Happiness is tricky… Let’s look into that a little bit.Happiness is Itchy
Tomas Castelazo | Wikimedia Commons
The Colombian magazine Dinero, one of the most respected economic publications in Latin America, recently published a story about a World Bank study that placed Colombia as the second most competitive country in the world—behind a tie between Great Britain and Australia—to finance infrastructure projects under the public-private partnership model (known as PPPs). This score (83 points out of 100) was also shared by Paraguay and the Philippines.
At first glance, this is a virtuous recognition—at least on paper. However, in daily practice in the Latin American region, like most emerging economies, the administrative complexity of government bodies still presents enormous challenges that demand immediate attention if PPPs are to reach their full potential. Getting this right would truly integrate the PPP model into the economic and social development engine required to compete in a globalized economy.
While many governments in emerging economies, such as Honduras or Kenya, have taken strong steps to improve the process of bidding and managing PPPs, these processes still tend to be long and often slow. These delays often result in the expiration of environmental licenses and building permits that have already been secured, bringing the project to complete paralysis.
I was pleased to see that, in a recent study by the World Bank’s International Development Association (also known as IDA), private participation in renewable energy infrastructure projects accounted for 70% of all energy projects in 2017 in emerging economies, a significant increase compared to 38% in 2013.
As entrepreneurs in the energy industry, this encourages us to use PPP mechanisms whose structures have already been enhanced, like in Colombia or the Philippines. Just as renewable energy projects are a global necessity of the 21st century, solid platforms that facilitate their development are also de rigueur.
Many deficiencies in the management of PPPs are due to governments’ lack of real understanding of the partnership model. By this, I mean that governments repeatedly tweak the balance to impose their processes on the private sector— diluting the alliance’s true meaning. In honoring a bureaucratic tradition of mechanisms and protocols, the advantages, discipline, and expertise that the private sector brings to the PPP table are dimmed.
This is where we need to really re-balance the necessities of the two partners in PPPs. The speed and flexibility provided by the private sector is an added value that injects confidence in the investment and development of infrastructure projects.
At the same time, these elements should be complemented with the long-term security the public sector offers. In Colombia, for example, this equilibrium has been put into action by laws that reflect the core basis of PPPs, such as the PPP Law of 2012 and the establishment of the National Infrastructure Agency, a public entity manages PPP projects in the transportation sector.
As president of an energy infrastructure development company, I see how the global demand for renewable sources is increasing tremendously. This has not only aroused the interest of new actors, but amplified international competition to access these sources. The speed of technological advances asks us, more than ever, to be innovative and seek alternatives to new challenges. Many models from the past simply no longer meet the demands of our globalized world. This is an ideal scenario to double-down on PPPs to introduce efficiency and innovation in some obsolete or inefficient public services.
We know this model very well at ININCORP since all our projects are designed to offer solutions that align public needs with feasible and viable capacities contributed by the private sector.
Having a PPP framework that has been applauded by the World Bank, as in the cases of Colombia, Paraguay, or the Philippines, should encourage an acceleration in the development of PPP projects in these countries. Regrettably, their systems also provide obstacles that may lead to a decrease in the completion of such initiatives.
Governments are right to ensure good projects that are sustainable, affordable, and deliver excellent service to their people. But we must guard against consequences that are likely unintended but slow down the objectives for which these alliances were forged.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Bank Group, its Board of Executive Directors, staff or the governments it represents. The World Bank Group does not guarantee the accuracy of the data, findings, or analysis in this post.
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PPP Cancellations: If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading (Lao Tzu)
The invention of the shipping container revolutionized the global trade in goods from the 1950s on.
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Globalization and technology are intimately intertwined. The movement of people, goods and ideas is accelerated and broadened by new forms of transport and communication. And technological development is, in turn, enhanced by the diversity of ideas and the increased scale that comes from global reach.
During each phase of globalization, technology has played a defining role in shaping both opportunities and risks. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution drives a new phase of globalization – “Globalization 4.0” – here are five things we can learn from looking backwards, and forwards, at the impact of technology.
1. Even as technology improves, globalization is not inevitable
While it may be tempting to think of globalization as a core characteristic of modernity that has steadily progressed since the First Industrial Revolution, this is not the case. The last major reversal occurred thanks to the First World War and the subsequent period of economic turmoil. Indeed, levels of global economic integration reached a peak in 1914 and it took until the second half of the 20th Century for these heights to be recovered.
2. Global systems and standards matter more than individual technologies
The falling cost of transport and communications makes it viable to exchange more things, just as the steamship reduced the time and cost to cross the Atlantic on a reliable schedule during the 19th Century. But it’s important to note that it’s only when a technology becomes a system that the world changes.
