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

Saturday, 30 November 2013

WDDTY 'exposes' the ASA but slightly misses the point I think

Since I've been blocked from the "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Facebook page I can't comment there and I doubt they'd publish a letter from me so I'm posting it here. I'm still smarting a little bit from the ban to be honest as I don't think I could have been any more polite while disagreeing with someone - I pointed out that people who are critical of WDDTY might not be 'Big Pharma shills' (after all, I'm not).

Of course my blog is indexed in Google (nothing unique to me, most blogs are and Blogger is owned by Google) so this text may well show up when people search for WDDTY-related material in a way it probably wouldn't if I'd posted it on Facebook. So swings and roundabouts.

I've had a look at the December edition of this magazine and was disappointed though not surprised by the WDDTY Opinion Piece on the Advertising Standards Authority. I think bits of it are wrong, but bits of it are also encouraging people to focus on the wrong battle. In addition to the ASA there's a lot that a knowledgeable, motivated, collaborative and snarky bunch of bloggers can do and have done to try and tackle misleading advertising claims.

If you spot any mistakes in my arguments below please let me know, thanks.



Dear WDDTY

There seems to be some confusion in your opinion piece on the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and its role. Since the pharmaceutical industry is not allowed to advertise directly to the public in the UK the ASA does not rule on any of its marketing material. The PMCPA (Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority) is the body that makes sure that pharma companies are operating within the ABPI's (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) code - if drug advertising (found in the medical not general literature) is misleading then the PMCPA can take action against it. The ASA instead ensures that marketing material is compliant with the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) code.

In both cases the two agencies are paid for by the industries that they regulate, so I don't think the ASA is paid for by pharma companies. Undoubtedly some pharma companies have a non-prescription only medicine wing that they might advertise to the public so I'll accept that there might be some money from them.

I am more concerned that the tone of the article suggests to readers that the ASA is getting a bit above itself and can be ignored. I'm not sure that this is helpful to any of your readers who are making health claims without robust evidence because they may not realise what happens if someone reports them to the ASA.

I've probably reported only around 30 adverts or marketing items to the ASA. In one or two cases the ASA disagreed with me and felt there was no case to answer, a few more have been resolved informally but rather a lot have resulted in an adjudication in 'my' favour. To be honest I'd have preferred that the organisations involved just amended their pages when first asked, and saved themselves and the ASA the bother.

Within this relatively small, compared with other skeptic bloggers, number of complaints I have had a pretty high success* rate and this is what I've learned from going through the process several times.

*I think it's important to say that my definition of success is a misleading claim being removed or modified and not just someone getting told off. I'd be lying though if I said I hadn't also enjoyed some of the worst cases being told off.

A complaint is made to the ASA
Initially the ASA will probably contact the organisation / marketer and ask them to amend any misleading claims. Even if they do so promptly the ASA will still list this on their website as an 'informally resolved' case - i.e. the mere act of me reporting a website tends to result in their trading name being listed on the ASA (this is why I'd prefer to have a quiet word with the marketer first but this rarely goes well).

Marketer decides to defend their claims
If they decide to challenge the ASA by providing evidence then the ASA will deliberate further and make an adjudication. Either it will go in the marketer's favour (not upheld) or it won't (upheld) but again in either scenario the case will be listed on the ASA's website on its own separate page and will likely be tweeted.

Marketer told to amend claims, marketer doesn't
If, after an adjudication is upheld, the marketer still doesn't amend the claims then the ASA may add them to its list of non-compliant online advertisers. It can also work with search engines to remove paid-for advertising and take out an advert itself about the misleading claims. In parallel with this there's a high chance that it will be tweeted and blogged about and may even make it to the mainstream press. The ASA has recently (as of 21 November 2013) strengthened its relationship with Trading Standards and if the claims are still problematic then the ASA can refer the marketer to Trading Standards. At that point things could well become rather serious as Trading Standards can bring a case against them to court which is likely to result in a fine or (rarely) a prison sentence.

Bloggers and newspapers might publicise this further
Again, in parallel, there will probably be some blogging and possibly mainstream news articles about this which can damage search results (when people look for information or a company website they will find information pointing out that the company has been making misleading claims).

'Using' the ASA
To say that Simon Singh and the Nightingale Collaboration 'use' the ASA is a bit silly, since that is the body that deals specifically with misleading consumer advertising. Though on a much smaller scale you could also say that I 'use' the ASA to persuade marketers to make their claims more reasonable.

In some cases I report people to Trading Standards, sometimes to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority. More recently I have reported some marketers to the CHNC (Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council) for misleading claims, where that marketer is registered with that professional body. The CHNC has suggested that its members should follow ASA / CAP guidelines.

Credit where it's due
Simon Perry devised the Fishbarrel tool which is a plugin for Chrome. However if readers of the Nightingale Collaboration's newsletter want to take part in a particular claim they rarely submit complaints to the ASA precisely for the reason of not swamping them. The Nightingale Collaboration usually asks readers to share relevant examples with them, and then they submit a master complaint - this is more efficient.

Don't get bogged down with just evidence - medical governance is important too
The ASA isn't just interested in evidence (robust evidence please, not these feeble little studies that show a small positive effect) but also what types of conditions people are talking about. There are a number of serious conditions that require the care of appropriately qualified doctors and if a website or leaflet is claiming to treat people with those conditions, but doesn't have a doctor on-site, then this is problematic - irrespective of the quality of any evidence.

Be careful what you wish for
Dismantling the ASA will not stop bloggers from reporting misleading trading claims to Trading Standards or other regulatory agencies. It also won't stop them writing about misleading claims, and in terms of search engine results that may be the bigger problem for those who rely on online reputation. I certainly can't imagine things would be much better for sellers of alternative medicine if the government began regulating it directly.

Friday, 29 November 2013

David Arnold's introducing You Only Live Twice at BFI in January - need to be a member and apply for free tickets

Edit 10 December 2013
The members' ticket ballot has now finished and the event is sold out / full. Members have until 20.30pm on Friday 13 December 2013 to claim the ticket(s) they've won in the ballot and if they don't claim them then any remaining tickets will be made available from Saturday for other members to buy. If you want a ticket you need to be (a) a BFI member and (b) get ready to buy on Saturday. If that fails then try again a bit nearer the time (and on the day too of course) as someone may return a ticket at the last-minute.



Oh this sounds cool!

