Astronomers Discover a New Source of Spectacular Radio Jets

For the first time ever, researchers have discovered radio jets launching from a neutron star with a strong magnetic field.

JET SETTER

In a ranking of cool space phenomenon, radio jets have to take a spot near the top. They’re near-light-speed blasts of material from black holes or neutron stars, which are known as “stellar corpses” because they are the remnants of stars left after they’ve gone supernova, and they’re downright spectacular.

Scientists thought the only neutron stars that could expel radio jets were those with very weak magnetic fields. But a new discovery has punched a big hole in that understanding.

They just figured out that a jet-spewing neutron star called Swift J0243.6+6124 has got a really, really strong magnetic field, according to a paper published Wednesday in Nature.

THE FORCE IS STRONG

The University of Amsterdam-led research team discovered the phenomenon using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio telescope and NASA’s Swift space telescope.

“The magnetic field of the neutron star we studied is about 10 trillion times stronger than that of our own Sun, so for the first time ever, we have observed a jet coming from a neutron star with a very strong magnetic field,” lead researchers Jakob van den Eijnden said in a press release. “The discovery reveals a whole new class of jet-producing sources for us to study.”

ENERGY IN, ENERGY OUT

As co-author James Miller-Jones added, radio jets play a major role in the transfer of gravitational energy from black holes and neutron stars back into the surrounding environment, so anything that expands our understanding of the phenomenon subsequently improves our understanding of the universe as a whole.

And now, thanks to this study, we can start hunting down radio jets in places we never thought to look.

READ MORENeutron Star Jets Shoot Down Theory [EurekAlert]

More on radio jets: Researchers Discover “Bizarre” Black Holes That Are All Aligned

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Astronomers Discover a New Source of Spectacular Radio Jets

Nuclear Power Used to Seem Like the Future. Now Its Fate in the US Is in Question.

When nuclear power started feeding electricity into the grid in the 1950s, there was a sense of heady optimism. We could harness cutting-edge physics to generate cheap electricity!

In 1954, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss gushed that atomic energy would soon make electricity “too cheap to meter.” The ghostwriters behind the popular “Tom Swift” series of young adult novels churned out a series of titles glorifying atomic tech, from “Tom Swift and his Atomic Earth Blaster” to “Tom Swift in the Caves of Nuclear Fire.”

Public support for nuclear power faded, however. The accidents at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) showed that even though the tech worked perfectly most of the time, it also had the potential for rare and dangerous catastrophes. Though the United States still gets about 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear fission, it’s built few new reactors since the 1980s. The average nuclear plant in the U.S. is now nearly 40 years old.

How we feel about technology is often as important to its adoption as anything intrinsic about it. Nuclear power used to feel like the future, but now it keeps getting easier to imagine an era without it.

Take the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, a half-built fission facility in Georgia. It  was supposed to provide affordable electricity for the region. But now the project is now billions of dollars over budget, and could be canceled entirely, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Make no mistake: there are good things about nuclear power. It doesn’t rely on fossil fuels, and releases significantly less carbon dioxide than power generated with coal, oil, and natural gas. Statistically, it’s safer than people think.

But there are also downsides, too. The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan showed that the even with modern safety precautions, nuclear plants can still spin out of control. There’s the question of what to do with radioactive waste, which will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Uranium mining pollutes groundwater. Building new plants costs a fortune.

We now have many more green energy options than they did in the 1950s. Wind and solar are getting cheaper every year. They’ve got the longevity and low carbon toll of nuclear power, without the toxic waste. And that’s to say nothing of nuclear fusion, a much cleaner energy source that’s rapidly becoming more feasible.

If we still need nuclear plants as a stopgap to moving away from fossil fuels, fine. But overall, atomic power no longer feels like the future. Instead it feels like the past.

More on atomic energy: Use of Nuclear Power Is in Decline; Why?

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URBAN-X Is Jumpstarting the Startups That Will Reimagine City Life

It takes more than elbow grease and moxie for someone with a good idea to find their place in the startup ecosystem. Even with the best idea, the pitfalls of building a real business are countless, the work required for success is daunting, and the reward often lies years in the future. To address this question we spoke to Miriam Roure, program director of URBAN-X, a startup accelerator that’s been instrumental in investing in and supporting new companies using design and technology to improve city life.

As the program director for URBAN-X, you look at hundreds of applications from startup founders hoping to work with you. What are the things that make a company stand out?

The first question that we ask ourselves is, “Is this the right team?” We evaluate their level of commitment, if the founders have complementary skill sets, or if they have started a company before. What is harder to evaluate is if they have the kind of marathon mindset it takes to build a startup, if they are quick learners, and if they are able to take advice in a constructive way.

Second, we look at the size of the opportunity. Even with a great team, if the market is too small or will take too long to mature, it can be hard to scale. The opportunity for us also means the potential impact that the solution can have. Can this solution reach 100 cities within five years? If so, what are some key KPIs that we could identify as drivers for positive change in these urban environments?

What’s the toughest part of making those decisions? Is it stressful holding the future of someone’s company in your hands?

We like to think about it as a matching process – some companies are too early and some other ones are too late, some fit our mission and some don’t, some have the growth potential and speed that the venture capital model requires and some might benefit from other kinds of funding. It’s important for us to be able to provide value to the companies in the program.

