Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Mindfulness is paying attention to your thoughts and feelings in the present moment.   It can be a way to develop resilience and cope with the demands of an academic or clinical course. 

Here is a not very systematic selection of useful looking links:

NHS Behind the Headlines, on mindfulness to prevent a relapse of depression.

NHS Choices: Mindfulness for mental wellbeing

Useful looking articles include this systematic review of systematic reviews, published in PLoS One by Dutch and American researchers, and a systematic review of mindfulness for reducing stress in health individuals, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research by American and Canadian researchers, and this British Journal of General Practice introduction to using mindfulness in general practice.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs have an "evidence map".

Monash University in Australia has major interests in mindfulness, and includes it in health curricula.   Nearer home (mine, anyway, as of course I don't know where you are!) is this page at Bangor University in North Wales.

I only looked in PubMed, and have not looked at individual studies or reviews of mindfulness' uses in particular specific conditions.   I suspect looking in the psychological and psychiatric literature using PsycInfo would be beneficial.


Not the bee, but unmanned aerial vehicles.

Drones as a PubMed search finds 255 but some relate to bees.


unmanned aerial vehicle* OR unmanned aerial system* OR uav* OR unmanned aircraft

finds 310.  

UAV is also "unicuspid aortic valve", which will be a few of that total.  UAS is another possible acronym, but this is also a gene, so adding it into the search multiplies the number of results by 10!

If you want to buy a small drone, with a range of a few metres and a battery life of a few minutes, you can do so at the Apple Store (I now know, following a trip to one for something else!).  

Many of the drones in the news at the moment are there because of their military uses, but they do have medical, health and scientific uses.  Here are some, from a quick scan of those PubMed results:

  • Sampling the air, or dust;
  • Mapping weeds, tern colonies, chimpanzee nests;
  • Transporting laboratory specimens or drugs;
  • Monitoring environmental hygiene;
  • Major incident management;
  • Monitoring infectious diseases.  

One reference uses the term "multicopter", an unused synonym - adding 1 more to the 310!

Two people in academia with interests in drones are Noel Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield, and Andy Miah, of the University of Salford.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Critical appraisal: not just seeing what you agree with

It's the Labour Party Conference this week, and so on the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC on Sunday last, Jeremy Corbyn, party leader, was interviewed.   I was pleased to see some of the interview, and remarked to the family how good it was and how much sense I thought was in what Mr Corbyn said (see declaration of interest below!).   Ah, well, said someone close to me, you would think that, because you agree with him.

This set me thinking.  Did I have a biased view of what he said because I only saw those things that I agreed with?   Did I have a biased view because I overlooked things that I did not agree with?   And that set me thinking about critical appraisal.

Reading the whole paper

One reason for critically appraising a research article is to see if it applies to your research or clinical practice.   Is another to make sure that you don't see only the things in it that you agree with?   I do think (and have said so to students) that critically appraising a paper is a way to make sure that you read the whole thing, and not just the bits that you find easiest.  For me, the statistical parts of a paper are more difficult, and are likely to be the bits I skip over.   If I am reading with a checklist like CASP, then I am made to read those bits, as I can't complete the checklist if I don't.   Does a checklist help you see all things in a paper and not just those things you agree with?

Which papers to read?

Is there a danger that when selecting papers from a list of search results, that I will still choose those items that I agree with, whose titles reinforce things I already "know" or have decided?

Are there criteria to use to select references from a list to read in full?   If you are doing a systematic review, then you look for things that match your inclusion criteria.  If you are looking for high quality evidence to inform patient care or clinical practice, then you critically appraise the evidence.  But if your search finds 50, how do you choose which to select for that detailed critical appraisal?   I have talked in teaching sessions about looking at titles, and then abstracts, to decide which to look at in full, but what are you looking for when you review titles and abstracts?   You are comparing them with your answerable question, the search question you formulated using PICO or a similar scheme.  Do you think they may contain an answer to that question?

Declaration of interest: as you might be suspecting by now, I am a party member (I joined a year ago or so) and I did vote for Jeremy Corbyn. 