BFI Screen epiphanies in partnership with American Express present
David Arnold introduces You Only Live Twice
https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/davidarnoldyouonlylivetwice
Thursday 23 January 2014
8.30pm
NFT1, BFI, Southbank

David Arnold is talking about and introducing You Only Live Twice which is one of the films and film scores (music by John Barry) that inspired him to become a film composer (and he's scored a fair few Bond films himself).

I like David Arnold and have heard him speak at a couple of events. He's funny, thoughtful and knowledgeable and has a really good strategic overview* of what it is that needs to be done in terms of creating music for the screen. Not to mention he's written some lovely music for all sorts of films and television programmes. Highly recommended.

*Yeah I was looking for something a bit less business-speak but I suppose that will do.

To get tickets...
NFT1 has a capacity of 450 seats.
    If you like John Barry you might like:
    Blow the bloody doors off! An evening of film music from Michael Caine films at Barbican on 6 February 2014, including The Ipcress File (John Barry), Alfie, Get Carter and The Italian Job

    See also






    Thursday, 28 November 2013

    Is there a website that matches student surveys with willing survey fillers-in?

    I'm lucky enough to have two academic email accounts at different universities and consequently I get a steady stream of all-users requests from students who ask us to fill in a survey or take part in an experiment etc. These are generally good-will-based although some involve a small payment for time / expense.

    Clearly, despite faculty and student diversity, this is still going to a fairly defined 'university population' rather than the wider general public.

    There are several ways of getting your survey (or requests for participants) under the eyeballs of more people and they'll have varying degrees of success. I've never tried to do this myself but my top-of-head suggestions might include the suggestions below, but here's my main question.

    Is there a website / database to which students can add details of their survey, perhaps categorised by topic and type of help wanted?

    It sounds like the sort of thing people like MySociety might build, or a few enterprising university-based nerds. Possibly JISC might help. Maybe not.

    I'm thinking of something that would be available for any student at any UK university, so it would need some buy-in from all UK unis. It would - in my fantasy world - be promoted by all public engagement / outreach officers at events and on websites, and members of the public would be able to help out on a student's research project. Possibly people could sign up or get RSS feeds telling them when something to do with a particular topic becomes available. Where appropriate students could post results arising from their work and what this has added to our knowledge of a topic, or validity of a new method etc.

    Aeons ago I signed up to Focus Force which lets people hear about focus groups happening for various things. That's a commercial venture but I'm sure something similar could be organised without great cost and it would seem to benefit an awful lot of people in universities.

    UCL has a scheme in place for people who want to take part in its lab experiments, possibly other universities have other arrangements - it just seems odd that surveys especially (online, one's location is likely irrelevant unless the survey is about 'living in Bristol') can't get a wider audience.

    Anyway here are my suggestions - it's entirely possible they're crap, as I say I don't run surveys and don't recruit anyone to them.

    Facebook - ask your friends to do the survey, ask them to share it. You can even pay to promote it to a particular demographic if you wish. Obviously if it's just your friends then there's another risk of biased results.

    Post your link more than once a few hours or day(s) apart but intersperse it with other things too. You can also tag a few people and ask them to help out but don't spam people.

    Twitter - obviously. Great way to reach people. Best to spend a bit of time getting to know it first though. If you want to reach a particular target audience it's wise to spend some time searching, by keyword, for accounts that talk about what you're interested. See who they're following, see what hashtags they're using, get to know them. Twitter's more about building relationships than spamming people.

    I recommend posting the link a few times at different times of day and on different times of day. Make sure you post other things in the interim otherwise your portfolio of tweets will look spammy and dull.

    Hopefully other people will retweet your request, here are examples of where I've done that:






    Newsagents' windows / supermarket community boards - in among the ads offering a child's bike and three piece suite why not add your request.

    Gumtree - do people ever use the site for that sort of thing? It seems to get used for everything else so sounds like it might be worth investigating but I've never used it.

    Create a mini site - you can create a really nice free website on Wordpress or even here on Blogger and put up a bit of information about your research, how people can help by taking part and a link to your survey. You can add new bits of information about it but it might be a lot of work for very little return.

    Here's an example though by a student at UCL http://www.dbpharrison.com/general/walkerbitrecruitment/




    Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    If you've received an #askforevidence tweet or email from me it might mean the following

    Hello

    You might have received a message from me asking for some evidence for a claim you've made in your marketing material. My request might have taken you by surprise and you might be rather annoyed to be challenged in this way. I expect I would be a bit surprised if someone contacted me too, so I've written this post to try and explain what it is that I'm trying to do.

    I regularly report what I believe to be misleading marketing claims to the Advertising Standards Authority. Many (by no means all) have resulted in an adjudication being upheld against the marketer with the details listed on the ASA's website. In fact even if the case doesn't get as far as an adjudication (usually because the marketer agrees to the ASA's request to amend the claims) the marketer's trading name will still appear on the ASA's pages in the 'informally resolved' section.

    It seemed like a good idea, in terms of saving time and effort and avoiding names being listed, for me to try asking people if they will amend their claims before reporting them to the ASA. If claims are amended then there's nothing to report to the ASA. It may not work of course but I thought I'd give it a go.

    The reason I'm asking is that I'm not convinced by the claim(s) that you've made on Twitter or on your website (or leaflet). The claims are possibly in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) and Committe for Advertising Practice's (CAP) advertising codes and it may be advisable for you to think about changing your wording.

    Please have a look at the CAP's AdviceOnline database or browse the Advice Index to search for your treatment to find out what you can say about it in your advertising material. You can also browse this alphabetic list of therapies for information.

    Don't forget that the ASA aren't just interested in evidence for your claims. If you mention serious conditions or diseases (the sort that anyone would expect to be under the care of a doctor) and you don't have a doctor at your clinic or place of treatment then the ASA may want to know more about this. From previous adjudications they tend to take a dim view of people or companies claiming that they can treat a long 'shopping list' of diseases and they have frequently mentioned their concerns about a website failing to encourage people to visit a doctor for essential treatment. A medical disclaimer is not sufficient to get around this and it is generally inadvisable to say anything that could be understood as you offering to diagnose, treat or cure any disease - unless you have robust evidence.

    You may very well think that I am wrong or that your treatment is fantastic, and of course I am easy enough to ignore. But if the evidence doesn't satisfy CAP's requirements for 'robust evidence' then the ASA may well ask you to amend claims made on your website.

    If you decide not to amend your advert (and a number of people are standing their ground and defying the ASA) then a number of potentially annoying things can happen -

    1. Listed on ASA's informally resolved page
    Even if you do amend your ad I think your company will probably still be listed on the 'informally resolved' section of their website. That is what has happened in the past (and precisely why I thought "wouldn't it be great to avoid this by asking people to change their claims before getting the ASA involved?").

