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Ecosystem – Wikipedia

community of living organisms together with the nonliving components of their environment

An ecosystem is a community made up of living organisms and nonliving components such as air, water, and mineral soil.[3] Ecosystems can be studied in two different ways. They can be thought of as interdependent collections of plants and animals, or as structured systems and communities governed by general rules.[4] The living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components interact through nutrient cycles and energy flows.[5] Ecosystems include interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment.[6] Ecosystems can be of any size but each ecosystem has a specific, limited space.[7] Some scientists view the entire planet as one ecosystem.[8]

Energy, water, nitrogen and soil minerals are essential abiotic components of an ecosystem. The energy used by ecosystems comes primarily from the sun, via photosynthesis. Photosynthesis uses energy from the sun and also captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Animals also play an important role in the movement of matter and energy through ecosystems. They influence the amount of plant and microbial biomass that lives in the system. As organic matter dies, carbon is released back into the atmosphere. This process also facilitates nutrient cycling by converting nutrients stored in dead biomass back to a form that can be used again by plants and other microbes.[9]

Ecosystems are controlled by both external and internal factors. External factors such as climate, the parent material that forms the soil, topography and time each affect ecosystems. However, these external factors are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem.[10] Ecosystems are dynamic: they are subject to periodic disturbances and are often in the process of recovering from past disturbances and seeking balance.[11] Internal factors are different: They not only control ecosystem processes but are also controlled by them. Another way of saying this is that internal factors are subject to feedback loops.[10]

Humans operate within ecosystems and can influence both internal and external factors.[10] Global warming is an example of a cumulative effect of human activities. Ecosystems provide benefits, called “ecosystem services”, which people depend on for their livelihood. Ecosystem management is more efficient than trying to manage individual species.

There is no single definition of what constitutes an ecosystem.[4] German ecologist Ernst-Detlef Schulze and coauthors defined an ecosystem as an area which is “uniform regarding the biological turnover, and contains all the fluxes above and below the ground area under consideration.” They explicitly reject Gene Likens’ use of entire river catchments as “too wide a demarcation” to be a single ecosystem, given the level of heterogeneity within such an area.[12] Other authors have suggested that an ecosystem can encompass a much larger area, even the whole planet.[8] Schulze and coauthors also rejected the idea that a single rotting log could be studied as an ecosystem because the size of the flows between the log and its surroundings are too large, relative to the proportion cycles within the log.[12] Philosopher of science Mark Sagoff considers the failure to define “the kind of object it studies” to be an obstacle to the development of theory in ecosystem ecology.[4]

Ecosystems can be studied in a variety of ways. Those include theoretical studies or more practical studies that monitor specific ecosystems over long periods of time or look at differences between ecosystems to better understand how they work. Some studies involve experimenting with direct manipulation of the ecosystem.[13] Studies can be carried out at a variety of scales, ranging from whole-ecosystem studies to studying microcosms or mesocosms (simplified representations of ecosystems).[14] American ecologist Stephen R. Carpenter has argued that microcosm experiments can be “irrelevant and diversionary” if they are not carried out in conjunction with field studies done at the ecosystem scale. Microcosm experiments often fail to accurately predict ecosystem-level dynamics.[15]

The Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study started in 1963 to study the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It was the first successful attempt to study an entire watershed as an ecosystem. The study used stream chemistry as a means of monitoring ecosystem properties, and developed a detailed biogeochemical model of the ecosystem.[16] Long-term research at the site led to the discovery of acid rain in North America in 1972. Researchers documented the depletion of soil cations (especially calcium) over the next several decades.[17]

Terrestrial ecosystems (found on land) and aquatic ecosystems (found in water) are concepts related to ecosystems. Aquatic ecosystems are split into marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems.

Ecosystems are controlled both by external and internal factors. External factors, also called state factors, control the overall structure of an ecosystem and the way things work within it, but are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem. The most important of these is climate.[10] Climate determines the biome in which the ecosystem is embedded. Rainfall patterns and seasonal temperatures influence photosynthesis and thereby determine the amount of water and energy available to the ecosystem.[10]

Parent material determines the nature of the soil in an ecosystem, and influences the supply of mineral nutrients. Topography also controls ecosystem processes by affecting things like microclimate, soil development and the movement of water through a system. For example, ecosystems can be quite different if situated in a small depression on the landscape, versus one present on an adjacent steep hillside.[10]

Other external factors that play an important role in ecosystem functioning include time and potential biota. Similarly, the set of organisms that can potentially be present in an area can also significantly affect ecosystems. Ecosystems in similar environments that are located in different parts of the world can end up doing things very differently simply because they have different pools of species present.[10] The introduction of non-native species can cause substantial shifts in ecosystem function.

Unlike external factors, internal factors in ecosystems not only control ecosystem processes but are also controlled by them. Consequently, they are often subject to feedback loops.[10] While the resource inputs are generally controlled by external processes like climate and parent material, the availability of these resources within the ecosystem is controlled by internal factors like decomposition, root competition or shading.[10] Other factors like disturbance, succession or the types of species present are also internal factors.

Primary production is the production of organic matter from inorganic carbon sources. This mainly occurs through photosynthesis. The energy incorporated through this process supports life on earth, while the carbon makes up much of the organic matter in living and dead biomass, soil carbon and fossil fuels. It also drives the carbon cycle, which influences global climate via the greenhouse effect.

Through the process of photosynthesis, plants capture energy from light and use it to combine carbon dioxide and water to produce carbohydrates and oxygen. The photosynthesis carried out by all the plants in an ecosystem is called the gross primary production (GPP).[18] About 4860% of the GPP is consumed in plant respiration.

The remainder, that portion of GPP that is not used up by respiration, is known as the net primary production (NPP).[19]

Energy and carbon enter ecosystems through photosynthesis, are incorporated into living tissue, transferred to other organisms that feed on the living and dead plant matter, and eventually released through respiration.[19]

The carbon and energy incorporated into plant tissues (net primary production) is either consumed by animals while the plant is alive, or it remains uneaten when the plant tissue dies and becomes detritus. In terrestrial ecosystems, roughly 90% of the net primary production ends up being broken down by decomposers. The remainder is either consumed by animals while still alive and enters the plant-based trophic system, or it is consumed after it has died, and enters the detritus-based trophic system.

In aquatic systems, the proportion of plant biomass that gets consumed by herbivores is much higher.[20]In trophic systems photosynthetic organisms are the primary producers. The organisms that consume their tissues are called primary consumers or secondary producersherbivores. Organisms which feed on microbes (bacteria and fungi) are termed microbivores. Animals that feed on primary consumerscarnivoresare secondary consumers. Each of these constitutes a trophic level.[20]

The sequence of consumptionfrom plant to herbivore, to carnivoreforms a food chain. Real systems are much more complex than thisorganisms will generally feed on more than one form of food, and may feed at more than one trophic level. Carnivores may capture some prey which are part of a plant-based trophic system and others that are part of a detritus-based trophic system (a bird that feeds both on herbivorous grasshoppers and earthworms, which consume detritus). Real systems, with all these complexities, form food webs rather than food chains.[20]

Ecosystem ecology studies “the flow of energy and materials through organisms and the physical environment”. It seeks to understand the processes which govern the stocks of material and energy in ecosystems, and the flow of matter and energy through them. The study of ecosystems can cover 10 orders of magnitude, from the surface layers of rocks to the surface of the planet.[21]

The carbon and nutrients in dead organic matter are broken down by a group of processes known as decomposition. This releases nutrients that can then be re-used for plant and microbial production and returns carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (or water) where it can be used for photosynthesis. In the absence of decomposition, the dead organic matter would accumulate in an ecosystem, and nutrients and atmospheric carbon dioxide would be depleted.[22] Approximately 90% of terrestrial net primary production goes directly from plant to decomposer.[20]

Decomposition processes can be separated into three categoriesleaching, fragmentation and chemical alteration of dead material.

As water moves through dead organic matter, it dissolves and carries with it the water-soluble components. These are then taken up by organisms in the soil, react with mineral soil, or are transported beyond the confines of the ecosystem (and are considered lost to it).[22] Newly shed leaves and newly dead animals have high concentrations of water-soluble components and include sugars, amino acids and mineral nutrients. Leaching is more important in wet environments and much less important in dry ones.[22]

Fragmentation processes break organic material into smaller pieces, exposing new surfaces for colonization by microbes. Freshly shed leaf litter may be inaccessible due to an outer layer of cuticle or bark, and cell contents are protected by a cell wall. Newly dead animals may be covered by an exoskeleton. Fragmentation processes, which break through these protective layers, accelerate the rate of microbial decomposition.[22] Animals fragment detritus as they hunt for food, as does passage through the gut. Freeze-thaw cycles and cycles of wetting and drying also fragment dead material.[22]

The chemical alteration of the dead organic matter is primarily achieved through bacterial and fungal action. Fungal hyphae produce enzymes which can break through the tough outer structures surrounding dead plant material. They also produce enzymes which break down lignin, which allows them access to both cell contents and to the nitrogen in the lignin. Fungi can transfer carbon and nitrogen through their hyphal networks and thus, unlike bacteria, are not dependent solely on locally available resources.[22]

Decomposition rates vary among ecosystems. The rate of decomposition is governed by three sets of factorsthe physical environment (temperature, moisture, and soil properties), the quantity and quality of the dead material available to decomposers, and the nature of the microbial community itself.[23] Temperature controls the rate of microbial respiration; the higher the temperature, the faster microbial decomposition occurs. It also affects soil moisture, which slows microbial growth and reduces leaching. Freeze-thaw cycles also affect decompositionfreezing temperatures kill soil microorganisms, which allows leaching to play a more important role in moving nutrients around. This can be especially important as the soil thaws in the spring, creating a pulse of nutrients which become available.[23]

Decomposition rates are low under very wet or very dry conditions. Decomposition rates are highest in wet, moist conditions with adequate levels of oxygen. Wet soils tend to become deficient in oxygen (this is especially true in wetlands), which slows microbial growth. In dry soils, decomposition slows as well, but bacteria continue to grow (albeit at a slower rate) even after soils become too dry to support plant growth.

Ecosystems continually exchange energy and carbon with the wider environment. Mineral nutrients, on the other hand, are mostly cycled back and forth between plants, animals, microbes and the soil. Most nitrogen enters ecosystems through biological nitrogen fixation, is deposited through precipitation, dust, gases or is applied as fertilizer.[24]

Since most terrestrial ecosystems are nitrogen-limited, nitrogen cycling is an important control on ecosystem production.[24]

Until modern times, nitrogen fixation was the major source of nitrogen for ecosystems. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria either live symbiotically with plants or live freely in the soil. The energetic cost is high for plants which support nitrogen-fixing symbiontsas much as 25% of gross primary production when measured in controlled conditions. Many members of the legume plant family support nitrogen-fixing symbionts. Some cyanobacteria are also capable of nitrogen fixation. These are phototrophs, which carry out photosynthesis. Like other nitrogen-fixing bacteria, they can either be free-living or have symbiotic relationships with plants.[24] Other sources of nitrogen include acid deposition produced through the combustion of fossil fuels, ammonia gas which evaporates from agricultural fields which have had fertilizers applied to them, and dust.[24] Anthropogenic nitrogen inputs account for about 80% of all nitrogen fluxes in ecosystems.[24]

When plant tissues are shed or are eaten, the nitrogen in those tissues becomes available to animals and microbes. Microbial decomposition releases nitrogen compounds from dead organic matter in the soil, where plants, fungi, and bacteria compete for it. Some soil bacteria use organic nitrogen-containing compounds as a source of carbon, and release ammonium ions into the soil. This process is known as nitrogen mineralization. Others convert ammonium to nitrite and nitrate ions, a process known as nitrification. Nitric oxide and nitrous oxide are also produced during nitrification.[24] Under nitrogen-rich and oxygen-poor conditions, nitrates and nitrites are converted to nitrogen gas, a process known as denitrification.[24]

Other important nutrients include phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, potassium, magnesium and manganese.[25] Phosphorus enters ecosystems through weathering. As ecosystems age this supply diminishes, making phosphorus-limitation more common in older landscapes (especially in the tropics).[25] Calcium and sulfur are also produced by weathering, but acid deposition is an important source of sulfur in many ecosystems. Although magnesium and manganese are produced by weathering, exchanges between soil organic matter and living cells account for a significant portion of ecosystem fluxes. Potassium is primarily cycled between living cells and soil organic matter.[25]

Biodiversity plays an important role in ecosystem functioning.[27] The reason for this is that ecosystem processes are driven by the number of species in an ecosystem, the exact nature of each individual species, and the relative abundance organisms within these species.[28] Ecosystem processes are broad generalizations that actually take place through the actions of individual organisms. The nature of the organismsthe species, functional groups and trophic levels to which they belongdictates the sorts of actions these individuals are capable of carrying out and the relative efficiency with which they do so.

Ecological theory suggests that in order to coexist, species must have some level of limiting similaritythey must be different from one another in some fundamental way, otherwise one species would competitively exclude the other.[29] Despite this, the cumulative effect of additional species in an ecosystem is not linearadditional species may enhance nitrogen retention, for example, but beyond some level of species richness, additional species may have little additive effect.[28]

The addition (or loss) of species which are ecologically similar to those already present in an ecosystem tends to only have a small effect on ecosystem function. Ecologically distinct species, on the other hand, have a much larger effect. Similarly, dominant species have a large effect on ecosystem function, while rare species tend to have a small effect. Keystone species tend to have an effect on ecosystem function that is disproportionate to their abundance in an ecosystem.[28] Similarly, an ecosystem engineer is any organism that creates, significantly modifies, maintains or destroys a habitat.

