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Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

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The diary: June 2012 – May 2013

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This is a story of everyday researchers and teachers, struggling to do their job in a world pervaded by management bollocks.

This page is a continuation of the diary that started in June 2007, with the demise of UCL’s Pharmacology department (for the time being).

It continued from June 2008 to May 2009 on a separate page.

From June 2009 to May 2010

From June 2010 to May 2011

From June 2011 to May 2012

Now we continue from June 2012.

Links. Most items on this page can be linked directly by appending the date to the page link. For example http://www.dcscience.net/?page_id=4473#020612 takes you directly to the entry for 2 June 2012.

2 June 2012. My son, Andrew, phoned fron the local accident and emergency department. He’d dislocated his shoulder throwing a cricket ball with his right arm. He’s already had an operation on his right shoulder three years ago in Aberdeen, and it almost put him out of cricket for good. He said it was agony, until the joint as re-located with the help of nitrous oxide and midazolam. He was seen very quickly thanks to our marvelous NHS.

It infuriates me that our present governnent is in the process of selling off the greatest institution that this country has ever produced. Andrew Lansley seems to think that waiting times of 6 hours in A&E are quite acceptable. A colleague had to wait a bit over 6 hours at UCLH recently before they admitted a friend who was having a psychotic episode and was suicidal. That’s bad.

Here is the X-ray (Andrew’s iPhone picture of computer screen).

AC x-ray


I guess all high level competitive sport is dangerous. These pictures of him bowling in the Young-MCC vs Esher match (17 April 2004, age 19) shows the enormous strain it must put on shoulders. (more cricket pictures here).


June 3 2012. Hmm only four chicks in our titbox this year. I hope they survive the neighbourhood cat which patrols the area. And they don’t freeze to death in what passes for summer.


June 7th 2012 I went, rather against my better judgement, to a UCL Crucible meeting Should human beings enhance themselves?.Its was part of UCL Crucible Centre’s Café Scientifique group, which is part of the UCL “Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing” I wrote about this initiative when I gave a talk there myself. My conclusion was that most of it was fluffy, if well-meaning, sociobollocks, and that most of the projects it was supporting were a waste of money. Nevertheless, I went again, in the hope that things had improved. They haven’t. This was quite the worst waste of time so far. The strap line was “Human Enhancement. Scientists are starting to say it’s no longer just science fiction”. We were issued with packs of playing cards, each of which described some sort of science fiction which might, but probably won’t, come to pass in the future. Some of it was downright inaccurate: for example, the description of the alleged beneficial effects of electrical brain stimulation was more worthy of the Daily Mail than of UCL. Towards the end we were asked to group the cards into similar themes. At this point, I left, exasperated. We were never told who was running this show. I just hope it didn’t cost much.

June 19 – 22 2012. Went to Munich for Bert Sakmann’s 70th birthday fest Took trains the whole way. Anything to avoid Heathrow. On return, both German trains ran late. I was told they were being privatised along the lines of the failed Thatcher experiment. The meeting was great fun, though I don’t think anyone there was very interested in single ion channels. That’s hardly surprising since Sakmann has not been interested in single channels since our paper in 1985. There was a lot about synaptic transmission and lovely 3D reconstructions of neurones, but not enough functional conclusions for my taste. It looks beautiful, but it’s stamp-collecting, and that’s a necessary phase in most subject areas. Here are a few pictures of Munich.

sakmanns at 70

Bert and Christiane Sakmann at 70, at their Munich house

June 25 – 29 2012. Our matrix algebra for single channels course again. This was the 10th time we’ve run it. It was started in 2003 after I asked the then head of the Graduate School why they didn’t run courses with real intellectual content. He asked be to devise one. I didn’t think that it would be possible to teach matrix algebra to the necessary standard in five days, but I was wrong. Thanks to intensive tutorials with Mathcad every afternoon, most people end up not being scared of, and being able to evaluate, the equation on the mug. And some follow how to derive such equations. We no longer advertise the course because enough people ask to come without advertisement. In fact every year we have to turn people away. It works only because of the skill and hard work of Lucia Sivilotti, Remigijus Lape and Andrew Plested. Nobody gets paid, but it’s fun. Course picture coming soon.


