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 or jo dot brodie at gmail dot com

Featured post: The 2015 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Perhaps Guy's Hospital is unaware that it is offering a homeopathy first aid course

I'm assuming that Guy's Hospital doesn't endorse this homeopathy first aid course and is just letting out a room (in Shepherd's House, on its campus, 10 Dec 2015) to people.

The website of The CPD Group ( says that participants on the homeopathic first aid course will learn "to treat many first aid situations, from childhood fevers, teething troubles, attacks of sickness, ear infections, coughs, flu, diarrhoea etc." - if they are being taught about homeopathy then this is not true as it doesn't treat any of those conditions (or any others).

It's bad enough to suggest that homeopathy can treat a list of conditions but even worse to imply that homeopathy is of any use in a first aid setting and that homeopaths can act as some sort of 'first responder'.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Folk music transcribathon at Cecil Sharp House this Sunday (29th Nov)

Cecil Sharp House (Camden) is having an all day transcribathon in which participants get together with a laptop and headphones and listen and transcribe the words that people sang in some recently collected folk music songs. I asked my friend Alison what was involved and whether or not people need to be able to read music (or be able to listen to music and work out the intervals of notes). Apparently not, it's just the words... but, in her own words:
"We have a transcription guide to help our volunteers, but generally we put the English word, but if it's a dialect word we'd put that with a translation. 

We respect how they sang it when it comes to their variant of a song in terms of what words they use, e.g. there may be printed versions of a song that differ from what they actually sing, but we are capturing their version.

We can't always make out every single word, so have some guidance on educated guesses.

So it's not always as straightforward as you'd think.  But lots of fun!"
Details in the link above or picture below, for ease of copying and pasting the address is

 The Song Collectors website is

More information on collecting songs, and working with different cultures:

Twitter's spam reporting leaves a lot to be desired

I have recently spotted a lot of identical or suspiciously similar tweets on the #homeopathy hashtag coming from 'bots' (automated fake accounts). They are indiscriminately retweeting and favouriting positive and negative tweets about the subject so it's not clear if they're on a particular 'side' or what their purpose is. They are also tweeting more generally about health and weight loss so I would have to assume they exist to tweet a particular link or two and are covering their backs by tweeting other health-related stuff as well, ie hiding in plain sight. It's a popular tactic.

As they deliberately avoid sending spam tweets blocking them 'for' posting spam is not quite right and Twitter's options for reporting them correctly are therefore a bit limited.

The accounts are almost always female (according to their avatar) with digits at the end of their name, eg Jodie123. Their bios look similarly cut and paste with liberal use of dividers like ✦, ✶ or ✪ (I have to admit I use | and / in my bio, or did until I recently changed it).

Examples below
  • TV addict ✦ Professional Speaker ✦ Soccer fanatic ✦ Subtly charming geek ✦ 53 Countries since 2012
  • Social media fan ✶ Author of fantasy books ✶ Travel consultant ✶ Beauty appreciator ✶ Technology lover
  • Advocate for human dignity ✪ Spirituality ninja ✪ Sunglass fan ✪ Detoxification ✪ Nerd 
They are mostly retweeting genuine tweets so their spam-like behaviour is more subtle and probably only noticeable if you are the one whose tweets (or tweets you're mentioned in) are being favourited ('liked') or retweeted - it's not apparent just from looking at their timeline, you have to be aware of several similar accounts to get the full picture.

In other words you can only really see the spam if you're in a position to be able to see the spam!

An example would be that you've tweeted about #homeopathy and a lot of similar-looking accounts retweet it. I suppose it's a tiny bit like #EverydaySexism which is largely invisible unless you're a woman who regularly experiences a range of men making comments at you. Different people moving through an otherwise identical space see and experience it very differently.

I am reporting these accounts as spam though I've not seen many of them being removed (I suspect Twitter just disagrees with my assessment because each account doesn't, individually, look particularly spammy). I'm not sure if Twitter pays attention to my pattern of reporting (ie several similar accounts in a short space of time) but I wish they did because then I think they'd notice the problem.

Perhaps Twitter isn't particularly bothered about these types of accounts. They aren't very harmful, beyond spouting nonsense into the Twittersphere (but let's face it we all do that too), they're not abusive and they're not posting the same tweeted link over and over again. But they don't contribute to the ecosphere.

While we're at it I still hate all those Sumall and tweets that thank a bunch of strangers for tweeting (and do it in such a way that the tweet is visible to ALL of the tweeter's followers, and not just the strangers they're thanking - ugh).