Ecosystems are dynamic entities. They are subject to periodic disturbances and are in the process of recovering from some past disturbance.[11] When a perturbation occurs, an ecoystem responds by moving away from its initial state. The tendency of an ecosystem to remain close to its equilibrium state, despite that disturbance, is termed its resistance. On the other hand, the speed with which it returns to its initial state after disturbance is called its resilience.[11] Time plays a role in the development of soil from bare rock and the recovery of a community from disturbance.[10]

From one year to another, ecosystems experience variation in their biotic and abiotic environments. A drought, an especially cold winter and a pest outbreak all constitute short-term variability in environmental conditions. Animal populations vary from year to year, building up during resource-rich periods and crashing as they overshoot their food supply. These changes play out in changes in net primary production decomposition rates, and other ecosystem processes.[11] Longer-term changes also shape ecosystem processesthe forests of eastern North America still show legacies of cultivation which ceased 200 years ago, while methane production in eastern Siberian lakes is controlled by organic matter which accumulated during the Pleistocene.[11]

Disturbance also plays an important role in ecological processes. F. Stuart Chapin and coauthors define disturbance as “a relatively discrete event in time and space that alters the structure of populations, communities, and ecosystems and causes changes in resources availability or the physical environment”.[30] This can range from tree falls and insect outbreaks to hurricanes and wildfires to volcanic eruptions. Such disturbances can cause large changes in plant, animal and microbe populations, as well soil organic matter content.[11] Disturbance is followed by succession, a “directional change in ecosystem structure and functioning resulting from biotically driven changes in resources supply.”[30]

The frequency and severity of disturbance determine the way it affects ecosystem function. A major disturbance like a volcanic eruption or glacial advance and retreat leave behind soils that lack plants, animals or organic matter. Ecosystems that experience such disturbances undergo primary succession. A less severe disturbance like forest fires, hurricanes or cultivation result in secondary succession and a faster recovery.[11] More severe disturbance and more frequent disturbance result in longer recovery times.

Classifying ecosystems into ecologically homogeneous units is an important step towards effective ecosystem management.[31] There is no single, agreed-upon way to do this. A variety of systems exist, based on vegetation cover, remote sensing, and bioclimatic classification systems.[31]

Ecological land classification is a cartographical delineation or regionalisation of distinct ecological areas, identified by their geology, topography, soils, vegetation, climate conditions, living species, habitats, water resources, and sometimes also anthropic factors.[32]

Human activities are important in almost all ecosystems. Although humans exist and operate within ecosystems, their cumulative effects are large enough to influence external factors like climate.[10]

Ecosystems provide a variety of goods and services upon which people depend.[33] Ecosystem goods include the “tangible, material products” of ecosystem processes such as food, construction material, medicinal plants.[34] They also include less tangible items like tourism and recreation, and genes from wild plants and animals that can be used to improve domestic species.[33]

Ecosystem services, on the other hand, are generally “improvements in the condition or location of things of value”.[34] These include things like the maintenance of hydrological cycles, cleaning air and water, the maintenance of oxygen in the atmosphere, crop pollination and even things like beauty, inspiration and opportunities for research.[33] While ecosystem goods have traditionally been recognized as being the basis for things of economic value, ecosystem services tend to be taken for granted.[34]

When natural resource management is applied to whole ecosystems, rather than single species, it is termed ecosystem management.[35] Although definitions of ecosystem management abound, there is a common set of principles which underlie these definitions.[36] A fundamental principle is the long-term sustainability of the production of goods and services by the ecosystem;[36] “intergenerational sustainability [is] a precondition for management, not an afterthought”.[33]

While ecosystem management can be used as part of a plan for wilderness conservation, it can also be used in intensively managed ecosystems[33] (see, for example, agroecosystem and close to nature forestry).

As human population and per capita consumption grow, so do the resource demands imposed on ecosystems and the effects of the human ecological footprint. Natural resources are vulnerable and limited. The environmental impacts of anthropogenic actions are becoming more apparent. Problems for all ecosystems include: environmental pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss. For terrestrial ecosystems further threats include air pollution, soil degradation, and deforestation. For aquatic ecosystems threats include also unsustainable exploitation of marine resources (for example overfishing of certain species), marine pollution, microplastics pollution, water pollution, and building on coastal areas.[37]

Society is increasingly becoming aware that ecosystem services are not only limited but also that they are threatened by human activities. The need to better consider long-term ecosystem health and its role in enabling human habitation and economic activity is urgent. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values, often based on the cost of replacement with anthropogenic alternatives. The ongoing challenge of prescribing economic value to nature, for example through biodiversity banking, is prompting transdisciplinary shifts in how we recognize and manage the environment, social responsibility, business opportunities, and our future as a species.[citation needed]

The term “ecosystem” was first used in 1935 in a publication by British ecologist Arthur Tansley.[fn 1][38] Tansley devised the concept to draw attention to the importance of transfers of materials between organisms and their environment.[39] He later refined the term, describing it as “The whole system, … including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment”.[40] Tansley regarded ecosystems not simply as natural units, but as “mental isolates”.[40] Tansley later defined the spatial extent of ecosystems using the term ecotope.[41]

G. Evelyn Hutchinson, a limnologist who was a contemporary of Tansley’s, combined Charles Elton’s ideas about trophic ecology with those of Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky. As a result, he suggested that mineral nutrient availability in a lake limited algal production. This would, in turn, limit the abundance of animals that feed on algae. Raymond Lindeman took these ideas further to suggest that the flow of energy through a lake was the primary driver of the ecosystem. Hutchinson’s students, brothers Howard T. Odum and Eugene P. Odum, further developed a “systems approach” to the study of ecosystems. This allowed them to study the flow of energy and material through ecological systems.[39]

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Ecosystem – Wikipedia

Alternative medicine – Wikipedia

Alternative medicineAM, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), complementary medicine, heterodox medicine, integrative medicine (IM), complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), new-age medicine, unconventional medicine, unorthodox medicineHow alternative treatments “work”:a) Misinterpreted natural course the individual gets better without treatment.b) Placebo effect or false treatment effect an individual receives “alternative therapy” and is convinced it will help. The conviction makes them more likely to get better.c) Nocebo effect an individual is convinced that standard treatment will not work, and that alternative treatment will work. This decreases the likelihood standard treatment will work, while the placebo effect of the “alternative” remains. d) No adverse effects Standard treatment is replaced with “alternative” treatment, getting rid of adverse effects, but also of improvement. e) Interference Standard treatment is “complemented” with something that interferes with its effect. This can both cause worse effect, but also decreased (or even increased) side effects, which may be interpreted as “helping”.Researchers such as epidemiologists, clinical statisticians and pharmacologists use clinical trials to tease out such effects, allowing doctors to offer only that which has been shown to work. “Alternative treatments” often refuse to use trials or make it deliberately hard to do so.

Alternative medicine, fringe medicine, pseudomedicine or simply questionable medicine is the use and promotion of practices which are unproven, disproven, impossible to prove, or excessively harmful in relation to their effect in the attempt to achieve the healing effects of medicine. They differ from experimental medicine in that the latter employs responsible investigation, and accepts results that show it to be ineffective. The scientific consensus is that alternative therapies either do not, or cannot, work. In some cases laws of nature are violated by their basic claims; in some the treatment is so much worse that its use is unethical. Alternative practices, products, and therapies range from only ineffective to having known harmful and toxic effects.

Alternative therapies may be credited for perceived improvement through placebo effects, decreased use or effect of medical treatment (and therefore either decreased side effects; or nocebo effects towards standard treatment), or the natural course of the condition or disease. Alternative treatment is not the same as experimental treatment or traditional medicine, although both can be misused in ways that are alternative. Alternative or complementary medicine is dangerous because it may discourage people from getting the best possible treatment, and may lead to a false understanding of the body and of science.

Alternative medicine is used by a significant number of people, though its popularity is often overstated. Large amounts of funding go to testing alternative medicine, with more than US$2.5 billion spent by the United States government alone. Almost none show any effect beyond that of false treatment, and most studies showing any effect have been statistical flukes. Alternative medicine is a highly profitable industry, with a strong lobby. This fact is often overlooked by media or intentionally kept hidden, with alternative practice being portrayed positively when compared to “big pharma”. The lobby has successfully pushed for alternative therapies to be subject to far less regulation than conventional medicine. Alternative therapies may even be allowed to promote use when there is demonstrably no effect, only a tradition of use. Regulation and licensing of alternative medicine and health care providers varies between and within countries. Despite laws making it illegal to market or promote alternative therapies for use in cancer treatment, many practitioners promote them. Alternative medicine is criticized for taking advantage of the weakest members of society. For example, the United States National Institutes of Health department studying alternative medicine, currently named National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, was established as the Office of Alternative Medicine and was renamed the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine before obtaining its current name. Therapies are often framed as “natural” or “holistic”, in apparent opposition to conventional medicine which is “artificial” and “narrow in scope”, statements which are intentionally misleading. When used together with functional medical treatment, alternative therapies do not “complement” (improve the effect of, or mitigate the side effects of) treatment. Significant drug interactions caused by alternative therapies may instead negatively impact functional treatment, making it less effective, notably in cancer.

Alternative diagnoses and treatments are not part of medicine, or of science-based curricula in medical schools, nor are they used in any practice based on scientific knowledge or experience. Alternative therapies are often based on religious belief, tradition, superstition, belief in supernatural energies, pseudoscience, errors in reasoning, propaganda, fraud, or lies. Alternative medicine is based on misleading statements, quackery, pseudoscience, antiscience, fraud, and poor scientific methodology. Promoting alternative medicine has been called dangerous and unethical. Testing alternative medicine that has no scientific basis has been called a waste of scarce research resources. Critics state that “there is really no such thing as alternative medicine, just medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t”, that the very idea of “alternative” treatments is paradoxical, as any treatment proven to work is by definition “medicine”.

Alternative medicine is defined loosely as a set of products, practices, and theories that are believed or perceived by their users to have the healing effects of medicine,[n 1][n 2] but whose effectiveness has not been clearly established using scientific methods,[n 1][n 3][4][5][6][7] or whose theory and practice is not part of biomedicine,[n 2][n 4][n 5][n 6] or whose theories or practices are directly contradicted by scientific evidence or scientific principles used in biomedicine.[4][5][11] “Biomedicine” or “medicine” is that part of medical science that applies principles of biology, physiology, molecular biology, biophysics, and other natural sciences to clinical practice, using scientific methods to establish the effectiveness of that practice. Unlike medicine,[n 4] an alternative product or practice does not originate from using scientific methods, but may instead be based on hearsay, religion, tradition, superstition, belief in supernatural energies, pseudoscience, errors in reasoning, propaganda, fraud, or other unscientific sources.[n 3][1][4][5]

In General Guidelines for Methodologies on Research and Evaluation of Traditional Medicine, published in 2000 by the World Health Organization (WHO), complementary and alternative medicine were defined as a broad set of health care practices that are not part of that country’s own tradition and are not integrated into the dominant health care system.[12]

The expression also refers to a diverse range of related and unrelated products, practices, and theories ranging from biologically plausible practices and products and practices with some evidence, to practices and theories that are directly contradicted by basic science or clear evidence, and products that have been conclusively proven to be ineffective or even toxic and harmful.[n 2][14][15]

The terms alternative medicine, complementary medicine, integrative medicine, holistic medicine, natural medicine, unorthodox medicine, fringe medicine, unconventional medicine, and new age medicine are used interchangeably as having the same meaning and are almost synonymous in most contexts.[16][17][18][19]

The meaning of the term “alternative” in the expression “alternative medicine”, is not that it is an effective alternative to medical science, although some alternative medicine promoters may use the loose terminology to give the appearance of effectiveness.[4][20] Loose terminology may also be used to suggest meaning that a dichotomy exists when it does not, e.g., the use of the expressions “western medicine” and “eastern medicine” to suggest that the difference is a cultural difference between the Asiatic east and the European west, rather than that the difference is between evidence-based medicine and treatments that do not work.[4]

Complementary medicine (CM) or integrative medicine (IM) is when alternative medicine is used together with functional medical treatment, in a belief that it improves the effect of treatments.[n 7][1][22][23][24] However, significant drug interactions caused by alternative therapies may instead negatively influence treatment, making treatments less effective, notably cancer therapy.[25][26] Both terms refer to use of alternative medical treatments alongside conventional medicine,[27][28][29] an example of which is use of acupuncture (sticking needles in the body to influence the flow of a supernatural energy), along with using science-based medicine, in the belief that the acupuncture increases the effectiveness or “complements” the science-based medicine.[29]

CAM is an abbreviation of the phrase complementary and alternative medicine.[30][31] It has also been called sCAM or SCAM with the addition of “so-called” or “supplements”.[32][33]

Allopathic medicine or allopathy is an expression commonly used by homeopaths and proponents of other forms of alternative medicine to refer to mainstream medicine. It was used to describe the traditional European practice of heroic medicine,[34] but later continued to be used to describe anything that was not homeopathy.[34]

Allopathy refers to the use of pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions.[35] The German version of the word, allopathisch, was coined in 1810 by the creator of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (17551843).[36] The word was coined from allo- (different) and -pathic (relating to a disease or to a method of treatment).[37] In alternative medicine circles the expression “allopathic medicine” is still used to refer to “the broad category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western medicine, biomedicine, evidence-based medicine, or modern medicine” (see the article on scientific medicine).[38]

Use of the term remains common among homeopaths and has spread to other alternative medicine practices. The meaning implied by the label has never been accepted by conventional medicine and is considered pejorative.[39] More recently, some sources have used the term “allopathic”, particularly American sources wishing to distinguish between Doctors of Medicine (MD) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) in the United States.[36][40] William Jarvis, an expert on alternative medicine and public health,[41] states that “although many modern therapies can be construed to conform to an allopathic rationale (e.g., using a laxative to relieve constipation), standard medicine has never paid allegiance to an allopathic principle” and that the label “allopath” was from the start “considered highly derisive by regular medicine”.[42]

Many conventional medical treatments do not fit the nominal definition of allopathy, as they seek to prevent illness, or remove its cause.[43][44]

CAM is an abbreviation of complementary and alternative medicine.[30][31] It has also been called sCAM or SCAM with the addition of “so-called” or “supplements”.[32][33] The words balance and holism are often used, claiming to take into account a “whole” person, in contrast to the supposed reductionism of medicine. Due to its many names the field has been criticized for intense rebranding of what are essentially the same practices: as soon as one name is declared synonymous with quackery, a new name is chosen.[16]

Traditional medicine refers to the pre-scientific practices of a certain culture, contrary to what is typically practiced in other cultures where medical science dominates.

“Eastern medicine” typically refers to the traditional medicines of Asia where conventional bio-medicine penetrated much later.