June 28 2012 Went to the Department of Education, with Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association.. The idea was to prevent Mr Gove approving state funding of Maharishi Transcendental Meditation schools. Who could have imagined such a visit was necessary? The three of us were faced with seven civil servants. Not a single one of them had a science background. In the event, no TM schools were funded in this round. But another school run by young earth creationists was approved. It’s illegal to teach such nonsense as part of science, but it can be taught as part of religion. They also approved another Steiner school, despite a great deal of evidence about the barmy things they teach kids,

The naivety of the Department of Education is mind-boggling. They seem to think that all is well if the school ticks a box saying that they won’t teach what they believe,

July 4 2012. Went to Treasury building to hear Mark Henderson talk about his book, The Geek Manifesto. Mr Gove, who referred to “Newton’s laws of thermodynamics” (!) clearly needs it. Then tried to walk down Horseguards Parade to the Royal Society soirée but it was already blocked by Olympics. Took ages even by taxi.

July 5 -14. 2012 Went to the Gordon Research Conference on Ion Channels, for the first time in many years. It was at Mount Holyoke College, one of the Seven Sisters womens’ colleges west of Boston. Its campus is roughly the size of Wales. So are its fees.

The enjoyment was reduced by temperatures around 39° C. It was spolied even more by an email from Chris Woollams of CANCERactive, informing me that he was going to sue me for defamation for words that I’d quoted from another blog. The post in question has been taken down for now, on the advice of lawyers. The panic was ameliorated when I had, within a very short time, offers of help from Simon Singh, and from the lawyers who represented him, and won against the BCA. Watch this space for developments.

The meeting was very good (though some people still don’t understand the binding-gating problem). Here are a few pictures, The last is the best, a muskrat swimming in a creek just below the eating place. A raccoon was spotted swimming too, but no photo of that.


July 18, 2012. Went to the heart of the City of London to the excellent lawyers about the defamation suit. Meanwhile, unasked by me, Sense about Science raised enough money to cover the legal fees. Some of the messages were just lovely.

July 27, 2012 Like most of the rest of the world I sat up to watch the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. Like many, I’ve had reservations about the Olympics. The commercialism and the nationalism are noxious. Sport is something to do for fun (if you want to). To see it turm into a big and rather corrupt business is not to my taste. But the opening ceremony was breathtaking. Sheer genius. Surprises, gasps of wonder and laughter in quick succession.

Needless to say, I thought that the celebration of the NHS was wonderful. So did my friends on Twitter: the digs at Mitt Romney and Andrew Lansley flooded in. An arial shot of the stadium was quickly exploited


The programme notes ended perfectly.

“But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.”

If, on the other hand, you want to burst a blood vessel, try YouTube: “An imbedded [sic] commercial for socialized government run health care in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics” from the USA. And it was fun watching the reaction of Twitter to noxious Tory MP, Aidan Burley.

Then have a good laugh at the hilarious spoof version of the mayor’s welcome speech.

19 July to 30 August . Margaret had elective operation on painful left foot. It was Grade II tibialis posterior insufficiency, and needed calcaneal osteotomy and tendon transfer of FDL. Followed by xix weeks in plaster, the first two weeks with no weight-bearing, so she had to hop everywhere on a walking frame.

M in plaster

2 -5 September, 2012.

Went to Finland, to give two talks to the Finnish Graduate School of Neuroscience (FGSN) and the Doctoral Program Brain & Mind (B&M)’ The first was Partial agonists: single channels reveal a new mechanism. I don’t think the students were mostly involved with single molecule biophysics. But they all seemed to appreciate the second talk, The corruption of science by managerialism and quackery.