    2. ASA investigations and adjudications
    The ASA might undertake a more formal investigation which can result in an adjudication. These are listed on individual pages on the ASA's website, tweeted by the ASA and usually a few others and occasionally picked up by mainstream media, more frequently by science / skeptic bloggers. The adjudication may be upheld (against you) or not upheld (that is, it's actually in your favour) but either way it's on their website.

    3. ASA's list of non-compliant advertisers
    If an adjudication is upheld and you still do not amend your website then the ASA may add you to its list of noncompliant online advertisers. These events are tweeted by the ASA and by a number of other people. To be honest it doesn't look good to people who are searching online for information about your company, though some people seem to treat these citations as a sort of 'badge of honour', and as proof that the ASA is oppressing them in some way.

    There's also quite a high chance that bloggers will write about the listing and a low to medium chance that it will be picked up by the mainstream press. The ASA also do proactive press work, speaking on radio as well as being invited to comment in written pieces too.

    The ASA can take further action against you though. They can take out an advert that is critical of your marketing claims, they can also work with search engines to remove your paid-for advertising. Their adjudications seem to feature prominently in search results too.

    Although the ASA has no legal sanction over you itself (that I'm aware of) their activities and the follow-on results of those (including blogging), might damage your reputation online.

    4. Trading Standards, courts, fines, trading restrictions
    The most annoying thing that the ASA can do though is refer you to Trading Standards. Because there are trading laws and acts in place Trading Standards can use the power of a court to stop you trading, or fine you for continuing to make misleading claims (ie trading unfairly). If you are making claims about curing cancer then you are probably also in breach of the Cancer Act of 1939. It is likely that you will get a fine and nothing more, though if you continue I think the next fine will be larger and I believe that after that (certainly in the case of the Cancer Act) you may be looking at a prison sentence. These are definitely picked up by the mainstream press, bloggers etc.

    The ASA recently announced that they'd strengthened the processes involved in working with Trading Standards: Trading Standards becomes ASA’s legal backstop power (21 November 2013).

    See also
    • Asking for evidence when companies make misleading claims - but whom should we ask? #askforevidence  (22 September 2013)
      This post is basically me deciding not to ask people first, because it's never gone down well in the past! However on reflection while there are certainly cases that I'll just report directly I still want to try out a bit of negotiation first.

      Here's a bit of what I wrote there -

      "A question for fellow skeptic bloggers / activists... and perhaps for 'quacks'
      I've always thought that it would seem to be a kindness to give a company an opportunity to avoid a citation on the ASA's website by seeing if it's possible to resolve the misleading claims before snitching on them.

      However I'm yet to find the right way to do this - and wondered if anyone had any ideas or if we've all agreed to just get on and report it. I wonder if people who are (let's charitably assume they're doing it unwittingly) making misleading claims would rather skeptics 'had a quiet word' before bringing things to the ASA's attention.

      I've tried face to face, telephone conversations and emails but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way of communicating to someone that their advert is misleading without getting their hackles up. Or if there is I've not managed it (and I'm always Britishly polite about it even if they aren't).

      Worse, I feel that I do have to tell them that if they don't change the advert I'm going to report it to the ASA and that just sounds threatening. So, much as I'd like to, I'm afraid I don't bother with the preliminaries and just report the misleading claims."

    Disclaimer
    It's a bit tedious when people assume that anyone who reports misleading health claims is a secret member of some group of people paid by 'Big Pharma', rather than someone who is simply a bit annoyed to see potentially dangerous claims made on the back of poor quality evidence. However I am happy to state that I do not receive any money or other benefits from the pharmaceutical industry either directly or indirectly, nor do I have any stocks and shares in any of the pharmaceutical industries.

    I am not a member of the Nightingale Collaboration (no-one is, they do not have members, though I do read their newsletter and am supportive of their aims and sometimes their campaigns). I am not a member of Sense About Science (don't think they have members either) but I have donated money to them and will happily do so again - not large amounts of money either.

    My interest in taking action on misleading claims arose from reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Guardian column, his blog and the forum he created and coincided with hearing about crazy adverts for diabetes cures when I used to work at the health charity Diabetes UK. As part of my (then) job I received a number of enquiries from people who'd come across miracle cures and wanted to know more about them. I wanted to know how it was possible that such claims could be made, discovered that they couldn't and began reporting them.

    You might also argue that there are more important things to worry about, however I might well be worried about them too, or I might not - it's not actually relevant. I do worry that the pharmaceutical industry has not been transparent about the effects of drugs and I have signed the #AllTrials petition to make it harder for them to keep hidden what they want to keep hidden. It would be great if you did the same. The petition comes from Sense About Science, Ben Goldacre and others that you might not approve of - however the aim of the petition is to make Big Pharma publish ALL of its clinical trial data and not just the bits they like. I think we'd all agree that that's a good idea even if you don't like who's calling for it to happen. Hope so.





    UCL Computer Science opens its doors to the public - 9 Dec 2013

    I have basically churnalised and adapted this from an email sent round to people at UCL :)

    CS Unveiled
    Monday 9 December
    2pm-9pm
    UCL Computer Science Department
    Website:  http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/events/events_listing/cs_unveiled/
    Tickets:  http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cs-unveiled-tickets-9184688651



    Ever wanted to know what goes on in one of the biggest Computer Science departments in the world? What new inventions are emerging? What innovative teaching is taking place? And what Computer Science will be about in the year 2020?

    On Monday 9 December, UCL Computer Science Department opens its doors to the general public, giving an exclusive peek at the cutting edge research and teaching facilities that will change the world in the future. You will discover what makes computers tick and people touch. You will learn how Computer Science will continue to underpin every aspect of our lives.

    UCL Computer Science has a long and impressive history. For example, we were the first to host the Internet outside the US, we have developed photographic technology that transforms every camera image, we have revolutionized online safety and the privacy of data and we are working on the robots of the future. We’re also developing tools to help teachers in the classroom so Computer Science will become mainstream in all primary and secondary schools.

    The event will de-mystify the discipline and showcase the challenges and opportunities. You will have the opportunity to speak with leading researchers, students and innovators in Computer Science. This is your opportunity to see tomorrow's technology today - book now at http://csunveiled.eventbrite.co.uk/ .

    For more details about the day see here http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/events/events_listing/cs_unveiled/. Please send any questions to stephen.marchant@ucl.ac.uk


    What's happening?
    2pm Unveiling CS in Industry
    Find out more about our collaborations with multinatational companies and tech start-ups and hear from students who have rolled out projects to industry.

