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 gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Monday, 13 March 2017

BBC Radio 4 programme seeks men to talk (anonymously) about erectile dysfunction

I've had permission to post this. My friend Petra (she's the Telegraph's agony aunt among many other cool things) is involved in a BBC R4 programme looking at erectile problems and the programme's producer is looking for men who'd like (well, are willing) to be interviewed - anonymously if preferred.

There are many reasons for erection problems and diabetes can be one of them (long term raised blood glucose levels can lead to problems with blood vessels and nerves in general) which can affect any area in the body including the erectile 'machinery', and so I'm sharing this in particular with diabetes people. People who have diabetes may also experience anxiety over their health and this can be pretty antithetical to enjoying any pleasant pursuit, let alone sexual activities - it doesn't always have to mean a straightforward physical problem.

Here's Petra'a information and advice (covering a range of possible reasons for erectile dysfunction) to a woman whose partner experiences this, and below is the text of her producer's request...

To whom it may concern

I am making a programme for BBC Radio Four looking at erectile dysfunction and erection problems and wondered if you would consider being interviewed for the project. We are looking for men to share their experiences so we can highlight this very common but little talked about condition. If you were willing to talk to us, you would not need to reveal your identity.

The programme is 30 minutes long and will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four in June. It’s presented by Dr Petra Boynton who is a psychologist with a specialism in sex and relationships and works as an agony aunt for the Telegraph. She is experienced in offering advice and support to men and women with sexual problems and will be carrying out the interviews. We are hoping making the programme will encourage men to talk and seek help if they need to.

We are looking for men of any age who have or have had erection problems. We are keen to speak to men who have had problems following health issues as well as those who have psychological barriers or unknown causes for their erection difficulties.
Questions might be:
  • What erection problems do you have?
  • Do you know why it came about?
  • How soon did you seek help?
  • How did having erection difficulties make you feel?
  • How did your partner support you (or not)?
  • In what way did you seek help yourself?
  • What was useful and why? What wasn’t?
  • What treatment has helped?
  • How do you accept erection dysfunction if treatment doesn't work and you don't want surgery?
  • Why do men find it hard to talk and what is key to changing that?
Interviews would take around twenty minutes and would really just be like having an informal chat. They would be pre-recorded (not live) so you could have a chance to retake answers if you were unhappy with what you’d said.

If you have any other questions do let me know. Or if you would like to chat further before you commit to an interview, my email is and my mobile is 07740 565996

Thanks in advance.

Henrietta Harrison
Loftus Media

Monday, 6 March 2017

Things I found helpful when visiting New York from the UK

New York's lovely - I managed not to get lost (unprecedented given I have until this point had no sense of direction, but I seem to be managing with the grid system and the free CityMapper app) and of course there was no language barrier.

1. Insurance
 Once you've sorted out your flights or ship crossing get your travel insurance - it will cover you if anything goes wrong before your trip starts so there's no benefit in leaving it to the last minute. If you're taking laptops and phones you might need additional cover.

2. Esta visa
Next on the list is the Esta visa waiver which costs about $14 - you can pay with a debit card (it implies you need to pay with a credit card but I managed on a debit one) or PayPal. Watch out for fake UK versions (one or two are under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleadingly claiming to be of use). Only use this website -

You'll need your passport number and the address where you'll be staying (eg hotel) but you can also quit the application and return later - keep a note of your application number which is automatically generated.

When you arrive at the US airport if it's your first visit to the US you'll probably be directed through the 'first visit on an Esta' passport check.

3. Flying
I flew with Virgin Atlantic and the option for at-seat charging was an odd-looking small hosepipe affair that required a UK to US adaptor to work, fortunately I had one in my carry-on bag and was able to lend it to someone else who needed one.

If you make the same journey(s) I made you'll leave from Terminal 3 at Heathrow (the Paddington Express train will take you to Terminals 2 and 3 at the same station and you can just follow the signs for T3) and arrive at Terminal 4 in JFK, then reversed.

4. Money
I got travel money from my bank - I'm sure you can find cheaper places to get it but it's super convenient at your bank. With smaller branches you might have to give a few days notice so that they can get the dollars but I got mine from the large one at Strand, Trafalgar Square. While in the bank I also let them know that I was to be in New York on the days of my holiday so that if my debit card was used while there they knew it was likely to be me and not some scammer.

For this trip I also got myself a Credit Card in case I needed to use it but I haven't. Last time I got one was for a cruise holiday where I needed it to pay for incidentals (they didn't go for debit cards).

5. Maps
You can use Google Maps Streetview before you go, or once there, to see what your locality will be like, and make note of subway and bus stops. There's a nice foldable detailed map of the metro system which my hotel gave me - if you're self-catering I'd recommend asking a hotel receptionist for one anyway. I didn't spot any at any of the stations I visited oddly enough. I used CityMapper on my phone to get directions.