The meeting was held in Aulanko,  Hämeenlinna (100 km north of Helsinki, and the birthplace of Sibelius). On the way back, we spent a morning in Helsinki. Margaret is out of plaster cast, but has to wear the air boot for another three weeks. Here are some pictures (click for album).


Hotel terrace, overlooking Lake Vanajavesi, 

10 – 17 September, 2012. Holiday in the West country,. Some highlights were a visit to Andy Lewis of Quackometer fame. Then to Melanie Byng (@thetismurcurio), co-author of three brilliant posts on the mystic barmpot, Rudolf Steiner. A talk at Dartington Skeptics in the Pub, at Dartington Hall, near Totnes. Devon, the very heart of woo-land. Actually it was Skeptics in the organic tea room. Then on to Plymouth for my usual two talks at the Marine Biological Association. From there, first visit to the Eden project, followed by night in Cornish village of Fowey. And back via Dunster (at north edge of Exmoor) and Avebury (Wiltshire), home of magnificent stone circles.

Here are some pictures (click picture for album)


And here is a bit of sibling love. Short movie (taken on Galaxy S phone) of children of Joanne and Andy Lewis.

18 September 2012 I arrive home to two more rather silly rows about censorship. The whole virtue of the web is that it can’t be censored.

First the Kate Middleton topless pictures. Thay are terrible quality, no doubt because they were taken from a mile away by some nasty little paparazzo. But why not just ignore them? What’s the big deal? The Windsors are paid very handsomely to sustain a monarchy that is useful only as part of the tourist trade. My sympathy is limited.

Kate M

Then more wars about who has the best sky fairy. It seems to me simply outrageous that you can’t make fun of any religion (or any other belief) without some maniac trying to kill you. The Charlie Hebdo site, www.charliehebdo.fr/, has apparently been taken down by Pakistini hackers, but the picture on their front cover is easily available.


8 October 2012. Went to launch party for Ben Goldacre’s new book, Bad Pharma (my review here). It was in a beautiful book shop, Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street. Big bonus was that I met his mum and dad, among many other interesting people.

9 October 2012. A very sympathetic talk with David Price (vice-provost research) about UCL’s new research governance rules, partly inspired by the problems uncovered in Bad Pharma. I was surprised to find that UCL had no rules against ghost-writing. Perhaps they will soon. Judging by the shocking events in Sheffield, they certainly should be. See also A conversation with a ghost writer.

11 – 12 October 2012. I was happy to be invited by Khashayar Pakdaman to give two talks at the Institut Jacques Monod (Université Paris Diderot). The first was “”How useful is the word ‘allosteric’ in understanding partial agonism?”. The answer, in brief, is that it isn’t very useful (see forthcoming piece in the Journal of General Physiology). I’d expected to be lynched for saying this in the spiritual home of Jacques Monod, but it turned out to be a class for a small number of students rather than a general seminar. In the evening it was wonderful to eat with Phillipe Ascher and JacSue Kehoe. At the age of 76 they both still spend all day doing experiments in the lab. They are wonderful scientists.

For the second talk we got driven out into the country where L’École Polytechnique is now located. The talk was “The corruption of science by managerialism, bibliometrics and quackery”. Again the talk was part of a course (on evidence-based medicine) rather than a general seminar, but there was a good number of students there and the discussion was long and lively. After that, we had a little time to enjoy Paris, before taking the Eurostar home. It was a delight to visit again the marvelous market in Rue Mouffetard and to discover that the Brûlerie des Gobelins is still there (though the new management has destroyed its atmosphere). There is a lot to be said for working at École normale supérieure. Old friend Boris Barbour was discovered having lunch in the Bistrot Mouffetard.

Here are a few pictures.

patisserie 2012

15 November 2012. Back to my alma mater, the University of Leeds to give a talk. I was invited by David Miller of the University of Leeds, Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics. The campus has changed enormously since I was there (1956 – 1960). It’s a concrete jungle. It was disappointing (but not surprising, to learn that the academic staff common room has all but vanished. Like so many other universities, there is essentially no central place where people from different departments can meet and talk.

