Science blog

18 February 2016

Health Data: Better Care or Privacy Nightmare?

Eleanor Sherwood weighs up the benefits and concerns of health data ahead of our upcoming TalkScience event

Current government initiatives such as the 100,000 Genomes Project and care.data aim to revolutionise biomedical research and how our healthcare is delivered.  However, concerns have been raised regarding the safe, practical and ethical use of personal health data.  Are these risks outweighed by the possible benefits to research, NHS governance and your healthcare? On Tuesday 15 March, we will be holding our 32nd TalkScience event to discuss these issues and more with our expert panel including Sharmila Nehbrajani OBE, Professor Liam Smeeth, Peter KnightSam Smith and a public audience.  If you would like to join in with this discussion, book tickets (£5) via our What’s On page.

What’s the plan?

Sharing is caring

By 2020, the government aim to make most patient health records electronic, resulting in a paperless NHS. Under the care.data programme, data on these records, from date of birth to diagnoses and postcodes to prescriptions, are intended to be shared across all of NHS England. Research institutes, medical charities and pharmaceutical companies may also request access to this data. This process was initially attempted in early 2014; however controversy surrounding the communication of the scheme halted proceedings. The care.data programme is now being trialled using existing electronic patient records in 'pathfinder' regions of the UK before any national rollout.

Blog photo 1

Personalised care

The 100,000 Genomes Project is a research-based initiative funded by the Department of Health. Its main aim is to sequence the entire genome of up to 70,000 volunteers, many with rare genetic diseases and cancers. Using this approach, scientists hope to identify genetic mutations underlying these conditions and use this data to research new, personalised therapies.

Faster, stronger, better

Using approaches such as these, the NHS hope to provide faster diagnoses, improved, personalised care, and targeted NHS funding; all of which should combine to make the NHS more efficient, streamlined and progressive.  

What’s the problem?

Dealing with data

Generating large quantities of data is relatively easy.  However, concerns have been raised about the practicalities of actually using the data.  For example, what kind of computer systems and analysis tools would be needed to make large sets of data ‘user friendly’ for GPs and other healthcare workers? On average, GPs spend 8-10 minutes with each patient – would accessing these large files at each appointment increase this time and reduce the availability of GP appointments? Or would this be saved by not having to rifle through stacks of paper medical records?

Safe and secure?

Computer hacks and data security breaches occur regularly; banks, governmental organisations, mobile Harddrivesphone and insurance companies have all been recent victims to this.  One of the USA’s largest health insurance firms, Anthem, was hacked this time last year exposing the personal data of almost 80 million people.  Could this happen in the UK? What ramifications could this have? What security systems does the NHS have in place to prevent this?

Patient privacy

In terms of patient privacy, the NHS say that all data will be pseudonymised, meaning that any names will be replaced by numbers – but is this enough?  Can a person be identified based upon their medical records alone?  Aside from this, can we justify the fact that numerous people and organisations, some of whom will not be directly working towards the betterment of your personal health, will have access to your data? 

Keep it consensual

Reassuringly, both the care.data program and 100,000 Genomes Project require consent from patients, but in the light of previous controversy surrounding care.data, how this consent is acquired is highly important.  Also, how can the government/NHS effectively communicate the nature and intentions of these schemes to the public?  Full consent is not possible if a person isn’t completely aware of what they are consenting to. Furthermore, the way that data is used in scientific research can be complex and evolve quickly – so is it always possible for a participant to know exactly what they are consenting to?  What about potential future applications of their data? 

To discuss these topics and much more, book tickets (£5) via our What’s On page.

TalkScience30Sept-35
A previous TalkScience event 
 
©TheBritishLibrary Board 
All other photographs iStock/Shutterstock

09 February 2016

PhD placement in Science in Society at the British Library

Applications now open

The British Library is currently running a series of 3-month (or PT equivalent) PhD Placements, to be hosted by specialist curatorial teams and other Library experts.  Of the 17 placements on offer, this opportunity will be of particular interest to PhD students with interests in science, science policy and the social perception of scientific issues.

Science in Society

Working within the Research Engagement Team, the placement student will have the opportunity to organise and deliver a TalkScience event on a topic relevant to scientific policy.  TalkScience is well-established, highly successful series of public debates organised by and held at the British Library. Previous topics have ranged from the use of personalised genomics to science education in schools.

TalkScience_23_6_15-45
A previous TalkScience event

The placement student will also have the opportunity to use the Library’s collections in relation to science and its social perceptions, for example by working with the Web Archive Team to produce a special online collection related to science and science policy.  Additionally, placement students can also get involved with a number of activities across the Research Engagement Team, such as contributing to research reports or social media activity. 

