Information is Beautiful. Visualizing the Evidence for Health Supplements.

21 03 2010

In a world driven by data, we need a simple means of digesting it all. Visualization of data may help to coop with the information overload. Good visualizations enable people to look at vast quantities of data quickly.

Bram Hengeveld at Geriatric Care (geriatricare.wordpress.com) told me of Snake Oil, a fantastic visualization of scientific evidence for popular health supplements. A well chosen name too, because Snake oil  is both a traditional Chinese medicine, as a  term for “medicines” that are fake, fraudulent, quackish, or ineffective. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing but questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. (Wikipedia).

Snake oil is just one visualization at Information is Beautiful (link), the site created by David McCandless, a London-based author, writer and designer who wrote for The Guardian, Wired and others, and nowadays an independent data journalist and information designer. His passion: visualizing information – facts, data, ideas, subjects, issues, statistics, questions – all with the minimum of words (see about).

When you see snake oil you intuitively understand it all.

The image is a “balloon race”. The larger the bubble the higher its popularity in terms of number of Google hits. Orange bubbles look promising but have (yet) a low evidence.

The higher a bubble, the greater the evidence for its effectiveness. But the supplements are only effective for the conditions listed inside the bubble. Evidence is only shown for supplements, taken orally by an adult with a healthy diet.

Some supplements may be represented by multiple bubbles, one for each condition:  after all, the evidence may vary across conditions. For example, there’s strong evidence that Green Tea is good for cholesterol levels. But evidence for its anti-cancer effects is conflicting.

Another nice thing about Snake oil is that it is interactive. You can show (filter) the results for specific conditions or supplement types. Below I selected cardio. Most bubbles disappear. The evidence seems strong for green tea, fish oil and red yeast rice and low for vitamin E and omega-3. When you move your mouse over a bubble it pops up and you can read the supplements name and the condition to which the evidence applies.

Truly amazing.

One might ask how GOOD are the data on which these bubbles are based?

Well I haven’t checked, but the visualization generates itself from this Google Doc. The Google spread sheet shows all the data on which the visualization is based. These can be PubMed Records, Cochrane Systematic Reviews, Medline Plus or a full text paper. The image is automatically regenerated when the google doc is updated with new research that has come out.

The only thing that strikes me as a information specialists is that the way the evidence is retrieved is not stated. Probably this isn’t done in an evidence based way, because each piece of evidence is based on ONE article only. The choice of the paper seems rather random. And some supplements are rather vague. What is meant with “anti-oxidants?” Many of the supplements have anti-oxidant activity for instance.

But the idea in itself is great. Suppose we could gather the evidence in a more evidence based way, share it in Google Docs, appraise it and visualize it. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Google spreadsheet as a wiki.

12 12 2008

google-doc-logoGoogle has developed so many new applications in short time, it is difficult to keep abreast of the latest developments.

One useful application is Google Docs. which is a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.

During the Spoetnik Library 2.0 course we used Google Docs to write documents together, which we published on our blogs.

You can also choose to keep documents private. The advantage compared to MS Office is that you can access your docs anywhere from the web. All you need istweet-clin-cases-and-images to log into your Google account.

Ves Dimov of the Clinical Cases and Images – Blog draw my attention to an option in Google Spreadsheets (try-out here) , whereby you can allow people to edit the item as if it were a wiki.

This option was described at the Google Operating System Blog, with unofficial news and tips about Google) as follows:

“Google Spreadsheets added an option in the sharing dialog that allows anyone to view or edit the spreadsheet just by knowing the URL. Until now, you had to send an invitation URL that contained a secret code and the people you invited had to login using a Google account. If you click on the Share tab and enable “Let people edit without signing in*“, your spreadsheet becomes a wiki that can be edited by anyone.”

share-with-the-world-1-2-met-nrs

Not only has Ves described this possibility in a blogpost, he also set up a spreadsheet that lists “The best medical podcasts”.** Anybody can edit the list, see the original spreadsheet here and you are all invited to do so..

According to Ves (and Google) you can easily embed the Medical Podcast spreadsheet by just copying this HTML code in your own website. Alas, WordPress.com blogs appear to be a notable exception (again Grrr!).

Thus, to see how the spreadsheet evolves you have to go to the URL, Ves’s blogpost here or embed the spreadsheet yourselves.

To give you an impression I will show a figure of the (provisional) embedded spreadsheet instead:

spreadsheet-medical-postcasts

* original text: Anyone can edit this document WITHOUT LOGGING IN

** a closer look at the date revealed that the blogpost already stems from May 2008.

————

nl vlag NL flagGoogle Spreadsheets (try-out hier) is een, gratis, Excel-achtig bestand binnen Google Docs waar je online vanaf elke PC met internetaansluiting aan kunt werken, – zonder gebruik te hoeven maken van usb-sticks of e-mail- (zie Spoetnik-cursus, week 8). Je kunt alleen of samen aan een document werken.

Door Ves Dimov van het Clinical Cases and Images – Blog werd ik geattendeerd op een optie binnen Google Spreadsheets, waardoor mensen niet ingelogd hoeven te zijn om mee te werken aan je spreadsheet. De spreadsheet functioneert dan als een soort wiki.

Deze mogelijkheid werd reeds in mei dit jaar beschreven op het Google Operating System Blog. Wanneer je een Google spreadsheet hebt aangemaakt, kun je in het dialoogvenster aangeven dat je de spreadsheet wilt delen (“share tab“) en dat mensen het kunnen bewerken zonder in te loggen (“Let people edit without signing in*). De URL, (gemarkeerd bij 4 in bovenstaand figuur) kun je naar andere mensen sturen die het vervolgens kunnen bewerken. Belangrijk is om de spreadsheet daarna op te slaan en af te sluiten.