At UCL we still have the Housman Room where one can meet historians, mathematicians and physicists (though we also have an Estates Manager who is determined to remove it). The picture shows my Friday cappucino -a jokey tradition made by Russland, the Housman’s best barista (the red army symbol alludes to his upbring in Latvia).


The talk seemed to go down well. The large medical lecture theatre was almost full. I was told that there was at least one dean there (though sadly the vice-chancellor wasn’t). On the way up, on the train, I picked up the perfect quotation, from Times Higher Education.


“Talking about organisational effectiveness, she said: “We can reframe the way we define it, so that it’s not viewed as simply foregrounding cost savings, but instead a much more complex interplay of influences and drivers that facilitate opportunities for enhancing the ways in which we manage movement.” ”

Dawn Freshwater, pro vice-chancellor for staff and organisational effectiveness at the University of Leeds.

THE commented that this ” really stood out for sheer nebulousness”. I used it to start my talk, working on the principle that starting with an insult to your hosts is a good way to get people’s attention.

16 November 2012. On the way up on the train, I got an email from Paul Jump, from Times Higher Education. He wanted a comment on the bizarre news that the Privy Council had granted a royal charter to the College of Chiropractors. This is a kick in the teeth for every scientist and medic in the country and deeply insulting to Simom Singh. This is what I sent him.

i can only presume that it happened because of deep scientific illiteracy in Dept of Health, compound by equal illiteracy in Privy Council. Lord president of Privy Council, Nick Clegg, seems to be as dimwiited as Jeremy Hunt when it comes to medicine. It’s a bad day for reason. But i doubt it will bring them much business. The description “royal” is associated with bad medical advice already.  If i want advice on the winner of the 2.30 at Sandown i might ask a royal. If I were ill I’d ask a doctor.

This got quoted in Times Higher, though for some reason the reference to Nick Clegg was removed.  The grammar in the last bit is imperfect (the train was drawing into Leeds station as I was writing it). The comment about “royal” being associated with bad medical advice was preceded by “Referring to the Prince of Wales’ support for homeopathy”. I didn’t say that, so I left a comment to explain that the royal problem is far from being restricted to the Prince of Wales.

“the Duke of York (later King George VI) who became president of the Hospital in 1924. Following his accession to the throne in 1936, the Hospital was honoured by the Patronage of His Majesty The King gaining its ‘Royal’ prefix in 1947. Subsequently, on her accession to the throne, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the Hospital’s Patron.”

Of course I can’t be sure of how much royal influence is exerted on public policy that because, in this open constitutional democracy of ours, all such influences are hidden very strictly from the citizens.

Much though I’d like to blog this, it has all been said by Andy Lewis, who was quick of the mark with The Royal College of Vestigial Victorian Fairground-Mystic Bone Setters.

19 November 2012. Temper, temper!

I see that a recent meeting of UCL’s Academic Board (24th Octoner) made it into the local newspaper. I’d heard already from two different sources that the provost’s normally unruffleable exterior had broken down, to the extent that he actually shouted at two members of the Board, one of them being a student representative. This does seem a bit unseemly. UCL’s Council has, I believe, been sent a report.

I know how they felt, having been at the receiving end of such treatment at a meeting of the Academic Board in May 2007. I wrote an account of that, because I had never before been treated with such discourtesy.

25 November 2012

The UK Science Blog prize night, at the Penderel’s Oak pub in High Holborn (site of the very first London Skeptics in the Pub).

This prize is a venture of the newly formed Good Thinking Society. The idea originated because, although there are lots of book prizes, there’s no real equivalent for blogs. Given that many blogs now have far bigger readerships than books, that seemed odd.

I was delighted when this blog made it onto the short list of ten and even more delighted when it got joint first prize, alongside Suzi Gage’s blog.

David Colquhoun and Suzi Gage Joint Winners of 2012 UK Science Blog Prize

Good Thinking is delighted to announce the results of the 2012 UK Science Blog Prize.


