June 18, 2013 1:26 pm
Alternative Medicine Is a $34 Billion Industry, But Only One-Third of the Treatments Have Been Tested
Alternative medicine tends to elicit strong opinions. Some people swear by natural remedies while others insist that traditional medicine isn’t effective and, at worst, can be dangerous. Alternative treatments are gaining popularity in the U.S., where around 50 percent of people say they have used them, but despite the billions of dollars spent on these remedies each year only a third of them have ever been tested.
As USA Today reports, many American consumers cite distrust of big pharmaceutical companies as one of the main reasons they lean towards using traditional therapies. But a new book by Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, argues that the alternative medicine industry is just as focused on profit and business as it is on healing.
In his book, Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who has long fought for stricter regulation of supplements, says the alternative medicine industry is “as tough as any industry I’ve seen lobby in Washington. They have a lot of money at stake. They want to maximize their profits and they want as little regulation as possible.”
There’s even a Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus, composed of legislators who look favorably on the industry.
Moreover, USA Today continues, only about one-third of alternative therapies have ever been tested for their safety and efficacy. In other words, the people selling those supplements, powders or teas can’t really say whether the treatments actually improve a patient’s ailments, and they can’t guarantee their products’ safety, either.
For the most part, people are free to take whatever alternative therapies they want, but Offit wants consumers to know that they are contributing to a profit-driven industry and may be investing in nothing but empty promises, and in the worst case, could wind up in the hospital.
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June 18, 2013 11:00 am
“It is no exaggeration to say that almost everything we know about the universe today has grown out of the effort to see past the flat, 2-D appearance of the sky and discern the true depths behind it,” Discover News writes. In the 1920s, maps helped Edwin Hubble discern that the universe is expanding; they clued Fritz Zwicky in on the presence of dark matter in the 1930s; and they helped tease out details supporting the Big Bang Theory in the 1990s.
Now, a new map captures not only the 3D structure of the universe, but the positioning and movement of invisible dark matter, too. The University of Hawaii describes the significance:
The video captures with precision not only the distribution of visible matter concentrated in galaxies, but also the invisible components, the voids and the dark matter. Dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the total matter of our universe and is the main cause of the motions of galaxies with respect to each other. This precision 3-D cartography of all matter (luminous and dark) is a substantial advance.
The correspondence between wells of dark matter and the positions of galaxies (luminous matter) is clearly established, providing a confirmation of the standard cosmological model. Through zooms and displacements of the viewing position, this video follows structures in three dimensions and helps the viewer grasp relations between features on different scales, while retaining a sense of orientation.
To celebrate astronomer Brent Tully’s 70th birthday, Discover writes, he and his friends hosted a conference at which they revealed this and one other new map of the universe that the group created together.
One is the color coded one, above, which depicts the exact location of every galaxy out to a distance of 300 million light-years. But the even more amazing one–the one that truly made my head spin, as I hope it will do to yours–is the 3D video, which shows not only all the visible structures but also the unseen dark matter, and illustrates the dynamic behavior of the whole thing.
The video maps 100 million light-years, or, as Discover rephrases, 6,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. It shows the structures of galaxy clusters, thread-like dark matter and open patches of lonely space.
This is the structure and evolution of the cosmos laid bare, covering distances and times and velocities that are, in a fundamental way, beyond human comprehension. And yet they are not truly beyond the reach of the intellect, because Tully has brought it all into view, with a little help from his friends. Give him 17 minutes and he will give you the universe. Happy birthday to you, and to all of us.
Here, you can take that journey with Tully and the birthday crew:
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June 18, 2013 9:00 am
China’s pidan, or preserved eggs, go by many names: preserved egg, hundred-year egg, century egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg. You get the idea—these eggs look like they’ve been sitting around for years and years.
While their putrid-looking greenish-grey yolk and transparent, brown egg white may appear to be the furthest thing from appetizing to Western palettes, for the Chinese, these things are a common delicacy. But now, even Chinese consumers have a reason to avoid 1,000-year-old eggs. Thirty preserved egg companies are being shut down for using industrial copper sulphate, a toxic chemical, to expedite the egg-festering process. South China Morning Post reports:
Industrial copper sulphate usually contains high levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and cadmium, so is banned for use as a food additive.
The eggs are usually preserved with baking soda, salt, and quicklime for about two months. The process turns yolks dark green and the egg white into a stiff, dark jelly. Using copper sulphate could significantly reduce the processing time while achieving the same effect.
For now, the companies—one of which produces 300,000 tons of preserved eggs per year—are on hiatus as investigations continue. One official remarked that nearly all the preserved egg companies used this chemical, and he doesn’t consider it such a big deal. ”There won’t be a problem if you don’t eat too many of them,” he told South China Morning Post.
In other Chinese cuisine news, Quartz reports, watch out for chewing on suspect pork knuckles and chicken legs in the country. Some of those chewy treats were sold more than a year past their expiration date after being washed with detergent to cover up their foulness.
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June 17, 2013 12:07 pm
In 2009, wildlife managers across Africa began finding hundreds of rhino carcasses with their horns sawed off. Since then, conservationists have struggled to get a handle on the escalating poaching crisis. Rhino horn can fetch a price exceeding its equivalent weight in gold on the Asian blackmarket, and efforts to stop the determined poachers from stripping rhinos of their valuable horns haven’t had much success so far.
