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

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Misleading website health claims - anyone can send a cease and desist letter


    Photo credit: aitoff on Pixabay (CC0-licence)

I have discovered something which I think I really should have known about, and which has astounded me.

Anyone can send a Cease and Desist letter to a trader who is making misleading claims. For me this would largely relate to misleading health claims, as that's my area of interest, but it would apply to anyone. This would seem to be of particular interest to scientists, doctors, skeptic activist / bloggers and so on.

My recommendation is to proceed very cautiously and politely though :)

The letter itself has no legal weight on its own, the trader doesn't have to respond. However it may be in their interests to do so.

If you subsequently report them to Trading Standards your ignored letter (keep a copy) is potential evidence against them, for persisting in being misleading after you had pointed out the problem.

My surprise discovery happened while reading this paper "Testing the Effectiveness of Consumer Legislation for Health-Related Claims" from HealthWatch. The paper follows the path of a series of complaints made to the UK's (National) Trading Standards about websites' health claims for which there's no (or unlikely to be) robust evidence. HealthWatch's web page accompanying the paper puts things into context:
  • Pursuing a complaint is cumbersome and lengthy
  • Most complaints do not result in enforcement
  • Approaches to enforcement vary widely between trading standards offices
The paper reports on the actions of several volunteers who followed a protocol for asking traders for evidence and, if none forthcoming (or not of suitable, robust quality) a cease and desist letter was sent before the complaint was escalated to Trading Standards.
"Volunteers asked traders to provide evidence for their claims. None did, but three removed their claims from their websites. Volunteers then sent the remaining traders a 'cease and desist' letter, warning them that failing to comply would trigger a complaint to the authorities. One further trader removed claims at this stage." [from page 3 of the 54 page PDF].   The template for the Cease and Desist letter is on page 50.
    Regrettably Trading Standards was only able to investigate a handful of cases (they are understretched) which highlights the importance of bloggers writing about misleading claims in an attempt to stem the flow of nonsense on the web by providing better information.

    Even before you get to that point it's not always obvious who you should be complaining to about a misleading health claim. In its March 2018 report, the Westminster Commission on Autism found that it was difficult and confusing for people to report misleading and harmful 'cures' for autism§ to the relevant authorities.

    Their report recommended that the relevant regulatory bodies (Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Trading Standards, Food Standards Agency, Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA)) etc could help by determining who has responsibility for what - this is not always clear in the case of food products (Food Stds Agency remit) which are sold with medical claims (MHRA or Trading Stds remit).
    "It is currently far too difficult to determine which agency is responsible for the regulation of the manufacture, promotion, distribution, sale and use of harmful physical, medicinal, psychological or social interventions for autism. Establishing the remit of each agency listed on page 3, identifying potential gaps between them and suggesting possible ways to close the gaps is highly complex. The Commission recommends that the Government urgently convenes the agencies listed alongside others to thoroughly consider the current gaps and look for solutions.

    The agencies must produce a publicly available flowchart of their remit and establish a single reporting mechanism for any concern. The Government should reassess the appropriate remit of each organisation and assess the benefits and drawbacks of legislation similar to the Cancer Act 1939." [page 5 of the Westminster Commission on Autism's report, 'A Spectrum of Harmful Interventions for Autism: a short report']
    Previously I have blogged about how I would like to be able to have a quiet word with people selling quackery instead of reporting them to the Advertising Standards Authority or Trading Standards, in the hope that they make amendments without 'getting into trouble' and saving everyone time.

    Giving people the opportunity to remove their misleading claims without reporting them to any authority seems a friendly way to proceed. However, from experience such attempts have not been well received (or are just ignored). It's a bit fraught - I don't think there's any way of broaching the subject with a trader that doesn't come across a bit threateningly (how could it not, given that the subtext must always be 'if you don't amend this, I will report your site to the regulatory body').

    For that reason my preference is probably just to continue reporting misleading claims directly, however if you want to give traders the opportunity to amend claims without involving authorities (until you have to, because they've ignored you) then here's a recommended sequence of events to follow, or 'flowchart'. This assumes you're fairly confident in assessing health evidence.

    1. Ask for (robust) evidence (this would not include testimonials) and give them a reasonable time to respond ('please reply by X').
    2. If no response, or if evidence is poor, send a polite cease and desist letter - keep copies.
    3. If nothing happens you can report them to Trading Standards and the letter may be used as evidence.