The words balance and holism are often used alongside complementary or integrative medicine, claiming to take into account a “whole” person, in contrast to the supposed reductionism of medicine. Due to its many names the field has been criticized for intense rebranding of what are essentially the same practices.[16]

Prominent members of the science[45][46] and biomedical science community[3] say that it is not meaningful to define an alternative medicine that is separate from a conventional medicine, that the expressions “conventional medicine”, “alternative medicine”, “complementary medicine”, “integrative medicine”, and “holistic medicine” do not refer to any medicine at all.[45][3][46][47]

Others in both the biomedical and CAM communities say that CAM cannot be precisely defined because of the diversity of theories and practices it includes, and because the boundaries between CAM and biomedicine overlap, are porous, and change. The expression “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) resists easy definition because the health systems and practices it refers to are diffuse, and its boundaries poorly defined.[14][n 8] Healthcare practices categorized as alternative may differ in their historical origin, theoretical basis, diagnostic technique, therapeutic practice and in their relationship to the medical mainstream. Some alternative therapies, including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, have antique origins in East or South Asia and are entirely alternative medical systems;[52] others, such as homeopathy and chiropractic, have origins in Europe or the United States and emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some, such as osteopathy and chiropractic, employ manipulative physical methods of treatment; others, such as meditation and prayer, are based on mind-body interventions. Treatments considered alternative in one location may be considered conventional in another.[55] Thus, chiropractic is not considered alternative in Denmark and likewise osteopathic medicine is no longer thought of as an alternative therapy in the United States.[55]

Critics say the expression is deceptive because it implies there is an effective alternative to science-based medicine, and that complementary is deceptive because it implies that the treatment increases the effectiveness of (complements) science-based medicine, while alternative medicines that have been tested nearly always have no measurable positive effect compared to a placebo.[4][56][57][58]

One common feature of all definitions of alternative medicine is its designation as “other than” conventional medicine. For example, the widely referenced descriptive definition of complementary and alternative medicine devised by the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), states that it is “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine”.[61] For conventional medical practitioners, it does not necessarily follow that either it or its practitioners would no longer be considered alternative.[n 9]

Some definitions seek to specify alternative medicine in terms of its social and political marginality to mainstream healthcare.[64] This can refer to the lack of support that alternative therapies receive from the medical establishment and related bodies regarding access to research funding, sympathetic coverage in the medical press, or inclusion in the standard medical curriculum.[64] In 1993, the British Medical Association (BMA), one among many professional organizations who have attempted to define alternative medicine, stated that it[n 10] referred to “…those forms of treatment which are not widely used by the conventional healthcare professions, and the skills of which are not taught as part of the undergraduate curriculum of conventional medical and paramedical healthcare courses”.[65] In a US context, an influential definition coined in 1993 by the Harvard-based physician,[66] David M. Eisenberg,[67] characterized alternative medicine “as interventions neither taught widely in medical schools nor generally available in US hospitals”.[68] These descriptive definitions are inadequate in the present-day when some conventional doctors offer alternative medical treatments and CAM introductory courses or modules can be offered as part of standard undergraduate medical training;[69] alternative medicine is taught in more than 50 per cent of US medical schools and increasingly US health insurers are willing to provide reimbursement for CAM therapies. In 1999, 7.7% of US hospitals reported using some form of CAM therapy; this proportion had risen to 37.7% by 2008.[71]

An expert panel at a conference hosted in 1995 by the US Office for Alternative Medicine (OAM),[72][n 11] devised a theoretical definition[72] of alternative medicine as “a broad domain of healing resources… other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period”.[74] This definition has been widely adopted by CAM researchers,[72] cited by official government bodies such as the UK Department of Health,[75] attributed as the definition used by the Cochrane Collaboration,[76] and, with some modification,[dubious discuss] was preferred in the 2005 consensus report of the US Institute of Medicine, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States.[n 2]

The 1995 OAM conference definition, an expansion of Eisenberg’s 1993 formulation, is silent regarding questions of the medical effectiveness of alternative therapies.[77] Its proponents hold that it thus avoids relativism about differing forms of medical knowledge and, while it is an essentially political definition, this should not imply that the dominance of mainstream biomedicine is solely due to political forces.[77] According to this definition, alternative and mainstream medicine can only be differentiated with reference to what is “intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society of culture”.[78] However, there is neither a reliable method to distinguish between cultures and subcultures, nor to attribute them as dominant or subordinate, nor any accepted criteria to determine the dominance of a cultural entity.[78] If the culture of a politically dominant healthcare system is held to be equivalent to the perspectives of those charged with the medical management of leading healthcare institutions and programs, the definition fails to recognize the potential for division either within such an elite or between a healthcare elite and the wider population.[78]

Normative definitions distinguish alternative medicine from the biomedical mainstream in its provision of therapies that are unproven, unvalidated, or ineffective and support of theories with no recognized scientific basis. These definitions characterize practices as constituting alternative medicine when, used independently or in place of evidence-based medicine, they are put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but are not based on evidence gathered with the scientific method.[1][3][27][28][61][80] Exemplifying this perspective, a 1998 editorial co-authored by Marcia Angell, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, argued that:

It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work. Once a treatment has been tested rigorously, it no longer matters whether it was considered alternative at the outset. If it is found to be reasonably safe and effective, it will be accepted. But assertions, speculation, and testimonials do not substitute for evidence. Alternative treatments should be subjected to scientific testing no less rigorous than that required for conventional treatments.[3]

This line of division has been subject to criticism, however, as not all forms of standard medical practice have adequately demonstrated evidence of benefit,[n 4][81] and it is also unlikely in most instances that conventional therapies, if proven to be ineffective, would ever be classified as CAM.[72]

Similarly, the public information website maintained by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of the Commonwealth of Australia uses the acronym “CAM” for a wide range of health care practices, therapies, procedures and devices not within the domain of conventional medicine. In the Australian context this is stated to include acupuncture; aromatherapy; chiropractic; homeopathy; massage; meditation and relaxation therapies; naturopathy; osteopathy; reflexology, traditional Chinese medicine; and the use of vitamin supplements.[83]

The Danish National Board of Health’s “Council for Alternative Medicine” (Sundhedsstyrelsens Rd for Alternativ Behandling (SRAB)), an independent institution under the National Board of Health (Danish: Sundhedsstyrelsen), uses the term “alternative medicine” for:

Proponents of an evidence-base for medicine[n 12][86][87][88][89] such as the Cochrane Collaboration (founded in 1993 and from 2011 providing input for WHO resolutions) take a position that all systematic reviews of treatments, whether “mainstream” or “alternative”, ought to be held to the current standards of scientific method.[90] In a study titled Development and classification of an operational definition of complementary and alternative medicine for the Cochrane Collaboration (2011) it was proposed that indicators that a therapy is accepted include government licensing of practitioners, coverage by health insurance, statements of approval by government agencies, and recommendation as part of a practice guideline; and that if something is currently a standard, accepted therapy, then it is not likely to be widely considered as CAM.[72]

Alternative medicine consists of a wide range of health care practices, products, and therapies. The shared feature is a claim to heal that is not based on the scientific method. Alternative medicine practices are diverse in their foundations and methodologies.[61] Alternative medicine practices may be classified by their cultural origins or by the types of beliefs upon which they are based.[1][4][11][61] Methods may incorporate or be based on traditional medicinal practices of a particular culture, folk knowledge, superstition, spiritual beliefs, belief in supernatural energies (antiscience), pseudoscience, errors in reasoning, propaganda, fraud, new or different concepts of health and disease, and any bases other than being proven by scientific methods.[1][4][5][11] Different cultures may have their own unique traditional or belief based practices developed recently or over thousands of years, and specific practices or entire systems of practices.

Alternative medicine, such as using naturopathy or homeopathy in place of conventional medicine, is based on belief systems not grounded in science.[61]

Alternative medical systems may be based on traditional medicine practices, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Ayurveda in India, or practices of other cultures around the world.[61] Some useful applications of traditional medicines have been researched and accepted within ordinary medicine, however the underlying belief systems are seldom scientific and are not accepted.

Traditional medicine is considered alternative when it is used outside its home region; or when it is used together with or instead of known functional treatment; or when it can be reasonably expected that the patient or practitioner knows or should know that it will not work such as knowing that the practice is based on superstition.

Since ancient times, in many parts of the world a number of herbs reputed to possess abortifacient properties have been used in folk medicine. Among these are: tansy, pennyroyal, black cohosh, and the now-extinct silphium.[101]:4447, 6263, 15455, 23031 Historian of science Ann Hibner Koblitz has written of the probable protoscientific origins of this folk knowledge in observation of farm animals. Women who knew that grazing on certain plants would cause an animal to abort (with negative economic consequences for the farm) would be likely to try out those plants on themselves in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.[102]:120

However, modern users of these plants often lack knowledge of the proper preparation and dosage. The historian of medicine John Riddle has spoken of the “broken chain of knowledge” caused by urbanization and modernization,[101]:167205 and Koblitz has written that “folk knowledge about effective contraception techniques often disappears over time or becomes inextricably mixed with useless or harmful practices.”[102]:vii The ill-informed or indiscriminant use of herbs as abortifacients can cause serious and even lethal side-effects.[103][104]

Bases of belief may include belief in existence of supernatural energies undetected by the science of physics, as in biofields, or in belief in properties of the energies of physics that are inconsistent with the laws of physics, as in energy medicine.[61]

Substance based practices use substances found in nature such as herbs, foods, non-vitamin supplements and megavitamins, animal and fungal products, and minerals, including use of these products in traditional medical practices that may also incorporate other methods.[61][119][120] Examples include healing claims for nonvitamin supplements, fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acid, glucosamine, echinacea, flaxseed oil, and ginseng.[121] Herbal medicine, or phytotherapy, includes not just the use of plant products, but may also include the use of animal and mineral products.[119] It is among the most commercially successful branches of alternative medicine, and includes the tablets, powders and elixirs that are sold as “nutritional supplements”.[119] Only a very small percentage of these have been shown to have any efficacy, and there is little regulation as to standards and safety of their contents.[119] This may include use of known toxic substances, such as use of the poison lead in traditional Chinese medicine.[121]

A US agency, National Center on Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), has created a classification system for branches of complementary and alternative medicine that divides them into five major groups. These groups have some overlap, and distinguish two types of energy medicine: veritable which involves scientifically observable energy (including magnet therapy, colorpuncture and light therapy) and putative, which invokes physically undetectable or unverifiable energy.[125] None of these energies have any evidence to support that they effect the body in any positive or health promoting way.[34]

The history of alternative medicine may refer to the history of a group of diverse medical practices that were collectively promoted as “alternative medicine” beginning in the 1970s, to the collection of individual histories of members of that group, or to the history of western medical practices that were labeled “irregular practices” by the western medical establishment.[4][126][127][128][129] It includes the histories of complementary medicine and of integrative medicine. Before the 1970s, western practitioners that were not part of the increasingly science-based medical establishment were referred to “irregular practitioners”, and were dismissed by the medical establishment as unscientific and as practicing quackery.[126][127] Until the 1970s, irregular practice became increasingly marginalized as quackery and fraud, as western medicine increasingly incorporated scientific methods and discoveries, and had a corresponding increase in success of its treatments.[128] In the 1970s, irregular practices were grouped with traditional practices of nonwestern cultures and with other unproven or disproven practices that were not part of biomedicine, with the entire group collectively marketed and promoted under the single expression “alternative medicine”.[4][126][127][128][130]

Use of alternative medicine in the west began to rise following the counterculture movement of the 1960s, as part of the rising new age movement of the 1970s.[4][131][132] This was due to misleading mass marketing of “alternative medicine” being an effective “alternative” to biomedicine, changing social attitudes about not using chemicals and challenging the establishment and authority of any kind, sensitivity to giving equal measure to beliefs and practices of other cultures (cultural relativism), and growing frustration and desperation by patients about limitations and side effects of science-based medicine.[4][127][128][129][130][132][133] At the same time, in 1975, the American Medical Association, which played the central role in fighting quackery in the United States, abolished its quackery committee and closed down its Department of Investigation.[126]:xxi[133] By the early to mid 1970s the expression “alternative medicine” came into widespread use, and the expression became mass marketed as a collection of “natural” and effective treatment “alternatives” to science-based biomedicine.[4][133][134][135] By 1983, mass marketing of “alternative medicine” was so pervasive that the British Medical Journal (BMJ) pointed to “an apparently endless stream of books, articles, and radio and television programmes urge on the public the virtues of (alternative medicine) treatments ranging from meditation to drilling a hole in the skull to let in more oxygen”.[133]

Mainly as a result of reforms following the Flexner Report of 1910[136] medical education in established medical schools in the US has generally not included alternative medicine as a teaching topic.[n 14] Typically, their teaching is based on current practice and scientific knowledge about: anatomy, physiology, histology, embryology, neuroanatomy, pathology, pharmacology, microbiology and immunology.[138] Medical schools’ teaching includes such topics as doctor-patient communication, ethics, the art of medicine,[139] and engaging in complex clinical reasoning (medical decision-making).[140] Writing in 2002, Snyderman and Weil remarked that by the early twentieth century the Flexner model had helped to create the 20th-century academic health center, in which education, research, and practice were inseparable. While this had much improved medical practice by defining with increasing certainty the pathophysiological basis of disease, a single-minded focus on the pathophysiological had diverted much of mainstream American medicine from clinical conditions that were not well understood in mechanistic terms, and were not effectively treated by conventional therapies.[141]

By 2001 some form of CAM training was being offered by at least 75 out of 125 medical schools in the US.[142] Exceptionally, the School of Medicine of the University of Maryland, Baltimore includes a research institute for integrative medicine (a member entity of the Cochrane Collaboration).[90][143] Medical schools are responsible for conferring medical degrees, but a physician typically may not legally practice medicine until licensed by the local government authority. Licensed physicians in the US who have attended one of the established medical schools there have usually graduated Doctor of Medicine (MD).[144] All states require that applicants for MD licensure be graduates of an approved medical school and complete the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).[144]

There is a general scientific consensus that alternative therapies lack the requisite scientific validation, and their effectiveness is either unproved or disproved.[1][4][145][146] Many of the claims regarding the efficacy of alternative medicines are controversial, since research on them is frequently of low quality and methodologically flawed. Selective publication bias, marked differences in product quality and standardisation, and some companies making unsubstantiated claims call into question the claims of efficacy of isolated examples where there is evidence for alternative therapies.[148]

The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine points to confusions in the general population a person may attribute symptomatic relief to an otherwise-ineffective therapy just because they are taking something (the placebo effect); the natural recovery from or the cyclical nature of an illness (the regression fallacy) gets misattributed to an alternative medicine being taken; a person not diagnosed with science-based medicine may never originally have had a true illness diagnosed as an alternative disease category.[149]

Edzard Ernst characterized the evidence for many alternative techniques as weak, nonexistent, or negative[150] and in 2011 published his estimate that about 7.4% were based on “sound evidence”, although he believes that may be an overestimate.[151] Ernst has concluded that 95% of the alternative treatments he and his team studied, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and reflexology, are “statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments”, but he also believes there is something that conventional doctors can usefully learn from the chiropractors and homeopath: this is the therapeutic value of the placebo effect, one of the strangest phenomena in medicine.[152][153]

In 2003, a project funded by the CDC identified 208 condition-treatment pairs, of which 58% had been studied by at least one randomized controlled trial (RCT), and 23% had been assessed with a meta-analysis.[154] According to a 2005 book by a US Institute of Medicine panel, the number of RCTs focused on CAM has risen dramatically.