This sort of thing doesn’t happen often, so I storified the following 24 hours of my Twitter stream (warning: boring). People were very kind, but perhaps nicest of all was from my friend Andy Lewis (whose Quackometer blog should probably have been the winner). This one made my day.


This is co-winner, Suzi Gage, doing her 5 minute talk.


And the excellent Dorothy Bishop.


Follow up

Some of the talks were recorded and can be heard on Pod Delusion.

The Science Blog prize has been reported in Times Higher Education, and in The Netherlands. But I can’t help noticing the lack of any report on the UCL web site, in the provost’s newsletter, or in the weekly dose of PR in TheWeek@UCL. The absurd attempts of PR to suppress even the mild and occasional criticisms of UCL policies found in the blog make them look rather pathetic. Co-winner, Suzi Gage, got better treatment by her university. But it did get a brief mention in the SLMS bulletin (SLMS is the School of Life and Medical Sciences).

Aha a rather nice item appeared in UCL News eventually (they quoted Andy Lewis’s comment), so only the provost’s newsletter ignored it. Hey ho.

Monday 10 December, 2012. The name of the new provost has been announced (I was alerted by a phone call from my cyberstalker, Svetlana, from Samara, Russia, even before it appeared on twitter). It’s Michael Arthur, at present vice-chancellor of Leeds. As it happened, I’d written to him recently after I’d heard that Leeds was firing people using criteria almost as crude as Queen Mary, and I got a nice reply. But he didn’t come to my talk in Leeds (let’s hope he doesn’t bring Dawn Freshwater with him). I can’t say whether or not the vote of no confidence in him, in 2009, was justified or not (though I hear that he was asked about it at his interview). He is unusual among vice-chancellors in having been to an Essex comprehensive school before doing medicine in Southampton (where, it seems, I taught him). Let’s hope he does well here.

Monday 10 December, 2012. The name of the new provost has been announced (I was alerted by a phone call from my cyberstalker, Svetlana, (from Samara, Russia) even before it appeared on twitter). It’s Michael Arthur, at present vice-chancellor of Leeds. As it happened, I’d written to him recently after I’d heard that Leeds was firing people using crireria almost as crude as Queen Mary, and I got a nice reply. But he didn’t come to my talk in Leeds (let’s hope he doesn’t bring Dawn Freshwater with him). I can’t say whether or not the vote of no confidence in him, in 2009, was justified or not (though I hear that he was asked about it at his interview). He is unusual among vice-chancellors in having been to an Essex comprehensive school before doing medicine in Southampton (where, it seems, I taught him). Let’s hope he does well here.

31 January 2013. Went to a meeting on the “Changing Role of NICE”. It was organised by Westminster Health Forums, and so was too expensive for humans. But I managed to persuade them to let me in for nothing. Mostly it as pretty boring. But I did meet some interesting people. One was Lord Kakkar, a UCL based grandee. He has failed to answer subsequent emails. More helpfully, I spoke to Rachel Flowers, Deputy Director of Public Health, Strategic Commissioning for the London Borough of Newham. She told me that one of her first actions had been to stop commissioning quackery. The really big thing was getting the chance to meet David Haslam. who will replace Michael Rawlins whom I have known for many years (though I have been critical occasionally). Haslam seemed like a good person. But I would say that, because (to my astonishment) he said he read this blog.

5 February 2013. Met with a group from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), with a group from the Nightingale Collaboration. The PSA is replacing the CHRE, which showed its ineffectiveness over the GCC complaints affair. One organisation that comes under the PSA is the Health Professions Council (HPC) which idiots in the Department of Health have given the responsibility of regulating magic medicine. Of course they won’t be able to do it properly: the result of trying to regulate nonsense is inevitably nonsense. One thing I learned is that they have already watered down the HPC’s requirements for registration. The HPC said that jobs that hoped to register with them had to “practise based on evidence of efficacy”. They had, already, decided to brush that aside, with a shocking display of double standards. But now the requirement has gone altogether.