The intermodal shipping container, which revolutionized global trade in goods from the 1950s on, is far more than a steel box – it is a set of standards that define the dimensions, strength and lifting points of containers, which complement the design of cranes, ships, trucks and trains around the world. The first purpose-built container crane could shift loads at more than 40 times the average productivity of a longshore gang using “break bulk” methods of shipping.
Thanks to the spread of global standards that were formed in the mid-1960s, this productivity was able to spread around the world. And this directly affected employment in the shipping sectors, as manual jobs were automated by the arrival of cranes and containers. Global trade and global wealth not only jumped but moved to a new rate of growth which persisted over decades as entrepreneurs and whole new economies found it viable to supply to markets around the world.
It is worth noting, however, that this benefit did not come without a cost. The number of registered longshoremen on the US East Coast fell by more than two-thirds from 1952 to 1972. The number of dock workers in the United Kingdom fell from over 70,000 in the early 1960s to under 10,000 in the late 1980s. The offset in jobs and opportunities more than adjusted for these losses, as overall gains were orders of magnitude higher, but for dockers, longshoremen and their families, it meant finding new income.
The spread of the internet and the relatively low cost of digital technology mean that people lucky enough to have access to digital networks are becoming more global and more local at the same time. Small traders in shanties on the outskirts of Nairobi export across east Africa. In China, ‘Taobao villages’ allow previously cut-off rural populations to sell goods on Alibaba’s trading platform.
New industrial technologies – including 3D printing, new forms of factory automation and machine learning – are rapidly enabling the mass personalization of products and local optimization of supply and demand. As a result, the maker movement and the sharing economy are both expanding rapidly. This is increasing the number of people who can use technology to create value. In 2016, GSMA found 314 tech hubs across Africa. Less than two years later, this number had grown almost 50% to 442.
Globalization is, of course, not just about trade in goods. In 1967, in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan coined the term the Global Village, laying out a remarkably prescient view of the benefits and risks of an increasingly shared global media space. Culturally, those connected to the internet are part of the same village conversations. This brings the opportunity both for enhanced cultural understanding and empathy, as well as the risks of polarizing dynamics.
On everything from domestic and international politics, to gender, race or other social issues, the stories that dominate our societies are no longer shaped by a small group of sources that are considered authoritative and trusted – now everybody has a voice. The cool, assured tones of the BBC World Service or PBS compete with a cacophony of opinion, the ‘outrage economy’, and a relentless stream of ‘Twitter meltdowns’. The expanded space for opinion reduces the relative space for fact. Worse still, these very dynamics can be intentionally used to create discord in the pursuit of discrediting people, ideas or institutions.
The race for technological advancement also lays the foundations of geopolitical influence, including the ability to influence the form of globalization. Technologies have always granted those countries and organizations that could master them economic, military and political power to different extents.
Today, countries are aggressively investing in technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. In fact, successfully harnessing new technologies is likely to be far more consequential than inventing them.
In his recent book AI Superpowers, Kai-Fu Lee argues persuasively that China is among the best placed to win the next phase of the AI race, based on its ability to implement cutting-edge machine learning techniques and leverage its access to massive amounts of data in an AI-friendly regulatory environment. Indeed, a Chinese company, Yitu, won the 2017 Face Recognition Vendor Test, a benchmark organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which serves as the official guideline for US government purchases. Meanwhile, Chinese AI startups received 48% of global AI funding in 2017 – compared to 38% for US AI firms.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is set to reshape economic power, scientific leadership, and the architecture of value chains as well as future forms of political organization. This has big impacts for how states relate to one another in the next phase of globalization.
5. Positive, shared values should be driving Globalization 4.0
Global rules and institutions – just like technologies – are far from neutral. They embed our values, assumptions about the world, and desires for what we think the future should look like. Past periods of globalization have been justly criticised for leaving people behind while also being celebrated for generating wealth, spreading technologies and raising living standards around the world. But we can, and should, do better in Globalization 4.0.
The printing press is often cited as an historical precedent for our tech-driven revolution in society. A key milestone in the democratization of information and knowledge, it empowered individuals and permanently altered economic, social and political structures. Literacy, education, scientific progress and political participation became the currency of all, rather than a few – leading to changing values, norms and life expectations.
We need to ensure that the technologies driving the next phase of globalization are human-centered and driven by positive values. In particular, as the World Economic Forum’s forthcoming report on Digital Futures notes, we should aim for systems and technologies which are inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable.
What does this mean? Well, at the same time as we celebrate the opportunities of AI to make our organizations more productive, we need to be closing the digital divide and making sure algorithms challenge, rather than reinforce, existing prejudices and discrimination. And, as we start to use distributed ledgers to revolutionize global finance, we need to be deploying the blockchain to help refugees prove their identity and to help civil society organizations track commitments to sustainability.
