picked out and the film projected there. It looked completely normal and 'flat' so I wonder if some clever stuff was going on with the lens, in order to project a flat image onto a curved surface. Surrounding the screened rectangle they projected a very gently moving star field / map which I thought was a rather nice touch.

After the film there was a short presentation about the women in the film and about which bits of the history were 'Hollywood-ised' and what actually happened. The talk also mentioned some women 'computers' (which is what mathematicians who made calculations for astronomical and other purposes were called) that were relevant to the Greenwich Observatory.

Here's a useful page which currently has all of the previous screenings but I'm assuming that the next lot (Contact, Tron and ... Predator I think) would be added at the end of it.

Note that I'm hoping to be screening The Dish in September at the Charlton & Woolwich Free Film Festival, date to be confirmed.

Things to be aware of
Greenwich Park closes at different times depending on the time of year. In the middle of summer it's open until 9.30pm but in March it shuts at 7pm (the film started at 6pm). The observatory have a couple of mini-vans to bus people out in groups (don't worry they wait for everyone!) but you'll be taken to the bottom of the park, to St Mary's Gate (the big main gate) near the Cutty Sark ship in the 'main' bit of Greenwich (map of the park with bus and other info). Because I live in Blackheath I'd entered through a different gate at the top of the park, which was now closed - so be aware that you may end up in a different place from where you started. Fortunately I have a travelcard so it didn't cost me any extra to get back home again.

We didn't drive through the gates though (I think they were closed) but were deposited just inside them and walked through. There were some parked cars by the observatory and I don't know which gate they exited through (possibly the Blackheath gate at the top) but we weren't supposed to wander off by ourselves on foot and had to be conveyed to the exit. It was quite fun being driven around the park late at night anyway.

We got briefly confused* on trying to leave the Observatory. You leave through the photography exhibition and then take a small wooden spiral staircase upwards (reversing your journey). At the top if you turn in one direction you'll find the exit quite quickly but if not you may find yourself trying to wander in and out of diferent exhibits trying to remember your route back (unless you have a good memory or sense of direction... guess who doesn't). There was another patron there wondering how on earth to get out but we found it quite quickly, but I might suggest better signposting.

*OK not that confused, but it wasn't a smooth exit ;)

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Better monitoring of homeopaths advertising CEASE therapy for autism in the UK - hooray

There's some more good news for homeopathy skeptics in the UK and for people with autism. @UKHomeopathyReg on Twitter alerted me to this new publication yesterday...

CEASE, which stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression, is a problematic multi-stranded 'therapy' which is marketed as a treatment for autism in the UK.

There appears to be no good evidence that it has any useful effect in people with autism (let alone the rather troubling framing of autism as something to be eliminated) and plenty of possibility that it could do harm. The therapeutic package includes megadoses of Vitamin C (which can lead to diarrhoea until the dose is adjusted) and is promoted to parents as a marvellous thing for their child with autism. The therapy is offered by 'CEASE trained' homeopaths (homeopathy is just one of the strands in the package) who mostly support the idea that autism is the fault of vaccination.

In other words parents have the experience of a treatment being promoted to them which doesn't work, which costs money and time, which blames them for their child having autism while suggesting it is curable, and which may give their child diarrhoea. As a bonus both the name and acronym market the treatment misleadingly. There are additional dietary restrictions, which may cause distress to a child with autism.

A number of skeptics and skeptic organisations have successfully raised concerns about the homeopaths who claim that they have something to offer families with a child with autism.

I'm hoping this image conveys 'hot air' as that's what I think of homeopathy

In terms of previous regulatory action we already had (2015) an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) adjudication against one UK homeopath offering CEASE. Teddington Homeopathy did make some changes to their website after the ASA asked them to, but they also made it onto the ASA's list of non-compliant online advertisers after failing to make all of the required amendments.

Almond Homeopathy in Ireland were also told (in 2017) not to make claims that their treatment could reduce the symptoms of autism (though their treatments didn't relate to CEASE therapy). 

While skeptics have had lots of small-level success in getting homeopathy websites amended, to a degree, many homeopaths persist in ignoring requests from the ASA. I'm not aware which homeopaths, if any, are scheduled to be reported to Trading Standards and the ASA may be prioritising other misleading advertisers first. However most homeopaths deal with patients who can at least give informed consent (perhaps less so with younger patients) but CEASE therapy deliberately targets a vulnerable -subpopulation, may cause harm and provides no benefit while costing money. It seems fairly clear that this is problematic so we needed a way of addressing this more directly.