This is what the PSA says about evidence now.

Standard 6: the organisation demonstrates that there is a defined knowledge base underpinning the health and social care occupations covered by its register or, alternatively, how it is actively developing one. The organisation makes the
defined knowledge base or its development explicit to the public.

The Professional Standards Authority recognises that not all disciplines are underpinned by evidence of proven therapeutic value. Some disciplines are subject to controlled randomized trials, others are based on qualitative evidence.
Some rely on anecdotes. Nevertheless, these disciplines are legal and the public choose to use them. The Authority requires organisations to make this clear to the public so that they may make informed decisions

Does this mean that alternative medicines will all have to bear a prominent notice saying “the evidence that this works is based on anecdote only”? You can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t.

10 February 2013. Went to hear Martin Rees talk to the NCUP. The NCUP does not seem to have much influence and the audience was disappointingly small. The talk, however, was superb. Martin Rees is a hero.

27 February 2013.. It’s a danger of blogging that you get asked to comment on things about which you aren’t an expert. Sometimes I turn down such invitations. Quite often though, all you need is a knowledge of how to interpret data, and a bit of ability with Google.  Alex Renton wanted some advice on bread, for an article that he wrote for the Daily Mail. The unabridged version, “Is ‘health bread’ a scam?“. which appears on his blog is, as so often, much better. It’s even funny as well as informative.

I was even more surprised to be asked to be a keynote speaker at the Festival of Public Health UK. That should be fun.

7 March 2013 Went to a CCG board meeting, I got involved with local NHS through a local group of 38 Degrees supporters. The huge top-down redisorganisation forced on us by Andrew Lansley is chaotic, and heartbreaking. Whether or not the damage inflicted by the coalition is reversible remains to be seen.

13 March 2013 Went to the HealthWatch annual lecture, Robin Ince chaired excellent talks by Michael Rawlins (chair of NICE) and UCL’s Steve Jones. It was a lot of fun. Rawlins greeted me like an old friend, despite some disagreements about a couple of NICE guidelines (I’ve known him for a long time). And I met again David Haslam who will soon have Rawlins’ job. I think he’ll be good.

19 March 2013. Off to Edinburgh to talk (again) to the student pharmacological society the title was "Bad Pharma An insight into myths and wrongdoings in pharmacology". It wasn’t (mostly) about quacks, but about the betrayal of science by people who should know better. Like the MHRA, the Department of Health, Big Pharma, and even the Briish Pharmacological Society (which paid my train fare). I went both ways on the Caledonian sleeper train. the best way to travel. A tweet the next morning described talk as "hilarious and thought-provoking", so at least one person was happy. Thank you very much.

In the Houae of Lords today, Dick Taverne asked a question on the basis of my investigation into disgraceful behaviour in the Department of Health.

"To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the Department of Health removed from the NHS Choices website the advice that there was no good quality evidence to show that homeopathy was more successful than placebo."

The response of Earl Howe, recorded in Hansard, was evasive and inaccurate.


20 March 2013. Had lunch with a final year medical student who’d written to me because he was, quite rightly, indignant that he’d been given a placement with a GP who had preached the value of acupuncture. Worse, the GP persuaded NHS patients to pay £100 for private acupuncture from himself. That’s a plain case of financial incentive to prescribe useless treatments. It’s exactly the sort of thing the NHS was set up to avoid. And it’s what is returning, thanks to Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act. Watch this space for more details.

22 March 2013. Another talk show gig, this time BBC Radio Sussex & Surrey. It was particularly enjoyable because it was about what’s happening to the NHS, something about which I feel quite passionately. The second joy was that the other guest was Roy Lilley. Follow him on Twitter @RoyLilley and sign up for his excellent newsletter.

Listen to the interview here

23 March 2013.

A tweet said "The best letter. Ever"

The tweeter didn’t know where it came from and web searches reveal neither the letter nor any likely candidate for the identity of Nick Lyon.

Does anyone know its origin? My guess is Private Eye.