    3pm CS tours and demos
    To include the CAVE: Immersive Virtual Environments Laboratory for 3-D simulations; Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory; Secure Data Laboratory: a new £1m facility launched this year.

    5pm Unveiling CS Research Impact
    Hear about our cutting edge research through our latest case studies and see the impact it has on society beyond academia. Followed at 6pm with a reception and chance to meet our impact story authors and learn more about their work and how it changes lives.




     

    Monday, 25 November 2013

    OSCHR - Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research - more info needed

    See acronym buster at end.

    I was a bit surprised to discover, three weeks ago, that there was such a thing as OSCHR. It's been around since the Cooksey Report (2006, see also House of Commons Sci & Tech report) and you would think that I might have clocked its existence given that I've been working in a sphere that's at least peripherally related to health research. In fact I even spent some time in the Research Team as a grants administrator.

    True, charity funded research is a bit separate from government funded research but I was still a bit surprised at my ignorance here. I wonder what else I've missed.

    Anyway... as I see it OSCHR oversee the funding (both spend and decisions made) that MRC and NIHR do and it reports back to BIS and Department of Health.

    From the UKCRC there's this, which explains how it all hangs together, but I still feel I need a bit more.

    "In 2006, Sir David Cooksey published a review of the institutional arrangements for the public funding of health research in the UK, which proposed the establishment of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) to act as a central coordinating body for health research. The UK health research budget is now ring-fenced into a single fund, and OSCHR provides strategic oversight of the budgetary division and research strategy of both the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research.

    OSCHR reports to the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills , and includes structures to allow strategic input from the devolved administrations."

    I know who's on the OSCHR board and that it holds the purse strings but how does it make decisions and are there any reports more recent than the 2008 one? Presumably it puts out calls periodically for funding (or is this done via MRC / NIHR?) as a charity would, perhaps in addition to 'apply any time' grants. Does it fund anything through an acronym other than MRC / NIHR? Does it get money from anywhere other than BIS / DH?

    Thank you :)

    Acronym buster
    BIS - Governmental Department of Business, Innovation and Skills
    DH or DoH - Department of Health. I think they lost the 'o' in a reshuffle
    MRC - Medical Research Council (one of 7 research councils, all fall within UKRC)
    NIHR - National Institute for Health Research
    OSCHR - Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research
    UKCRC - UK Clinical Research Collaboration
    UKRC - UK Research Councils




    Sunday, 24 November 2013

    ASA's list of therapies and what may be claimed for them

    This page is likely to be of use to doctors, scientists and skeptic bloggers, complementary health practitioners and consumers.

    It comes from the Committee of Advertising Practice who set the guidelines that the Advertising Standards Authority uses in determining if marketing and advertising material are OK, or not. Since a large number of complaints are made about misleading websites promoting alternative or complementary health treatments the section on 'Therapies' is now quite extensive, reproduced below.

    I like to think of this as a handy list of itemised nonsense. It is not illegal to sell any of these treatments, as far as I'm aware, but it is not fair to make claims for them that cannot be defended.

    In each there are two aspects to consider (1) health-condition-specific concerns and (2) treatment-specific evidence.

    (1) Health-condition-specific concerns
    If an advertiser is making claims about treating really serious health conditions (asthma, cancer, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure etc) but isn't medically trained themselves or doesn't have access to a doctor in their clinic then the ASA is more immediately concerned about the customer not having appropriate medical care. The evidence for the actual therapy becomes a secondary concern in this situation. The ASA has also expressed concern if it thinks that customers may be discouraged from seeking appropriate medical care.

    (2) Treatment-specific evidence
    This covers all the claims that are made for the treatment and the ASA appear to want 'robust evidence' - generally the sort of thing that's published in peer-reviewed journals, ideally a meta-analysis of smaller trials. Evidence from individual small trials is more of a compass bearing than an agreement that you're in a particular place and not generally seen as robust, it depends on the study of course. Testimonials don't count.

    Full alphabetic index: AdviceOnline index
    Searchable index: AdviceOnline database

    The relevant T section including all therapies currently listed, I added Testimonials as a bonus.



    Asking for evidence directly - not sure how well it works: Lyme Regis Reiki

    How I heard about Lyme Regis Reiki
    I've been taking an occasional glance at the #WDDTY (What Doctors Don't Tell You) hashtag on Twitter, and also seeing exchanges between various people and @_wddty (their Twitter account).

    I spotted someone (Lyme Regis Reiki) who'd asked the magazine if they'd published much on reiki then go on to say that they'd had some success in treating someone with epilepsy. They didn't claim that they'd cured epilepsy though, so by itself this isn't much of a big deal.

    They also claimed that there was scientific evidence showing that reiki could help with high blood pressure. Again nothing to get too worried about as they are not claiming that *they* can help with this. But I did ask them for their evidence and was pretty much ignored.

    Agonies over asking for evidence
    I'm not sure what made me ask since I'm of the opinion that it just never comes across well and have written about this before. Whenever you ask someone for evidence, particularly someone that is likely not to take it well, you are putting yourself in a position of (a) aggression and (b) power.

    (a) It can't be nice to be on the receiving end of this, particularly if the line of questioning is graceless and sarcastic but it's extremely difficult to couch the question in polite, professional terms without also sounding a bit threatening. (b) If the marketer doesn't agree to your reasonable demands then presumably you're going to have to follow through and report their website / marketing material to the relevant authority - this can never really come across as anything other than "if you don't amend your website I'll report you to the ASA". I'm not fond of confontation or meannness but if someone's making misleading health claims then this makes me a lot less sympathetic to them.

    There are also issues of what people understand as 'evidence' (clue: not testimonials, not books unless they have references to the primary research literature) and if you are constantly telling someone, or a group of someones, that their quality of evidence isn't up to scratch it's hardly a recipe for harmony.

    But the fact is that making health claims without good evidence can be dangerous. It can lead unwell and vulnerable people to make health decisions that don't help them, may harm them and will likely waste them money too. So I tend to act quite quickly if I see something that concerns me. Since I'd rather not have a fight I generally just get on with reporting the organisation to the ASA or other regulatory authority, depending on the claims made. Probably I should have done that here but I thought I'd give it another go.

    Claims on Twitter mostly harmless
    So far what they've claimed on Twitter hasn't really fallen within the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) remit - they've not claimed that they are doing any of this through their service. However they are tweeting about reiki and have a link in their Twitter bio to the website for their commercial practice so being cautious is no bad idea.