We are especially sensitive to our own biases and not dismissing opportunities because they might not fulfill a certain profile that we have in mind. We are also aware of founder stereotypes, “hot” markets and FOMO. Team selection is one of the hardest things we have to do and no investor gets it right 100% of the time.

You talked about how important it is to find companies that can have a real impact. Do you have a white whale? An urban problem that you’d love to have a hand in solving?

Our current white whale is water – no pun intended. For many areas, local sources are being exhausted and it’s really hard to find good, quality drinking water. Flint, Michigan is a touchpoint for what happens when archaic policy mixes with old technology. With climate change, cities need to find novel approaches to resilience dealing with sea level rise, storms and flooding. It’s hard to find solutions for problems that are so structural to how we have built our resource system.

For example, how we use water in our homes is the same water that we drink from the faucet and flush down our toilets. In the United States, the end consumer doesn’t perceive the true price of water and as a result, she doesn’t relate to the water crisis as much as other arguably less relevant challenges.

Does working in cities create unique challenges for URBAN-X startups?

Many URBAN-X companies face the challenge of operating in spaces that are regulated – and about 25% of our portfolio sells to or works closely with governments. This is not only challenging in and of itself, but it also can be tricky from a fundraising perspective. Many investors don’t know how RFPs and sales cycles with state or municipal governments work. We believe these solutions are not only necessary, but also operate in markets prime for disruption. In our last cohort, which concluded in February 2018, 100% of the companies have gone on to close their next round of capital, with many operating as B2G or in highly regulated markets.  With the Urban Us team, we have been proactive in building a network of investors and key players in government, policy-making and city services that are able to advise, connect and continue to invest in our startups.

By the end of the year, we will have roughly 40 startups in our portfolio. This growing network is also proving to be incredibly valuable as founders share resources, insights and respective networks.

Another challenge all early-stage startups face is their limited amount of runway and small teams. These limited resources make it such that staying focused becomes crucial. For first time founders, this is even more challenging. Beyond the investment, having access to expertise around the fundraising process, product strategy, team culture, customer discovery, design and engineering resources, and media exposure dramatically increases the chances of startup success and helps reduce the risk of failure.

What does it take? What are the qualities that a startup, or its founders, absolutely need to have to be successful?

It takes a committed and complementary team, an actionable vision, a relevant problem and a great solution, and the passion and wherewithal to not give up and make it happen.

Most important, optimism. As Clayton Christensen points out in his famous book “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” founders systematically underestimate the amount of risk that they are taking. This necessary underestimation is actually really inspiring – the idea that one can create a business that can improve the lives of people at scale makes it worth the effort. When we find a founder that’s in love with the problem they have taken on (more than their solution), we know we are on the right track.

URBAN-X, the accelerator for startups reimagining city life, invites you to Demo Day 04 on September 27, 2018 at A/D/O in Brooklyn, NY. Come get inspired by what’s next for more efficient, enjoyable, and livable cities. If you can’t make it in person, we’ll be live streaming the morning session from Futurism’s Facebook and YouTube pages!


Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with URBAN-X, who sponsored this post. They help us keep the lights on. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

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Should Coma Patients Live or Die? Machine Learning Will Help Decide.

A team of Chinese researchers has created software that can predict whether a coma patient will wake up or not. Can it replace human decision-making?

In some cases, all it takes is a major blow to the side of the head.

When somebody falls into a coma, they lose all motor functions. Brain activity slows significantly. In most cases, no external stimuli, like light or movement, can wake them up. It’s notoriously difficult to determine their future state — will they ever wake up again?

Chinese neurologists at the Academy of Sciences and the PLA General Hospital in Beijing are working hard to develop a tool that can help doctors assess exactly that. But they’ve got a technological advantage generations of doctors before them didn’t: machine learning. Algorithms like this one are part of a growing arsenal of data-driven tools that can help emotional family members and doctors make difficult decisions about a patient’s treatment, or help determine when it’s time to say goodbye.

The researchers fed fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data from thousands of coma patients into a machine learning algorithm. That helped them understand how likely a particular patient would be to recover.

As it turns out, the results are very promising: “We have successfully predicted a number of patients who regained consciousness after being initially determined to have no hope of recovery,” the researchers told the South China Morning Post.

The algorithm was 90 percent accurate, the researchers found. And they have already used the technique on more than 300 hundred patients from all over China. They hope the same technology could help more of the estimated 50,000 “patients with chronic disturbance of consciousness” in China.

Image Credit: Thomas Schultz/Victor Tangermann

The stakes may seem high, but coma patients may in fact be the ideal application for this kind of machine learning technology, says Pascal Kaufmann, neuroscientist and founder of Starmind, a Switzerland-based company working to develop artificial intelligence to help employees at big companies communicate with one another. In fact, machines are way better at analyzing this kind of complex biological data than humans are. “These machines are doing nothing other than what the human beings are doing. They are looking at the same data sets — they do exactly the same. However, they do it a million times faster and more reliably.”

The researchers in Beijing are not suggesting that machines should have the final word on deciding whether coma patients live or die. “When we informed the family of the AI score, we always told them it should only [affect] 20 to 50 percent in their decision,” Yang Yi, a doctor in the neurosurgery department at PLA General Hospital and researcher on the project tells the SCMP.

