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

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Bit disappointed that Greenwich Council's supporting community college woo

Picked up a copy of Greenwich Learns in Charlton House today and spotted that there are still adverts for courses in reiki, NLP and hand reflexology. I don't mind people selling charging for courses in these and making a spot of money out of it - why not? - but the fact that the Greenwich Council logo is on the front of Greenwich Learns makes me wonder if they're lending this sort of foolishness some sort of legitimacy, or even subsidising it. The information is certainly linked from their website.

A while back I wrote to one of the colleges involved but didn't hear back and didn't chase it up. I might have a bit of a think about this...

Greenwich Learns

Hand reflexology



My brilliant idea to improve the buttons you press to get off a bus

1. The "I want to alight at the next bus stop please" buttons on buses should be capable of lighting up when one is pressed (in case people can't easily see the lit up "Stopping" sign at the front and middle of the bus, from where they're sitting or standing).

2. Once a button has been pressed then the button sounds should be silenced until the bus has moved from the stop. It's pretty annoying when people keep pressing the button and it beeps, it seems redundant, particularly if it can be made clear to everyone (by being lit up) that the bus will stop at the next bus stop.


Supplemental for @mariawolters who asked about the various beeps etc on buses

Button press 'dings'
London buses do seem to vary in how much noise they make, and probably most of it is for the benefit of visually impaired people. Whenever someone presses the button to get off the action of pressing makes a 'ding' sound. But if someone else presses another / same button on the bus, as often happens when lots of people are getting off at the same stop, then each button press 'dings' too. Sometimes when people are impatient they repeatedly press the button to indicate their annoyance - fortunately not too often.

My argument is that this 'ding' need only happen once, as once the button's been pressed the driver is going to stop the bus at the next stop and further button-pressing is redundant. There's a bit sign that lights up at the front of the bus to say it's stopping, and there's usually another one halfway along the bus, and I think there's one on the upper floor too. If the buttons themselves were able to light up once pressed (how difficult would it be?) then everyone could see that the bus was stopping.

Door closing warning
The next noise that the bus makes is when the doors are about to close. I've not heard this sound for a while so either I've acclimatised or enough people complained - it was a needlessly unpleasant sound, warning people that it's too late to get off. I can see that it's important for people who can't see to be kept informed of the doors' activities but it could have been a lot more pleasant.

GPS voice alerts
Finally, many buses - not all - are equipped with a GPS-voice alert system that tells you when you're coming up to a particular bit of London, eg the buses going along Hampstead Road towards Camden say something like "Drummond Road" when you're near that stop. Quite often they say the number of the bus and its destination too. I don't mind this at all, in fact I find it really useful. I quite often hop on one of several buses which are going more or less in my direction - I can't be the only Londoner to forget precisely which bus I'm on ;)

Parking a comment here for the science training in journalism blog

Typed this up earlier and posted it but I don't think it was successful in getting through (as in I think the system lost it rather than it being rejected, as I didn't get the little announcement telling me it was awaiting moderation) so parking it here and will try again tomorrow.


Response to Getting started at the Science Training for Journalists blog

Congrats on the job, hope it goes well - it sounds really interesting.

Your list looks pretty good but I was also wondering if you'll have much of an opportunity to do some sort of ethnographic-y / situated thing with the journalists - finding out what their working lives are like and how likely it is that they'll be to be able to take up courses and learning opportunities.

I've no experience of journalism myself so no idea if they'd find it easy to turn up to an evening event (eg Stempra have run at least one after-work stats course run by David Spiegelhalter - it was great) or if it should be a day thing. Or if getting time out of the office is as difficult as it often is for healthcare professionals who might have to rearrange clinics / patient visits etc. Are those webinar type things likely to be useful, or things like Slideshare and even YouTube videos?

Also how is your role viewed among non-specialist journalists? Does everyone think 'thank goodness, someone's doing something practical and useful' or are people a bit miffed at the implications that they're struggling with science and stats etc?

There are a couple of organisations with an interest in the good reporting of health-related science that might be of use. The Patient Information Forum (PiF, is an independent organisation for consumer health professionals. I wrote about an event I attended which they organised, called "Healthy journalism - challenges and solutions" (, but those are just my rambling thoughts so I wouldn't give too much weight to them ;-)

The other is the AMRC (Association of Medical Research Charities, which is an umbrella organisation for about 100 health charities that fund medical research and support patients. I think all of those
charities will be approached by patients asking about treatments or discussions of their disease mentioned in the newspapers etc. I expect they'll have a particular interest in how the reporting of that sort of thing goes.