    The only tweet I've received in reply confirmed that the evidence exists if only I do my own research for it. I've seen this type of statement before and I don't understand it - if evidence clearly exists why not point enquirers towards it? Another person also asked them for evidence and was sent a link to a book. To be fair the book might do a very good job of putting the research evidence in context but what I certainly wanted and what the other enquirer wanted was links to the primary research publication. Perhaps we'll remain disappointed.

    Claims on website of concern
    Meanwhile, I am disappointed in some of the content of this person's website which has a bulleted list of health conditions whose symptoms they say can be helped by reiki.

    lymeregisreiki.vpweb.co.uk/ [clickable version]
    Reiki can help improve the symptoms of many illnesses including:

    *Depression
    *Anxiety
    *Insomnia
    *Grief
    *Pain
    *Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and M.E.
    *Fybromyalgia
    *High blood pressure
    *Infertility
    *Low self esteem
    What the ASA and CAP allow reiki sellers to claim, and what they don't
    Unfortunately this type of marketing information isn't permitted by the ASA who are following the guidelines from CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) on reiki, which say that marketers need robust evidence to claim any physical healing effect, which is basically what you're doing if you claim that reiki can help with symptoms.
    "To date, neither CAP nor the ASA has seen evidence to support claims that Reiki can have a physical healing effect on the body.  If marketers claim that it does, they should hold robust evidence (Rule 12.1)."
    The ASA is also concerned when marketers list a bunch of quite serious health conditions that need appropriate medical supervision - if the reiki clinic doesn't have an appropriately qualified doctor or similar on staff then they need to be particularly careful how they refer to conditions that need medical supervision.
    "Marketers should not discourage essential medical treatment for conditions which should be supervised under a suitably qualified healthcare professional (Rule 12.2)."
    Although a half-arsed medical disclaimer doesn't usually wash with the ASA there doesn't appear to be anything encouraging people to check with a proper doctor first on this page.

    In one of their rulings the ASA is very clear on what can be said about blood pressure:
    "We considered that the serious medical conditions referred to in the ad - high blood pressure, stroke and addictions - and the references to the benefit and help provided by Reiki in treating those conditions, could discourage readers from seeking essential treatment for serious medical conditions from a qualified medical practitioner. "

    Next steps
    I'll check in a day or so, if the list of conditions is removed (I've asked them to do this) then that's the end of it as far as I'm concerned. If not, I'll report the site to ASA. I'm aware of at least two other people who are also looking into this, they may well just report anyway.

    There's no guarantee the ASA will do anything about this as they've recently dealt with a large number of reiki and websites promoting related therapies through a master-complaint put in by the Nightingale Collaboration (and I wrote about my contribution here). And let's face it there are far worse examples of misleading advertising, but telling someone you can help with depression and high blood pressure without good evidence is not great in my book.

    In the last week the ASA has reported on its strengthened relationship with Trading Standards to ensure that misleading advertisers are aware of their legal responsibilities. While the ASA cannot fine or imprison anyone (all they can really do I suppose is embarrass them or cause negative PR to appear on search engine results pages) Trading Standards can take action to stop a company from trading as well as work within the Court system (fine for a first offence and so on) under various trading laws and acts.

    ASA rulings against specific reiki sellers
    Comments
    Please don't be boring. If you are going to come here and tell me how I have misunderstood reiki then please include links to real good quality evidence, the sort that would stand up in an ASA investigation. If you do not have this and are just convinced and believe that reiki's great then bad luck because I'm convinced and believe that reiki is just pleasant hand-waving. People who like that sort of thing will undoubtedly feel better after a session of hand-waving, that's not in doubt. But if you want to claim that it can help with serious medical conditions, show me the (good quality) evidence. Testimonials will be ignored, thanks. 




    Here's what I might put in an imaginary film / TV festival of weird British stuff

    When I came across the Belbury Parish magazine I had a bit of an 'aha' moment and understood better all the slightly odd cultural reference points I'd grown up with. It was all a bit weird in the 70s and 80s though I'd probably not really noticed it at the time.
    "There's nothing wrong with men in their forties enjoying shared tastes and nostalgic triggers, but do they have to be so po-faced about it?" The Quietus
    If I was running an imaginary film festival / celebration of television programmes at the BFI here are some of the things I might put in it. Of course there'd be anti-deep-vein-thrombosis breaks every couple of hours otherwise I'd just sit watching the entire thing for a day, lost in a dwam.

    I've put small versions of the YouTube videos below but just click to enlarge / watch them at YouTube.

    The Clangers (1972)
    Narrated by Oliver Postgate (who also narrated the marvellous 'Alchemists of Sound', a 2003 about the history of the Radiophonic Workshop) with music by Vernon Elliott.

    In this episode Tiny Clanger helps get a flying machine to actually fly by using notes from the musical tree proving that you just need the right music to get going.



    See also: Ivor the Engine


    Dr Who (1974-ish)
    Beyond the wonderful Tom Baker and co I remember very little about the actual storylines, it's really just the music - written by Ron Grainer and arranged by Delia Derbyshire, and tweaked by various people throughout the series' life that grabbed me. Mark Ayres explanation, in the Alchemists of Sound, of how it was put together with tape loops is one of my favourite bits of recorded television. It's just after the lead-in at 15m 20s in the third video below.



    See also: Blake's Seven

    Children of the Stones (1976)
    "...widely regarded as the scariest children's television serial ever made. It's chilling theme music, eerie atmosphere sending a generation of terrified youngsters scurrying behind the sofa" - so says the continuity announcer for Stewart Lee's Radio 4 programme about the serial. I never saw it - I found it by accident while I was looking for another kids programme (not found it yet, bunch of children, something to do with an amulet, but it's not Children of the Stones).

    I watched this last Christmas in full, loved it.



    Sherlock Holmes (1984)
    The Devil's Foot (1988)
    Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke head off to Cornwall and while there investigate some mysterious deaths. It involves a rather good bit in which Holmes experiences a sort of botanical acid trip with some colourful cinematography and some strange music, at about 36 minutes in.

    If there ever was a Sherlock prom I think I'd secretly quite like it if they included the theme tune from this series as well.



    Robin of Sherwood (1984)
    I watched this religiously (along with Sherlock Holmes) every week when it was on, usually round at the house of family friends. We loved Michael Praed and the pagan references. And the music of course.



    Box of Delights (1984)
    I actually have no recollection of this at all - I discovered it last year after reading a blog talking about strange programmes from my childhood. Not sure how I can have missed it but it's a little bit magical and has a great theme tune.