Kaufmann agrees — a computer system’s assessment should only matter if it determines that a coma patient shows promise after human doctors deemed it a lost cause — not the other way round. “When the human doctor says the patient will never wake up again, that would be a horrible scenario. That you actually let a patient die because of machine input — that should not be possible,” Kaufmann says. “I think you should only pay attention to the results if somebody can tell you there is hope.”

“I think you should only pay attention to the results if somebody can tell you there is hope.”

In fact, now that we have technology that could help better predict whether coma patients will wake up, Kaufmann says it could be dangerous to allow human doctors to sift through the data alone. It’s like self-driving cars — human drivers are far more prone to accidents than their autonomous counterparts. “It might be dangerous to leave the judgment of whether a person will wake up or not to the doctor because the error rate is much higher in human doctors than in machines,” Kaufmann says.

For now, though, this algorithm is only being used for coma patients. And that’s probably a good thing. Machines are actually better than doctors at evaluating the condition of a patient, says Kaufmann. But they don’t have the soft skills patients like to see from their doctors. “The problem is, when it comes to human interaction [with patients that are not in a coma], then of course the human doctors are much superior to machines, because you can evaluate behavior, smell, how they talk etc. — there are many factors that the machines are not good with coping with.”

Allowing a computer to influence the decision over a patient’s life or death feels like an episode of Black Mirror, but it might actually be a good thing. It’s quite likely machine learning algorithms will make their way into many more areas of healthcare — they might analyze crowdsourced medical data through high-tech wearables, or help a robotic surgeon operate on patients with little human input. With more data, they are bound to get even more accurate.

But a future where machines alone make that decision to pull the plug on a coma patient? We probably won’t be there for a while.

More on comas: New Electrical Brain Stimulation Could “Awaken” Comatose People

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Tread Lightly: This AI Can Identify You by Monitoring Your Footsteps

Researchers have created an AI that can identify a person with 92 percent accuracy after recording just seven consecutive footsteps.

ELEMENTARY

Teachers take attendance, students reply “here.” Some things never change. But what if that process got a tech upgrade? What if AI could tell which students were there based on the way they walked into the classroom?

Automating classroom attendance is just way we could use a new artificial intelligence that can identify a person simply by analyzing their footsteps. This unusual system is the work of researchers at Indian Institute of Technology, who published their study on the preprint server arXiv on Monday.

UNDER FOOT

The team needed a lot of data on footsteps to create their system. To collect it, they used a geophone, a device that converts ground movement into electrical signals. They asked eight volunteers to each walk barefooted in a circle with a geophone at the center, coming as close to the device as 1 meter (3.2 feet) and as far as 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) from it.

The researchers gathered about an hour of walking data for each individual. That added up to 46,489 footsteps, which they believe is the largest footstep database ever collected. Then they used the data to train an algorithm to differentiate between the steps of different participants by evaluating the time between steps, their length, and their rhythm.

In the end, the AI could identify a person with 92 percent accuracy after recording just seven consecutive footsteps. The researchers believe their system could eventually replace other biometric identification systems, such as fingerprint or retina scanners, as it is easily camouflaged and doesn’t require the cooperation of the person it’s analyzing.

WALK IT OFF

As for applications beyond the classroom, the researchers note that high-security areas, such as military bases, could use the system to detect anyone who isn’t in an approved footstep database. It could also prove useful in the smart homes of the future; for example, the AI could tell your home’s audio system to start playing a different radio station depending on the family member that walks into a room.

Of course, there are still kinks to work out — as it stands, the system can’t identify more than one person at a time, so it’d be useless in crowds. However, the researchers are already working to improve their device, so it might not be long before your footstep is all you need to prove your identity.

READ MORE: Researchers Train AI to Identify People From Their Footsteps [VentureBeat]

More on biometrics: A Top Manufacturer Is Taking a Chance on in-Display Fingerprint Sensors

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Does Uber Have Any User Trust Left To Spare?

Ridesharing app Uber agreed to pay a whopping $148 million fine today for covering up a 2016 hack — and bribing the hackers not to release the data.

Today, ridesharing app Uber agreed to pay a whopping $148 million for covering up a 2016 hack — and bribing the hackers not to release the data. The fine, which will be paid to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is the largest payout ever for a data breach, Bloomberg reports.

“Uber’s decision to cover up this breach was a blatant violation of the public’s trust,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The company failed to safeguard user data and notify authorities when it was exposed. Consistent with its corporate culture at the time, Uber swept the breach under the rug in deliberate disregard of the law.”

Uber once looked like a cutting-edge plan for the future of transportation — decentralizing it by giving drivers part-time work. But the fine caps a years-long series of scandals and missteps that has frayed the public trust in the company — a violation that has serious financial repercussions.

Let’s recall Uber’s Very Bad Few Years. There was the viral blog post by a former engineer who detailed rampant harassment at the company. Then the nasty court case, ultimately settled, in which Alphabet’s autonomous car startup Waymo alleged that Uber had stolen its trade secrets. There was the video of then-CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver who complained about the company’s notoriously low pay. There was Uber’s decision to continue making trips to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport even after taxi drivers refused the serve the route to protest against the Trump administration’s travel ban.

