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

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Homeopathy is hardly exactly escaping the NHS 'ban'

It's Homeopathy Awareness Week next week or as we in the snark community have it 'Homeopathy Bewareness Week'. Don't get taken in by their lies ;-)

Actually homeopathy's already been having a pretty interesting week this week.

First, plenty of people noticed its absence in the list of things the NHS is considering not paying for anymore. Second, considerably fewer people noticed that the NHS has kinda already considered this, by paying less and less for it each year anyway.



There are two sums of money at issue
  • the amount spent on NHS England prescriptions for homeopathy - less than £100,000 (see blue graph below) for 6,821 prescription items (red graph below) in 2016
  • the amount spent on the wider infrastructure for homeopathy (staff, buildings etc) - apparently about £4m to £5m in 2016

In the mid-1990s the NHS in England spent upwards of £800,000 on homeopathy for 170,000 prescription items. This has dropped precipitously over the years, as you can see from the informative and entertaining graphs below.

Picture credit: Nightingale Collaboration, used with permish :)
Version for homeopathy fans
Well done! You began the year on 1 Jan 2016 with not a single homeopathy item prescribed but ended the year with a whopping increase to 6,281 items prescribed - an increase on a par with infinity.

Where was I...
I don't have the breakdown for the non-prescription costs, estimated to be several million at the moment. It's great that the prescription costs are dropping but we may still be wasting millions on this non-treatment on the NHS.


Although homeopathy wasn't mentioned in the first raft of 'things to consider banning' it will indeed be included in later considerations, according to Julie Wood's tweet below (she's the Chief Executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners).

https://twitter.com/NhsccJ/status/847794271512080386
"Homeopathy is in the overall £400m of spend identified - currently not in
first wave of 10 products for review but this is an ongoing project"

In other words, skeptics are pushing at an open door. We're not really trailblazing the decline of homeopathy on the NHS, it's happening anyway. Perhaps we've contributed to the changing mood though - for example newspaper reports now seem less likely to champion it and more likely to laugh at its improbability.

Unsurprisingly the magazine 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' (they don't like me much) have regurgitated the misinformation ("Homeopathy escapes the NHS cuts") and also managed to add in another error at the end ("The Swiss health authority has announced that homeopathy is effective enough to be included among therapies that can be claimed under health insurance plans..."). The Swiss have done no such thing and explicitly acknowledged that homeopathy was unable to provide evidence of efficacy. However, bafflingly, they are continuing to reimburse its use in health insurance but only if administered by a doctor, so there's that I suppose.



Background reading on NHS prescription costs
Every year the costs of prescriptions in England are published. Skeptics, being amused by the drop of homeopathy spending on the NHS have kept an eye on the cost for each year, going back to 1995 (info is publicly available).

Prescription Cost Analysis, England - 2016 [NS]
Publication date: March 30, 2017
Prescription Cost Analysis, England - 2016: Data Tables [.zip]
The [NS] means a publication that is within the scope of National Statistics, the lack of a [PAS] next to it means that no Press Announcement is Scheduled.
NHS Digital Publications calendar April 2016 - March 2017
NHS Digital Publications calendar (future)
 
Background reading on Swiss health authority and homeopathy
The Swiss rejected homeopathy as a 'treatment' that could be reimbursed in 2005 however lots of Swiss people voted for it in 2009 to be included, among some other ineffective treatments. The health authority requested evidence of effectiveness but eventually admitted defeat and surprised everyone in 2016 with this announcement:
"In a statement released on Tuesday, the interior ministry said it had come to the conclusion that it was “impossible to provide such proof for these disciplines in their entirety”.

They will thus be treated on a par with other medical disciplines, when it comes to health insurance.

The ministry plans to continue allowing reimbursements of treatment costs by compulsory health insurance, provided they are administered by certified medical doctors." 

Bad news for homeopathy fans though, it will continue to be scrutinised...




Monday, 3 April 2017

The Imaginary Maritime Science Festival - what would you have in your perfect science festival?

"It is a bright sunny evening: the sea reflects a thousand glowing colours, and, in a minute or two, I shall be gliding on its surface." Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents by William Beckford

My thoughts are never very far from boats at the best of times and this only increases when I'm waiting for the ferry home to Greenwich, North Greenwich or Woolwich (I like to vary things a bit). While I was waiting for the Thames Clipper ferry home I jotted down, on my phone's 'notes' app, a bit of a brainstorm for an Imaginary Maritime Science Festival. Bagsy Festival Director, obviously. 