We have hosted Science in Society interns in previous years. You can read more about their projects here:

Stuart smith talkscienceStuart Smith (BBSRC intern, 2012)

Adam levyAdam Levy (NERC intern, 2014)

Rachel huddartRachel Huddart (BBSRC intern, 2014)

Further information

The application deadline for all of the PhD placements is Friday 19 February 2016.

Further information, including eligibility criteria and details on the application process, can be found here:

http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/highered/phd-placement-scheme 

All applications must be supported by the applicant’s PhD supervisor and their department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent). Please forward any questions to: Research.Development@bl.uk

 

Eleanor Sherwood

Research Engagement PhD Placement Student

01 February 2016

Alice's Adventures in Numberland - answers

Here we reveal the answers of our Lewis Carroll-inspired brainteasers. (The questions feature in a previous blog post)

 

MAZE Knight

Can you find a route from the outside of the maze to the centre?

Maze_solution

DOUBLETS KnightKnight

For each pair of words, can you find a series of words which link them, changing just one letter each time? All links must be real words.

Drive PIG into STY – PIG/WIG/WAG/WAY/SAY/STY

Make WHEAT into BREAD – WHEAT/CHEAT/CHEAP/CHEEP/CREEP/CREED/BREED/BREAD

Raise FOUR to FIVE – FOUR/FOUL/FOOL/FOOT/FORT/FORE/FIRE/FIVE

Prove GRASS to be GREEN – GRASS/CRASS/CRESS/TRESS/TREES/FREES/FREED/GREED/GREEN

Change OAT to RYE – OAT/RAT/ROT/ROE/RYE

Cover EYE with LID – EYE/DYE/DIE/DID/LID

Raise ONE to TWO – ONE/OWE/EWE/EYE/DYE/DOE/TOE/TOO/TWO

Crown TIGER with ROSES – TIGER/TILER/TILES/TIDES/RIDES/RISES/ROSES

 

DOUBLE ACROSTIC POEM KnightKnightKnight

Each couplet in this poem clues an 8-letter word. If you find all 8 words, their first letters will spell out a word, and their last letters will spell out another word.

 

They’ll jump off a cliff from a great height, for fun

In a computer game from 1991

LEMMINGS

 

Just the right tipple for a long run

To match your own chemical composition

ISOTONIC

Dl-portrait-npg-lewis-carroll
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Kids won’t touch it - they prefer jam

Sounds like it’s near Lewisham

BROCCOLI

 

Practise makes perfect, that’s what they say

Regarding the vehicle that takes you away

REHEARSE

 

Brenda with three Es is feeling pretty

Confused about this northern city

ABERDEEN

 

Caesar’s troubled by its bite

Maybe a candlelit dinner tonight?

ROMANTIC

 

It’s almost like there’ll be bows and knots

At the time of year you give presents lots

YULETIDE

 

First letters spell out: LIBRARY

Last letters spell out: SCIENCE

 

AMBIGRAMS Knight

Can you devise a rotation ambigram for the word FISH? Or a reflection ambigram for BIRD?

  Fish and bird ambigrams answers

Rotation ambigram for the word FISH (from bigforrap.wordpress.com): Reflection ambigram or the word BIRD  (from ambigramme.com):

 

OVERLAPPING SQUARES Knight

Can you draw this shape made from three interlaced squares, using one continuous line, without going over any parts of the line twice, without intersecting the line you’ve already drawn, and without taking your pen off the paper?

Overlapping squares

 

A DINNER PARTY KnightKnightKnight

At a dinner party, the host invites his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father. What’s the smallest number of guests there could be?

A dinner party solution

Males are denoted by upper case and females are denoted by lower case letters. The host is C and his guest is E. His father's brother-in-law is B or C. His brother's father-in-law is C. His father-in-law's brother is C. His brother-in-law's father is C. Therefore the smallest number of guests is 1, C.

 

ANAGRAMS KnightKnight

Can you unscramble these sentences to form relevant phrases?

HELP V. KEEN TRIO OF DAFTNESS - FESTIVAL OF THE SPOKEN NERD

“LESS TOKEN GREENERY”, SHE SANG - GEEK SONGSTRESS HELEN ARNEY

SEE ME OUT, TV’S MISTER EXPLODER MAN - EXPERIMENTS MAESTRO STEVE MOULD

BRB, I HIRE TRASHY LIT - THE BRITISH LIBRARY

I WANTED DEAN IN CD’S SURREAL NOVEL - ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

AM AUS, AND ATTEMPT ARITHMETIC PRANK - STAND-UP MATHEMATICIAN MATT PARKER


With thanks to Katie Steckles (@stecks) for compiling these puzzles. Katie Steckles is a mathematician based in Manchester, who gives talks and workshops on maths. She finished her PhD in 2011, and since then has talked about maths in schools, at science festivals, on BBC radio, at music festivals, as part of theatre shows and on the internet. She enjoys doing and writing puzzles, solving the Rubik's cube and baking things shaped like maths.These puzzles furst featured in the Alices Advemtures in Numberland event featuring geek comedy trio Festval of the Spoken Nerd

Alice's Adventures in Numberland

Tonight we are celebrating the science and maths of Lewis Carroll in our Alice's Adventures in Numberland event with geek comedy trio Festival of the Spoken Nerd. As well as being a best-selling children’s author, Lewis Carroll was also a mathematics lecturer at Oxford University and an avid puzzler. He loved musing over word, number and logic problems and sharing them with his friends and colleagues. Special guest geek Katie Steckles has compiled this collection of Carroll-inspired brainteasers for your puzzling pleasure. How many can you complete? Answers can be found in this blog post.