    Note that the authors and volunteers involved in the HealthWatch paper were acting following legal advice - I am not a lawyer and while a cease and desist letter is unlikely to be a legal document on its own I recommend conducting this sort of business super-professionally. Remember you are probably dealing with someone who genuinely believes in their 'treatment' and may be terrified by receiving what looks like an official document. While they are misleading people, and may potentially cause harm, don't be unkind in your dealing with them.

    With thanks to @Majikthyse for additional help :)

    §Further reading
    A number of skeptics' complaints to the Society of Homeopaths over concerns that their members were touting CEASE therapy for children with autism apparently fell on deaf ears (the SoH were very polite when I contacted them, however no changes to the problematic websites were made). These complaints were then escalated to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) which accredits the SoH's register of homeopaths, and the PSA has taken action. They have re-accredited the SoH (review panel decision) but with a number of provisos, effectively putting the Society of Homeopaths into 'special measures' - maintenance of their accreditation is dependent on fulfilling certain criteria. This is encouraging as it  shows that skeptic complaints can be very effective in getting regulatory bodies to act.




    Thursday, 19 April 2018

    Open air cinema screenings in London 2018

    Every year I publish the known (to me) listing of all open air cinema screenings taking place in London, and I've been doing this since 2010. Let me know of ones I've missed @JoBrodie.

    First, some advice on what to bring with you.

    Tickets! Make sure you print in advance, or have the e-ticket visible on your device - and make sure you know where the venue actually is (!)
    Something warm to wear (even if it's boiling hot in the day it can be surprisingly cool when sitting outside at 10pm)
    Something to sit on (plastic bag as a minimum, blanket or cushion better) as you could be sitting on damp grass or hard stone / concrete or pavement
    - Pop Up Screens let you bring camping chairs but many other venues don't (some venues already have seating) - check
    • Something to avoid rain (umbrellas are generally a bit of a no-no, I'd recommend rain hat or one of those 'pac a mac' things)
    • Something to eat and drink and something to eat it off / drink it out of (most films are in public spaces so you can bring your own picnic, check though as venues like Syon Park and Alexandra Palace might not, always check the website's FAQ) - don't forget a bottle opener if you need one
    • A plastic bag to take away rubbish / and for sitting on grass
    • Loo roll (public toilets being as they are...)

    Table below last updated Sunday 22 April 2018 at midday.