Today, Discover argued that “legalizing the trade in rhino horns may be the best way to protect them from poachers.” The thinking goes like this:
Rhino horns can be cut or shaved without injuring the animals, and they grow back.
The increased supply from legal trade would likely bring prices down, reducing the incentive for poachers to continue slaughtering rhinos. [Conservation biologist Duan] Biggs believes the trade would protect rhinos — a portion of profits could be funneled into continuing to police poachers — and bring jobs to the surrounding areas. And if demand were to keep going up, areas that hold white rhinos could be expanded to grow the population. In the end, a tightly regulated legal horn trade might do the most good.
Now, this is by no means a new idea, nor is it a widely supported one. Officials in South Africa have been arguing the pros and cons of the rhino horn ban for over ten years. Last year, the Cape Times reported on a proposal to lift the 1977 ban in rhino products.
According to the Cape Times, the argument for a monthly, legal rhino horn sale regulated by the government includes:
- Payment would go to rhino owners rather than outlaws
- Horns would be genetically categorized, making their legal origins easily traceable
- The sustainable horn supply flooding the market would reduce incentive for traders to risk breaking the law
But of course there were arguments against the ban too:
- Adding legal rhino horns to the market would only fuel demand
- Criminals would still launder illegal horns and pass them off as legal ones
- Farming rhinos in captivity would make this species akin to domestic livestock and “take the wild out of wildlife”
- This strategy has not worked in the past
- The countries responsible for driving most demand for rhino horn – namely, China and Vietnam – are notorious for their corrupt officials, which doesn’t bode well for enforcing a legal trade
It’s these last two point that is perhaps most convincing. China condones the legal sale of tiger skin and bones, so long as the animals were raised in captivity. But that has done nothing to quell demand for those products, and wild tigers continue to be poached. Conservationist Mark Jones explains in the Huffington Post:
Tigers have fared no better. China has a scheme for registering, labelling and selling the skins from tigers who have died on tiger farms. In spite of a domestic and international ban on the trade in tiger parts, particularly bones, China still allows tiger farmers to breed tigers and store the carcases of those who have died. Meanwhile, wild tigers remain on the brink of extinction with as few as 3,000 remaining in the wild whilst three times that number are estimated to be languishing on Chinese tiger farms.
And this same strategy has been tested a couple times for ivory, too, and it failed to stop elephants from being killed:
On the ivory front, CITES has sanctioned two ‘one-off sales’ of ivory from southern African stockpiles to China and Japan in recent years on the assumption that it will help control or reduce elephant poaching, but it hasn’t worked. Seizures of illegal ivory have risen markedly since the last legal ‘one-off sale’ took place in 2008, with at least 30 tonnes seized in 2011 alone, representing around 3,000 dead elephants. This is probably only 10% to 20% of the total illegal trade. Elephant massacres continue, with hundreds killed in parts of Central and West Africa earlier this year, threatening the survival of whole elephant populations.
In a blog published last year, Mike Watson, CEO of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, summed up the overall problem with legalizing the trade:
“It might look and sound good on paper and the figures might make sense, but in reality regulating rhino horn and piecing it together at the continental and global level may well prove to be a challenge,” Watson said. “There are so many variables and unknowns that you’ll only know if it’s succeeding if you try it, and if it doesn’t succeed it could be a disaster,” he added.
Ultimately, reducing market demand would be a surefire way to ensure the survival of rhinos, elephants and countless other species, but conservationists are pushing against thousands of years of Chinese culture and tradition. “Until such a time as one reduces the market, we’ll be fighting an uphill battle,” Watson said.
In other words, stopping demand for illegal wildlife goods is the only surefire way to solve the poaching predicament currently threatening wildlife spanning from Asia to Africa. That requires governments to get serious about cracking down on poachers as well as sellers and buyers, and also start pointing out the obvious to their citizens: rhino horn won’t cure your cancer, but it will cause a species to go extinct, and land you in jail.
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June 14, 2013 12:00 pm
One in four adolescent girls living in the congested slums of Nairobi, Kenya, falls victim to rape each year. An organization called No Means No Worldwide is trying to improve that disturbing statistic. According to one study the non-profit conducted, a short course in both verbal and physical self-defense can significantly improve the girls’ odds of escaping their would-be rapists, Stanford School of Medicine reports.
Sexual assault usually is not openly discussed in Kenya, but in this trial more than 400 high school girls, aged 14 to 21, discussed the topic. In addition to learning self defense techniques, they also received information about what to do and how to get help if they ever suffered sexual assault.
In the 10 months after receiving self-defense training, more than half of these girls reported using what they had learned to fend off would-be attackers. The proportion of them who were raped fell from 24.6 percent in the year before training to 9.2 percent in the 10-month period after.
Another 120 girls served as a control group. During the trial, they took a life skills class that is administered by the Kenyan government. The proportion of these girls who went on to suffer rape remained about the same, or around 25 percent.
Next, No Means No Worldwide plans to move into trials with boys to see whether teaching them not to attack women has any effect on curbing sexual violence.
While the problem of rape in Kenya may seem remote to Western readers, a recent survey found that nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. say they have been raped or suffered an attempted rape at some point in their life.
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