It looks like we might have found another useful leverage point.

There are several professional homeopathic organisations in the UK (see Homeopathy Societies below) and one of them, the Societ of Homeopaths (SoH), managed to get its register of members accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). This accreditation doesn't confer any status on homeopathy or homeopaths beyond the presumption that members are conducting themselves professionally, have insurance and that sort of thing - it says nothing about the efficacy of homeopathy. To be fair, there's not much to be said.

Of course I'd assume that the SoH and its members are happy to have this accreditation and most members reference this on their pages.

A number of people skeptical of CEASE expressed concern to the PSA about a subset of SoH members who were making claims about CEASE and autism. These are outlines on pages 8 to 10 in the document below, along with the PSA's considerations. As a result of these complaints the PSA has now imposed a condition on the SoH's re-accreditation (for 2018) and other recommended requirements.

These require the Society of Homeopaths to produce a position statement on the treatment, on how it will be advertised by their members and also produce a document about the risks from CEASE - more details in the 'box' below. This is quite a big deal.

PSA Accreditation Panel's decision on the Society of Homeopaths
2017/2018 accreditation (18 page PDF)
The panel required several things to be addressed by the Society of Homeopaths within a particular timeframe. These fall under Conditions (which must be met to retain accreditation), Instructions (strong recommendations but probably no more than that) and Learning Points (a sort of 'things you might do better').

The PSA panel imposed one condition (p2 of the document linked above) - to improve governance on CEASE therapists and advertising (if this is not met then accreditation may be rescinded). The condition has three parts: (i) a position statement on CEASE therapy and on its advertising by homeopath members, (ii) develop some mechanism to ensure that homeopath members offering CEASE don't breach the Society's Code of Ethics, (iii) review the risks relating to CEASE therapy (and other treatments too).

The panel gave the SoH four instructions (p3), one of which is particular of interest to skeptics - "The Society is to develop and publish its persistent or vexatious complaints policy to make clear where it considers contact from people or organisations to be unreasonably persistent or vexatious and the approach it will take" - skeptic queries and complaints are often automatically treated as vexatious. That hasn't been my own experience (I've only contacted the SoH twice about a particular topic) but I've heard from others who felt they've been given the runaround.

The panel also gave the SoH two learning points (p3) and I think the second one will be of most interest here - "The Society should consider submitting its web page on ‘The evidence base for homeopathy’ to the Advertising Standards Authority’s Copy Advice team for independent review.". Heh.

Incidentally last year's accreditation resulted in no conditions, instructions or learning points.

I think all of us who complained about the SoH member CEASE therapists did so directly to the SoH first (I certainly did). Their response to me was prompt and courteous indicating that they'd take a look at the websites and if there was a problem they'd take action. Sadly the websites didn't change which suggested to me either that (i) the SoH didn't think there was a problem or (ii) they did think there was a problem, and communicated this to their members who then ignored them. As far as I could see the SoH were not effectively monitoring those members making these misleading claims about autism, so I escalated my concerns to the PSA (though, as it happens, after they'd made their decisions based on complaints from other skeptics - so I can't actually take any credit for this helpful outcome!).

This was the thinking behind my complaint (I can't speak for the other people and organisations who made the complaints that actually resulted in this change though). Several homeopaths offer CEASE therapy. Some are members of the SoH, some aren't (and not all SoH members offer CEASE!). But those that are members on SoH's accredited register should abide by the society's terms and conditions (the SoH also provides a support document to help members abide by the ASA's guidelines on advertising!) so it is fairly straightforward to find people who are members, offering CEASE and making misleading claims. I found five, complained and followed up my complaint when nothing happened.

Professional Societies
Society of Homeopaths - the subject of this post
Faculty of Homeopaths - for homeopaths who also have a medical degree
Alliance of Registered Homeopaths
There are probably others.