Over Easter (April 2017) Greenwich and Woolwich (not sure about North Greenwich) will be hosting the Tall Ships festival 2017, the last one (in fact the first in Greenwich / Woolwich) was in September 2014 so I'm assuming these tend to happen about every two years or so in future. Tall ships are quite large vessels with masts and sails and they look gorgeous and afford many photography opportunities. Some are static, some waft gently on the water. People can even board them. Most of them are, as far as I'm aware, entirely modern ships rather than re-enactments but they look totally re-enactment-y. I think some of them will sail up and down the Thames with visitors on them.

Image from page 142 of "The boy travellers in Australasia : adventures of two youths in a journey to the Sandwich, Marquesas, Society, Samoan and Feejee islands, and through the colonies of New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and

On land there are also other entertainments, last time there was woodworking and all sorts of stalls. Plenty of bunting. But I wondered about the science. Just up the hill from the water's edge there's Greenwich Park which contains its very own National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich. They'll be open over the festival and they have lots of cool stuff to see and do as well: http://www.rmg.co.uk/search/site/tall%20ships

Here are some of the talks, film screenings and other events that we'll have at my #IMSF (Imaginary Maritime Science Festival unless someone else is using that hashtag in which case it might be #IMSF2019). I might have got a bit carried away, but fortunately the Assistant Festival Director will be there to rein me in ;)

Maths and knots
I went to a great interactive talk ('The Mathematics of Knots') at the Orkney Science Festival in 2015 which featured mathematician Dr Julia Collins from Edinburgh University and knots expert Mark Shiner of Stromness Nautical School. We got to play around with bits of string and tie some knots too, it was ace.

Linked activities: flexagons (Martin Gardner's maths puzzles, hexahexaflexagons also used by colleagues to teach computational thinking concepts and graphs / maps (mathematics))

Image from page 213 of "Boat sailing in fair weather and foul" (1903)

Communication
Flags and semaphore, Morse and telegraphy (laying cables also pretty cool).

Flags

Film screenings
Obviously Longitude which is about Harrison and his clocks, possibly Titanic / Poseidon Adventure might be pushing it a bit.

Medicine and diSEAse (see what I did there)
A talk from the James Lind Alliance on his C18th randomised controlled trial for scurvy which suggested that citrus fruits were a good idea. Someone might also talk about A Day in the Life of a Ship's Surgeon which I'm expecting to contain a fair bit of amputation-related gore (or in which I learn that it was mostly splinters from wood). Perhaps a bit more gruesome might be talks on recovery from drowning, and 'mammalian diving reflex' - I'd certainly encourage everyone to read 'Drowning doesn't look like drowning'.

Sounds
Submarine sonar beeps, radar, that anti-pirate sound device that you can blast unpleasant sounds with. I might widen it a bit to include other sounds you might hear at sea including whalesong and the loud sounds made by shrimps. Foghorns too (Sarah Angliss wrote up a lovely event in celebration of the decomissioning of the Souter Foghorn).

Life on board ship
Practising staying upright I imagine, among other things. This lends itself to multiple comparisons - different types of ships and modern versus ships of yore.

Boatbuilding
Ye Olde Ships involved a fair bit of wood, and the right type of wood at that. What makes some wood better than others. You probably won't be surprised that I went to a lovely lecture on different types of wood, as part of an economic botany course a few years ago. Modern ships seem fairly metallic. I don't know if a great deal of metalwork has ever been done ON ships, but I suppose other than the ship itself the largest lump of metal is probably the engine or the anchor.

There was a lovely Ray Mears programme from a few years back in which he and a friend created, from scratch, a birch-bark boat - made from the peelable bark of the birch tree. In the UK we can peel birch tree bark too but it's paper-thin and doesn't lend itself much to boat building.

Navigation
Astronomy - when I went on a 2 week cruise a couple of years ago I entertained myself beforehand by looking into getting one of those sextant deelies and a big book of what to do with one. It turned out to be a bit more involved and fiddly so I didn't follow it up but I'd love to learn how you point something at a star, look up something in a book and declare that it's 9.32pm on Tuesday the Umpteenth of Month 1739 or something like that. Polynesian navigation seems extremely interesting too, I'd like to hear how different cultures found their way around and home again.

Image from page 206 of "The history of mankind" (1896)

Definitely want talks on longitude, possibly accompanying the film screening, also accuracy. Plus GPS and satellites, and how you can keep an eye on ships around the world with things like Shipfinder. Tides are also probably fairly important! And the Moon.

Power and movement 
Buoyancy - a notable thing about ships is that they float, when all's going well, and go forward at impressive speeds. Engines are pretty interesting, propellors, steam, those wheel things. Sails (shape, catching the wind - which leads me to wind power more generally, and wave power).