Most of all, those of us lucky enough to have the power to develop, invest in or even just use the latest technologies should do everything we can so that those with the least amount of power feel that technology is on their side too.
Both the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Globalization 4.0 are opportunities to fix what went wrong in previous eras. And that starts with building a shared commitment to a shared future, based on those values which are truly cross-cultural: striving for the common good, safeguarding human dignity, and acting as stewards for future generations.
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The U.S. government has agreed to let eight countries, including close allies South Korea and Japan, as well as India, keep buying Iranian oil after it reimposes sanctions on Tehran from next week, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing a U.S. official. Iran’s biggest oil …
I do not care if your eyebrows are not on fleek. I do not care if the spot that you think is huge, is there. I do not care if you have dribbled mayonnaise all over your top from your lunch. I do not care that you have some spinach between your teeth. I do not care that you wore the same top to go out for the fifth time in a row. I do not care that your body is a different body than what it was twenty years ago. I do not care that your roots are showing through. I do not care that your appearance to the outside world is not always perfect.
I do care that you are healthy. I do care that when you look in the mirror you like what you see. I do care that you wear clothes to impress yourself not others. I do care that when you smile it is real. I do care that your body is as well as you can make it. I do care that over the years you have grown into the person that you have always wanted to be. I do care that you know that your beauty comes from your soul. I do care that the outside world sees you for who you truly are.
Seeing is not always believing. For me, sight loss has meant insight gains. The beauty of a person goes deeper than the body that they dwell in. I don’t know what society’s perfection looks like as I have never been able to properly see. I can tell you though what a beautiful person is like. A beautiful person is loving. A beautiful person is kind. A beautiful person is empathic. A beautiful person is wise. A beautiful person is compassionate. A beautiful person is altruistic. A beautiful person exists within every one of 7 billion people that are in this world.
I care that although life gets tough, you realize that life will not always be like this. I care that you realize how much of a positive impact you have on others in your life. I care that you inspire others to reach their happy zone. I care that you are you. I care that without functional vision I can still see you. I care that I am not the only one that can see past the spot on your face that has natural eyebrows and appreciate the spinach between your teeth. I care that we can see past your mayonnaise covered aging top that covers your unique lovable body and your wisdom strands that many see as hair roots. I care that others do not use their eyes alone to judge.
I care because we all should.
The Trump administration took its war with the media to the next level this week when federal authorities seized years of phone records from New York Times reporter Ali Watkins as part of a federal investigation into leaks of classified information.
Watkins, who previously worked for BuzzFeed News and Politico, had a three-year relationship with James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide who was arrested on Thursday and charged with lying to federal agents investigating the classified leaks.
The seizure set off alarm bells about the relationship between the administration and the media. The Department of Justice under Obama took phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors, named a Fox News reporter an unindicted “co-conspirator” in a leak case, and prosecuted multiple cases involving whistleblowers and leakers. So is what Trump doing more of the same? Or is a president who routinely bashes the media and threatens to jail leakers finally turning his rhetoric into reality?
“It’s deeply alarming that the Trump administration has decided to build off of the worst of the Obama legacy on leak investigations and reporter-source protection,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North America program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
I asked Ellerbeck and five other experts what they make of the Justice Department’s latest actions and how they compare to what the Obama administration did. The general response: What Obama did was bad, and what Trump is doing is likely worse.
Their responses, edited for clarity and style, are below.
David Schulz, senior counsel, Ballard Spahr LLP, and director of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School
The government’s secret collection of a reporter’s telephone and email records to locate a confidential source is a matter of grave concern. Alarms went off when the Obama administration seized the phone records of several AP bureaus in 2013, and alarms are going off today. A free and independent press able to reveal the truth about the actions of government is crucial in a democracy, and a reporter’s ability to promise confidentiality is essential to getting the truth. It is a matter of human nature and simple logic.
The constitutional implications of governmental interference in the relationship between reporters and their sources have been recognized at least since President Nixon sat in the Oval Office nearly 50 years ago. Since then, Department of Justice guidelines have required government agents to exhaust alternative sources before seeking to compel information from the press, to minimize the scope of information requested from a reporter, and to notify the press in most circumstances so they can seek appropriate protection from a court before the government takes its records. Apparently, none of this happened here.
The department’s actions revealed yesterday cry out for a full and immediate public accounting, as provided by Attorney General [Eric] Holder in the aftermath of the AP incident. In particular, why were so many years of records taken? Department of Justice regulations require that, in all cases and without exception, a subpoena for a reporter’s telephone records must be “as narrowly drawn as possible.”