This is probably a bit of a crap idea but I was thinking of some sort of online chat / discussion forum, perhaps where people can ask and answer questions, either a regular live-chat thing, or a repository of knowledge built up from previous questions. Something a bit like "I'm a scientist get me out of here" but obviously private. An online 'stats surgery' perhaps. I'm not sure I'm explaining it very clearly!

I also think Trisha Greenhalgh's book 'How to read a paper' is very good (I should probably check and see if it's already listed in your resources) not just for the numerical side of things but for the real world questions that are very useful, such as "was this drug tested in a representative sample?" - the 'reading between the lines' stuff, pointing out what hasn't been made explicit but might be relevant.

Wishing you well,

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Testing the Twitpic widget...

Instructions below, in the comments. The widget can be seen at the bottom of every page on this blog. (I did have the widget here, but then in writing this bit I deleted it, oops).

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Someone on the internet wants advice on getting into medical writing / science journalism

Someone's contacted me via the ABSW directory asking for advice on getting into medical writing / science journalism. Despite working in a medical research charity I've no personal experience of either but boy can I google. And some of my best friends / closest complete strangers on the internet are science journalists / medical writers.

I've assumed that medical writing typically means agency work writing copy for pharmaceutical organisations or medical journalism, as opposed to what I actually do (explaining the science and statistics behind diabetes, including medical information and occasionally writing or proof-reading articles, which I've not done for a while to be honest).

I've made a start here - writing what I hope are some reasonable suggestions on my blog, on the assumption that if you write anything wrong on the internet knowledgeable people will turn up and help you fix it.

Background reading
Science writing
ABSW: 'So you want to be a science writer'

Jump to PDF:
This is a fantastic document (considered to be a little out of date, but good) on the ABSW website; the wiki version is being updated but is members only. There are lots of other useful bits and bobs on the ABSW site that are only available to members and I would strongly recommend finding the £40 per year to become a member. If you never visit the website the mailing list alone contains a wealth of experience and advice, networking and job opportunities - it's also good fun. Even without membership it's still worth having a wander round the site (clearly the person who contacted me has already been there).

NERS: 'On the origin of science writers'
Science writer Ed Yong asked the science-writer readers of his blog 'Not Exactly Rocket Science' why and how they became science writers. Lots of interesting stuff there. Science Communication practical guides / e-guides

Covers a range of topics such as stem cell research, forestry, AIDS/HIV, evolution, pandemics etc.

Medical writing
MedcommsNetworking: 'From academic to medical writer: a guide to getting started in medical communications'
Jump to PDF:
This looks pretty good to me but I'm no expert. Lots of advice and case studies, with contact details of potential agencies.

Mailing lists and alerts
ABSW / ABSW-L - the organisation and mailing list of the Association of British Science Writers -
MJA - Medical Journalists Association -
MedComms networking (from the same people who produced the medical writer doc above
"From time to time we send out information relevant to people who are interested in a career in Medical Communications (MedComms) in the UK."

psci-com - free mailing list run by the Wellcome Trust, hosted at JISCmail - general science communication list, includes jobs postings -
Stempra - the mailing list of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (Medicine?) PR Agencies organisation which covers general science communication and has some great events - Costs £15 per year to be a member.

I think I could do with a little help on this - I know about some of the science communication and journalism courses but don't know of too many medical writing courses.

Science Communication (includes City's MA in science journalism) Courses

Medical Communications PGCert via @MarkEnglish

I suppose you want to think also if you have any preference for what audience you want to write for... non-specialist, other scientists, healthcare professionals etc.

Finding a job
The mailing lists mentioned above carry suitable jobs information. I'll also add a plug for my own science communication vacancies pages, Posterous blog and Twitter feed - but these are more scicomm stuff than journalism or medical writing to be honest.

Something I've missed?

Friday, 20 August 2010

How to block Facebook's Places thing

Edit: I've also found an almost identical post over at Wired which was posted yesterday
which is annoyingly much better than mine, with ace pictures. Ah well ;)

I had some lovely pictures in an older post here...


I've no real idea what 'Places' actually is, but I've adopted a policy of blocking every new thing that Facebook comes up with until they learn a bit of respect ;)

I use Facebook as a 'friend management system', or 'FMS' for want of a better phrase, for the people I already know, not to acquire new friends (I'm not saying I've not used it for that purpose but it's not my primary consideration) and this means that I'm reluctant to have my comings and goings displayed too far beyond my chums on Facebook. Just to spite them really as it's all fairly public on Twitter and elsewhere.