Desalination / recycling
On-ship water can be re-used.

Military
Talks from the Royal Navy / RAF on how they land aeroplanes and helicopters on aircraft carriers and take off again. That's a bit clever.

After 43 years supporting Royal Navy RFA Gold Rover departs Portland for the final time.

Trade routes
Other than probably not being at war with Spain over Gibraltar people use ships to explore and trade, not to mention un-fun things for whales (whaling for oil!). In Greenwich we have the lovely tea clipper called the Cutty Sark which zipped around the world collecting tea and probably other stuff too. There's a fantastic film called City of Ships from 1940 which looks at the produce coming in to Tilbury Docks near London - that would definitely be in the film screening strand.

>Piracy
Even if only for the opportunities for dressing up and saying 'Aarrgh' a lot. Maggi Koerth-Baker's article on actors taking on the role of pirates for a museum exhibition is absolutely brilliant. The actors did so much research. A great read: Real history from a pretend pirate. My favourite pirate, Stede Bonnet, wasn't very good at it. At the Tall Ships festival this year someone will be dressing up as Pirate Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. No sign of Cutler Beckett, alas.

Great Sea Voyages
Darwin... Cook... people who did the Grand Tour by boat.

Social and cultural
In addition to a 'day in the life of' there's also sea shanties, carving scrimshaw, experiences of people left behind, plenty of sea related poetry, other traditions. Maritime mythology... mermaids and whatnot.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Tall Ships - Greenwich Regatta - Thur 13 to Sun 16 April 2017

A couple of years ago the Thames at Greenwich and Woolwich was filled with lovely ships with masts and sails gently scudding up and down the river, or moored and visitable. Greenwich Centre was a hive of festival activity and I took a lot of lovely pictures. I'm planning on repeating this joyous experience at various times and in various bits of the borough over Easter weekend as we have our Tall Ships festival back again between 13-16 April. Hooray.

Here's a nice picture I took which shows some tall ships as well as a Thames Clipper ferry which I regularly use when travelling by water. If you note the two larger spikes in the raililng, the ferry sits above the 8th to 10th of the smaller spikes between them, next to a red ship / boat.

Tall Ships and a Thames Clipper 



Saturday, 1 April 2017

Google Forms - can I customise the notification email alerts? Help needed

SOLVED hooray.

I used a Google Forms add-on Email notifications for forms, which has worked beautifully - info and instructions here, and in brief below. To do this with ease I needed to revert to the old* style of Forms, to do this click on the ? mark at the bottom right of the form and choose the 'Back to the old Forms' option.



  • Install the add-on from the add-on page itself (click 'Free', top right), a blank new form will appear which you can ignore and then a pop-up will appear asking you to confirm that it can interact with your account, I said 'yes'.
  • Once it's added you'll have a new field in your Add-ons menu, on old forms it looks like this

On new forms it looks like this, but when I clicked on it there was no sign of the already added add-on, instead it offered me a range of add-ons I could search, hence my disenthusiasm for new forms.




  • Click on it and go through the steps, I left it mostly at the default settings. If you have several forms make sure you give each one a different name so that you can manage the emails when they arrive.
Resulting emailed notification looks like this

*I find the new version very fiddly and unintuitive and spend too much time clicking on all the buttons and options to find the hidden item I want that's explicitly already on the page on 'old' forms. Who needs it.



I have several work-related Google Forms which invite teachers to sign up for various things. Each time a teacher fills in a form their data is automatically stored in a Google Sheet and I get an email telling me that there's a new entry. Someone else set these up and I inherited them when they left.

Up until a few months ago these notification alert emails were useful and informative (image one), but now they look more like the second image, and are useless.

The old style of email notification, with actually useful information in it

The considerably less useful type of email alert I get now


It turns out that it's not possible to set up a notification from the forms only from the sheet - this may be something to do with the 'new' Google Forms as opposed to the old 'Legacy' version. I have been surprised to read various helpfiles telling me that it can't be done when, for months, I've been receiving them - but they mysteriously stopped in November 2016 and I've been trying to work out how to get them back. Now that I've got them I'm not awfully impressed.

I've tried adding 'add-ons' but have got nowhere with them. Is there a simple way of fixing this? I can't believe that anyone would find the info in the current notification emails an improvement on the previous one, surely everyone else is whining about this? Or is it that the person who set it up initially knew something that I didn't and have done some clever thing that I can't replicate.




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 henriettaharrison@hotmail.co.uk and my mobile is 07740 565996

Thanks in advance.

Henrietta Harrison
Producer
Loftus Media