Whoever Nick Lyon may be, he’s spot on, in my opinion.

The behaviour of the Prince of Wales is not only profoundly unconstitutional, It is also usually wrong.


12 April 2013. A constant theme here has been the utter ineffectiveness of regulators. This is particularly bad when it comes to regulation of alternative medicine, but it is equally bad in higher education. The Quality Assurance Agency simply doesn’t guarantee quality. Today a correspondent sent me a mail drawing attention to yet another case of useless regulation. It is from an article about antibiotic resistance, by David M. Livermore [download pdf]. He was, until 2011, Director of the UK Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring and Reference Laboratory (ARMRL).

“Which returns us to the broader issue of regulation, which has grown so much in so many areas in these 14 years: that it so often concerns itself with the detail and not with central and existential risk. At a small local level, what strikes me about the many visits that ARMRL has enjoyed from Clinical Pathology Accreditation and other regulators is the extent to which these have concerned themselves with process (‘Is there a standard operating procedure?’, ‘Does the laboratory have monthly meetings?’, ‘Do the minutes have action points?’, ‘Is there a completion date for these actions’, ‘Does the laboratory have records of staff leave’, etc.).

Never once has any inspector taken a handful of our reports along with the raw MIC data used to generate them and asked the seminal question: ‘Do these reports, and their interpretations of resistance mechanisms, represent a valid interpretation of the results?’ This worries me. On a bigger scale, and away from microbiology, the Financial Services Authority fined banks that allowed old ladies to open savings accounts without the required money laundering checks, but missed the fact these same banks faced existential risk as a result of reckless lending and trading in securities based on pooled mortgages of doubtful (but disguised) quality. Am I alone in seeing a similarity to the regulatory process where perfection is sought in the details of antibiotic trials and their interpretation, but at the hazard that we will run out of antibiotics against critical pathogens?"

That’s just typical of very many regulators. They not only don’t assure quaility. Too often they endorse bad quality.

19 April 2013. The Daily Mail is definitely improving (sometimes). Femail carried an article about “cupping” with prominent pictures of bare backs of "celebs". They’d phoned me a couple of days before.and used some of the material "‘It’s utterly implausible and just another ingenious way of relieving the rich and gullible of their money". Edzard Ernst got the last word, in fine style.": ‘There is no good evidence that cupping helps any condition — except the dreaded condition of celebrities craving attention".

21 April 2013. Well, who says the mainstream media don’t matter any longer. The Observer ran a whole page interview with me as part of their “Rational Heroes” series. I rather liked their subtitle [pdf of article]

“Professor of pharmacology David Colquhoun is the take-no-prisoners debunker of pseudoscience on his unmissable blog”

It was pretty accurate apart from the fact that the picture was labelled as “DC in his office”. Actually it was taken (at the insistence of the photographer) in Lucia Sivilotti’s lab.

Photo by Karen Robinson.

The astonishing result of this was that on Sunday the blog got a record 24,305 hits. Normally it gets 1,000-1,400 hits a day . between posts, fewer on Sunday, and the previous record was around 7000/day


A week later it was still twice normal. It remains to be seen whether the eventual plateau stays up.

I also gained around 1000 extra followers on twitter, though some dropped away quite soon, and 100 or so people signed for email updates. The dead tree media aren’t yet dead. I’m happy to say.

24 April 2013. Well, well. The Patients’ Guide to Magic Medicine got cited in the House of Lords.

"Herbal medicine: giving patients an unknown dose of an ill-defined drug, of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety."

It was cited by Lord (Dick) Taverne in a debate on the "regulation" of herbal medicine in a vain attempt to knock some scientific sense into the heads of their Lordships. That task is, sadly, futile.

16 May 2013

The post about Prince Andrew produced a bigger reaction than I expected. It was covered by most UK newspapers, and everything from the Kashmir Times to Have I Got News For You. The coverage is summarised in the Follow-up (including a video clip of HIGNFY).