The Society of Homeopaths will be hosting its Annual General Meeting at UCL's School of Pharmacy in April. To kick things off they'll screen a pro-homeopathy film called Magic Pills.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Scientific talks in London - 2018 edition

by @JoBrodie,

14 February 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
The Geology of Italy - Dr Lidia Lonergan (Imperial College, London)

15 February 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
A Map of the Invisible - Prof Jonathan Butterworth (UCL)

16 February 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
The Cassini Legacy and JUICE with Dr Greg Hunt, Imperial College
MARCH 2018

1 March 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Weird and wacky plants project - Michael Perry aka Mr Plant Geek

8 March 2018 - Thursday
6-9pm - Linnean Society
Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution 

14 March 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
Beekeeping - Simon Silvester

15 March 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
Spider silks and webs - Mr Yue Jin Oh (Oxford University)

15 March 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Chocolate: drink of the Gods - Chantal Coady

16 March 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
MRI - Imaging & 3D Modelling Prior to Surgery with Dr David Nordsletten, Kings College
APRIL 2018
11 April 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
Conservation of Photographic Materials - Jackquie Moon (National Archives, Kew)

19 April 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
Responding to major emergencies - Prof Paul Leonard (Society for Radiological Protection)

20 April 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
Positive Thought & Behaviour Boost the Immune System with Dr Fulvio D'Acquisto, William Harvey Institute
MAY 2018
9 May 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
Medieval Mottes and Prehistoric Mounds - Dr James Leary (Reading University)

17 May 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
Maternal nutrition and the foetus - Prof Michael A Crawford (Imperial College, London)

18 May 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
Discovering Earthlike Planets with Dr Guillem Anglada, Queen Mary College

JULY 2018
19 July 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Delicious Garden Drinks - Rachel de Thample and Ciara Jean Roberts

1 November 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Unnatural selection - Katrina van Grouw

Already happened
19 January 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
Light, Sleep and Time - and how they interact with Dr Russel Foster, Nuffield - Ophthalmology

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Lovely things about graphic design which I enjoyed reading

Thanks to spotting a tweet from @simon_frantz I have just caught up with a brilliant article @stevesilberman wrote in 2012 celebrating the design work of Susan Kare. She was called in to work with Apple to create the icons and images that would help users find their way around a Mac's graphical user interface (GUI). She bought herself a pad of plain gridded paper and drew some images - each square a pixel - creating literally iconic designs that embedded themselves into our consciousness. Mouse pointers (hands), dustbins ('trash'), smiling Macs. I read the article with little gasps of delight, and recognition.

This also made me think about another lovely article on graphic design written by Dean Vipond a couple of years ago. He's a graphic designer who had to tweak a presentation he was giving to primary school children when he discovered they were reception class age (4-5) rather than 9/10. His beautiful essay "Explaining graphic design to four year olds" on how he distilled his work as a graphic designer into a talk that is wholly relatable to small children is wonderful and elicited the same gasps of delight and enthusiastic Twitter sharing as Steve's article will - when more people are awake tomorrow today and I can share it with them :)

It also reminded me of a tweet from @Pmarber (Patrick) I remember seeing in passing and making a note of so that I could go to the exhibition at the Jewish Museum (which is on until April 2018). It highlights the work of émigré designers one of whom is his cousin, Romek Marber, who created the layout for Penguin books according to the 'Marber grid'. Coincidentally the day of writing this blog post is also the Holocaust Memorial Day and on Googling Romek Marber I discovered that he had written a book about his own escape from the Nazis: "No Return: Journeys in the Holocaust". On further searching I found a really interesting archived review of his book from the Eye magazine (whose tweets about another unrelated event are below).

And, slightly different, but also a fun read / view - graphic designers take their most useless client feedback and turn it into these fantastic posters. This series of posters was exhibited in a café in Ireland and A3 copies were sold, raising money for a local hospital.

A lovely evening out with my friend Scott at St Bride's was for one of their TypeTuesdays, celebrating typefaces and all things font. This particular one was on trains 'Trains and fonts and double arrows' and it was GREAT. Or fontastic, sorry. See more tweets about this below to give a flavour.

Bonus inexplicable design
I remember the original Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. They had a peculiar system in place that must have made sense to someone, though not to shoppers. Foyles "retained the extraordinary Moscow-style triple queueing system: customers had to line up to receive a chit, then again to pay at an Edwardian-style till, then once more to collect the book from where they had started." (quote from FT). They also had single-width escalators which I loved.

Vapiano is a German chain of restaurants which serves delicious Italian food. You queue to get your food which is prepared in front of you, then sit and eat it. This system does not work well if you are with one other friend and you want to secure a table. One of you has to stay and stop your stuff getting pinched while the other queues, then swap - the result is that you both have a delicious meal about 10 minutes apart. If I ever go there again (the food was nice) I'll either go by myself and take pot luck or gather together a posse of chums to offset the delayed serving times. Reviews of the restaurant (while praising the excellent food) tend to use the word 'weird' a lot.

Trains and fonts and double arrows - St Bride's Foundation, 22 Nov 2016