Ves heeft gelijk de daad bij het woord gevoegd en een lijst van beste medische podcasts toegevoegd, die eenieder kan bewerken. De oorspronkelijke spreadsheet vind je door hier te klikken.

Mij lukte het niet om deze spreadsheet te embedden in WordPress. Dus om de lijst van beste medische podcasts “real time” te kunnen zien kun je naar Ves’s blogpost gaan, de URL bekijken en/of deze zelf embedden.





Google docs as a way to publish spam!!

7 06 2008

I just learned how to use Google docs for sharing and publishing documents. Yesterday I received an email-invitation by someone unfamiliar to share a Google-doc. The doc was called Spoetnik X document, where Spoetnik X is a fellow course member.

I took a look, but the doc was weird, with pictures of X all over the place, pictures of other people as well & funny text (codes, links?) in between. I recognized X’s picture, seen it somewhere on the web. On top of the post it said in RED with huge letters:

The document owner is not allowing collaborators to invite other people.

Meanwhile a commercial site had visited my blog consulting the same page twice. A page with one comment …made by X!
Dotcom entered my page by searching for X’s g-mail and dotcom left by the link to X’s page……

When I revisited the Google Doc some time later, the number of obscure cooperators had increased.
X had become one of them.

This did it. I tried to reach X in vain and deleted the doc.

Now I could be wrong, maybe it was just a joke. So I googled: google docs spam.

The result: almost 5.000.000 hits, most of them warning “Google Docs Being Used for Spam“. Apparently it is an easy way to circumvent spam filters.

Today I contacted the commercial site and they promised to check if their webforum had been misused.

Earlier I wrote that G-mail was vulnerable to spam. But it seems that more Google apps are at risk.

According to Wikipedia a weak point of Google apps is Cross-site_scripting

Want to read more? Here is an excerpt from VNU-net, written by Robert Jacques on June 3th!

Spammers exploit Google Docs
Cyber-crooks turn to mainstream hosted services

[…..] Spammers are instead moving towards the exploitation of free mainstream hosted services such as Google Docs, Google Calendar and Microsoft SkyDrive.

“The savvy and accurate cyber-criminals of today seem to have abandoned the attachments tactic that was so innovative in late 2007 and are exploiting free hosted applications which have become mainstream in 2008,” said Mark Sunner, chief security analyst at MessageLabs.

“The spammers are taking advantage of the fact that these services are free, provide ample bandwidth and are rarely blacklisted.

“This is one more addition to the growing list of ways in which the spammers have succeeded in outsmarting traditional detection devices.”

MessageLabs intercepted spam emails in May which contained links to spam contained in documents hosted on the Google Docs environment.

Traditional spam filters do not block links to the Google Docs domain, and spammers are using this to their advantage and even tracking their success through Google Analytics [….]

Or read this interview at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10789_3-9951535-57.html

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NL flag NL vlag

Gedurende de Spoetnik cursus had ik net kennis gemaakt met Google docs. Heel handig om documenten te delen en te publiceren. Toen ik gisteren een doc kreeg met de naam van een Spoetnikcollega keek ik wel een beetje raar op. Ik kende de afzender niet, maar ja namen van blogs en gmails stroken vaak niet geheel met elkaar. Dus ik dacht, is misschien wel een document om X mee te verassen.

Ik ging maar eens kijken, maar het doc zag er vreemd uit, tig keer de foto van X en ook wat andere foto’s eronder, met onder elke foto een naam en 1 & 2, 3&4 etc en vreemde teksten, mogelijk links. Ik waagde me er maar niet aan. Bovenaan stond in rode koeieletters:

The document owner is not allowing collaborators to invite other people.

Bijna tegelijkertijd had ik in de sitemeter gezien dat een dotcom site mijn blog had bezocht en wel 2x dezelfde pagina met daarop maar 1 commentaar: die van X. Op mijn pagina was te zien dat die persoon had gezocht op gmail X en mijn blog verlaten had via een link naar X’s pagina.

Toen ik later nog eens naar het Google Doc ging kijken was het aantal onbekende samenwerkers toegenomen. X stond er zelf trouwens ook bij.

Dit deed de deur dicht. Nadat ik X vergeefs had proberen te bereiken, verwijderde ik het doc.

Of was ik paranoide? Misschien was het gewoon een grapje. Even checken op Google: google docs spam.

Huuu, bijna 5 miljoen hits, bijna allen waarschuwden ze ervoor dat Google Docs als spam gebruikt kunnen worden. Het is nl een hele mooie manier om spamfilters te omzeilen en om de links (na publicatie) heel effectief te verspreiden.

Ik heb wel met de commerciele site gemaild en kreeg direct antwoord dat ze vreesden dat iemand hun webforum had misbruikt. Ze zouden het proberen uit te zoeken.

Eerder had ik al gemeld dat spammers de beveiliging van G-mail gekraakt hadden. Nu blijkt dat alle Google-apps kwetsbaar zijn.

Volgens Wikipedia is een zwak punt van Google apps het zgn “Cross-site_scripting” (je hoeft niet steeds opnieuw in te loggen in een nieuwe applicatie, je bent dus semi-permanent ingelogd)

meer lezen:

1. VNU-net, Robert Jacques (3 juni 2008)! :Spammers exploit Google Docs. Cyber-crooks turn to mainstream hosted services (zie fragment hierboven)

2. http://news.cnet.com/8301-10789_3-9951535-57.html (interview)

3. En een possibly related (nederlandse) post die wel relevant lijkt (van 23 dingen)

Nou ik ga dus nog voorzichtiger worden.