6. Local travel
New York taxis are mostly much smaller than London cabs and quite useless for sightseeing. The two I was in were more like regular cars (not the four seat arrangement with a large gap between). You're very close to the glass partition and if you're on the passenger side the chances are high that you'll have a medium-sized TV in front of you advertising crap at you. It's possible to mute the sound at least but there's not much window space to see what's in front of you so a bus is better. But the cabs are still pretty cool.

A weekly Metrocard costs ~$32 and lets you have unlimited subway and bus journeys. You just swipe it and push the barrier. The graphics of the card looks very much like Weetabix.

I was staying in Brooklyn so on the return journey I took the A train going to Far Rockaway or Rockaway Avenue and changed at Howard Beach for the AirTrain to JFK Terminal 4. There's a slow train and a fast one but both seem to go to Howard Beach, phew. I took it from Jay Street Metrotech and this is the CityMapper journey using the web browser version.

8. Mobile phone
Before I left I got my pay as you go phone unlocked so that I didn't have to spend ridiculous sums of money on calls / texts to UK while in the US. If you've got a contract yours probably won't be that expensive but worth checking with your provider before you go. I got a US sim card which let me make US calls only, but I was also able to communicate via WhatsApp and Twitter. It was also my first experience of 4G, having only access to 3G at home.

I was surprised to see, at JFK airport on my return, that there are vending machines that sell pre-paid sim cards with different options, though it turns out from looking at them that my in-shop deal was pretty decent.

9. Software support
I use WorkFlowy for making lists (eg for packing or tasks) and Evernote to record info about my trip. I have sections for flight, travel documents (passport / visa), hotel details and packing. Both sync with my phone. I also tag emails in Gmail and keep them in a dedicated folder (before you leave make sure they've synced / downloaded to the right folder). While here I used CityMapper on my phone and switched cities from London to New York (it automatically recognises if you're in a different city and suggests this).

I also kept an eye on the weather app on my phone which told me that New York was going to be both much warmer and much colder than London, so I could pack accordingly.

10. Paper-based support
I'm naturally fairly chaotic so to impose some order I use a clipboard and draw columns on a bit of paper. A small one on the right is for anything that needs to be done or bought in advance of leaving and I have two larger main ones, one each for the bags I'm packing. I have been using WorkFlowy for so long that I now have a very good generic list of things to pack which I adapt for each trip. Once I've packed an item in the bag I write it on the paper (handy for double-checking I've not lost anything on the return journey). I'm afraid I'm neither relaxed nor carefree about holidays ;)

This is highly personalised to me, but here's the gist of what I packed.

  • Spare shoes (always nice to have another pair to change into if you can carry them, if not a pair of insoles can be nice if you're doing a lot of walking on your visit)
  • Spare pair of jeans
  • 'Smalls' - socks and the like - the longer you're away the fewer of these you can pack as you can wash and dry them. For a short holiday my mantra is 'plenty'. Most of them fit into the spare shoes rolled up
  • T-shirts - if just a few I leave them flat, if more I roll them
  • Leggings / thermals
  • Wash bag (deodorant, nail scissors are useful for all sorts of reasons but best kept in checked in bag unless blades are very small) 
  • a bag to put laundry in
  • bit of A5 paper (A4 folded in half!) with my name, phone number and email address saying who the bag belongs to - handy if it gets lost or there's a dispute ;) 
Sporty people might want to bring gym or pool clothing too. I was dressing casually for a walking around New York trip and didn't bring any smart clothes or jewellery.

Carry-on bag
  • Passport
  • Flight info 
  • Hotel contact details so that I can give it to the taxi
  • Pens / Pencils and writing material
  • Maps of New York
  • Reading material
  • Mobile phone charger, cable and UK to US adaptor
  • wet wipes / plasters / ibuprofen
  • spare t-shirt / underwear in case main bag goes AWOL
  • laptop plus charging cable
  • Snacks / chewing gum / water 
  • headphones
  • currency of country being visited (home country currency is in my pockets until arrival)
  • toothpaste / brush (8 hour flight!)
If you're flying at night-time you might want to bring your pyjamas to change into.

  • Clothes, obviously
  • Keys
  • Coins in one of those plastic bank coin bags for ease of plonking on tray at security 
  • Bank cards / travelcard / keys (moved to carry-on bag once on flight)
  • Phone

Open air cinema screenings - London 2017

Yippee - it's a few weeks before London's annual Open Air Cinema season begins, which means that it's time for my annual Open Air Cinema Screenings in London post. Not many films have been listed yet but we've already had one screening, in February (!) though I'm more of a fan of waiting until it gets a little bit warmer myself. The actual post is an embedded Storify which is regularly updated as new films are published - feel free to pinch the text or embed the Storify into your own site. That way more people will get to know about open air movie options. Think of it as Creative Commons.