    DateDayFilm titleOrganisationVenueLocation
    27 AprFriSingNew Cross & Deptford FFFPepys ParkDeptford / Bermondsey
    28 AprSatNacho Libre New Cross & Deptford FFFTelegraph Hill Upper ParkNunhead / Brockley
    3 MayThuLady Bird Rooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    3 MayThuDirty DancingRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    4 MayFriJumanji: Welcome to the JungleRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    4 MayFriStar Wars Episode VIII: The Last JediRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    5 MaySatPirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black PearlNew Cross & Deptford FFFFolkestone GardensDeptford / Bermondsey
    5 MaySatCluelessRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    5 MaySatBlack PantherRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    6 MaySunBigRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    6 MaySunFear and Loathing in Las VegasRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    7 MayMonThe HangoverRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    8 MayTueItRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    8 MayTueBeastRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    8 MayTueCon AirRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    9 MayWedCasablancaRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    9 MayWedRaiders of the Lost ArkRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    9 MayWedBlade Runner 2049Rooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    10 MayThuMoulin Rouge!Rooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    10 MayThuYou Were Never Really HereRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    11 MayFriLady MacbethRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    11 MayFriThe Shape of WaterRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    12 MaySatThor: RagnarokRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    12 MaySatCall Me By Your NameRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    13 MaySunBaby DriverRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    13 MaySunTop GunRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    14 MayMonGhostbusters (1984)Rooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    15 MayTueGreaseRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    15 MayTueTrue RomanceRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    15 MayTueRequiem for a DreamRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    16 MayWedDarkest HourRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    16 MayWedThe Greatest ShowmanRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    16 MayWedThe Death of StalinRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    17 MayThuThe Wedding SingerRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    17 MayThuBlack PantherRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    18 MayFriAkira: 30th anniversaryRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    18 MayFriThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    19 MaySatBridesmaidsRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    19 MaySatTop GunLuna CinemaRAF MuseumColindale
    20 MaySunMy Best Friend's WeddingRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    20 MaySunThe Princess BrideRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    20 MaySunThe DambustersLuna CinemaRAF MuseumColindale
    21 MayMonLa La LandRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    22 MayTueBack to the FutureRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    22 MayTueBlade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)Rooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    22 MayTueThe Big LebowskiRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    22 MayTueThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaVictoria Embankment Gardens
    Embankment / Charing Cross
    23 MayWedBreakfast at Tiffany'sRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    23 MayWedKingsman: The Golden CircleRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    23 MayWedBlade Runner 2049Rooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    23 MayWedThe GooniesLuna CinemaVictoria Embankment Gardens
    Embankment / Charing Cross
    24 MayThu10 Things I Hate About YouRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    24 MayThuA Quiet PlaceRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    24 MayThuJawsLuna CinemaBrockwell Lido
    25 MayFriSuffragette + i/view w Dir. Sarah GavronRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    25 MayFriMean GirlsRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    25 MayFriDirty DancingLuna CinemaOsterley Park and HouseHounslow
    25 MayFriHarry Potter and The Philosopher's StoneLuna CinemaOsterley Park and HouseHounslow
    26 MaySatMurder on the Orient ExpressRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    26 MaySatStar Wars Episode VIII: The Last JediRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    27 MaySunHigh FidelityRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    27 MaySunTop GunLuna CinemaOsterley Park and HouseHounslow
    28 MayMonSome Like It HotRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    29 MayTueTop GunRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    29 MayTueThe Greatest ShowmanRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    29 MayTueItRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    30 MayWedThe Florida ProjectRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    30 MayWedReady Player OneRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    30 MayWedGood TimeRooftop Film ClubQueen of HoxtonShoreditch
    30 MayWedTop GunLuna CinemaDanson HouseBexleyheath
    31 MayThuThe Death of StalinRooftop Film ClubRoof EastStratford
    31 MayThuIsle of DogsRooftop Film ClubBussey BuildingPeckham
    31 MayThuPretty WomanLuna CinemaDanson HouseBexleyheath
    7 JunThuDunkirkLuna CinemaMorden Hall ParkMorden
    8 JunFriMean GirlsLuna CinemaMorden Hall ParkMorden
    9 JunSatGreaseLuna CinemaMorden Hall ParkMorden
    10 JunSunGet OutLuna CinemaOne New Change
    12 JunTueSwan LakeBP Big ScreensVarious locations
    17 JunSunFerris Bueller's Day OffLuna CinemaOne New Change
    21 JunThuDunkirkLuna CinemaBrockwell Lido
    22 JunFriThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaWimbledon Park
    23 JunSatDirty DancingLuna CinemaWimbledon Park
    24 JunSunNotting HillLuna CinemaWimbledon Park
    26 JunTueLa bohèmeBP Big ScreensVarious locations
    27 JunWedRomeo + JulietLuna CinemaTooting Common
    28 JunThuShaun of the DeadLuna CinemaTooting Common
    29 JunFriThe Breakfast ClubLuna CinemaCrystal Palace Park
    30 JunSatThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaCrystal Palace Park
    1 JulySunMoulin Rouge!Luna CinemaCrystal Palace Park
    3 JulyTueLabyrinthLuna CinemaHorniman MuseumForest Hill
    4 JulyWedThe Shape of WaterLuna CinemaHorniman MuseumForest Hill
    11 JulyWedBridesmaidsLuna CinemaSwanley ParkSwanley
    12 JulyThuGreaseLuna CinemaSwanley ParkSwanley
    12 JulyThuDon GiovanniBP Big ScreensVarious locations
    13 JulyFriBlade Runner 2049Luna CinemaGreenwich Park
    14 JulySatPretty WomanLuna CinemaGreenwich Park
    15 JulySunDunkirkLuna CinemaGreenwich Park
    17 JulyTueThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaKenwood HouseHighgate
    17 JulMonMean GirlsFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    18 JulyWedRomeo + JulietLuna CinemaKenwood HouseHighgate
    18 JulTueGreaseFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    19 JulyThuThe Greatest ShowmanLuna CinemaKenwood HouseHighgate
    19 JulWedAnchormanFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    20 JulThurSkyfallFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    21 JulFriBridesmaidsFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    22 JulySunMean GirlsLuna CinemaOne New Change
    22 JulSatMoanaFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    22 JulSatLa La LandFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    23 JulSunThe Lego Batman MovieFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    23 JulSunThe MatrixFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    24 JulMonThe NotebookFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    25 JulyWedMoulin Rouge!Luna CinemaWandsworth Park
    25 JulTueDonnie DarkoFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    26 JulyThuThe Shape of WaterLuna CinemaWandsworth Park
    27 JulThurThe Dark KnightFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    28 JulFriRogue One: A Star Wars StoryFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    29 JulSatFinding DoryFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    29 JulSatLionFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    30 JulSunBeauty and the BeastFloating Film FestivalSt Katharine DocksTower Bridge (near)
    31 JulyTueThe Shape of WaterLuna CinemaVictoria Embankment Gardens
    Embankment / Charing Cross
    1 AugWedThe Italian Job (with full orchestra)Luna CinemaOpera Holland ParkHolland Park
    1 AugWedJumanji Luna CinemaVictoria Embankment Gardens
    Embankment / Charing Cross
    2 AugThuNotting HillLuna CinemaOpera Holland ParkHolland Park
    3 AugFriMurder on the Orient ExpressLuna CinemaOpera Holland ParkHolland Park
    4 AugSatThe Greatest ShowmanLuna CinemaHampton Court Palace
    5 AugSunRomeo + JulietLuna CinemaOne New ChangeSt Paul's
    5 AugSunThe Shape of WaterLuna CinemaHampton Court Palace
    7 AugTueRomeo + JulietLuna CinemaKensington Palace
    8 AugWedLabyrinthLuna CinemaHall Place, Bexley
    8 AugWedVictoria and AbdulLuna CinemaKensington Palace
    9 AugThuMoulin Rouge!Luna CinemaHall Place, Bexley
    9 AugThuThe Greatest ShowmanLuna CinemaKensington Palace
    12 AugSunI, TonyaLuna CinemaOne New ChangeSt Paul's
    14 AugTueMoulin Rouge!Luna CinemaWestminster Abbey
    15 AugWedTop GunLuna CinemaWestminster Abbey
    16 AugThuSome Like It HotNomad CinemaFestival GardensSt Paul's Cathedral
    16 AugThuFour Weddings and a FuneralLuna CinemaWestminster Abbey
    18 AugSatMoanaNomad CinemaThe Allianz StadiumMill Hill East
    18 AugSatInvictusNomad CinemaThe Allianz StadiumMill Hill East
    21 AugTueDarkest HourLuna CinemaVictoria Tower GardensWestminster
    22 AugWedThe Greatest ShowmanLuna CinemaVictoria Tower GardensWestminster
    23 AugThuNotting HillLuna CinemaVictoria Tower GardensWestminster
    26 AugSunSpice World The MovieLuna Cinema
    Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