    The Moondial (1988)
    I was 18 when this was broadcast so probably getting a bit old for this sort of thing but I loved the opening theme music and secretly wished I was called Araminta ;)



    Alchemists of Sound (2003)
    The only programme I've seen since the 1980s that really captures some of my childhood, thanks to the music of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I saw it when first broadcast and stayed up until 3 in the morning to watch the repeat. Fortunately it's now available on YouTube in high resolution. The highest resolution version I have is 700mb, not sure if that's what's on YouTube (I didn't put it there).




    Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
    Peter Strickland's evocative film about sound effects / Foley. It's wonderful and spooky, set in a 1970s Italian studio while making a film about witchcraft with a lot of women screaming, the on-screen violence is never shown, only through sound effects - it's also very funny. Soundtrack is by Broadcast, the Quietus quote above comes from the article (they like the soundtrack, just complaining about the term 'hauntology'). Toby Jones plays an English sound engineer who goes to the studio to help them with their sound effects, he doesn't have a very lovely time there.







    Wednesday, 20 November 2013

    Diabetes and language used in healthcare and research

    NB. Likely a few more links to be added in, I am working on a slightly uncooperative wifi network at the moment

    I took part in a work-related Twitter chat last night, about avoiding errors in the self-management of diabetes.

    The project I work on, CHI+MED, is looking at ways of making interactive medical devices safer but to do this we don't just study the devices themselves but also the people who use them and the systems that the machines are used in - basically it's a "sociotechnical" model sort of thing.

    People know that they make errors in using machines. Sometimes the system helps them to prevent this, for example I've made good use of the delete key while typing this post, someone had the good sense to add one in to keyboard design. Sometimes people develop their own cunning plans to prevent errors. These are 'resilience strategies' (strategies that make them resilient to error) that are either generated by the person themselves or picked up from colleagues - they're rarely 'in the instruction manual' and they're not part of any official training.

    But they can be really useful - both to other people who are using that medical device, but also to researchers who want to find out the strategies people employ to prevent mishaps.

    And that's what the chat was about - what are the sorts of errors that people with diabetes (particularly Type 1 diabetes who are regularly monitoring their blood glucose levels and adjusting doses of injected insulin) might make and what tricks have they developed to try and avoid making an error.

    One interesting things that came up was the language used by error researchers and how this might conflict with that used by people with diabetes or diabetes researchers. Dom (a colleague on CHI+MED who was co-hosting the Tweetchat with @OurDiabetes) uses terms like slip, mistake and violation which have precise meanings in the context of human factors and ergonomics research.

    One of the people participating in the chat felt that the word violation was a bit of a strong term - it certainly carries negative connotations. Suzette Woodward has a helpful post explaining some of the examples of violations (eg of policies) in a healthcare setting: Working to rule?

    Language used in different disciplines often has the potential to offend, or even just misfire, when heard by other people out of context.

    I remember, when working in a GPs' surgery 10 years ago, reading that "the patient denied having any chest pains" and being amused at the implication that the doctor knew full well that the patient was having chest pains but that the patient wasn't having any of it. That's not what it means of course, it just seemed a strange way to say "the patient reported that he was not experiencing any chest pains" but "deny" carries other meanings to those not immersed in this use of language.

    Similarly there are terms used in healthcare research looking at situations where medication is just not taken. It might be forgotten, lost (stolen?), unusable (damaged) and so not used. Equally it might be intentionally not used.

    The various terms I came across that meant "not taking his or her medication" were non-compliance, non-adherence and non-concordance. All mean more or less the same thing but non-compliant sounds a bit more "naughty diabetic*" and "non-concordance" suggests a certain disagreement between patient and doctor.

    *I do of course mean "naughty person with diabetes" ;-)

    Further reading





    Sunday, 17 November 2013

    The world is divided into people who listen to song lyrics and people who don't

    I've been quite intrigued while investigating (well, 'surfing' web forums really) the differences in how people listen to songs. Ages ago a friend and I joked that we should divide the world into people who do or don't listen to song lyrics. This happened after he'd had a conversation with this then girlfriend who couldn't understand that while he knew the lyrics to songs they didn't have any particular deep meaning for him. I'm the same and really only know the lyrics for 'singing along' purposes, as an alternative to 'la la la'.

    Thanks to this tweet, I recently went along to hear an event celebrating the work of the lyricist Don Black - it'll be broadcast on the BBC around Christmas. For me it was definitely one of the more unusual nights out I've ever been to. I've never been much into musicals or show tunes so it was rather fascinating to hear them belted out by popular singers with lots of sparkle. Some of the tunes were very familiar though I'd have to confess I'd not paid much attention to the words but it was pretty interesting hearing Don talk about how he plays with words and constructs a lyric.

    My response to tunes (whether or not they have lyrics) is remarkably similar to Peter Griffin of Family Guy, here singing a piece of music from one of the Indiana Jones films ;)



    I've no idea why people do or don't listen to lyrics - I'm not much of a fan of poetry either (it seems a very inefficient way to transmit information, though I tolerate it well enough if it rhymes or is funny) and have never quite been able to suspend disbelief when people burst into songs during musical films.

    Presumably it's not a binary thing but I'm definitely in the 'ignore lyrics' camp and have been amused to read others stories of how they came to the realisation that they listen to music in quite a different way from those around them.

    "I almost never listen to lyrics, even in songs I love. I prefer instrumental music in almost all cases. Good lyrics do not suddenly make bad music "good." But, good music with bad lyrics is fine with me - I probably wouldn't even notice that the lyrics are "bad" because I just simply don't care.

    My wife is always talking about how great such and such song is... when I comment that I don't think it is anything special, she tries to convince me of how deep the meaning is, etc. After 12 years, I think she is finally starting to figure out that I just don't hear words in songs.

    A couple of friends of mine were trying to convince me how great Elvis Costello is. I said I just don't like him, he does nothing for me. After forcing me to listen to a whole CD, they were baffled that I still didn't like it - "You don't love the poetry, the storytelling!?" My reply - "You said these were great songs, not great poems. I read poems, I don't listen to them."

    People clearly have different priorities when it comes to musical enjoyment. Some people ONLY listen to lyrics and couldn't care less about the music. And they think we are crazy for not hearing the lyrics." SamsDaddy on The Gear Page forum
    This post "Why Americans don't like jazz", from Dyske Suematru, is rather interesting as it suggests an aspect of language. He is Japanese and pointed out that "...if you don’t speak English, any songs written in English are instrumental music. Singers turn into just another musical instrument."
    "This means that most non-English speakers grow up listening to a lot of instrumental music. In Japan, I would say, it constitutes about half of what people listen to. When they are listening to Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Britney Spears, they have very little understanding of what their songs are about. In this sense, their ears are trained to listen to and enjoy instrumental music, which explains why Jazz is still so popular in Japan."
    Although this sounds perfectly reasonable it certainly doesn't account for the fact that while I listen to music in precisely this way... I've really never liked any jazz music that I've heard (yet).