As of 2005[update], the Cochrane Library had 145 CAM-related Cochrane systematic reviews and 340 non-Cochrane systematic reviews. An analysis of the conclusions of only the 145 Cochrane reviews was done by two readers. In 83% of the cases, the readers agreed. In the 17% in which they disagreed, a third reader agreed with one of the initial readers to set a rating. These studies found that, for CAM, 38.4% concluded positive effect or possibly positive (12.4%), 4.8% concluded no effect, 0.7% concluded harmful effect, and 56.6% concluded insufficient evidence. An assessment of conventional treatments found that 41.3% concluded positive or possibly positive effect, 20% concluded no effect, 8.1% concluded net harmful effects, and 21.3% concluded insufficient evidence. However, the CAM review used the more developed 2004 Cochrane database, while the conventional review used the initial 1998 Cochrane database.

In the same way as for conventional therapies, drugs, and interventions, it can be difficult to test the efficacy of alternative medicine in clinical trials. In instances where an established, effective, treatment for a condition is already available, the Helsinki Declaration states that withholding such treatment is unethical in most circumstances. Use of standard-of-care treatment in addition to an alternative technique being tested may produce confounded or difficult-to-interpret results.[156]

Cancer researcher Andrew J. Vickers has stated:

Contrary to much popular and scientific writing, many alternative cancer treatments have been investigated in good-quality clinical trials, and they have been shown to be ineffective. The label “unproven” is inappropriate for such therapies; it is time to assert that many alternative cancer therapies have been “disproven”.[157]

A research methods expert and author of Snake Oil Science, R. Barker Bausell, has stated that “it’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”[158] There are concerns that just having NIH support is being used to give unfounded “legitimacy to treatments that are not legitimate.”[159]

Use of placebos to achieve a placebo effect in integrative medicine has been criticized as, “…diverting research time, money, and other resources from more fruitful lines of investigation in order to pursue a theory that has no basis in biology.”[57][58]

Another critic has argued that academic proponents of integrative medicine sometimes recommend misleading patients by using known placebo treatments to achieve a placebo effect.[n 15] However, a 2010 survey of family physicians found that 56% of respondents said they had used a placebo in clinical practice as well. Eighty-five percent of respondents believed placebos can have both psychological and physical benefits.[161]

Integrative medicine has been criticized in that its practitioners, trained in science-based medicine, deliberately mislead patients by pretending placebos are not. “quackademic medicine” is a pejorative term used for integrative medicine, which medical professionals consider an infiltration of quackery into academic science-based medicine.[58]

An analysis of trends in the criticism of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in five prestigious American medical journals during the period of reorganization within medicine (19651999) was reported as showing that the medical profession had responded to the growth of CAM in three phases, and that in each phase, changes in the medical marketplace had influenced the type of response in the journals.[162] Changes included relaxed medical licensing, the development of managed care, rising consumerism, and the establishment of the USA Office of Alternative Medicine (later National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, currently National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health).[n 16] In the “condemnation” phase, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, authors had ridiculed, exaggerated the risks, and petitioned the state to contain CAM; in the “reassessment” phase (mid-1970s through early 1990s), when increased consumer utilization of CAM was prompting concern, authors had pondered whether patient dissatisfaction and shortcomings in conventional care contributed to the trend; in the “integration” phase of the 1990s physicians began learning to work around or administer CAM, and the subjugation of CAM to scientific scrutiny had become the primary means of control.[citation needed]

Practitioners of complementary medicine usually discuss and advise patients as to available alternative therapies. Patients often express interest in mind-body complementary therapies because they offer a non-drug approach to treating some health conditions.[164]

In addition to the social-cultural underpinnings of the popularity of alternative medicine, there are several psychological issues that are critical to its growth. One of the most critical is the placebo effect a well-established observation in medicine.[165] Related to it are similar psychological effects, such as the will to believe,[166] cognitive biases that help maintain self-esteem and promote harmonious social functioning,[166] and the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.[166]

The popularity of complementary & alternative medicine (CAM) may be related to other factors that Edzard Ernst mentioned in an interview in The Independent:

Why is it so popular, then? Ernst blames the providers, customers and the doctors whose neglect, he says, has created the opening into which alternative therapists have stepped. “People are told lies. There are 40 million websites and 39.9 million tell lies, sometimes outrageous lies. They mislead cancer patients, who are encouraged not only to pay their last penny but to be treated with something that shortens their lives. “At the same time, people are gullible. It needs gullibility for the industry to succeed. It doesn’t make me popular with the public, but it’s the truth.[167]

Paul Offit proposed that “alternative medicine becomes quackery” in four ways: by recommending against conventional therapies that are helpful, promoting potentially harmful therapies without adequate warning, draining patients’ bank accounts, or by promoting “magical thinking.”[45]

Authors have speculated on the socio-cultural and psychological reasons for the appeal of alternative medicines among the minority using them in lieu of conventional medicine. There are several socio-cultural reasons for the interest in these treatments centered on the low level of scientific literacy among the public at large and a concomitant increase in antiscientific attitudes and new age mysticism.[166] Related to this are vigorous marketing[168] of extravagant claims by the alternative medical community combined with inadequate media scrutiny and attacks on critics.[166][169]

There is also an increase in conspiracy theories toward conventional medicine and pharmaceutical companies, mistrust of traditional authority figures, such as the physician, and a dislike of the current delivery methods of scientific biomedicine, all of which have led patients to seek out alternative medicine to treat a variety of ailments.[169] Many patients lack access to contemporary medicine, due to a lack of private or public health insurance, which leads them to seek out lower-cost alternative medicine.[170] Medical doctors are also aggressively marketing alternative medicine to profit from this market.[168]

Patients can be averse to the painful, unpleasant, and sometimes-dangerous side effects of biomedical treatments. Treatments for severe diseases such as cancer and HIV infection have well-known, significant side-effects. Even low-risk medications such as antibiotics can have potential to cause life-threatening anaphylactic reactions in a very few individuals. Many medications may cause minor but bothersome symptoms such as cough or upset stomach. In all of these cases, patients may be seeking out alternative treatments to avoid the adverse effects of conventional treatments.[166][169]

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been described as a broad domain of healing resources that encompasses all health systems, modalities, and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period. CAM includes all such practices and ideas self-defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well-being. Boundaries within CAM and between the CAM domain and that of the dominant system are not always sharp or fixed.[72][dubious discuss]

According to recent research, the increasing popularity of the CAM needs to be explained by moral convictions or lifestyle choices rather than by economic reasoning.[171]

In developing nations, access to essential medicines is severely restricted by lack of resources and poverty. Traditional remedies, often closely resembling or forming the basis for alternative remedies, may comprise primary healthcare or be integrated into the healthcare system. In Africa, traditional medicine is used for 80% of primary healthcare, and in developing nations as a whole over one-third of the population lack access to essential medicines.[172]

Some have proposed adopting a prize system to reward medical research.[173] However, public funding for research exists. Increasing the funding for research on alternative medicine techniques is the purpose of the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. NCCIH and its predecessor, the Office of Alternative Medicine, have spent more than US$2.5 billion on such research since 1992; this research has largely not demonstrated the efficacy of alternative treatments.[158][174][175][176]

That alternative medicine has been on the rise “in countries where Western science and scientific method generally are accepted as the major foundations for healthcare, and ‘evidence-based’ practice is the dominant paradigm” was described as an “enigma” in the Medical Journal of Australia.[177]

In the United States, the 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required that for states to receive federal money, they had to grant religious exemptions to child neglect and abuse laws regarding religion-based healing practices.[178] Thirty-one states have child-abuse religious exemptions.[179]

The use of alternative medicine in the US has increased,[1][180] with a 50 percent increase in expenditures and a 25 percent increase in the use of alternative therapies between 1990 and 1997 in America.[180] Americans spend many billions on the therapies annually.[180] Most Americans used CAM to treat and/or prevent musculoskeletal conditions or other conditions associated with chronic or recurring pain.[170] In America, women were more likely than men to use CAM, with the biggest difference in use of mind-body therapies including prayer specifically for health reasons”.[170] In 2008, more than 37% of American hospitals offered alternative therapies, up from 27 percent in 2005, and 25% in 2004.[181][182] More than 70% of the hospitals offering CAM were in urban areas.[182]

A survey of Americans found that 88 percent thought that “there are some good ways of treating sickness that medical science does not recognize”.[1] Use of magnets was the most common tool in energy medicine in America, and among users of it, 58 percent described it as at least “sort of scientific”, when it is not at all scientific.[1] In 2002, at least 60 percent of US medical schools have at least some class time spent teaching alternative therapies.[1] “Therapeutic touch”, was taught at more than 100 colleges and universities in 75 countries before the practice was debunked by a nine-year-old child for a school science project.[1][118]

The most common CAM therapies used in the US in 2002 were prayer (45%), herbalism (19%), breathing meditation (12%), meditation (8%), chiropractic medicine (8%), yoga (56%), body work (5%), diet-based therapy (4%), progressive relaxation (3%), mega-vitamin therapy (3%) and Visualization (2%)[170][183]

In Britain, the most often used alternative therapies were Alexander technique, Aromatherapy, Bach and other flower remedies, Body work therapies including massage, Counseling stress therapies, hypnotherapy, Meditation, Reflexology, Shiatsu, Ayurvedic medicine, Nutritional medicine, and Yoga.[184] Ayurvedic medicine remedies are mainly plant based with some use of animal materials. Safety concerns include the use of herbs containing toxic compounds and the lack of quality control in Ayurvedic facilities.[112][114]

According to the National Health Service (England), the most commonly used complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) supported by the NHS in the UK are: acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopathy, massage, osteopathy and clinical hypnotherapy.[186]

Complementary therapies are often used in palliative care or by practitioners attempting to manage chronic pain in patients. Integrative medicine is considered more acceptable in the interdisciplinary approach used in palliative care than in other areas of medicine. “From its early experiences of care for the dying, palliative care took for granted the necessity of placing patient values and lifestyle habits at the core of any design and delivery of quality care at the end of life. If the patient desired complementary therapies, and as long as such treatments provided additional support and did not endanger the patient, they were considered acceptable.”[187] The non-pharmacologic interventions of complementary medicine can employ mind-body interventions designed to “reduce pain and concomitant mood disturbance and increase quality of life.”[188]

In Austria and Germany complementary and alternative medicine is mainly in the hands of doctors with MDs,[30] and half or more of the American alternative practitioners are licensed MDs.[189] In Germany herbs are tightly regulated: half are prescribed by doctors and covered by health insurance.[190]

Some professions of complementary/traditional/alternative medicine, such as chiropractic, have achieved full regulation in North America and other parts of the world and are regulated in a manner similar to that governing science-based medicine. In contrast, other approaches may be partially recognized and others have no regulation at all. Regulation and licensing of alternative medicine ranges widely from country to country, and state to state.

Government bodies in the US and elsewhere have published information or guidance about alternative medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has issued online warnings for consumers about medication health fraud.[192] This includes a section on Alternative Medicine Fraud,[193] such as a warning that Ayurvedic products generally have not been approved by the FDA before marketing.[194]

Many of the claims regarding the safety and efficacy of alternative medicine are controversial. Some alternative treatments have been associated with unexpected side effects, which can be fatal.[195]

A commonly voiced concerns about complementary alternative medicine (CAM) is the way it’s regulated. There have been significant developments in how CAMs should be assessed prior to re-sale in the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) in the last 2 years. Despite this, it has been suggested that current regulatory bodies have been ineffective in preventing deception of patients as many companies have re-labelled their drugs to avoid the new laws.[196] There is no general consensus about how to balance consumer protection (from false claims, toxicity, and advertising) with freedom to choose remedies.