Previous editions

Monday, 27 February 2017

Please tell me about any open-air cinema screenings you know of in London

Every year I create a big list of all known (to me, I'm certain I must miss some) open-air cinema screenings in London.

Here's last year's:  Open Air Cinema Screenings in London 2016

I do this by trawling known purveyors of outdoor films, listed below - let us heap praise upon their names - and by googling, and serendipity. Also lovely people sometimes tell me about stuff they've heard of and marvellous Dave from Pop Up Screens always sends me a note, and sometimes a rather handy spreadsheet listing all films, dates and locations.

If you do the publicity for anyone or any organisation that is likely to screen such films please add me to your press list thingy ( Just a note to 'look at this page, we've published our films and more will be added soon' will do but if you happen to have an easily copy and pastable list then that makes things easier. But given that I enjoy hunting for films so much I don't care if you stick them in a non-OCR* PDF and I have to type them out by hand. Sometimes you'll have a mixture of films in London and elsewhere, or a mix of outdoor and non-outdoor - just send them all over and I'll prune out the ones for my list.

Over the last couple of years we've also had (honestly I get so excited just thinking about it) the newer London Free Film Festivals, with several sub-film festivals happening in different bits of London such as Deptford & New Cross, Camberwell. Other than the obviously free 'free film festivals' some of the other films are free too, though most aren't. Some film events are quite event-y and cost a bit more, but you get all sorts of exciting add-ons. I will cheerfully list them all :)

Here's where I look first (not all organisations screen films every year, some are one-offs but I keep them there in case they return) -

• Backyard Cinema (Camden Market) - (
• BFI at the British Museum - no link yet (a couple of years ago I saw A Room With A View in the courtyard at the British Museum which was lovely)
• BP Big Screens (Royal Opera and Royal Ballet) -
• Experience Cinema (from Rooftop Film Club) - (
• Floating Cinema -
• Free Film Festival (London) -
• Herne Hill Free Film Festival -
• Kew the Movies -
• The Luna Cinema -
• More London (Scoop) - and London Bridge City Summer Festival!film/a94rd
• New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival -
• The Nomad Cinema - - London outdoor screenings and also
interesting indoor venues (
• Open Air Theatre (Regent's Park) -
• Pop Up Screens - (
• Rooftop Film Club - (4 venues - Bussey Building, Peckham;
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch; Roof East, Stratford, Roof Gardens, Kensington) and Tobacco Dock
• Shuffle Festival -
• Somerset House - ( 4-17 Aug 2016
• Tudor Barn Eltham -
• Underground Film Club (from Rooftop Film Club) -

*Optical Character Recognition - the sorcery that allows some scanned PDFs to be queried textually rather than as a picture.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Not getting homeopathy events moved from universities - can't win 'em all

Summary - despite requests to move or cancel it Birkbeck (University of London) will continue to host an event promoting homeopathy for women's health conditions. Homeopathy is not a valid system of medicine.

Edit: I've not even published this post yet and have only just spotted this phrase which appears in the testimonials (not in the main marketing text, but what do you think testimonials are for) -

"I highly recommend taking the course on Female Diseases, as his presentation will provide a book filled with serious cured cases such as cancers, fibroids, infertility and much more" - emphasis added. It's possible that the addition of that comment is problematic under the Cancer Act 1939.

Universities hosting homeopathy (or any alternative medicine / quackery) events is problematic for several reasons.
  1.  It gives the event the fillip and prestige of being hosted at a respected academic institution (whether or not this is exploited or explicitly implied in other marketing material)
  2. It suggests that the event, or type of 'treatment', is a little less ridiculous than it might be if it had been hosted at Teehee McFunny's Mirthful Comedy Cabaret
  3. Not university-specific, but let's assume that an event promoting an unproven treatment is not in people's best interests and perhaps higher-education institutes might prefer not to give them house-room.
  4. As I'm not a lawyer I don't know if this is piffle (and I only read about it on Wikipedia [see bit on Education act]) but it seems that people can get away with saying things in an academic setting in the UK that they might be less able to say in another setting - possibly this affects academics only not visiting quacks. Though if it affects everyone it suggests that quacks might be able to overclaim for their quackery.
Birkbeck (part of the University of London) is hosting a homeopathy event for 'female diseases'. Presenting at the event is a visiting doctor from India and the event's application form makes it clear it's aimed at homeopaths or student homeopaths rather than the general public. However I think anyone can apply (and since 'homeopath' isn't a protected term anyone could put student homeopath (for example they might be doing a short course at a local community college)), and spend around £200 to attend. That's £200, wasted on this event.