    The only time I've ever really tried to learn lyrics are for two songs in Welsh, so that I can sing along with them as I like the way they sound. One is 'Lisa Lan' (lyrics) which I first heard in the film Crash, arranged by the film's composer Mark Isham, there's also a nice version sung by Cerys Matthews. Another is 'Gwn mi wn' (lyrics) sung by Gruff Rhys - I've given up trying to pronounce most of that!



    Back to the post by Dyske:
    "My wife and I have always known how differently we listen to music. I tend to entirely ignore lyrics, while she tends to entirely ignore music. We are the two opposite ends of the spectrum in this sense, and it appears that my wife’s side is more common. Many of my friends think that I have a peculiar, or plain bad, taste for music. Whenever I say I like this song or that song, they look at me like I am crazy. Then they go on to explain why it is bad, and I realize that they are referring to the lyrics, not to the music. I then pay attention to the lyrics for the first time, and realize that they are right. The opposite happens often too where many of my friends love a particular song, and I can’t understand what’s good about it until I pay attention to the lyrics."
    This pretty much describes me.

    Fifteen years after hearing a song by Lamb at a party but not remembering what it was called I finally discovered it was 'Lusty'. I was intrigued by the sampled melody and the rhythm and was delighted to find it on YouTube and listen to it a few times. It was only when I watched one of the videos for the song, that had the lyrics, that I noticed it's a little bit saucy. This had passed me by despite several listens, but of course having now clocked the lyrics I can't unhear them ;)

    Here's the version with the lyrics.




    Other things I've found from googling things like "I don't listen to song lyrics"
    I don't listen to song lyrics (forum posts):
    http://personalitycafe.com/book-music-movie-reviews/156650-i-dont-listen-song-lyrics.html

    Does anyone else not listen to lyrics in music?
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100428133801AAoBFUL

    Musicians listen to music differently than other people
    http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/musicians-listen-to-music-differently-than-other-people.177127/





    Saturday, 16 November 2013

    The Shuffle Festival is back at St Clements on Mile End Road

    This summer I went to the Shuffle Festival in the grounds of the former St Clement's psychiatric hospital in Mile End. I'd been going past it on the bus or on foot and always thought it looked pretty interesting so I was really pleased to discover there was to be an event there and a film festival, curated by Danny Boyle.

    St Clement's Hospital
    They're now doing a Winter Shuffle and here are the films and events listed so far. The festival runs from Thursday 5 to Sunday 15 December 2013. All the links below should take you to the ticket buying options for that event and the info was pinched from this page: http://www.tickettailor.com/all-tickets/2749/eb4c/

    The Shuffle Festival's website is at http://www.shufflefestival.com/ and they're on Twitter at @ShuffleFestival

    This is a review, from a Benedict Cumberbatch fansite, of an event at the Summer Shuffle - Danny Boyle and a couple of people from the band Underworld were doing a Q&A alongside a showing of Danny's Frankenstein (filmed from the theatrical production). I saw this (not at Shuffle) and it was incredible. The blog post has a few pictures and videos of the Shuffle site.




    St Clement's Hospital





    Although he's not curating this festival Danny Boyle's doing a couple of Q+As in the list below. Science communicators might be interested in Dr Aarathi Prasad's Q+A about 'virgin birth' (here's a link to a show she did on the Little Atoms podcast) and anyone who likes Jarvis Cocker and Nic Roeg will be delighted at the Saturday 14 Dec evening event.

    For timings visit the Shuffle Festival page and click on "Programme" from the links at the top.

    There will also be theatre events but I don't think the programme's available for that yet.

    Thursday, 14 November 2013

    Calling for the intersection of [teachers] in [London] who teach [Computer Science] & want to know about [CPD courses]

    Where I work (QMUL) teaches Continuing Professonal Development (CPD) courses for teachers who'll be showing their pupils how to do Computer Science 'stuff' including programming and whatnot for the new GCSEs in Computer Science. This is a sort of train the trainers type of thing.

    We've just sent out the latest issue of the cs4fn (Computer Science For Fun) magazine and included a note in it about the courses and a number of teachers have got in touch asking to be kept informed when new courses become available.

    At the moment we're in Week 7 of a 10 week course and we're sorting out dates for the next courses. We've also secured some funding from the Mayor's Office as part of the London Schools Excellence Fund (LSEF) to run courses jointly with King's College London.

    If you're a teacher in London (the courses are ONLY for teachers in London as that's what we're funded for) who would like to learn programming and also how to teach programming then ping me an email on cs4fn @ eecs.qmul.ac.uk and I'll add you to the list.

    We've a blog http://qmcpd.blogspot.co.uk/ which has details of our previous courses and some other bits and pieces.

    Of course we're not the only people who are teaching CPD courses to teachers - Computing At School (CAS) is collating information on programming courses around the UK, at http://community.computingatschool.org.uk/events




    Tuesday, 12 November 2013

    How to search across all tabs in an Excel workbook spreadsheet


    Tweet the information in this post.


    1. Excel sheets
    2. Google sheets

    1. Excel sheets
    Now that I know how to do this I can't believe the time I've spent repeating the process individually, searching within each tab. Shameful.

    Thanks to @Richard_Black and @marklardner for explaining this.

    When you've got your spreadsheet open and want to look for the existence of a search-string (I was looking for Computer Science or Computing, so used comput as that would find both) do something a bit like the following.

    PC users - Ctrl+F brings up the Find menu
    Mac users - Command+F brings up the Find menu

    1. Ctrl+F or Command+F to bring up the Find menu
    It looks like this on my version












    2. Click on the Options button and it will look like this- where it says 'Within: Sheet' (the default setting), change this to Workbook. Then you can bounce through the tabs pressing enter (identical to clicking 'Find Next') as you go.















    2. Google sheets
    Not that different, see picture series below.

    Wait for the sheet to load, if you don't and press Ctrl+F you're searching 'in browser' and you want to be searching 'in sheet(s)' so have patience.

    Once loaded press Ctrl+F and you'll see a dialog box [1] appear near the top right of your page (if you see one appear bottom left of your browser window [1a] refresh the page and wait patiently, that's the wrong one). Click on the three vertical dots to bring up the options and choose from the options.