    29 AugWedDunkirkLuna CinemaFulham Palace
    30 AugThuThe Greatest ShowmanLuna CinemaFulham Palace
    31 AugFriThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaDulwich Park
    1 SepSatThe Greatest ShowmanLuna CinemaDulwich Park
    2 SepSunThe Greatest ShowmanLuna Cinema
    Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

    4 SepTueThe Greatest ShowmanLuna Cinema
    Chiswick House and Gardens

    5 SepWedCasablancaLuna Cinema
    Chiswick House and Gardens

    6 SepThuPretty WomanLuna Cinema
    Chiswick House and Gardens

    9 SepSunAlienLuna Cinema
    Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

    15 SepSatThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaAlexandra Palace
    16 SepSunThe Breakfast ClubLuna CinemaAlexandra Palace
    18 SepTueThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriLuna CinemaBattersea Park
    19 SepWedBlade Runner 2049Luna CinemaBattersea Park
    20 SepThuPretty WomanLuna CinemaBattersea Park
    26 SepWedLabyrinthLuna CinemaGeffrye MuseumHoxton
    27 SepThuThe Shape of WaterLuna CinemaGeffrye MuseumHoxton
    27 SepThuThe Shape of WaterLuna CinemaBrockwell Lido
    5 OctFriHarry Potter and The Philosopher's StoneLuna CinemaHampton Court Palace
    6 OctSatMoulin Rouge!Luna CinemaHampton Court Palace
    9 Aug - 22nd

    Film4 Summer ScreenSomerset HouseSomerset HouseAldwych








    I also wanted to try it as an embed from the Google Sheet into Blogger (see Mike Rich's comment on getting the height bit to work) but it's not very successful.

    The volume of screenings has increased considerably over the last few years (no complaints there) so it's easier to be able to add new screenings at the end and re-order the list.