If you want to block Places, try this.

1. Click 'Account' (top right hand side of screen) to bring up menu options, choose Privacy Settings.
2. On the settings page scroll to bottom and click 'Customise settings'
3. On the 'Places I check in to' it will probably be set to 'Friends only' - click the arrow next to it and choose 'Customise'.
4. On the 'Custom privacy' window that pops up, next to 'Friends only' click the arrow and choose 'Only me' (or whatever variant you prefer).
5. Click 'Save setting' - that's it, you're done, you don't need to click anything else as it's now saved.
6. While you're at it, do the same for your other settings too :)

Monday, 16 August 2010

Levels of evidence and grading - where do they come from?

EDITED with answer (see below)... and another one

I'm curious to know where the 'levels of evidence' come from - I see them everywhere and have just found seemingly identical versions from doing a google search of
"systematic review or meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials"

Level of Evidence
Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
1b At least one randomised controlled trial
2a At least one well-designed controlled study without randomisation
2b At least one well-designed quasi-experimental study, such as a cohort study
3 Well-designed non-experimental descriptive studies, such as comparative studies, correlation studies, case–control studies, and case series
4 Expert committee reports, or opinions and/or clinical experience of respected authorities

Since the results suggest that many people are using this exact format of words it suggests that they've got them either from each other or from one place. I feel I ought to know where. Do you?
Maybe I should try re-running that search with the American spelling...

EDIT: 16 August 2010
@jdc325 pointed out that this is probably the source
Eccles, M. and Mason, J. (2001) How to develop cost-conscious guidelines. Health Technology Assessment 5(16), 1-78.
Context page:
Jump to full text PDF:

EDIT: 21 August 2010
@vmontori pointed out that "Levels of Evidence outdated and incorrect, eg reviews are as reliable as individual study quality; opinions are not evidence but judgments about evidence" and subsequently recommended instead that I "lookup the GRADE system for quality of evidence -"

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Childish fun with our library book stock

Someone's had the rather good idea to see what mild entertainment can be had from their bookshelf.
"Essentially, the idea is to arrange two or more books so that the titles, when read in the order they appear, make sense (or at least coherent nonsense) as a collective. As a form of amusement it can accomodate a variety of approaches: some might think of it as a form of poetry, others primarily as a form of humour. If you have some books, a digital camera, a blog, and the inclination to put them all together, you really should have a go."
We have some strange books in the Diabetes UK library and archive, and I've not even started on our 'Book Exchange' (staff bring in old books / videos / DVDs, swap for new ones and donate 50p) and I wondered if any of them might lend themselves to some bookmashing.

Hummingbirds of North America using research in primary care

Homoeopathic first aid - know your chances

Henry Wellcome eats shoots, and leaves Google inventing the 20th century

Monday, 2 August 2010

Literature searches: formalising search and presentation of results

We run a number of literature searches for colleagues on a variety of topics. Personally I've used OVID Medline although I know other colleagues prefer PubMed - in OVID it's easy to tick a button to say 'include search strategy' when sending the results, I believe it's not too complicated to do so in PubMed either, or this can be copied and pasted.

We've decided to 'up our game' on the whole literature search 'thing' and document the processes more formally. As part of the new NHS accreditation process we're documenting certain processes in some detail anyway, but we'd like to be doing this even for our general enquiry service.

This will include (1) where we've searched (eg trusted locations such as Cochrane, and NHS Evidence as well as running literature searches and even considering 'grey literature'), (2) how we've searched (documenting our search strategies so that others can re-use or adapt them), and (3) any filters we've used (human, English language, review, years) and (3a) any ranking of the results.

We'll also be giving some thought to how we (4) present the results and (4a) how we seek feedback from the 'client'. Finally we need a process for (5) recording the enquiry / strategy and ensuring that we take any opportunity, either from client feedback or other great ideas that people have, to improve the processes by (6) continuing professional development.

Does anyone, particularly those working in medical health libraries, have a process in place from which we can pinch some ideas? I am suffering from blank page syndrome ;-)

Some of my thoughts below.
1. Locations to search (ie. search quality)
For grey literature I'd include things like which lets you know what's coming over the horizon.
2. Search strategies / MeSH headings / explode / focus / keywords (search quality)
3. Filtering (eg selecting human / English language / review)
3a. Ranking the results by quality of evidence (in a sense this can be preselected by choosing a database with higher evidence quality)
4 & 4a. Presenting the results to the 'client' and seeking feedback - I think the feedback side of things is very important.
5. Saving / recording the search for future use
6. Continuing professional development