What a depressing thought that future internet archaeologists will be left with the "(insight by" tweets which, by volume alone, must surely be taking up plenty of Twitter's server space. Have a scroll though some of them and despair ;) Drivel.


Things I or colleagues are giving away free this week

A variety of freebies here with things for teachers, children and young people and general members of the public.

For the family - a free magic show powered by hidden computer science with computer scientist professors (Peter and Paul) who are also amateur magicians. This is aimed at secondary school children and their families but it's a big venue so I doubt we'll turn you away if you aren't bringing children with you, just don't steal all the mince pies :) It's taking place at the People's Palace at QMUL.
[More info] [Free tickets]

@MooseAllain is also giving away a free PDF of his colour-in Advent Calendar, more info here - 

For teachers - a free workshop which looks at 'Sorting unplugged' - ways of introducing sorting algorithms into the classroom without actually using computers. From Paul Curzon (who's one of the magicians mentioned above) whose free workshops are perennially popular and good fun. It's taking place at QMUL too.
[More info] [Free tickets]

**NOT FREE** For teachers and others who are interested (£30/£60)
Nicola's my colleague on the Teaching London Computing project and she's a movement artist who uses coding in her projects. She's giving a couple of sessions on Introduction to Arduino. These are aimed at teachers but we've made some spaces available for members of the public who might be interested. There are two sessions running, one on Sat 28th, one on Mon 30th (and for the Monday one you'll need to bring a laptop cos we don't have access to the computer lab that day!). See if you can guess which four-letter-acronymed London university this is taking place at...
[More info] [Tickets - 28th] [Tickets - 30th, remember to bring laptop]

In an effort to clear out my boss's office I'm in the process of giving away some of our stock to the first ten people that fill in a form. Last week I sent out some of our new Ada Lovelace magazines out to 10 people around the UK, this week I'm giving away some of our 'recently older' stock to London folk (I promise to do something less London-centric this time).

  • a flyer for our Christmas magic show
  • A magic book
  • A pack of cards
  • A cs4fn magazine
  • A teleporting robot sheet
  • The robot dot illusion sheet
  • Biology loves Technology mini booklet
  • Hexahexaflexagons booklet and a sheet of hexahexaflexagons for you to cut out, fold, glue together and flex.
[More info, and the form you need to fill in - London only this time though!]

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Communicating Risk in Health Information (London) - Tues 26 Jan 2016

ZOMG this sounds amazing.

Copied and pasted from their event registration website (from which you can buy a ticket, £240 max, cheaper for members):




Communicating Risk in Health Information

We are delighted to announce that bookings are now open for the 'Communicating Risk in Health Information' event on Tuesday 26 January 2016, to be held in London.

Risks and statistics are an essential part of patient information.  What is a person’s risk of developing a particular condition in their lifetime, or of having a certain symptom? What is the chance of a treatment or procedure working? What are the risks of getting different side-effects? And can people change these risk factors?

However, many patients are unable to comprehend basic statistics, never mind navigate their way through the reams of data that may come with health information comparing treatment options. As information and support professionals, our job is to make sure we can guide patients through the minefield of data and figures to help them feel confident in making their own decisions.

This one day event will: look at the challenges many patients experience when trying to understand risk; hear from experts in the field of communicating risk; and share case studies from health information producers who have addressed this in their work.

Presentations will include:
  • Health literacy and numeracy in the UK (Community Health & Leaning Foundation)
  • How can we clearly communicate risk information? (David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge)
  • Factors influencing the perception of side-effect risk information (Peter Gardner, Head of School of Psychology, University of Leeds)
  • TBC Shared decision making and risk communication (Richard Thompson, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, Newcastle University)
  • Best practice for clearly communicating risk (PiF, based on PiF Toolkit best practice)
  • Using data visualisation to explain risks (Eluned Hughes, Breast Cancer Now)
The event will close with a practical group session that allows delegates to discuss the key challenges they face and how they can apply the findings or recommendations from the presentations in their work.
A full agenda is being developed and will be available here soon.

Through attending the event we hope delegates will develop:
  • Increased awareness of numeracy and health literacy issues, and their impact on individuals’ everyday life
  • Increased awareness of risk communication issues and impacts on individuals’ health and experiences of care
  • Increased understanding of how to communicate risk clearly in health information
  • Increased awareness of how other health information professionals and organisations approach communicating risk
This one day event costs £125+VAT to attend for PIF members (please login to the website before making your booking to receive the members rate), and £200+VAT for non-members.

We hope you can join us!

If you have any queries about this event please contact

The PIF Team