 
DIFFICULTY LEVELS Alice-exhibition-web-page

Easy          Knight   

Hard          KnightKnight   

Fiendish    KnightKnightKnight 

 

   


 

MAZE Knight

Can you find a route from the outside of the maze to the centre?

  Maze

A similar, but more complicated maze like this, created by Carroll in his early twenties, appeared in his family’s homemade puzzle magazine, Mischmasch.

 

DOUBLETS KnightKnight

For each pair of words, can you find a series of words which link them, changing just one letter each time? All links must be real words. As an example, you can get from HEAD to TAIL using four links as follows:

    HEAD

    heal

    teal

    tell

    tall

    TAIL

Drive PIG into STY (4 links)

Make WHEAT into BREAD (6 links)

Raise FOUR to FIVE (6 links)

Prove GRASS to be GREEN (7 links)

Change OAT to RYE (3 links)

Cover EYE with LID (3 links)

Raise ONE to TWO (7 links)

Crown TIGER with ROSES (5 links)

Carroll introduced this type of puzzle, now more commonly known as a Word Ladder, in a letter to Vanity Fair in March 1879, and after initial trials, they began using it as their regular puzzle competition – the examples above are taken from there.

 

DOUBLE ACROSTIC POEM KnightKnightKnight

Each couplet in this poem clues an 8-letter word. If you find all 8 words, their first letters will spell out a word, and their last letters will spell out another word.

 

They’ll jump off a cliff from a great height, for fun Alice

In a computer game from 1991

 

Just the right tipple for a long run

To match your own chemical composition

 

Kids won’t touch it – they prefer jam

Sounds like it’s near Lewisham

 

Practise makes perfect, that’s what they say

Regarding the vehicle that takes you away

 

Brenda with three Es is feeling pretty

Confused about this northern city

 

Caesar’s troubled by its bite

Maybe a candlelit dinner tonight?

 

It’s almost like there’ll be bows and knots

At the time of year you give presents lots

 

The double acrostic is often thought of as the forerunner to the modern crossword puzzle, and Carroll made many contributions to the form. In his collection of poems Phantasmagoria (1869), he published an example in which the stanzas were more connected to form a readable poem, rather than disjointed as in the example above. Another, written by Carroll for Miss E M Argles, was printed in the catalogue for the exhibition in London to commemorate the centenary of Carroll’s birth.

 

AMBIGRAMS Knight

An ambigram is a word or phrase which is written in such a way that it reads the same when rotated, or reflected. Examples of different rotation and reflection ambigrams are given here. Can you devise a rotation ambigram for the word FISH? Or a reflection ambigram for BIRD? Or, you can try to devise one for your own name, or a word of your choice – some words are harder than others! You can use whichever type of letters you like, and add interesting serifs and decorations, as long as it still reads as that word. Sometimes ambigrams read as one word in one direction, and a different (sometimes opposite) word in the other.

  Ambigrams

 

OVERLAPPING SQUARES Knight

Can you draw this shape made from three interlaced squares, using one continuous line, without going over any parts of the line twice, without intersecting the line you’ve already drawn, and without taking your pen off the paper?

Threesquares

In Collingwood’s Life and Letters, Isabel Standen recalls being shown this puzzle by Carroll in 1869.

 

A DINNER PARTY KnightKnightKnight

At a dinner party, the host invites his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father. What’s the smallest number of guests there could be?

This puzzle originally appeared in Lewis Carroll’s Eligible Apartments.

This puzzle originally appeared in Lewis Carroll’s Eligible Apartments.


With thanks to Katie Steckles (@stecks) for compiling these puzzles. Katie Steckles is a mathematician based in Manchester, who gives talks and workshops on maths. She finished her PhD in 2011, and since then has talked about maths in schools, at science festivals, on BBC radio, at music festivals, as part of theatre shows and on the internet. She enjoys doing and writing puzzles, solving the Rubik’s cube and baking things shaped like maths. (Ambigram credits: dreamworld: www.wowtattoos.com; mirror: www.otherfocus.com; fantasy: www.cogsci.indiana.edu; Coffee: www.elusiveillustration.com)