Advocates of CAM suggest that regulation of the industry will adversely affect patients looking for alternative ways to manage their symptoms, even if many of the benefits may represent the placebo affect.[197] Some contend that alternative medicines should not require any more regulation than over-the-counter medicines that can also be toxic in overdose (such as paracetamol).[198]

Forms of alternative medicine that are biologically active can be dangerous even when used in conjunction with conventional medicine. Examples include immuno-augmentation therapy, shark cartilage, bioresonance therapy, oxygen and ozone therapies, and insulin potentiation therapy. Some herbal remedies can cause dangerous interactions with chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy, or anesthetics during surgery, among other problems.[31] An anecdotal example of these dangers was reported by Associate Professor Alastair MacLennan of Adelaide University, Australia regarding a patient who almost bled to death on the operating table after neglecting to mention that she had been taking “natural” potions to “build up her strength” before the operation, including a powerful anticoagulant that nearly caused her death.[199]

To ABC Online, MacLennan also gives another possible mechanism:

And lastly [sic] there’s the cynicism and disappointment and depression that some patients get from going on from one alternative medicine to the next, and they find after three months the placebo effect wears off, and they’re disappointed and they move on to the next one, and they’re disappointed and disillusioned, and that can create depression and make the eventual treatment of the patient with anything effective difficult, because you may not get compliance, because they’ve seen the failure so often in the past.[200]

Conventional treatments are subjected to testing for undesired side-effects, whereas alternative treatments, in general, are not subjected to such testing at all. Any treatment whether conventional or alternative that has a biological or psychological effect on a patient may also have potential to possess dangerous biological or psychological side-effects. Attempts to refute this fact with regard to alternative treatments sometimes use the appeal to nature fallacy, i.e., “That which is natural cannot be harmful.” Specific groups of patients such as patients with impaired hepatic or renal function are more susceptible to side effects of alternative remedies.[201][202]

An exception to the normal thinking regarding side-effects is Homeopathy. Since 1938, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulated homeopathic products in “several significantly different ways from other drugs.”[203] Homeopathic preparations, termed “remedies”, are extremely dilute, often far beyond the point where a single molecule of the original active (and possibly toxic) ingredient is likely to remain. They are, thus, considered safe on that count, but “their products are exempt from good manufacturing practice requirements related to expiration dating and from finished product testing for identity and strength”, and their alcohol concentration may be much higher than allowed in conventional drugs.[203]

Those having experienced or perceived success with one alternative therapy for a minor ailment may be convinced of its efficacy and persuaded to extrapolate that success to some other alternative therapy for a more serious, possibly life-threatening illness.[204] For this reason, critics argue that therapies that rely on the placebo effect to define success are very dangerous. According to mental health journalist Scott Lilienfeld in 2002, “unvalidated or scientifically unsupported mental health practices can lead individuals to forgo effective treatments” and refers to this as “opportunity cost”. Individuals who spend large amounts of time and money on ineffective treatments may be left with precious little of either, and may forfeit the opportunity to obtain treatments that could be more helpful. In short, even innocuous treatments can indirectly produce negative outcomes.[205] Between 2001 and 2003, four children died in Australia because their parents chose ineffective naturopathic, homeopathic, or other alternative medicines and diets rather than conventional therapies.[206]

There have always been “many therapies offered outside of conventional cancer treatment centers and based on theories not found in biomedicine. These alternative cancer cures have often been described as ‘unproven,’ suggesting that appropriate clinical trials have not been conducted and that the therapeutic value of the treatment is unknown.” However, “many alternative cancer treatments have been investigated in good-quality clinical trials, and they have been shown to be ineffective….The label ‘unproven’ is inappropriate for such therapies; it is time to assert that many alternative cancer therapies have been ‘disproven’.”[157]

Edzard Ernst has stated:

…any alternative cancer cure is bogus by definition. There will never be an alternative cancer cure. Why? Because if something looked halfway promising, then mainstream oncology would scrutinize it, and if there is anything to it, it would become mainstream almost automatically and very quickly. All curative “alternative cancer cures” are based on false claims, are bogus, and, I would say, even criminal.[207]

“CAM”, meaning “complementary and alternative medicine”, is not as well researched as conventional medicine, which undergoes intense research before release to the public.[208] Funding for research is also sparse making it difficult to do further research for effectiveness of CAM.[209] Most funding for CAM is funded by government agencies.[208] Proposed research for CAM are rejected by most private funding agencies because the results of research are not reliable.[208] The research for CAM has to meet certain standards from research ethics committees, which most CAM researchers find almost impossible to meet.[208] Even with the little research done on it, CAM has not been proven to be effective.[210]

Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale School of Medicine, wrote that government funded studies of integrating alternative medicine techniques into the mainstream are “used to lend an appearance of legitimacy to treatments that are not legitimate.”[159] Marcia Angell considered that critics felt that healthcare practices should be classified based solely on scientific evidence, and if a treatment had been rigorously tested and found safe and effective, science-based medicine will adopt it regardless of whether it was considered “alternative” to begin with.[3] It is possible for a method to change categories (proven vs. unproven), based on increased knowledge of its effectiveness or lack thereof. A prominent supporter of this position is George D. Lundberg, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).[47]

Writing in 1999 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians Barrie R. Cassileth mentioned a 1997 letter to the US Senate Subcommittee on Public Health and Safety, which had deplored the lack of critical thinking and scientific rigor in OAM-supported research, had been signed by four Nobel Laureates and other prominent scientists. (This was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).)[211]

In March 2009 a staff writer for the Washington Post reported that the impending national discussion about broadening access to health care, improving medical practice and saving money was giving a group of scientists an opening to propose shutting down the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. They quoted one of these scientists, Steven Salzberg, a genome researcher and computational biologist at the University of Maryland, as saying “One of our concerns is that NIH is funding pseudoscience.” They noted that the vast majority of studies were based on fundamental misunderstandings of physiology and disease, and had shown little or no effect.[159]

Writers such as Carl Sagan, a noted astrophysicist, advocate of scientific skepticism and the author of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), have lambasted the lack of empirical evidence to support the existence of the putative energy fields on which these therapies are predicated.

Sampson has also pointed out that CAM tolerated contradiction without thorough reason and experiment.[212] Barrett has pointed out that there is a policy at the NIH of never saying something doesn’t work only that a different version or dose might give different results.[158] Barrett also expressed concern that, just because some “alternatives” have merit, there is the impression that the rest deserve equal consideration and respect even though most are worthless, since they are all classified under the one heading of alternative medicine.[213]

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Alternative medicine – Wikipedia

Category:Alternative medicine – Wikipedia

Alternative medicine encompasses methods used in both complementary medicine and alternative medicine, known collectively as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). These methods are used in place of (“alternative to”), or in addition to (“complementary to”), conventional medical treatments. The terms are primarily used in the western world, and include several traditional medicine techniques practiced throughout the world.

If you add something to this category it should also be added to list of forms of alternative medicine.

This category has the following 10 subcategories, out of 10 total.

The following 106 pages are in this category, out of 106 total. This list may not reflect recent changes (learn more).

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Alternative Medicine | Fox News

82-year-old polio survivor Mona Randolph uses one of only three “iron lungs” known to still be in use in the U.S. The iron lung, which was invented in 1920s, was often used on polio patients who were unable to breathe after the virus paralyzed muscle groups in the chest. Six nights a week, Randolph sleeps up to her neck in a noisy, airtight, 75-year-old iron tube.

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Ecosystem services – Wikipedia

Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems. Such ecosystems include, for example, agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are becoming known as ‘ecosystem services’, and are often integral to the provisioning of clean drinking water, the decomposition of wastes, and the natural pollination of crops and other plants.

While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ecosystem services implicitly for decades, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in the early 2000s popularized the concept.[1] There, ecosystem services are grouped into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and oxygen production; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values.

While the notion of human dependence on Earth’s ecosystems reaches to the start of Homo sapiens’ existence, the term ‘natural capital’ was first coined by E.F. Schumacher in 1973 in his book Small is Beautiful [2]. Recognition of how ecosystems could provide complex services to humankind date back to at least Plato (c. 400 BC) who understood that deforestation could lead to soil erosion and the drying of springs.[3][pageneeded] Modern ideas of ecosystem services probably began when Marsh challenged in 1864 the idea that Earth’s natural resources are unbounded by pointing out changes in soil fertility in the Mediterranean.[4][pageneeded] It was not until the late 1940s that three key authorsHenry Fairfield Osborn, Jr,[5] William Vogt,[6] and Aldo Leopold [7]promoted recognition of human dependence on the environment.

In 1956, Paul Sears drew attention to the critical role of the ecosystem in processing wastes and recycling nutrients.[8] In 1970, Paul Ehrlich and Rosa Weigert called attention to “ecological systems” in their environmental science textbook[9] and “the most subtle and dangerous threat to man’s existence… the potential destruction, by man’s own activities, of those ecological systems upon which the very existence of the human species depends”.

The term “environmental services” was introduced in a 1970 report of the Study of Critical Environmental Problems,[10] which listed services including insect pollination, fisheries, climate regulation and flood control. In following years, variations of the term were used, but eventually ‘ecosystem services’ became the standard in scientific literature.[11]

The ecosystem services concept has continued to expand and includes socio-economic and conservation objectives, which are discussed below. A history of the concepts and terminology of ecosystem services as of 1997, can be found in Daily’s book “Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems”.[3]

While Gretchen Daily’s original definition distinguished between ecosystem goods and ecosystem services, Robert Costanza and colleagues’ later work and that of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment lumped all of these together as ecosystem services.[12][13]

Per the 2006 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), ecosystem services are “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. The MA also delineated the four categories of ecosystem servicessupporting, provisioning, regulating and culturaldiscussed below.

By 2010, there had evolved various working definitions and descriptions of ecosystem services in the literature.[14] To prevent double counting in ecosystem services audits, for instance, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) replaced “Supporting Services” in the MA with “Habitat Services” and “ecosystem functions”, defined as “a subset of the interactions between ecosystem structure and processes that underpin the capacity of an ecosystem to provide goods and services”.[15]

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) report 2005 defines Ecosystem services as benefits people obtain from ecosystems and distinguishes four categories of ecosystem services, where the so-called supporting services are regarded as the basis for the services of the other three categories.[1]

These include services such as nutrient recycling, primary production and soil formation.[16] These services make it possible for the ecosystems to provide services such as food supply, flood regulation, and water purification.

There is discussion as to how the concept of cultural ecosystem services can be operationalized. A good review of approaches in landscape aesthetics, cultural heritage, outdoor recreation, and spiritual significance to define and assess cultural values of our environment so that they fit into the ecosystem services approach is given by Daniel et al.[17] who vote for models that explicitly link ecological structures and functions with cultural values and benefits.There also is a fundamental critique of the concept of cultural ecosystem services that builds on three arguments:[18]

The following examples illustrate the relationships between humans and natural ecosystems through the services derived from them:

Understanding of ecosystem services requires a strong foundation in ecology, which describes the underlying principles and interactions of organisms and the environment. Since the scales at which these entities interact can vary from microbes to landscapes, milliseconds to millions of years, one of the greatest remaining challenges is the descriptive characterization of energy and material flow between them. For example, the area of a forest floor, the detritus upon it, the microorganisms in the soil and characteristics of the soil itself will all contribute to the abilities of that forest for providing ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, water purification, and erosion prevention to other areas within the watershed. Note that it is often possible for multiple services to be bundled together and when benefits of targeted objectives are secured, there may also be ancillary benefitsthe same forest may provide habitat for other organisms as well as human recreation, which are also ecosystem services.

The complexity of Earth’s ecosystems poses a challenge for scientists as they try to understand how relationships are interwoven among organisms, processes and their surroundings. As it relates to human ecology, a suggested research agenda [22] for the study of ecosystem services includes the following steps:

Recently, a technique has been developed to improve and standardize the evaluation of ESP functionality by quantifying the relative importance of different species in terms of their efficiency and abundance.[28] Such parameters provide indications of how species respond to changes in the environment (i.e. predators, resource availability, climate) and are useful for identifying species that are disproportionately important at providing ecosystem services. However, a critical drawback is that the technique does not account for the effects of interactions, which are often both complex and fundamental in maintaining an ecosystem and can involve species that are not readily detected as a priority. Even so, estimating the functional structure of an ecosystem and combining it with information about individual species traits can help us understand the resilience of an ecosystem amidst environmental change.

Many ecologists also believe that the provision of ecosystem services can be stabilized with biodiversity. Increasing biodiversity also benefits the variety of ecosystem services available to society. Understanding the relationship between biodiversity and an ecosystem’s stability is essential to the management of natural resources and their services.

The concept of ecological redundancy is sometimes referred to as functional compensation and assumes that more than one species performs a given role within an ecosystem.[29] More specifically, it is characterized by a particular species increasing its efficiency at providing a service when conditions are stressed in order to maintain aggregate stability in the ecosystem.[30] However, such increased dependence on a compensating species places additional stress on the ecosystem and often enhances its susceptibility to subsequent disturbance[citation needed]. The redundancy hypothesis can be summarized as “species redundancy enhances ecosystem resilience”.[31]

Another idea uses the analogy of rivets in an airplane wing to compare the exponential effect the loss of each species will have on the function of an ecosystem; this is sometimes referred to as rivet popping.[32] If only one species disappears, the loss of the ecosystem’s efficiency as a whole is relatively small; however, if several species are lost, the system essentially collapsessimilar to an airplane that lost too many rivets. The hypothesis assumes that species are relatively specialized in their roles and that their ability to compensate for one another is less than in the redundancy hypothesis. As a result, the loss of any species is critical to the performance of the ecosystem. The key difference is the rate at which the loss of species affects total ecosystem functioning.

A third explanation, known as the portfolio effect, compares biodiversity to stock holdings, where diversification minimizes the volatility of the investment, or in this case, the risk of instability of ecosystem services.[33] This is related to the idea of response diversity where a suite of species will exhibit differential responses to a given environmental perturbation. When considered together, they create a stabilizing function that preserves the integrity of a service.[34]

Several experiments have tested these hypotheses in both the field and the lab. In ECOTRON, a laboratory in the UK where many of the biotic and abiotic factors of nature can be simulated, studies have focused on the effects of earthworms and symbiotic bacteria on plant roots.[32] These laboratory experiments seem to favor the rivet hypothesis. However, a study on grasslands at Cedar Creek Reserve in Minnesota supports the redundancy hypothesis, as have many other field studies.[35]

There are questions regarding the environmental and economic values of ecosystem services.[36] Some people may be unaware of the environment in general and humanity’s interrelatedness with the natural environment, which may cause misconceptions. Although environmental awareness is rapidly improving in our contemporary world, ecosystem capital and its flow are still poorly understood, threats continue to impose, and we suffer from the so-called ‘tragedy of the commons’.[37] Many efforts to inform decision-makers of current versus future costs and benefits now involve organizing and translating scientific knowledge to economics, which articulate the consequences of our choices in comparable units of impact on human well-being.[38] An especially challenging aspect of this process is that interpreting ecological information collected from one spatial-temporal scale does not necessarily mean it can be applied at another; understanding the dynamics of ecological processes relative to ecosystem services is essential in aiding economic decisions.[39] Weighting factors such as a service’s irreplaceability or bundled services can also allocate economic value such that goal attainment becomes more efficient.