And, of course, there was the hack of 57 million Uber users and drivers’ information, plus the company’s $100,000 bribe to get the hackers to delete it. Even if you were gung-ho about Uber’s vision for the future, it was hard to stay in their corner through all that.

For Uber, it all adds up to a crisis of consumer confidence. To make matters worse, competitor Lyft has edged in, capturing 35 percent of the ridesharing market earlier this year.

Uber has already started to kick some of its bad habits. In 2017, it ousted Kalanick and replaced him with a CEO who has pledged to “celebrate differences” and “do the right thing.” This month, it pledged $10 million to fight street congestion.

But for some riders, it’s going to take more than a few band-aids to build back trust — they’ll need to see a sustained pattern of good behavior. Paying a huge fine isn’t a solution, but it’s a place to start.

More on Uber: Uber’s CEO Knows We Need Equality To Move The World Forward

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Scientists Want to Put a Horrifying Caterpillar Robot Inside Your Body

Researchers in Hong Kong have invented a robot that looks like a caterpillar. It's designed to travel through your body and release drugs.

NIGHTMARE FUEL

Scientists at the City University of Hong Kong have created a new robot. Upside: it could help deliver drugs inside the body, keeping patients healthier. Downside: it looks like a terrifying bug you wouldn’t want anywhere near your insides.

The bot looks a cross between a caterpillar and a strip of Velcro, with ominously hairlike legs. Those legs, according to co-creator Wang Zuankai, are so that it can better navigate the various textures of your internal anatomy.

“The rugged surface and changing texture of different tissues inside the human body make transportation challenging,” he said in a press release. “Our multi-legged robot shows an impressive performance in various terrains” (yes he just called the tissues in your body “terrains,” it’s fine).

PILL PUSHER

It’s not clear how the robot will get inside you — probably by swallowing it, right? that seems like the best of a number of not great options — but once it’s there, the idea is that it’ll crawl through your “body fluids such as blood or mucus,” according to the press release.

Then, once it reaches its destination — the release suggested a designated spot in your digestive system, for instance — it’ll release medicine.

FROM HELL

In all seriousness, though, the bot, which is described in a new paper published in Nature Communications, looks like a marvelous piece of engineering. It can climb over obstacles much taller than itself and carry a payload up to 100 times its weight, according to the release. And automated gadgets that deposit drugs and collect data from inside your body are a growing area of research; some have already won approval from the FDA.

No matter how great it is, that thing is not welcome to climb around my insides.

READ MORETiny soft robot with multilegs paves way for drugs delivery in human body [EurekAlert]

More on tiny robots: Meet The World’s Smallest Robot, It’s the Size of Fly and Capable of Flight

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Paint it Clear: This Coating Could Make Your AC Obsolete

BEAT THE HEAT

Cranking up your air conditioner in the summer heat might seem like a good idea. But it’s not a great idea for the planet, or for your electric bill.

Now, researchers from Columbia University have devised an alternative to air conditioning that could keep your home cool without sending your power bill sky high. It’s a white polymer that reflects more than 96 percent of sunlight, and it comes in a dyeable, paint-like form, meaning we could use it to coat the sides and roofs of our homes to keep them cooler when the Sun is at its strongest.

TINY BUBBLES

The researchers describe the coating in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science. To create it, they engineered a mixture that forces water to settle into tiny droplets in a polymer. When those droplets evaporate, they leave tiny air holes behind. The holes, the researchers say, are what give the coating its remarkable sunlight-reflecting property.

The researchers put their concoction to the test under the oppressive heat of Phoenix, Arizona, painting it onto a copper sheet attached to sensors to measure the temperature. After 30 minutes, they found that the coating was 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than the ambient temperature. That means it might not be long before we’re slathering the stuff on our homes in order to ward off the summer heat without cranking the AC.

UNDER THE SUN

The world is only getting hotter as we deal with the repercussions of climate change, and until we transition fully to renewables, using electricity to cool our homes will only exacerbate the problem.

Additionally, not everyone can use air conditioning — think people in low-income regions or places without electricity — and for those folks, this cheap, easy-to-implement way to lower temperatures could literally be a life-saver.

READ MORE: Keeping Things Cool With a Paint-Like Polymer [EurekAlert]

More on polymers: Unbreakable: Watch a Spray-On Polymer Let Objects Survive a 148-Foot Fall

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If We Want Drone Delivery to Be a Reality, We’ve Gotta Keep It Simple

DRONING ON

In 2013, we learned about Amazon’s splashy plans to drop packages off at customers’ homes using drones. Sure, there have been a few pilot drone deliveries, but for the most part, even Amazon hasn’t made that future a reality yet.

But in Iceland, a startup called Aha has been using drones to deliver hot food and other goods for five months. Its secret: keeping the system very, very simple.

As we creep towards a future in which drone delivery is commonplace, Aha’s success shows that a simple approach might work best — and that maybe tech giants like Amazon are over-engineering the concept.

BARE BONES

Aha’s delivery drones have no cameras or radar, IEEE Spectrum reports. In fact, they navigate the Reykjavik area using only GPS, which keeps them on pre-determined routes selected because they’re free of trees and other obstacles. When they arrive at a customer’s home, the drones lower deliveries — burgers are popular, but the company also sells electronics — on a line.

