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 2017 scientific society talks in London blog post

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.

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 line 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."

Screenshots
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 weekend 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. (Serie 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'.



Background
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, 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? 



Sandra Hermann-Courtney's strange behaviour...
The homeopathy enthusiast Sandra Hermann-Courtney (@BrownBagPantry on Twitter) is not happy at all about my post below. 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 behaving abominably to someone who lost a child to sepsis (it started badly with suggesting they might have tried homeopathy, but somehow managed to get worse). This blog post below 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 :)






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 has the potential to be harmful and costly to customers ('patients'). Occasionally such talks even 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 mention of stopping their treatment and no advice 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 whether a health-related talk (perhaps badged as a 'wellness' event) is unevidenced quackery or the latest useful thing that everyone should know about - and that's where the skeptical-minded community might be able to help.

I wondered if we 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?

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 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 "that doctors don't want you to know about" hyperbole
  • be aware that skeptically-minded people often attend these events for monitoring purposes
  • 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 
  • 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).
    • 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?

    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



    WELCOME if you've come from Sandra Hermann Courtney's 'fighting for homeopathy' blog. For some reason she's decided to take this post and place it on her own blog without attribution or permission. Despite her disclaimer at the end no effort has been made to add her own commentary to the post (fair use criticism etc) so this is pretty much content theft as far as I can see. Please don't be a content thief Sandra and kindly take down my stolen post, thanks. Hooray she's added some commentary (making the post a bit more 'fair use') so I am taking no further action. Edit later that day - she took the post down, then put another one complaining about this post instead ;) She's made numerous changes since and it's all rather daft. I'm daft too for paying much attention to it.




    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..."
    and
    "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.