The economic valuation of ecosystem services also involves social communication and information, areas that remain particularly challenging and are the focus of many researchers.[40] In general, the idea is that although individuals make decisions for any variety of reasons, trends reveal the aggregative preferences of a society, from which the economic value of services can be inferred and assigned. The six major methods for valuing ecosystem services in monetary terms are:[41]

A peer-reviewed study published in 1997 estimated the value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital to be between US$1654 trillion per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year.[42] However, Salles (2011) indicates ‘The total value of biodiversity is infinite, so having debate about what is the total value of nature is actually pointless because we can’t live without it’.

Although monetary pricing continues with respect to the valuation of ecosystem services, the challenges in policy implementation and management are significant and multitudinous. The administration of common pool resources is a subject of extensive academic pursuit.[43][44][45][46][47] From defining the problems to finding solutions that can be applied in practical and sustainable ways, there is much to overcome. Considering options must balance present and future human needs, and decision-makers must frequently work from valid but incomplete information. Existing legal policies are often considered insufficient since they typically pertain to human health-based standards that are mismatched with necessary means to protect ecosystem health and services. To improve the information available, one suggestion has involved the implementation of an Ecosystem Services Framework (ESF[48]), which integrates the biophysical and socio-economic dimensions of protecting the environment and is designed to guide institutions through multidisciplinary information and jargon, helping to direct strategic choices.

Novel and expedient methods are needed to deal with managing Earth’s ecosystem services. Local to regional collective management efforts might be considered appropriate for services like crop pollination or resources like water.[22][43] Another approach that has become increasingly popular over the last decade is the marketing of ecosystem services protection. Payment and trading of services is an emerging worldwide small-scale solution where one can acquire credits for activities such as sponsoring the protection of carbon sequestration sources or the restoration of ecosystem service providers. In some cases, banks for handling such credits have been established and conservation companies have even gone public on stock exchanges, defining an evermore parallel link with economic endeavors and opportunities for tying into social perceptions.[38] However, crucial for implementation are clearly defined land rights, which is often lacking in many developing countries.[49] In particular, many forest-rich developing countries suffering deforestation experience conflict between different forest stakeholders.[49] In addition, concerns for such global transactions include inconsistent compensation for services or resources sacrificed elsewhere and misconceived warrants for irresponsible use. Another approach has been focused on protecting ecosystem service ‘hotspots’. Recognition that the conservation of many ecosystem services aligns with more traditional conservation goals (i.e. biodiversity) has led to the suggested merging of objectives for maximizing their mutual success. This may be particularly strategic when employing networks that permit the flow of services across landscapes, and might also facilitate securing the financial means to protect services through a diversification of investors.[50][51]

For example, in recent years there has been interest in the valuation of ecosystem services provided by shellfish production and restoration.[52] A keystone species, low in the food chain, bivalve shellfish such as oysters support a complex community of species by performing a number of functions essential to the diverse array of species that surround them. There is also increasing recognition that some shellfish species may impact or control many ecological processes; so much so that they are included on the list of “ecosystem engineers”organisms that physically, biologically or chemically modify the environment around them in ways that influence the health of other organisms.[53] Many of the ecological functions and processes performed or affected by shellfish contribute to human well-being by providing a stream of valuable ecosystem services over time by filtering out particulate materials and potentially mitigating water quality issues by controlling excess nutrients in the water.

Ecosystem-based adaptation or EbA is an emerging strategy for community development and environmental management that seeks to use an ecosystem services framework to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. The Convention on Biological Diversity currently defines Ecosystem-Based Adaptation as “the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change”, which includes the use of “sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems, as part of an overall adaptation strategy that takes into account the multiple social, economic and cultural co-benefits for local communities”.[54]

In 2001, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment announced that humanity’s impact on the natural world was increasing to levels never before seen, and that the degradation of the planet’s ecosystems would become a major barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In recognition of this fact, Ecosystem-Based Adaptation seeks to use the restoration of ecosystems as a stepping-stone to improving the quality of life in communities experiencing the impacts of climate change. Specifically, this involves the restoration of ecosystems that provide the community with essential services, such as the provisioning of food and water and protection from storm surges and flooding. EbA interventions typically combine elements of both climate change mitigation and adaptation to global warming to help address the community’s current and future needs.[55]

Collaborative planning between scientists, policy makers, and community members is an essential element of Ecosystem-Based Adaptation. By drawing on the expertise of outside experts and local residents alike, EbA seeks to develop unique solutions to unique problems, rather than simply replicating past projects.[54]

Ecosystem services are defined as the gains acquired by humankind from surroundings ecosystems. Four different types of ecosystem services have been distinguished by the scientific body: regulating services, provisioning services, cultural services and supporting services. An ecosystem does not necessarily offer all four types of services simultaneously; but given the intricate nature of any ecosystem, it is usually assumed that humans benefit from a combination of these services. The services offered by diverse types of ecosystems (forests, seas, coral reefs, mangroves, etc.) differ in nature and in consequence. In fact, some services directly affect the livelihood of neighboring human populations (such as fresh water, food or aesthetic value, etc.) while other services affect general environmental conditions by which humans are indirectly impacted (such as climate change, erosion regulation or natural hazard regulation, etc.).[56]

Estuarine and coastal ecosystems are both marine ecosystems. An estuary is defined as the area in which a river meets the sea or the ocean. The waters surrounding this area are predominantly salty waters or brackish waters; and the incoming river water is dynamically motioned by the tide. An estuary strip may be covered by populations of reed (or similar plants) and/or sandbanks (or similar form or land).[citation needed]

A coastal ecosystem occurs in areas where the sea or ocean waters meet the land.[citation needed]

Regulating services are the “benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes”.[57] In the case of coastal and estuarine ecosystems, these services include climate regulation, waste treatment and disease control and natural hazard regulation.

Both the biotic and abiotic ensembles of marine ecosystems play a role in climate regulation. They act as sponges when it comes to gases in the atmosphere, retaining large levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide). Marine plants also use CO2 for photosynthesis purposes and help in reducing the atmospheric CO2. The oceans and seas absorb the heat from the atmosphere and redistribute it through the means of water currents, and atmospheric processes, such as evaporation and the reflection of light allow for the cooling and warming of the overlying atmosphere. The ocean temperatures are thus imperative to the regulation of the atmospheric temperatures in any part of the world: “without the ocean, the Earth would be unbearably hot during the daylight hours and frigidly cold, if not frozen, at night”.[58]

Another service offered by marine ecosystem is the treatment of wastes, thus helping in the regulation of diseases. Wastes can be diluted and detoxified through transport across marine ecosystems; pollutants are removed from the environment and stored, buried or recycled in marine ecosystems: “Marine ecosystems break down organic waste through microbial communities that filter water, reduce/limit the effects of eutrophication, and break down toxic hydrocarbons into their basic components such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorus, and water”.[58] The fact that waste is diluted with large volumes of water and moves with water currents leads to the regulation of diseases and the reduction of toxics in seafood.

Coastal and estuarine ecosystems act as buffer zones against natural hazards and environmental disturbances, such as floods, cyclones, tidal surges and storms. The role they play is to “[absorb] a portion of the impact and thus [lessen] its effect on the land”.[58] Wetlands, for example, and the vegetation it supports trees, root mats, etc. retain large amounts of water (surface water, snowmelt, rain, groundwater) and then slowly releases them back, decreasing the likeliness of floods.[59] Mangrove forests protect coastal shorelines from tidal erosion or erosion by currents; a process that was studied after the 1999 cyclone that hit India. Villages that were surrounded with mangrove forests encountered less damages than other villages that weren’t protected by mangroves.[60]

Provisioning services consist of all “the products obtained from ecosystems”. Marine ecosystems provide people with: wild & cultured seafood, fresh water, fiber & fuel and biochemical & genetic resources.[citation needed]

Humans consume a large number of products originating from the seas, whether as a nutritious product or for use in other sectors: “More than one billion people worldwide, or one-sixth of the global population, rely on fish as their main source of animal protein. In 2000, marine and coastal fisheries accounted for 12 per cent of world food production”.[61] Fish and other edible marine products primarily fish, shellfish, roe and seaweeds constitute for populations living along the coast the main elements of the local cultural diets, norms and traditions. A very pertinent example would be sushi, the national food of Japan, which consists mostly of different types of fish and seaweed.

Water bodies that are not highly concentrated in salts are referred to as ‘fresh water’ bodies. Fresh water may run through lakes, rivers and streams, to name a few; but it is most prominently found in the frozen state or as soil moisture or buried deep underground. Fresh water is not only important for the survival of humans, but also for the survival of all the existing species of animals, plants.[citation needed]

Marine creatures provide us with the raw materials needed for the manufacturing of clothing, building materials (lime extracted from coral reefs), ornamental items and personal-use items (luffas, art and jewelry): “The skin of marine mammals for clothing, gas deposits for energy production, lime (extracted from coral reefs) for building construction, and the timber of mangroves and coastal forests for shelter are some of the more familiar uses of marine organisms. Raw marine materials are utilized for non-essential goods as well, such as shells and corals in ornamental items”.[61] Humans have also referred to processes within marine environments for the production of renewable energy: using the power of waves or tidal power as a source of energy for the powering of a turbine, for example.[citation needed] Oceans and seas are used as sites for offshore oil and gas installations, offshore wind farms.[citation needed]

Biochemical resources are compounds extracted from marine organisms for use in medicines, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and other biochemical products. Genetic resources are the genetic information found in marine organisms that would later on be used for animal and plant breeding and for technological advances in the biological field. These resources are either directly taken out from an organism such as fish oil as a source of omega3 , or used as a model for innovative man-made products: “such as the construction of fiber optics technology based on the properties of sponges. … Compared to terrestrial products, marine-sourced products tend to be more highly bioactive, likely due to the fact that marine organisms have to retain their potency despite being diluted in the surrounding sea-water”.[61]

Cultural services relate to the non-material world, as they benefit the benefit recreational, aesthetic, cognitive and spiritual activities, which are not easily quantifiable in monetary terms.[citation needed]

Marine environments have been used by many as an inspiration for their works of art, music, architecture, traditions… Water environments are spiritually important as a lot of people view them as a means for rejuvenation and change of perspective. Many also consider the water as being a part of their personality, especially if they have lived near it since they were kids: they associate it to fond memories and past experiences. Living near water bodies for a long time results in a certain set of water activities that become a ritual in the lives of people and of the culture in the region.[citation needed]

Sea sports are very popular among coastal populations: surfing, snorkeling, whale watching, kayaking, recreational fishing…a lot of tourists also travel to resorts close to the sea or rivers or lakes to be able to experience these activities, and relax near the water.[citation needed]

A lot can be learned from marine processes, environments and organisms that could be implemented into our daily actions and into the scientific domain. Although much is still yet to still be known about the ocean world: “by the extraordinary intricacy and complexity of the marine environment and how it is influenced by large spatial scales, time lags, and cumulative effects”.[58]

Supporting services are the services that allow for the other ecosystem services to be present. They have indirect impacts on humans that last over a long period of time. Several services can be considered as being both supporting services and regulating/cultural/provisioning services.[citation needed]

Nutrient cycling is the movement of nutrients through an ecosystem by biotic and abiotic processes.[62] The ocean is a vast storage pool for these nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. The nutrients are absorbed by the basic organisms of the marine food web and are thus transferred from one organism to the other and from one ecosystem to the other. Nutrients are recycled through the life cycle of organisms as they die and decompose, releasing the nutrients into the neighboring environment. “The service of nutrient cycling eventually impacts all other ecosystem services as all living things require a constant supply of nutrients to survive”.[58]

Biologically mediated habitats are defined as being the habitats that living marine structures offer to other organisms.[63] These need not to be designed for the sole purpose of serving as a habitat, but happen to become living quarters whilst growing naturally. For example, coral reefs and mangrove forests are home to numerous species of fish, seaweed and shellfish… The importance of these habitats is that they allow for interactions between different species, aiding the provisioning of marine goods and services. They are also very important for the growth at the early life stages of marine species (breeding and bursary spaces), as they serve as a food source and as a shelter from predators.[citation needed]

Primary production refers to the production of organic matter, i.e., chemically bound energy, through processes such as photosynthesis and chemosynthesis. The organic matter produced by primary producers forms the basis of all food webs. Further, it generates oxygen (O2), a molecule necessary to sustain animals and humans.[64][65][66][67]

Ecosystem services degradation can pose a number of risks to corporate performance as well as provide business opportunities through ecosystem restoration and enhancement. Risks and opportunities include:

Many companies are not fully aware of the extent of their dependence and impact on ecosystems and the possible ramifications. Likewise, environmental management systems and environmental due diligence tools are more suited to handle “traditional” issues of pollution and natural resource consumption. Most focus on environmental impacts, not dependence. Several newly developed tools and methodologies can help the private sector value and assess ecosystem services. These include Our Ecosystem,[68] the Corporate Ecosystem Services Review (ESR),[69] Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES),[70] the Natural Value Initiative (NVI)[71] and InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services & Tradeoffs) [72]

Ecosystem services decisions require making complex choices at the intersection of ecology, technology, society and the economy. The process of making ecosystem services decisions must consider the interaction of many types of information, honor all stakeholder viewpoints, including regulatory agencies, proposal proponents, decision makers, residents, NGOs, and measure the impacts on all four parts of the intersection. These decisions are usually spatial, always multi-objective, and based on uncertain data, models, and estimates. Often it is the combination of the best science combined with the stakeholder values, estimates and opinions that drive the process.[73]

One analytical study modeled the stakeholders as agents to support water resource management decisions in the Middle Rio Grande basin of New Mexico. This study focused on modeling the stakeholder inputs across a spatial decision, but ignored uncertainty.[74] Another study used Monte Carlo methods to exercise econometric models of landowner decisions in a study of the effects of land-use change. Here the stakeholder inputs were modeled as random effects to reflect the uncertainty.[75] A third study used a Bayesian decision support system to both model the uncertainty in the scientific information Bayes Nets and to assist collecting and fusing the input from stakeholders. This study was about siting wave energy devices off the Oregon Coast, but presents a general method for managing uncertain spatial science and stakeholder information in a decision making environment.[76] Remote sensing data and analyses can be used to assess the health and extent of land cover classes that provide ecosystem services, which aids in planning, management, monitoring of stakeholders’ actions, and communication between stakeholders.[77]

In Baltic countries scientists, nature conservationists and local authorities are implementing integrated planning approach for grassland ecosystems. They are developing Integrated Planning Tool that will be based on GIS (geographic information system) technology and put online that will help for planners to choose the best grassland management solution for concrete grassland. It will look holistically at the processes in the countryside and help to find best grassland management solutions by taking into account both natural and socioeconomic factors of the particular site.