That stands in contrast to Amazon’s high-tech approach. In 2014, the company filed documents with the FAA claiming that its delivery drones sport “sense-and-avoid sensors.” A patent the company filed earlier this year describes a system that lets its drones respond to voice commands, and another patent from last year explains a beehive-like structure where drones can roost and collect new items for delivery.

AIN’T BROKE

In this case, the simple approach seems to be winning. Aha says it’s made 500 drone deliveries over the past five months, with no injuries. A delivery costs the equivalent of a modest US $7.

But don’t count Amazon out yet. The company is still pouring resources into its nascent drone program. Maybe it just needs to focus on a simpler set of features.

READ MORE: Are Delivery Drones Commercially Viable? Iceland Is About to Find Out [Spectrum IEEE]

More on drone delivery: Are Delivery Drones Actually Better for the Environment?

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Scientists Need to Solve These Two Mysteries to Find Life on Mars

An international team of scientists just announced their strategy for trying to figure out whether Mars can support life.

Back in June, NASA revealed two mind-blowing facts: that there is organic matter on Mars, and that levels of methane in the planet’s atmosphere ebb and flow over time. It’s pretty exciting news that shook our understanding of astrobiology. And while this isn’t necessarily proof that aliens are out there, much of our terrestrial methane was produced by living things. And as any child can tell you, if you smelled it, someone must have dealt it.

The recent methane findings “confront us with robust data that demand interpretation,” a team of international scientists wrote in a study published last week in Astrobiology. The study authors have done just that — they sorted out what measurements, experiments, and missions NASA and other space organizations should prioritize as they seek more evidence that Mars does (or did) support life.

In short, the scientists want to study Mars’ geological activity. They want to understand the relationship between these newly discovered organic compounds and the fluctuating methane in the atmosphere. Their goal is to find traces of other molecules and gases that might make it possible for some primitive, microscopic life forms to survive beneath the planet’s surface. Here’s what exactly they’re looking for.

One: Redox Gradient

When we eat, our bodies pull energy out of our food through chemical reactions that create a back and forth flow of electrons and oxygen atoms between molecules. This back and forth is necessary for fueling our bodies — all living things do it. But because of Mars’ extreme atmosphere, this balance doesn’t exist. The atmosphere is so strongly oxidizing that these reactions would only happen in one direction. Any living thing on Mars would be reacting so strongly with the air that it wouldn’t be able to survive. The researchers are looking for components in the Martian atmosphere that would balance out that reaction, which would make life possible.

Two: Source of the Methane

The next step towards understanding whether Mars could have ever hosted life, the researchers suggest, is to dig beneath the surface of Mars in order to figure out where all this methane is coming from. While living things on Earth produce methane as they digest food, that’s not the only way the gas could emerge in an atmosphere. NASA’s upcoming InSight mission will probe beneath the surface of Mars. It’s primarily geared towards learning about seismic activity, but who knows what it might discover along the way.

Our best guess for why Mars’ methane levels fluctuate? The seasonal freezing and thawing of ice, which traps and releases methane over time (we know this from data from the Curiosity rove). But there’s no easy way to tell how long that methane has been there or whether more is being generated. And that means finding the source of Martian methane is more complex than pulling the finger of a little green alien.

By examining the chemical composition of subterranean samples and taking more atmospheric measurements, scientists would be able to learn whether this methane came from biological processes or complex chemical reactions that don’t involve life at all.

The researchers behind this plan aren’t suggesting it because there’s super compelling evidence that Mars supports life. In fact, as astrobiologist Caleb Scharf once asserted, it is far more reasonable to assume that it does not exist anywhere other than Earth. After all, that’s the only place we know for sure has got it.

But if, by some fantastic chance, there are some microbes hiding under the planet’s surface, or if there used to be some form of life on Mars, the study authors’ strategy likely represents our best chance at finding it.

More on major Mars findings: There’s A Huge Subterranean Lake of Liquid Water on Mars

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Glimpse: How An Army of Resurrected Mammoths Could Curb Global Warming

It’s 12,000 B.C. Modern humans are starting to migrate to the Americas for the first time. We won’t discover farming for another 2,000 years. We won’t build cities for another 9,000 years. As a species, our story is just beginning. In Siberia, another’s is coming to an end.

The mammoth steppe, one of the world’s most expansive ecosystems, is on the brink of collapse. For millennia, these arctic grasslands have played host to a variety of enormous plant-eating mammals, most notably the wooly mammoth. As a keystone species, the mammoths had long ensured environmental harmony. They kept the trees from multiplying, which allowed grass to grow in its place, sustaining all of the animals in the steppe.

But then, around 12,000 B.C., that changed. Rising global temperatures (a product of a receding ice age) and human activity rapidly drove down the populations of mammoths, triggering a domino effect that transformed the Siberian landscape. Trees, bushes, and shrubs proliferated in the mammoths’ absence, choking out the grasses that once sustained life there. As a result, the permafrost slowly began to thaw, releasing potent greenhouse gases that sped up global warming.

Now, 14,000 years later, scientists are faced with record-breaking global temperatures of humans’ own doing. And they’re realizing how valuable that ice age ecosystem was, and that we may be able to bring it back.

