Hundreds of health crowdfunding campaigns are for sham treatments

Quaaaack.

Crowdfunding is big business for healthcare. GoFundMe alone has raised more than $5 billion in the last eight years, with one out of every three campaigns raising money to cover healthcare costs, according to GoFundMe’s CEO. Often, these campaigns are for the uninsured or underinsured, and help provide legitimate medical care. But other times, people are raising funds to pay for questionable treatments, according to a brief report in JAMA today.

Brain injury specialist Ford Vox and a team of three medical ethicists searched GoFundMe and three lesser-used crowdfunding sites (YouCaring, CrowdRise, and FundRazr) for campaigns involving questionable treatments: those that don’t do much at all, and others that do something potentially dangerous.

They focused on five treatments that were showing up a lot in their results, searching the sites systematically for US- and Canada-based campaigns from the last three years that were specifically for those five. They found 1,059 campaigns that fit the bill, with the collective goal of raising more than $27 million, and hitting about a quarter of that target.

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Arizona superintendent fails in last attempt to limit evolution teaching

Empty classroom with whiteboards.

Earlier this year, we covered an attempt by Arizona’s superintendent of Public Instruction to alter the state’s science education standards. Superintendent Diane Douglas seemingly directed her staff to edit a set of standards prepared by educators so that numerous mentions of the word “evolution” were eliminated. Climate change was later diminished in a similar manner.

But since that time, the news has been almost uniformly good. Superintendent Douglas lost in a primary election to a fellow Republican, her edits to the school standards were rejected by the state school board, and a last-ditch effort to swap in educational guidelines from a religious college wasn’t even given serious consideration.

As we noted in our earlier coverage, Douglas has in the past suggested that schools teach intelligent design, which is the idea that life arose and diversified due to the intervention of an intelligent agent rather than evolution. It’s an idea that was generated for religious purposes, and its teaching has been ruled an imposition of religion by the courts. She has also misunderstood the status of a scientific theory in suggesting that it reflected the idea that our knowledge of evolution is uncertain. These beliefs seem to have motivated her intervention into the science standards.

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Those painted sculptures in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey are true to history

The view of the Athenian Acropolis in <em>Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey</em> shows ancient Greece in all its colorful glory.

When Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey debuted earlier this month, it received widespread praise for the quality of its world-building and narrative. Some historians say it also deserves high marks for its attention to historical detail in recreating ancient Greece. Notably, the game showcases colorfully painted statues, temples, and tombs dotted about the virtual city.

Yes, it’s true: contrary to all those pristine, gleaming white marble sculptures we see all the time in museums—the ones we long thought defined the Western aesthetic of the Classical era—Greco-Roman art was awash in color. Art historians have known this for awhile, of course, but the knowledge hasn’t really moved beyond the confines of that rarefied world. That might change, now that it’s a feature in a hugely popular game.

The 11th major installment in the popular gaming franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey takes place in in year 431 BCE, detailing a fictional history of the Peloponnesian War that pitted Athens against Sparta. Ubisoft’s development team took their world-building so seriously, they brought on a historical advisor to help get the details just right.

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NASA brings a Hubble gyro back to life after a seven-year hibernation

Hubble Space Telescope above Earth, photographed during STS-125, Servicing Mission 4, May 2009.

After NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope entered “safe” mode about two weeks ago, its operations team has been scrambling to bring a balky gyroscope back online. Now, the space agency says it believes it has fixed the problem.

“The Hubble operations team plans to execute a series of tests to evaluate the performance of the gyro under conditions similar to those encountered during routine science observations, including moving to targets, locking on to a target, and performing precision pointing,” NASA said in a news release. “After these engineering tests have been completed, Hubble is expected to soon return to normal science operations.”

Ground operators put the telescope into a stable configuration earlier this month after one of the three active gyros that help point the telescope failed. According to NASA, the gyro that failed last week had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, and its failure was not unexpected.

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Trauma of US Civil War POW experience affected the next generation

Crowded conditions at the Andersonville POW camp.

“It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles.” – General Ulysses S. Grant, August 18, 1864.

General Grant did not halt the exchange of Union and Confederate soldiers between the summers of 1863 and 1864, although this quotation—chiseled into a monument on the site of Camp Sumter military prison in Andersonville, Georgia—is often cited as evidence that he did. The exchange halted as a consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation. Black Union soldiers started enlisting in increasing numbers, and the Confederates refused to trade them along with their white officers.

Once the exchange stopped, prisons got more and more crowded and more and more squalid. Malnutrition and disease were rampant. And, according to a new study, the consequences lasted for generations.

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Relativity hires senior Tesla manager to help automate rocket production

Can this 3D printer really make rocket parts?

No one could argue that a company like SpaceX has one of the most cutting-edge rocket factories in the world, as the company builds some of the most advanced boosters launching today. And yet much of the manufacturing is still done by hand, at various work stations. Humans remain integral to building rockets.

However, a new company called Relativity Space is among those trying to radically automate the process. The California-based company is perhaps best known for its goal to print the entirety of its boosters, from payload fairings to the engines, with additive manufacturing. Equally revolutionary is the company’s goal to automate the production of rockets.

To that end, Relativity recently announced the hiring of Tobias Duschl, who has worked for the last six years as senior director of global business operations for Tesla, the electric vehicle company. He will run operations for Relativity as it transitions from development to commercial spaceflight operations over the next three to four years.

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Lithium giants feud over competition, brine in Chile’s Atacama Desert

Salt flats in South America

Two of the world’s biggest lithium producers, Albemarle Corporation and Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (otherwise known as SQM), are tangled in two disputes: the first over water rights in Chile’s Atacama desert, and the second over ownership of SQM.

Both Albemarle and and SQM have significant operations in the Atacama desert, where some of the world’s best lithium resources exist. As electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries become more popular, lithium resources are becoming more valuable. That has created some conflict in an industry that has long remained relatively quiet.

Who’s drinking whom’s milkshake?

This week, Reuters reported that both Albemarle and SQM have accused each other of overdrawing brine from the Atacama’s underground aquifers. Both companies have operations in the Atacama’s Salar, and their operations are just three miles apart from each other. The brine water that has been accumulating for millennia under the Atacama is lithium-rich, and companies pump it out and send the brine to evaporation ponds where heat extracts the water and leaves the reactive alkali metal behind.

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First thing we do, let’s kill all the experts

Timeworn headstones in Donegal Cemetery.

There is a Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Take a moment to consider the implications of that fact. The inhabitants of what, under other circumstances, would be an obscure academic backwater need legal defense. Non-scientists have convinced themselves so thoroughly that these experts have to be wrong that they claim the whole field is swimming in fraud and have engaged in legal assaults to try to confirm their beliefs. The scientists need legal defense because their opponents are convinced they can provide evidence of the fraud—if only they could see every email the scientists have ever sent.

Climate scientists may suffer from an extreme example of this sort of vilification, but they’re hardly alone. The US has had a long history of mistrust in highly educated professionals, but we seem to have shifted to a situation in which expertise has become both a disqualification and a reason for attack.

That’s the central argument of Tom Nichols’ recent book, The Death of Expertise, which has recently come out in a paperback edition. Nichols is a professor at the Naval War College and an expert himself, having done graduate studies about the former Soviet Union. While he’s gained some prominence as a never-Trump conservative, the arguments in his book are evenhanded at distributing blame. And they make disturbing reading for anyone in science who’s interested in engaging the public—especially in the science arena.

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