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Ecosystem services – Wikipedia

This New Startup Is Making Chatbots Dumber So You Can Actually Talk to Them

A Spanish tech startup decided to ditch artificial intelligence to make its chatbot platform more approachable

Tech giants have been trying to one-up each other to make the most intelligent chatbot out there. They can help you simply fill in forms, or take the form of fleshed-out digital personalities that can have meaningful conversations with you. Those that have voice functions have come insanely close to mimicking human speech — inflections, and even the occasional “uhm’s” and “ah’s” — perfectly.

And they’re much more common than you might think. In 2016, Facebook introduced Messenger Bots that businesses worldwide now use for simple tasks like ordering flowers, getting news updates in chat form, or getting information on flights from an airline. Millions of users are filling waiting lists to talk to an “emotional chatbot” on an app called Replika.

But there’s no getting around AI’s shortcomings. And for chatbots in particular, the frustration arises from a disconnect between the user’s intent or expectations, and the chatbot’s programmed abilities.

Take Facebook’s Project M. Sources believe Facebook’s (long forgotten) attempt at developing a truly intelligent chatbot never surpassed a 30 percent success rate, according to Wired — the remaining 70 percent of the time, human employees had to step in to solve tasks. Facebook billed the bot as all-knowing, but the reality was far less promising. It simply couldn’t handle pretty much any task it was asked to do by Facebook’s numerous users.

Admittedly, takes a a lot of resources to develop complex AI chatbots. Even Google Duplex, arguably the most advanced chatbot around today, is still limited to verifying business hours and making simple appointments. Still, users simply expect far more than what AI chatbots can actually do, which tends to enrage users.

The tech industry isn’t giving up. Market researchers predict that chatbots will grow to become a $1 billion market by 2025.

But maybe they’re going about this all wrong. Maybe, instead of making more sophisticated chatbots, businesses should focus on what users really need in a chatbot, stripped down to its very essence.

Landbot, a one-year-old Spanish tech startup, is taking a different approach: it’s making a chatbot-builder for businesses that does the bare minimum, and nothing more. The small company landed $2.2 million in a single round of funding (it plans to use those funds primarily to expand its operations and cover the costs of relocating to tech innovation hub Barcelona).

“We started our chatbot journey using Artificial Intelligence technology but found out that there was a huge gap between user expectations and reality,” co-founder Jiaqi Pan tells TechCrunch. “No matter how well trained our chatbots were, users were constantly dropped off the desired flow, which ended up in 20 different ways of saying ‘TALK WITH A HUMAN’.”

Instead of creating advanced tech that could predict and analyze user prompts, Landbot decided to work on a simple user interface that allows businesses to create chat flows that link prompt and action, question and answer. It’s kind of like a chatbot flowchart builder. And the results are pretty positive: the company has seen healthy revenue growth, and the tool is used by hundreds of businesses in more than 50 countries, according to TechCrunch.

The world is obsessed with achieving perfect artificial intelligence, and the growing AI chatbot market is no different. So obsessed in fact, it’s driving users away — growing disillusionment, frustration, and rage are undermining tech companies’ efforts. And this obsession might be doing far more harm than good. It’s simple: people are happiest when they get the results they expect. Added complexity or lofty promises of “true AI” will end up pushing them away if it doesn’t actually end up helping them.

After all, sometimes less is more. Landbot and its customers are making it work with less.

Besides, listening to your customers can go a long way.

Now can you please connect me to a human?

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This New Startup Is Making Chatbots Dumber So You Can Actually Talk to Them

Google and The UN Team Up To Study The Effects of Climate Change

Google agreed to work with UN Environment to create a platform that gives the world access to valuable environmental data.

WITH OUR POWERS COMBINED… The United Nations’ environmental agency has landed itself a powerful partner in the fight against climate change: Google. The tech company has agreed to partner with UN Environment to increase the world’s access to valuable environmental data. Specifically, the two plan to create a user-friendly platform that lets anyone, anywhere, access environmental data collected by Google’s vast network of satellites. The organizations announced their partnership at a UN forum focused on sustainable development on Monday.

FRESHWATER FIRST. The partnership will first focus on freshwater ecosystems, such as mountains, wetlands, and rivers. These ecosystems provide homes for an estimated 10 percent of our planet’s known species, and research has shown that climate change is causing a rapid loss in biodiversity. Google will use satellite imagery to produce maps and data on these ecosystems in real-time, making that information freely available to anyone via the in-development online platform. According to a UN Environment press release, this will allow nations and other organizations to track changes and take action to prevent or reverse ecosystem loss.

LOST FUNDING. Since President Trump took office, the United States has consistently decreased its contributions to global climate research funds. Collecting and analyzing satellite data is neither cheap nor easy, but Google is already doing it to power platforms such as Google Maps and Google Earth. Now, thanks to this partnership, people all over the world will have a way to access information to help combat the impacts of climate change. Seems the same data that let’s you virtually visit the Eiffel Tower could help save our planet.

READ MORE: UN Environment and Google Announce Ground-Breaking Partnership to Protect Our Planet [UN Environment]

More on freshwater: Climate Change Is Acidifying Our Lakes and Rivers the Same Way It Does With Oceans

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Google and The UN Team Up To Study The Effects of Climate Change

This Wearable Controller Lets You Pilot a Drone With Your Body

PUT DOWN THE JOYSTICK. If you’ve ever tried to pilot a drone, it’s probably taken a little while to do it well; each drone is a little different, and figuring out how to use its manual controller can take time. There seems to be no shortcut other than to suffer a crash landing or two.

Now, a team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have created a wearable drone controller that makes the process of navigation so intuitive, it requires almost no thought at all. They published their research in the journal PNAS on Monday.

NOW, PRETEND YOU’RE A DRONE. To create their wearable drone controller, the researchers first needed to figure out how people wanted to move their bodies to control a drone. So they placed 19 motion-capture markers and various electrodes all across the upper bodies of 17 volunteers. Then, they asked each volunteer to watch simulated drone footage through virtual reality goggles. This let the volunteer feel like they were seeing through the eyes of a drone.

The researchers then asked the volunteers to move their bodies however they liked to mimic the drone as it completed five specific movements (for example, turning right or flying toward the ground). The markers and electrodes allowed the researchers to monitor those movements, and they found that most volunteers moved their torsos in a way simple enough to track using just four motion-capture markers.

With this information, the researchers created a wearable drone controller that could relay the user’s movements to an actual drone — essentially, they built a wearable joystick.

PUTTING IT TO THE TEST. To test their wearable drone controller, the researchers asked 39 volunteers to complete a real (not virtual) drone course using either the wearable or a standard joystick. They found that volunteers wearing the suit outperformed those using the joystick in both learning time and steering abilities.

“Using your torso really gives you the feeling that you are actually flying,” lead author Jenifer Miehlbradt said in a press release. “Joysticks, on the other hand, are of simple design but mastering their use to precisely control distant objects can be challenging.”

IN THE FIELD. Mehlbradt envisions search and rescue crews using her team’s wearable drone controller. “These tasks require you to control the drone and analyze the environment simultaneously, so the cognitive load is much higher,” she told Inverse. “I think having control over the drone with your body will allow you to focus more on what’s around you.”

However, this greater sense of immersion in the drone’s environment might not be beneficial in all scenarios. Previous research has shown that piloting strike drones for the military can cause soldiers to experience significant levels of trauma, and a wearable like the EPFL team’s has the potential to exacerbate the problem.

While Miehlbradt told Futurism her team did not consider drone strikes while developing their drone suit, she speculates that such applications wouldn’t be a good fit.

“I think that, in this case, the ‘distance’ created between the operator and the drone by the use of a third-party control device is beneficial regarding posterior emotional trauma,” she said. “With great caution, I would speculate that our control approach — should it be used in such a case —  may therefore increase the risk of experiencing such symptoms.”

READ MORE: Drone Researchers Develop Genius Method for Piloting Using Body Movements [Inverse]

More on rescue drones: A Rescue Drone Saved Two Teen Swimmers on Its First Day of Deployment

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Most Of NASA’s Moon Rocks Remain Untouched By Scientists

we have only studied about 16 percent of the moon rocks taken during the Apollo missions. NASA's Apollo curator keeps them for future generations.

Forty-nine years ago this Friday, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon. That day, they also became the first people to harvest samples from another celestial body and bring them back to Earth.

Over the course of the Apollo missions, astronauts collected about 2,200 individual samples weighing a total of 842 pounds (382 kg) for scientific study that continues today, NASA curator Ryan Zeigler told Futurism. Zeigler, who also conducts geochemical research, is responsible for overseeing NASA’s collection of space rocks from the Apollo missions, as well as those from Mars, asteroids, stars, and anywhere else other than Earth.

Scientists have only studied about 16 percent of all the Apollo samples by mass, Zeigler told Futurism. Within that 16 percent, just under one-third has been put on display, which Zeigler noted largely keeps the samples pristine. Another quarter were at least partially destroyed (on purpose) during NASA-approved research, and the rest have been analyzed in less destructive ways.

“Trying not to deplete the samples so that future scientists will still have the opportunity to work with them is definitely something we are considering,” says Zeigler. “Also, while I would consider the Apollo samples primarily a scientific resource (though as a scientist am obviously biased), it is undeniable that these samples also have significant historic and cultural importance as well, and thus need to be preserved on those grounds, too.”

The cultural reasons to preserve moon rocks, Zeigler says, are harder to define. But it’s still important to make sure future scientists have enough space rocks left to work with, especially since we can’t fully predict the sorts of questions they’ll try to answer using the Apollo samples, or the technology that will be at their disposal.

“Every decade since the Apollo samples came back has seen significant advances in instrumentation that have allowed samples to be analyzed at higher levels of precision, or smaller spatial resolution,” Zeigler says. “Our understanding of the Moon, and really the whole solar system, has evolved considerably by continuing studies of the Apollo samples.”

“Our understanding of the Moon, and really the whole solar system, has evolved considerably by continuing studies of the Apollo samples.”

In the last six years, Zeigler says that his curation team saw 351 requests for Apollo samples, which comes out to about 60 each year. Within those requests, the scientists have asked for about 692 individual samples per year, most of which weigh one to two grams each. Even if the researchers don’t get everything that they ask for, Zeigler says, most of the studies are at least partially approved, and he’s been loaning out about 525 samples every year. That comes out to just over 75 percent of what the scientists requested.

“So while it is true that significant scientific justification is required to get Apollo samples, and we (NASA, with the support of the planetary scientific community) are intentionally reserving a portion of the Apollo samples for future generations of scientists and scientific instruments to study, the samples are available to scientists around the world to study, and we are slowly lowering the percentage of material that is left,” Zeigler says.

Thankfully, about 84 percent of the Apollo samples are still untouched. That pretty much guarantees that the next generation of geologists and astronomers who try to decipher the Moon’s remaining secrets will have enough samples to fiddle with.

To read more on future lunar research, click here: Three Reasons Why We Might Return To The Moon

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Alphabet Will Bring Its Balloon-Powered Internet to Kenya

Alphabet has inked a deal with a Kenyan telecom to bring its balloon-powered internet to rural and suburban parts of Kenya

BADASS BALLOONS. In 2013, Google unveiled Project Loon, a plan to send a fleet of balloons into the stratosphere that could then beam internet service back down to people on Earth.

And it worked! Just last year, the project provided more than 250,000 Puerto Ricans with internet service in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Maria. The company, now simply called Loon, was the work of X, an innovation lab originally nestled under Google but now a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. And it’s planning to bring its balloon-powered internet to Kenya.

EYES ON AFRICA. On Thursday, Loon announced a partnership with Telkom Kenya, Kenya’s third largest telecommunications provider. Starting next year, Loon balloons will soar high above the East African nation, sending 4G internet coverage down to its rural and suburban populations. This marks the first time Loon has inked a commercial deal with an African nation.

“Loon’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth told Reuters. Telkom CEO Aldo Mareuse added,“We will work very hard with Loon, to deliver the first commercial mobile service, as quickly as possible, using Loon’s balloon-powered internet in Africa.”

INTERNET EVERYWHERE. The internet is such an important part of modern life that, back in 2016, the United Nations declared access to it a human right. And while you might have a hard time thinking about going even a day without internet access, more than half of the world’s population still can’t log on. In Kenya, about one-third of the population still lacks access.

Thankfully, Alphabet isn’t the only company working to get the world connected. SpaceX, Facebook, and SoftBank-backed startup Altaeros have their own plans involving satellites, drones, and blimps, respectively. Between those projects and Loon, the world wide web may finally be available to the entire world.

READ MORE: Alphabet to Deploy Balloon Internet in Kenya With Telkom in 2019 [Reuters]

More on Loon: Alphabet Has Officially Launched Balloons that Deliver Internet In Puerto Rico

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China Is Investing In Its Own Hyperloop To Clear Its Crowded Highways

Chinese state-backed companies just made huge investments in U.S. based Hyperloop startups. But will it solve China's stifling traffic problems?

GRIDLOCK. China’s largest cities are choking in traffic. Millions of cars on the road means stifling levels of air pollution and astronomical commute times, especially during rush hours.

The latest move to address this urban traffic nightmare: Chinese state-backed companies are making heavy investments in U.S. hyperloop startups Arrivo and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, lining up $1 billion and $300 million in credit respectively. It’s substantial financing that could put China ahead in the race to open the first full-scale hyperloop track.

MAG-LEV SLEDS. Both companies are planning something big, although their approaches differ in some key ways. Transport company Arrivo is focusing on relieving highway traffic by creating a separate track that allows cars to zip along at 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) on magnetically levitated sleds inside vacuum-sealed tubes (it’s not yet clear if this will be above ground or underground).

Arrivo’s exact plans to build a Chinese hyperloop system have not yet been announced, but co-founder Andrew Liu told Bloomberg that $1 billion in funding could be enough to build “as many as three legs of a commercial, citywide hyperloop system of 6 miles to 9 miles [9.5 to 14.4 km] per section.” The company hasn’t yet announced in which city it’ll be built.