To be fair the event organisers have not made much of the fact that it's taking place at the University of London but the text of the marketing for the event certainly seems at odds with academia.

There is a shopping list of 'female conditions' which include endometriosis, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian disease, amenorrhoea [stopped periods]) as well as things like miscarriage and infertility. Homeopathy is very unlikely to be of much use here.

Because this isn't an advert for a product the text doesn't fall within the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority so there would be no benefit in complaining about it to them. However I think it's interesting to consider that - if an advert - the ASA would likely rule against it, because of the mention of serious medical conditions and the implication that homeopathy might be of use to people who have them. When adjudicating on previous adverts the ASA have considered that listing medical conditions may encourage people to forgo appropriate medical advice (bad!). While the ASA don't get a say on this event's marketing it seems a good rule of thumb that if they'd not permit it as an advert it's perhaps not much good for an event at a university.

The event promo ends with "There is no claim here that homeopathy can heal, treat or cure these medical conditions. Homeopathy is used to trigger natural healing mechanisms of the whole person to work better rather than address particular symptoms. These case studies will be used to talk through techniques that were used to lift the general wellbeing of the people concerned." but simply writing this isn't really much use, given that the rest of the page rather contradicts it.

For example "Medical test results are shown before and after homeopathic treatment for most cases leaving no doubt about the changes that have occurred" and the speaker "will encourage you to feel more able to support challenging cases, perhaps even where the experts have given up" - this seems quite close to claiming that homeopathy can heal.

A couple of people on Twitter have contacted Birkbeck about this event (I don't know the outcome of that). I emailed Birkbeck (copy below) to ask them to distance themselves from the event, and while I've acknowledged my hope that it's cancelled I've not specifically asked them to do that. I just don't think it should be hosted at a university.

Recently there was some success in stopping a different event, though I heard about it only after it was all over. Curzon Cinemas had been about to host 'Vaxxed' and a Q&A with Andrew Wakefield (disgraced former medic who is no longer allowed to practice after his role in deliberately falsifying medical data relating to autism and vaccines) but after criticism from doctors and scientists this event was pulled.

There were a few tweets about it and I replied to one that "I am currently failing to get a event for women's health moved from Uni of London (Birkbeck)."

I was deliberately precise in my language of moving not removing or cancelling despite this a couple of people challenged me (nicely, I might add!) asking "what's the reasoning behind trying to get this event cancelled? I mean, aside from it being fake science?" and "[other text] ...but forcing ppl to pull events is a dangerous line to cross", which I hope I've clarified for them, as I'm not doing either - though I'd not complain one bit if the event was pulled.

Trading Standards have previously taken action to shut down events, or venues have pre-emptively cancelled events, where people would have tried to talk about cancer cures (doing so may be illegal under the Cancer Act 1939). Similarly there have been raids on events promoting MMS (a form of bleach) as a miracle cure, including for autism. I don't have a problem with unsafe medical events being stopped from going ahead. Women are not well-served by this event which promotes a form of non-treatment for potentially serious health conditions.

Birkbeck have replied that the event is still going ahead and have pointed me to their free speech policy for their events. It's a good document but unfortunately this homeopathy event is not considered to breach it, so the document doesn't really 'protect' against utter hooey being presented uncritically. This is good news for homeopaths and I'd advise them to host their future events at academic instutions ;)

At some point I'll add a much briefer version of this to the 'failures' section of the Skeptic (activism) successes in homeopathy post and Storify (embedded in the linked post).

Copy of the email I sent to Birkbeck in December

I wasn't planning on blogging about this particular homeopathy event so please forgive me sending it to the press team but this was the first email address available through the contacts page. Twitter has made me aware that someone will be running an event on using 'homeopathy for female diseases', at Birkbeck (address listed on the event page) [link redacted] in March.
Homeopathy is not a valid intervention for any health condition and it's fairly startling that this is taking place at Birkbeck, and that people are charged money to attend. From extensive previous experience of university venues being exploited in this way it's fairly clear this will be framed as a prestigious University of London venue recognising the value of homeopathy.
Please can you pass on my request to whoever deals with room booking and ask them to do whatever is possible to distance Birkbeck from this quack event taking place. In an ideal world the event would simply be cancelled, though being moved elsewhere is usually what happens.
There is a shopping list of conditions that the speaker imagines himself qualified to speak on (doubtful) including fibroids, thyroid problems and miscarriage. This event promotes mistaken and potentially harmful interventions for women.

Many thanks, and best wishes,

Postscript - incidentally the event organisers haven't exploited the prestige at all so I'm wrong on that one, but I am still concerned by the overall 'framing' of the event, implying that a homeopathy event is an appropriate one for academic institution, I really think it isn't.