This possibility is explored in Sebastian Moller, the third episode of Glimpse, a new original sci-fi series from Futurism Studios (a division of Futurism LLC) and DUST. Watch the episode below.

Famed geneticist George Church has made bringing back the ice age ecosystem his mission. In 2015, he and a team Harvard researchers successfully spliced the DNA of a wooly mammoth into the genome of its closest living relative, the Asian Elephant. They chose 14 of the mammoth’s most recognizable genes for the experiment, activating them for the first time since their extinction. It was a watershed moment — scientists finally had all the tools they needed to bring an extinct animal back from the dead.

That’s the good news. The bad news, as Church well knows, is that bringing one mammoth back isn’t the same as bringing the species back. To restore the mammoth steppe to its Pleistocene glory, he estimates that we’ll need 80,000 mammoths. At least.

Making pretty much anything in such high numbers is daunting. But an enormous, extinct organism? Even harder. Genetic engineering isn’t exactly known for its ability to scale.

Current de-extinction proposals rely on surrogate mothers from living species to bear the resurrected organisms. The shorter the evolutionary distance — that is, the number of genetic differences — between the extinct species and the surrogate species, the better. That makes the Asian Elephant a perfect candidate to carry mammoth babies — there are only 44 differences between them. Unfortunately, the elephants are also endangered.

Copyright Dust/Futurism, 2018

“If we want to have 80,000 wooly mammoths or cold-resistant elephants that satisfy the wooly mammoth range at once, there aren’t enough mothers that you have access to, even it all relevant governments say, ‘This is a good thing.’” George explained in a recent interview on the After On podcast with Rob Reid.

He estimates there are only about 17,000 Asian Elephant females in prime reproductive health left on earth. That’s barely enough to keep their own species going, especially since the species reproduces slowly (it takes 22 months of gestation for a baby elephant to be born). Using them to bring an extinct species back? A tough sell. African Elephants could be used, too, but you’ll eventually run into the same problem.

The only viable solution, Church posits, is “full development outside the body with adequate blood supply and nutrients.” He’s talking about growing baby mammoths in artificial wombs. No scientist has ever accomplished that for a species that gives birth to live young (that is, not in an egg). But Church and his team are already making a lot of progress with mice, and plan to release the results of those studies this year.

“We’re getting better at turning stem cells into embryo-like structures. We’re getting better at turning embryos into support structures that are vascularized. Mice can implant into that,” he told Reid.  “Once that’s working well for mice, we’ll try moving into larger animals.” Church believes the first success for a mammoth will happen within a decade.

Even if he has all the organisms and technology he needs to accomplish his mission, Church will still run into opposition from ethicists. They’ll argue, among other things, that we should focus our limited resources on protecting species we still have with us. But Church and others like him believe the rewards of such a feat make it worth the struggle — and cost.

 

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Glimpse: How An Army of Resurrected Mammoths Could Curb Global Warming

Make Music A Full Body Experience With A “Vibro-Tactile” Suit

A high-tech suit vibrates to let users feel music — a new way for everyone to experience sound, according to its creators, but especially for deaf people.

SYNESTHETES

Tired: Listening to music.
Wired: Feeling the music.

A mind-bending new suit straps onto your torso, ankles and wrists, then uses actuators to translate audio into vivid vibration. The result: a new way for everyone to experience music, according to its creators. That’s especially exciting for people who have trouble hearing.

THE FEELIES

The Music: Not Impossible suit was created by design firm Not Impossible Labs and electronics manufacturing company Avnet. The suit can create sensations to go with pre-recorded music, or a “Vibrotactile DJ” can adjust the sensations in real time during a live music event.”

Billboard writer Andy Hermann tried the suit out, and it sounds like a trip.

“Sure enough, a pulse timed to a kickdrum throbs into my ankles and up through my legs,” he wrote. “Gradually, [the DJ] brings in other elements: the tap of a woodblock in my wrists, a bass line massaging my lower back, a harp tickling a melody across my chest.”

MORE ACCESSIBLE

To show the suit off, Not Impossible and Avnet organized a performance this past weekend by the band Greta Van Fleet at the Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas. The company allowed attendees to don the suits. Mandy Harvey, a deaf musician who stole the show on America’s Got Talent last year, talked about what the performance meant to her in a video Avnet posted to Facebook.

“It was an unbelievable experience to have an entire audience group who are all experiencing the same thing at the same time,” she said. “For being a deaf person, showing up at a concert, that never happens. You’re always excluded.”

READ MORE: Not Impossible Labs, Zappos Hope to Make Concerts More Accessible for the Deaf — and Cooler for Everyone [Billboard]

More on accessible design: New Tech Allows Deaf People To Sense Sounds

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Make Music A Full Body Experience With A “Vibro-Tactile” Suit

The Five Funniest Things about the SEC’s Lawsuit against Elon Musk

He’s been likened to Tony Stark. Hordes of bros on the internet swear that he’s going to save the world. Any critical press against his companies is written off as a conspiracy by the government and big oil.

That’s right folks, we’re talking Elon Musk. The latest news: on Thursday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against Musk because of his ill-fated announcement to take Tesla private at $420 per share. The announcement wasn’t too much of a surprise — after all, the SEC had already launched formal inquiry into Tesla’s finances and subpoenaed the entire Tesla board (plus, the Justice Department launched a formal fraud investigation into the same).