When we lived in Aberdeen, we quickly learned that eating fish and chips outdoors was dangerous.  The seagulls would come to help themselves, and steal scraps.  If you did not drop scraps, they would steal from you without asking.  And the seagulls were Enormous.  In Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, they wait around the excellent fish and chip van on the harbour, although they don't steal in the same way.  Not yet, anyway. 

Seagulls have been in the news over the summer for attacking pets and people, sometimes causing nasty injuries.  I do remember news reports when we were in Aberdeen that if you had gulls nesting on your house, you needed to watch out for them attacking you if they had chicks.

The recent BBC programme Big Blue Live was very good, looking at life in the seas and on the coast around the UK and beyond.  It had a feature about gulls, looking at one man who had taken steps to make them behave by waving sticks at them when they came from neighbouring buildings into his garden.  This seemed to show them what was what, and their behaviour improved.

So, what information is out there about badly behaved gulls?   What action can you legally take?   What should you do if one tries to steal your chips?  In addition to the sites below, I think it would be worth checking the website of your local authority - several appear in the first page of Google results.

RSPB on urban gulls

RSPB on gulls and the law

NI Direct

Interestingly, there is a lot of information here about deterring gulls, but rather less on what to do if you are attacked by one.   

Skuas are known for doing the same - my parents tell stories from their visit to Shetland of getting too close to nesting sites of bonxies, as they are known there, and having to wave sticks in the air so the birds attack the stick and not their heads.   The Skuas, by Robert Furness, has a chapter about skuas diving attacks on humans, but because I have only seen what is available in Google Books (not all of the book), I don't know if he has any advice on what to do if they do attack.

(I do know there is no such thing as a seagull, as there are many species of gull, but I am hopeful that you know what I mean if I use the word!).

Media literacy, or how to read health stories in the news

I started writing this during the recent Labour Party leadership campaign, and have returned to it while doing an excellent MOOC course from Cardiff University, The Informed Health Consumer, one week of which was concerned with the reporting of health stories in the media.

Here are some of my thoughts about reading health stories in the news.

1.  Read the story, and not just the headline.   Is the headline written by the same person who wrote the story?   I am not sure it is, although this reveals my lack of media literacy!   Reading just the headline is perhaps like reading only the title or abstract of a research article.

2.  What motives do the story's authors have?    Or the newspaper?    

3.  Is what the story reports the whole story?   What are other reports saying?  

4.  Have the authors of the news story read the research study they are reporting?  Or just the press release?   And what were the motives behind the press release?

5.  What did the original research actually say or do?   Who did it?    I have memories of stories that drug A is a cure for disease B, or that eating a particular thing makes you live longer, but what did the original research say?   How many people were involved?    Or was it animal research?  Was it a "front group" (effectively a lobby group, trying to look like disinterested people).

If we are going to read a newspaper story about health critically, what should we be looking for?

One of the tutors on the Informed Health Consumer is Andy Williams, a journalism researcher.   This adds an interesting angle.   One of the units lists "science news values", things which journalists look for when reporting science and health, or things that may be shown.   These are
  • Inaccurate reporting of uncertainty, or over extension, so for example, reporting a study that shows marginal risk of cancer in mice, over-extending the results to say that the same thing causes cancer in humans.
  • Focusing on studies that report risks, thus suggesting the world is a riskier place than it is.
  • Simplification - of course it is a valuable thing about reporting that it can simplify technical things, but things can be oversimplified and in the process distorted.
  • Serious disagreements are always reported, suggesting that science has more conflict in it that it does.
  • Human interest angle - of course, this is another positive thing about news reporting, but the risk in health stories is that a report of one person drinking tea and getting cancer is used to suggest that drinking tea always causes cancer.
The course uses some news stories that were picked up by the Behind the Headlines feature on the NHS Choices website, which is an excellent place to look at how health stories are reported.  Behind the Headlines chooses a story picked up by the press, and looks at the original research reported.

Finally, some proper advice on reading health news, from NHS Choices.   This advice is also reproduced on PubMed Health.