Meanwhile, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has already made up its mind as to where it will plop down its first Chinese loop. It’s the old familiar maglev train design inside a vacuum tube, but instead it’s passengers, not their cars, that will ride along at speeds of up to 750 mph (1200 km/h). Most of the $300 million will go towards building a 6.2 mile (10 km) test track in Guizhou province. According to a press release, this marks the third commercial agreement for HyperloopTT after Abu Dhabi and Ukraine from earlier this year.

A PRICEY SOLUTION. Building a hyperloop is expensive. This latest investment hints at just how expensive just a single system could be in the end. But providing high-speed alternatives to car-based transport is only one of many ways to deal with the gridlock and traffic jams that plague urban centers. China, for instance, has attempted to tackle the problem by restricting driving times based on license plates, expanding bike sharing networks, and even mesh ride-sharing data with smart traffic lights.

And according to a recent report by Chinese location-based services provider AutoNavi, those solutions seem to be working: a Quartz analysis of the data found that traffic declined by 12.5 and 9 percent in Hangzhou and Shenzhen respectively, even though the population grew by 3 and 5 percent.

MO’ MONEY, MO’ PROBLEMS. There are more hurdles to overcome before hyperloop can have a significant impact in China. There is the cost of using the hyperloop system — if admission is priced too high (perhaps to cover astronomical infrastructure costs), adoption rates may remain too low to have a significant effect.

The capacity of a maglev train system would also have to accommodate China’s  growing population centers. That’s not an easy feat HyperloopTT’s capusles have to squeeze through a four meter (13 feet) diameter tube and only hold 28 to 40 people at a time, and there are 3 million cars in Shenzhen alone.

We don’t know yet whether China’s hyperloop investments will pay off and significantly reduce traffic in China’s urban centers. But bringing new innovations to transportation in massive and growing cities — especially when those new innovations are more environmentally friendly — is rarely a bad idea.

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WhatsApp Updates Controls in India in an Effort to Thwart Mob Violence

WhatsApp has announced plans to update how users forward content, presumably in an effort to address mob violence in India.

CHANGE IS COMING. Today, more than 1 billion people use the Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp to share messages, photos, and videos. With the tap of a button, they can forward a funny meme or send a party invite to groups of friends and family. They can also easily share “fake news,” rumors and propaganda disguised as legitimate information.

In India — the nation where people forward more WhatsApp content than anywhere else — WhatsApp-spread fake news is inciting mob violence and literally getting people killed. On Thursday, WhatsApp announced in a blog post that it plans to make several changes in an effort to prevent more violence.

Some of the changes will only apply to users in India. They will no longer see the “quick forward” button next to photos and videos that made that content particularly easy to send along quickly, without incorporating information about where it came from. They’ll also no longer be able to forward content to more than five chats at a time. In the rest of the world, the new limit for forwards will be 20 chats. The previous cap was 250.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. Over the past two months, violent mobs have attacked two dozen people in India after WhatsApp users spread rumors that those people had abducted children. Some of those people even died from their injuries.

The Indian government has been pressuring WhatsApp to do something to address these recent bouts of violence; earlier on Thursday, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology threatened the company with legal action if it didn’t figure out some effective way to stop the mob violence.

The WhatsApp team, however, never mentions that violence is the reason for the changes in its blog post, simply asserting that the goal of the control changes is to maintain the app’s “feeling of intimacy” and “keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app.”

TRY, TRY AGAIN. This is WhatsApps’ third attempt in the last few weeks to address the spread of fake news in India. First, the company added a new label to the app to indicate that a message is a forward (and not original content from the sender). Then, they published full-page ads in Indian newspapers to educate the public on the best way to spot fake news.

Neither of those efforts has appeared to work, and it’s hard to believe the latest move will have the intended impact either. Each WhatsApp chat can include up to 256 people. That means a message forwarded to five chats (per the new limit) could still reach 1,280 people. And if those 1,280 people then forward the message to five chats, it’s not hard to see how fake news could still spread like wildfire across the nation.

READ MORE: WhatsApp Launches New Controls After Widespread App-Fueled Mob Violence in India [The Washington Post]

More on fake news: Massive Study of Fake News May Reveal Why It Spreads so Easily

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U.S. Department of Defense Established A Center To Better Integrate AI

The U.S. military's AI center will help the nation's armed forces develop and implement the latest in artificial intelligence

ALL EYES ON AI. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is going all-in on AI. The department, which oversees everything pertaining to the U.S.’s national security and armed forces, has been tossing around the idea of establishing a center focused on artificial intelligence (AI) since October 2016. On June 27, the idea became a reality when Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a memo officially establishing the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).

The JAIC will serve as the military’s AI center, housing the DoD’s 600 or so AI projects. According to a request the DoD submitted to Congress in June, the center will cost an estimated $1.7 billion over the next six years.

“Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan directed the DoD Chief Information Officer to standup the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) in order to enable teams across DOD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DOD’s military missions and business functions,” Department of Defense spokeswoman Heather Babb told Futurism.

AT THE JAIC. In his memo, Shanahan notes that advances in AI will likely change the nature of warfare and that the military needs a new approach to AI that will allow it to rapidly integrate any advances into its operations and “way of fighting.” He believes the military’s AI center could help in those efforts by focusing on four areas of need:

  • Helping the military execute its National Mission Initiatives (NMIs). These are large-scale AI projects designed to address groups of urgent, related challenges.
  • Creating a DoD-wide foundation for the execution of AI. This would mean finding a way to make any AI-related tools, data, technologies, experts, and processes available to the entire DoD quickly and efficiently.
  • Improving collaboration on AI projects both within the DoD and with outside parties, such as U.S. allies, private companies, and academics.
  • Working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to determine how to govern and standardize AI development and delivery.

CROSSING THE LINE. Last week, many of the biggest names in AI research from the private sector and academia took a stand against autonomous weapons, machines that use AI to decide whether or not to attempt to kill a person. Signatories of the pledge vowed to never work on any such projects; one even called autonomous weapons “as disgusting and destabilizing as bioweapons.”

By establishing an AI center, the U.S. government makes its stance clear: Not only does it see AI as an inevitable part of the future of war, it wants to be the best at implementing it. As Shanahan wrote in an email to DoD employees, “Plenty of people talk about the threat from AI; we want to be the threat.”

READ MORE: Pentagon’s Joint AI Center Is ‘Established,’ but There’s Much More to Figure Out [FedScoop]

More on autonomous weapons: Top AI Experts Vow They Won’t Help Create Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Editor’s note 7/23/18 at 3:15 PM: This piece was updated to include statements from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and DoD spokesperson Heather Babb.

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3 Reasons Why We Might Return to The Moon

we may see manned missions to the moon. Science, politics, and celestial cash grabs are at the forefront of why people want to go back.

Friday marks the 49th anniversary of the first time any human set foot on solid, extraterrestrial ground. The details are probably familiar: on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the Moon. It’s a rare privilege, even now: only ten other people have landed on the Moon and gone out for a stroll.

Just over three years later, humans walked on the Moon for the last time. Changing political and economic priorities meant NASA would no longer focus on sending people to the Moon. After all, we had already planted a flag, confirmed that the Moon wasn’t made of cheese, and played some golf. What else is left?

Well, it just so turns out that we might be heading back out there — and soon. President Trump has insisted on resuming manned Moon missions, despite the fact that it doesn’t match the public or scientific community’s desires for a space program (no one is quite sure where his determination stems from, but it doesn’t seem to have much more substance than a whim).

But there are some other, real reasons that we might want to send someone to the Moon. There’s science to be done, and money to be made. Let’s dig a little deeper and see what might be bringing us back to our lunar neighbor.

1) Trump really wants it to happen.

Last December, President Trump signed a directive indicating that NASA would prioritize human exploration to the Moon and beyond. Just imagine: a human setting foot on the Moon! Accomplishing such an impossible feat would show the rest of the world that America is capable of great things, which would really assert our dominance on the international stage!

So, assuming that President Trump knows we won the space race 43 years ago (he knows, right? right?) there might be other reasons why Trump wants more people to go visit. Maybe it’s a display of national achievement, maybe it’s to develop economic or military advantages. Either way, the White House is pushing hard for that giant leap.

2) Cash money.

A rare isotope called helium-3 could help us produce clean and safe nuclear energy without giving off any hazardous or radioactive waste. And it just so happens that the Moon has loads of the stuff (so does Jupiter, but that’s a bit harder to reach).

While a helium nuclear fusion reactor does not yet exist, many expect that helium-3 could be the missing piece — and whoever secures the supply would unlock riches to rival Scrooge McDuck.

Two years ago, the federal government gave a private company its blessing to land on the Moon for the first time. Moon Express, which also plans to dump human ashes on the Moon (read: litter) for customers who want an unconventional cremation, has the ultimate goal of establishing a lunar mining colony. According to the company’s website, Expedition “Harvest Moon” plans to have a permanent research station up and running by 2021. At that point, it will begin extracting samples and raw materials to send back to Earth.

This could lead to more and (maybe) better research into the moon’s history and makeup, especially since our supply of samples from the Apollo missions is so limited. But helium-3 is what Moon Express is really after. And they’re not the only ones  the Chinese government also has its eyes set on the Moon’s helium-3 supply.

In addition to opening space up to private mining operations, Trump has reached out to NASA in hopes that the agency’s technology could be used to launch mining rigs to the Moon and to asteroids.

But there’s a lot that needs to happen before the spacefaring equivalents of coal barons start selling space rocks. For instance, we need to figure out how to approach and land on an asteroid, and to set up at least semi-permanent bases and mining operations. But still, some companies some companies are forging ahead.

3) Science! slash, practice for Mars.

The government, along with multiple space-interested billionaires, have some well-publicized plans to colonize Mars. Their reasons range from: furthering scientific research, to exploring the cosmos for funsies, to saving humanity from, uh, something.

The Moon could play a vital role in those plans — as practice off-world destination, and as a celestial truck stop along the way.

In February, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that setting up a colony on the Moon will be essential for future space exploration. Especially, he mentioned, so that it can serve as a refueling station. His logic seems to be based on the fact that the Moon exerts less gravitational force than the Earth, so landing and relaunching a refueled rocket would let that rocket explore farther into space.

Some have also proposed using a Moon base as practice for a Martian settlement, since they would be much closer to Earth — Moon-dwellers would only be three days from Earth, while human Martians would be eight months from home.

NASA’s Gateway mission, as Time reported, could give rise to lunar settlements within the next ten years. Gateway would function as a space station in orbit around the Moon, but would be capable of traveling to and from the surface. The expected Gateway timeline is controversial even within NASA, however, as some feel that its far too optimistic about when we might actually see results.

There are still too many unknowns and hazards for people in space settlements for such a program to succeed today. Even trying to simulate a Mars colony on Earth led to several unforeseen mental strains and complications.

But either way, ongoing exploration and research missions continue to radically change our understanding of the Moon.

“Ten years ago we would have said that the Moon was complete dry,” Ryan Zeigler, NASA’s curator of lunar samples from the Apollo missions, told Futurism. “Over the past ten years, new instruments and new scientists have shown this to not be the case, and that has had profound effects on the models that predict how the Earth-Moon system has formed,” he added.

Of course, there are financial reasons at the forefront the recent push for lunar exploration. But even if its just a pleasant side effect, we may get valuable new science out of these missions, too.

Read more about complications with NASA’s lunar plans: NASA Just Canceled Its Only Moon Rover Project. That’s Bad News for Trump’s Lunar Plans.

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Malta Plans to Create the World’s First Decentralized Stock Exchange

Malta has announced plans to created the world's first decentralized stock exchange

BLOCKCHAIN ISLAND. The tiny European nation of Malta is truly living up to its nickname of “Blockchain Island.” On Thursday, MSX (the innovation arm of the Malta Stock Exchange) announced a new partnership with blockchain-based equity fundraising platform Neufund and Binance, one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges). Their goal: create the first global stock exchange that’s both regulated and decentralized.

THE NEW SCHOOL. There are a lot of complex concepts at play here, so let’s break them down.

First, tokens. In the realm of cryptocurrency, a token is a digital asset on a blockchain, a ledger that records every time two parties trade an asset. A token can represent practically anything, from money to a vote in an election. Today, many blockchain startups raise funds by selling “equity tokens” through initial coin offerings (ICO).

When a person buys one of these equity tokens, they are essentially buying a percentage ownership of the startup. They can later use an online platform known as a cryptocurrency exchange to sell the tokens or buy more from other investors at any time, quickly and fairly cheaply.

Though various governments are starting to look into regulating tokens, the cryptocurrency realm is still largely unregulated, making it an enticing target for scammers.

THE OLD SCHOOL. Equity securities, also known as stocks, are similar to equity tokens. A person who buys stock in a company owns a percentage of that company. However, securities are not traded via 24-hour online exchanges — they’re bought and sold via stock exchanges, which are only open during certain hours. Navigating them often requires the help of middleman, such as a broker or lawyer, which could be costly.

A government agency typically regulates a nation’s securities and stock exchanges — in the United States, that agency is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This regulation can protect investors from scams and ensure companies don’t try to swindle them.

TOKENIZED SECURITIES. Tokenized securities are a melding of these two worlds. They’re securities, and when they’re traded, a blockchain records the transaction. This combines the fast, cheap transactions associated with tokens with the protective oversight of securities.

Right now, there’s not a government-regulated, global platform hosting the trading of tokenized securities, and that’s the void the Malta team plans to fill with their decentralized stock exchange.

“We are thrilled to announce the partnerships with Malta Stock Exchange and Binance, that will ensure high liquidity to equity tokens issued on Neufund,” Zoe Adamovicz, CEO and Co-founder at Neufund, said in a press release. “It is the first time in history that security tokens can be offered and traded in a legally binding way.”

Experts estimate that the value of the world’s equity tokens could soar as high as $1 trillion by 2020. Malta’s project is still in the pilot stages, but if all the pieces for its decentralized stock exchange fall into place, the tiny European island could find itself at the center of that incredibly fruitful market.

READ MORE: Malta Paves the Way for a Decentralized Stock Exchange [TechCrunch]

More on tokens: Tokens Will Become the Foundation of a New Digital Economy

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