But the government just came out guns blazing. And honestly the filing is pretty juicy for those who don’t mind slogging through a little legal and finance jargon.

Luckily, we’ve done that for you. Here are the highlights:

Musk is under investigation for fraud because he made a pot joke.

Musk’s Twitter announcement that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at $420 per share has now prompted two separate organizations of the federal government to investigate him and his finances. Musk ruined the weed number for everyone, so this seems like fitting punishment.

Musk told the SEC that Grimes taught him about pot.

That’s right, Musk claimed that, prior to the formation of Grusk, he had no idea why “420” was a funny number.

According to the SEC’s formal complaint over misleading statements, Musk “rounded the price up to $420 because he had recently learned about the number’s significance in marijuana culture and thought his girlfriend ‘would find it funny, which admittedly is not a great reason to pick a price.’”

This whole mess is all because Musk wouldn’t stop tweeting.

We’ve all lied on the internet, but flubbing your dating profile likely didn’t launch two federal investigations and cause your company’s stocks to crash multiple times over the following months. The entire basis of the SEC’s lawsuit is the misleading nature of Musk’s statements. Specifically, his incorrectly claimed that funding had been secured, and he knew it wasn’t true, according to the SEC.

As the filing asserts, “Musk’s false and misleading public statements and omissions caused significant confusion and disruption in the market for Tesla’s stock and resulting harm to investors.”

The SEC wrote in its complaint:

Musk knew or was reckless in not knowing that each of these statements was false and/or misleading because he did not have an adequate basis in fact for his assertions. When he made these statements, Musk knew that he had never discussed a going-private transaction at $420 per share with any potential funding source, had done nothing to investigate whether it would be possible for all current investors to remain with Tesla as a private company via a ‘special purpose fund,’ and had not confirmed support of Tesla’s investors for a potential going- private transaction. He also knew that he had not satisfied numerous additional contingencies, the resolution of which was highly uncertain, when he unequivocally declared, ‘Only reason why this is not certain is that it’s contingent on a shareholder vote.’

And also:

The July 31 meeting lacked discussion of even the most fundamental terms of a  proposed going-private transaction.

Musk hates short sellers but gave them yet another field day.

Short selling, or dumping stock in a company as it drops just to buy them back up once the price levels off (essentially turning a profit while obtaining an even larger share in the company), really gets on Musk’s nerves. And yet, each time another investigation launches or, you know, Musk accuses people of pedophilia, he’s handing those people Tesla stock on a silver platter. Tesla stock dropped several points when news of the SEC’s lawsuit broke, and once more short sellers got to work.

After claiming he could take Tesla private, Musk may be no longer be allowed to run any public company.

Part of the SEC’s filing includes an order that the defendant (that’s ol’ Musky) “be prohibited from acting as an officer or director” of any public company operating under U.S. law.

This ban may be reassuring to anyone who’s dealt with Musk in a professional setting. As the SEC wrote in its filing, “Musk did not consult with Tesla’s Board of Directors, any other Tesla employees, or any outside advisors about these tweets before publishing them.” Not exactly the most reliable CEO, as far as the board is concerned.

Everyone thought it was a joke. Turns out it may have been federal crime.

When Musk tweeted out the $420 price point, everyone (understandably) assumed he was telling some boring joke.

Once more from the SEC’s complaint:

At approximately 1:13 PM EDT, a Tesla investor and friend of Musk’s chief of staff texted the chief of staff, ‘What’s Elon’s tweet about? Can’t make any sense of it. Would  be incredibly disappointing for shareholders that have stuck it out for so long.’ A few minutes later, at approximately 1:32 PM EDT, a business reporter texted Musk’s chief of staff, ‘Quite a tweet! (Is it a joke?).’

At approximately 2:23 PM EDT, another reporter sent Musk an email with the subject, ‘Are you just messing around?’ and wrote, ‘Reaching out to see what’s going on with your tweets about taking the company private? Is this just a 420 joke gone awry? Are you serious? It seems like you are dancing into some pretty tricky legal territory by messing about with the markets this way. Is there an actual explanation coming?’

We’re laughing so we don’t cry.

More on the SEC lawsuit: Ludacris Mode: SEC Sues Elon Musk, Causing a Quick Drop in Tesla Stock

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The Five Funniest Things about the SEC’s Lawsuit against Elon Musk

In a Shift, Apple and Amazon Say They Are in Favor of Federal Privacy Regulation

Here we go again: tech executives have found themselves in front of Congress.

On Wednesday, execs from Apple, Google, Twitter, AT&T, and Charter Communications came before a Senate Commerce Committee to once more discuss mishandling consumer data and concerns over privacy rights. Congress made its intentions clear — it wants to pass federal rules on how tech companies are allowed to handle private consumer data.

It’s easy to imagine that this hearing might have gone the same way as the five that came before it — under-informed congresspeople ask softball questions, tech company execs back-pedal, question-dodge, and answer vaguely whenever federal regulation comes up.

But this time, things were different. Leaders from prominent tech companies like Apple and Amazon have stated their support for federal regulations that would protect the privacy of user data the companies collect.