     Type in your word or phrase of interest and select the 'This sheet' option [2], to adjust it...
     ...to 'All sheets' [3] so that you search across the whole document, not just the current tab. Once you've entered a search term the 'Find' link will become active, keep clicking it to bounce through the results.
     When it's found everything it can look out for this notice, in [4].




    Sunday, 10 November 2013

    Guy Farley wrote the lovely music for this Vodafone advert

    It must be a wonderful thing to be able to write a lively piece of music that expresses a thought or idea to match something happening on screen, and for it to fit that film while be pleasing to the ear. And to last for only a minute. Delightful economy :)

    I'm not one who switches over during adverts as there's always the hope I'll hear a nice bit of music (I've previously blithered on about wonderful music in adverts on more than one occasion - see below) and although I might not be paying much initial attention to an ad, after a few incidences of exposure to it I start to notice it.

    There's a bit in the TV version of this advert where some trumpets make a very pleasing sound, in the example below (which is longer) it's delayed a little bit but still there. I just found that I kept noticing this advert and looking up at it every time I heard it. I've now found out that it's written by Guy Farley, so hooray for him and his composering skills :)

    I did ask Vodafone who composed the piece and they replied that it was "composed by our agency". Well... no, Guy Farley did it, why on earth not give him credit (or even give the agency credit and I'd have contacted them).


    Vodafone 4G - Lost in Entertainment from GUY FARLEY on Vimeo.

    Edit 2 September 2016: I think he won (in 2014) an award for this advert (he certainly won one for his music for an M&S ad)


    Recently I went along to hear Clint Mansell talk about his work in film composing - he was interviewed at the BFI by someone from BAFTA, an excellent interview. The interviewer introduced the event by highlighting that in the world of film often the directors and actors get to talk about their involvement but BAFTA want to make it easier for people to hear from screenwriters, costume and wardrobe folk, sound designers and composers - I've been to a few BAFTA events and enjoyed many talks from composers, so I am hugely behind this.

    Anyway, hooray for Guy Farley - this is his unofficial website. I'm afraid I'd never heard of him before today but will now look out for his films etc.

    Edit... later that same day
    I'm watching Downton Abbey and the advert appeared. I'd forgotten I had subtitles on (don't need them, just like them) and looked up to see it explain what the music was doing :)

    The subtitles (which I actually picked up on 14 February 2014) are "suspenseful strings" as the ad (this is the 30s version, not the one above) starts, then "epic soundtrack builds" and finally "triumphant fanfare". Hats off to the subtitlers.

    Edit 24 December 2013
    I have just found this lovely ~4m video showing the recording of the music used in a drinks commercial from a few years ago. It looks like it's recorded in the beautiful Lyndhurst Hall at Air Studios, annoyingly not open to the public ;) I'd never heard of the studios until this year.  I follow on Twitter the people who write the music for the television series Sherlock and they occasionally post photos of the place.



     

    More on adverts and music


    Saturday, 9 November 2013

    Advertising Standards Authority adjudications, sanctions and UK Passport Net

    This morning on Radio 4's Moneybox I heard about a website (uk-passport.net) which comes up prominently when people search for anything to do with getting or renewing a UK passport.

    The site helps people fill in a passport form and charges them around £40 for doing so, however this money doesn't go towards the cost of getting a passport. In short it's much cheaper just to go to the Post Office or be more careful when searching online and make sure you use the official GOV.UK website.

    While the service isn't illegal or anything like that, after all it's perfectly OK to pay someone to help you with something such as getting an accountant to help you manage your finances, the issue with this website - and which led to 14 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) resulting in an adjudication - is that it implied that it was official and people believed it.

    The programme spoke to consumers who'd fallen foul of the website and who handed over money that they needn't have, it also spoke to the communications director at the ASA who outlined what could be done to prevent other consumers from being misled.

    Skeptic bloggers often blog about the websites or other marketing materials of organisations that have made claims that may be misleading. Part of the reason for this is that it provides an alternative view that (hopefully) people searching for relevant keywords will come across. The intention is to mildly alter the Google landscape a little bit.

    The ASA spokesperson was challenged that there didn't seem to be that much that they could do that would actually solve the problem. The ASA does have quite a few options, but it can be a drawn-out process.

    They said that they'd asked UK Passport Net to remove the term 'official' and at time of recording this hadn't been done (I checked, it's still there) despite the sanction being published two months ago (see link above). There are a number of companies that dig their heels and in and don't respond to the ASA's requests, to the point that the ASA has a special page of "non-compliant online advertisers" which lists the repeat offenders. People involved in the alternative therapy world are often reluctant to co-operate with the ASA, or Trading Standards, and some have even tried to band together to fight this - arguing that the ASA has no particular mandate to tell them what they can and can't say.

    Here's what steps the ASA can and does take - firstly, work with the advertiser to try and resolve the matter. If that doesn't work they can add the advertiser to the non-compliant list. This seems to show up prominently in Google search results (or perhaps it's just on mine). If there's still no joy then they can do several of the following (a) take out an advert themselves flagging up the misbehaviour (b) work with search engines to remove paid-for adverts (c) report the company to Trading Standards.

    See more at Online Sanctions.

    All of these take time and effort - at the time of writing Google still hasn't removed UK Passport Net's listing but it may well do so soon. If the company removes 'official' from their ad then it can remain.

    In the meantime, blogging about stuff in the hope that it might show up in Google's search results is perhaps a decent strategy.

    Also, here's the official GOV.UK site to access passport information
    https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad


    See also 
    These websites discuss concerning behaviour from a cancer clinic in Texas which has recently had its inspection reports published, it really doesn't look very good. So far there appear to have been no legal sanctions but through the blogging efforts of doctors, scientists and skeptics anyone searching for information about the clinic now will most definitely find pages that are critical of the clinic's activities.

    FDA Releases Burzynski Clinic Inspection Notes
    "The information and its implications, should they hold up, are absolutely damning for the Burzynski Clinic and especially for the lead researcher, Stanislaw Burzynski. Those of us who have been researching this topic have known about these findings for a long time, from almost the moment it could be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request (6 months before it appeared on the FDA website), but we have been careful to not release it through blogs. We wanted to see that it got as high profile a release as possible. Of course, the cat is out of the bag in a big way, and so I want to let you know what these documents say."

    Writing About Houston Cancer Quack Dr. Burzynski’s Antineoplastons
    "Skeptics can do many things to naturally boost the Google ranking of good information so that it arrives in the hands of people who need it, patients and their families."