15 May 2013

Went to a party to celebrate the new Defamation Act. It was in the Penderel’s Oak pub in High Holborn, four years after the meeting to plan the campaign to change the UK’s appalling status as libel capital for every foreign criminal. There was a big crowd, and many old friends, who’d helped in the campaign. Lots of pictures here. The hero of the hour was Simon Singh and the pub allowed installation of a brass plaque to commemorate a great triumph for nerd power.




21 May 2013 Went to a reception for "Academic Role Models", one of those slightly smug navel-gazing events, but some interesting people were there. My entry has been on this blog for a while. But I noticed, to my horror, that the version I had sent to them had been edited to introduce a grammatical horror. I wrote

 "Bernard Katz, whom I asked to submit the first theoretical paper by Hawkes and me to the Royal Society"

but someone changed it to "Hawkes and I". A quick note went off the ask if they would refer to a "paper by I". OK, I know I’m a lousy proof reader, but I hope nobody thinks that I wrote that.

22 May 2013

Gave a talk at Bristol Skeptics in the Pub. Lovely people and a fun trip. It was too late to get home at a reasonable hour so stayed the night with my host, Karen Shields, her husband and their 18-year old cat.


30 May 2013

Last post for this year’s diary. As a result of a tweet about grebes. I made a small album of some pictures that I took in 2006. Click for album.


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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Richard Rawlins // Jun 11, 2012 at 18:51

    Andrew, your son’s X Ray does not look obviously dislocated. The humeral head demonstrates the same curve as the glenoid. But what really matters is the “other” view at right angles.

    In the case of a shoulder, an axial view, taken with the film plate on to of the shoulder, and the X-ray source squirting up from the axilla.

    Any chance of seeing this?

    (Or is the film after reduction?!)

    Richard Rawlins
    Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

  • 2 David Colquhoun // Jun 15, 2012 at 10:11

    @Richard Rawlins
    Thanks for the expert opinion. I still find the anatomy of the shoulder pretty confusing. Andrew says he isn’t sure whether the picture is before or after, but it seems from what you say it was probably after. UCLH will supply all your images on DVD for £20, but not sure about the local hospital.

  • 3 Minnies_Dad // Mar 26, 2013 at 11:03

    While no supporter of the Prince’s more eccentric views on medicine, I think it’s a little harsh to criticise him for stating that ‘NHS hospital staff need to adopt a more caring approach’.

    I would have thought that in the light of the Francis Report on the Mid Staffs failings, and today’s announcement that a year’s work as a care assistant will now form part of nursing training, his comments are somewhat vindicated.  Whatever its original intentions, the ‘best letter ever’ could now come across as a rather complacent and arrogant response to an observation that many politicians and NHS workers might lack the courage to make.

  • 4 David Colquhoun // Mar 27, 2013 at 11:38


    On the contrary, politicians are saying it all the time, though what they are not saying is that many of the problems are caused by short-staffing. i.e lack of money.  They will not admit that the NHS is one of the cheapest universal health systems, and to have more nurses would solve many of the problems.

    It is also in the interests of conservative politicians to run down the NHS, so they have an excuse to sell it off to their friends.  That, I think, is why they constantly focus on times where things have gone wrong.  Certainly there have been some such times, but my own experience has been almost universally good.

    For the very large number of dedicated, and overworked doctors and nurses it is insulting, demoralising and simply wrong to be told that they are “coasting”.  I presume that the author of the best letter ever, is one such person.

    Personally, I think the Prince of Wales is fair game.  He has consistently undermined good medicine with his make-believe ideas and he has exerted unconstitutional influence over deferential politicians,  Just look at  the way his acolyte, Michael Dixon, lobbied the Department of Health to give advice that could kill people.

  • 5 Neil Spurr // Apr 23, 2013 at 08:29

    Regarding 19/04/2013 – My favourite line in that whole article is ‘Cupping specialist Saud Hadi says “There are a number of cupping points on each side of the spine which correspond to organs. The most important organ for fertility is the kidney.” ‘

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