Bud Tribble, a vice president at Apple and leader of the company’s privacy software efforts said: “We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, which should be supported by both social norms and the law,” according to Bloomberg.

Other tech execs followed suit — albeit in more equivocal terms. At Wednesday’s hearing, Amazon’s vice president Andrew DeVore said the company would agree to federal regulations, but warned of “possible unintended consequences” of strong state law, according to Canadian newspaper the National Post. DeVore fears that strong privacy laws could end up defining personal data as far too all-encompassing, stifling innovation.

On it’s face, the shift seems surprising. But these companies might have a different motive than protecting their users’ privacy rights. Silicon Valley holds considerable power over Congress. Part of the reason for Wednesday’s hearing was for Congress to ask tech execs for advice on how to regulate the tech industry, according to the Department of Commerce’s website.

Regulation seems imminent. In late June, California passed the Consumer Privacy Act, which gave Californians the right to know who collected what data and ask for that data to be deleted on the spot, while the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became enforceable in May.

Silicon Valley was generally unhappy with these laws — the California law was unpopular with some tech companies because it they fear it could seriously undermine the revenue they get from selling that data to third parties once it goes into effect in 2020; the companies rushed to comply with GDPR or face some very steep fines.

As the federal government considers what kind of regulation to put in place, tech companies have a window. By throwing their support behind a law now, companies might be able to dodge much stronger, more restrictive legislation. Here are some of the factors at play:

  • Federal privacy legislation — if it ever solidifies into an actual Bill — is bound to be shaped by the interest of those companies. Congress listens to tech execs, while consumer-level advocacy groups are locked out of the discussions, as Wired points out.
  • If weak federal privacy laws are able to supersede stronger state laws like California’s Privacy Act, they could end up benefiting private tech companies, protecting them from more heavy-handed state laws in the future.
  • It’s in the tech companies’ interest to streamline the process of adhering to privacy laws — it’s easier to comply with a single legal framework, rather than 50 different state laws.

A federal law that regulates tech companies may look like a win for the general public on the surface, but we shouldn’t underestimate the deviousness of the companies the laws are exactly intended to rein in. These companies likely see this as an opportunity to avoid having to abide by stronger privacy laws in the future.

Read More: Social Media Giants Need Regulation From a Government That’s Unsure How To Help

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In a Shift, Apple and Amazon Say They Are in Favor of Federal Privacy Regulation

Moore’s law | computer science | Britannica.com

Moores law, prediction made by American engineer Gordon Moore in 1965 that the number of transistors per silicon chip doubles every year.

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transistor: Transistors and Moores law

In 1965, four years after Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation and Texas Instruments Inc. marketed their first integrated circuits, Fairchild research director Gordon E. Moore made a prediction in a special issue of Electronics magazine. Observing that the total number of components in

For a special issue of the journal Electronics, Moore was asked to predict developments over the next decade. Observing that the total number of components in these circuits had roughly doubled each year, he blithely extrapolated this annual doubling to the next decade, estimating that microcircuits of 1975 would contain an astounding 65,000 components per chip. In 1975, as the rate of growth began to slow, Moore revised his time frame to two years. His revised law was a bit pessimistic; over roughly 50 years from 1961, the number of transistors doubled approximately every 18 months. Subsequently, magazines regularly referred to Moores law as though it were inexorablea technological law with the assurance of Newtons laws of motion.

What made this dramatic explosion in circuit complexity possible was the steadily shrinking size of transistors over the decades. Measured in millimetres in the late 1940s, the dimensions of a typical transistor in the early 2010s were more commonly expressed in tens of nanometres (a nanometre being one-billionth of a metre)a reduction factor of over 100,000. Transistor features measuring less than a micron (a micrometre, or one-millionth of a metre) were attained during the 1980s, when dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips began offering megabyte storage capacities. At the dawn of the 21st century, these features approached 0.1 micron across, which allowed the manufacture of gigabyte memory chips and microprocessors that operate at gigahertz frequencies. Moores law continued into the second decade of the 21st century with the introduction of three-dimensional transistors that were tens of nanometres in size.

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Moore’s law | computer science | Britannica.com

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

Main TERM M

By Vangie Beal

(n.) Moore’s Law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months, and this is the current definition of Moore’s Law, which Moore himself has blessed. Most experts, including Moore himself, expect Moore’s Law to hold true until 2020-2025.

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What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

Main TERM M

By Vangie Beal

(n.) Moore’s Law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months, and this is the current definition of Moore’s Law, which Moore himself has blessed. Most experts, including Moore himself, expect Moore’s Law to hold true until 2020-2025.

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Read more:

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

Main TERM M

By Vangie Beal

(n.) Moore’s Law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months, and this is the current definition of Moore’s Law, which Moore himself has blessed. Most experts, including Moore himself, expect Moore’s Law to hold true until 2020-2025.

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What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

Main TERM M

By Vangie Beal

(n.) Moore’s Law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months, and this is the current definition of Moore’s Law, which Moore himself has blessed. Most experts, including Moore himself, expect Moore’s Law to hold true until 2020-2025.

Stay up to date on the latest developments in Internet terminology with a free weekly newsletter from Webopedia. Join to subscribe now.

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What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

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