And why was no advance notice given to the reporter, so that a judge — and not a prosecutor alone — could decide whether the seizure would violate the constitutional protection of the press? Under current rules, such a step can only properly be taken if prior notice would “pose a substantial threat to the integrity” of an investigation, a claim that cannot credibly be made in this case where the source was already aware of the existence of the investigation.
The concerns raised by this secret governmental seizure are not just that it has happened, but also with what will happen next. The years’ worth of records likely reference communications with a number of sources on a wide range of stories — information the government has no conceivable right to know.
Who will have access to this information, and what will be done with it? Will it be reviewed only on a need-to-know basis by those working on this investigation, or made available more broadly to search for other leakers? Will records of communications by government staff be kept in personnel files and contacts with reporters taken into account in employment evaluations? The potential for misuse of the information is staggering and only compounds the need for an immediate accounting by the Department of Justice.
I don’t think it can be argued that the DOJ is breaking fundamentally new ground here, in light of the subpoenas for phone records directed at the Associated Press and the monitoring of James Rosen during the Obama administration.
The scope of the information-gathering on Watkins seems quite extraordinary, however, encompassing both telephone and email records reportedly stretching back, not for a few months, which is what we’ve previously seen in leak investigations focused on the origins of specific news stories, but spanning several years. That strikes me as significant because it means they’re not just getting a snapshot of what a reporter was working on at one particular moment, which is fraught enough, but in effect a detailed map of the source network she’s built up over the whole of her career.
Alexandra Ellerbeck, North America program coordinator, the Committee to Protect Journalists
This is the first instance, that we know of, in which the Trump administration has gone after a journalist’s communications records. There is nothing more vital to a functioning press than the ability of journalists to protect their sources, so the seizure of a journalist’s communications records sets a dangerous precedent.
The past decade has seen repeated federal assaults on the ability of journalists to protect their sources. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department came under fire for subpoenaing outgoing call records from 20 phone lines belonging to AP reporters or editors. The Obama administration also set the record for leak-related prosecutions. After the public outcry, the administration did make some modest positive steps. New leak prosecutions quieted down and the administration revised internal guidelines to make it harder to obtain journalist records.
It’s deeply alarming that the Trump administration has decided to build off of the worst of the Obama legacy on leak investigations and reporter source protection. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for putting leakers in jail, and President Trump allegedly even floated the idea of putting journalists themselves in jail. Last fall, Sessions expressed a desire to roll back some of the protections put in place at the end of Obama’s term. So far, however, they are still in place. We urgently need an explanation of how the troubling actions taken by the DOJ adhere to the guidelines they have set out for themselves.
The case raises a troubling pattern of surveillance targeting journalists. The Obama administration’s targeting of Rosen was far more serious, however.
In this case, the journalist had an alleged intimate relationship with the target who was sharing highly classified information. That type of “pillow talk” risk is one of the primary dangers facing the government over the release of information. Indeed, it is a common tactic by foreign powers. The alleged use of such intimate relationships by a journalist raises serious journalistic ethical concerns.
Nevertheless, the targeting of a journalist should be the last, not first, response. It is not clear if this was necessary since the targets emails and phone records were available. Moreover, recording [Rosen’s] conversations would inevitably include some calls with the journalist. Thus, it is not clear why the government would need to target the reporter or her communications.
While the Supreme Court has sharply curtailed the constitutional protections afforded to journalists and has left them with the same basic protections afforded average citizens, there remains a longstanding policy against such intrusive measures. There is ample reason to be concerned about such cases and legitimate questions that should be answered by the Justice Department. Unfortunately, the Congress has never been a strong advocate of journalistic protections (as opposed to the states which passed shield laws protecting reporters).
Neither the Obama administration then or the Trump administration now has avoided intruding into the important newsgathering role of the press, but it’s a big mistake to equate the two. Attacking the press is pervasive with Trump. Obama practices were situational.
Trump is playing his “nobody can criticize me” card. Wrong as his judgment may have been, Obama was motivated by a view of a government need for confidentiality.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy
There are at least two factors that highlight the egregious nature of this move.
First, even though reporter Ali Watkins is not accused or suspected of any criminal activity, her professional life has been unilaterally compromised by the administration. This is unjust and inappropriate on its face.
Second, the work of a reporter is different than that of a farmer or an auto mechanic in a crucial respect. The operation of a free press is a structural element of our political way of life. By interfering in the reporting process in the way that it did, and outside of any judicial procedure that might have allowed the reporters to challenge the action, the administration is undermining the freedom of the press on which we all depend.
Regrettably, this is not altogether unprecedented. The Obama administration took some similar steps in seizing Associated Press phone records in 2013. But the Obama Justice Department seemed chastened by the criticism it received and issued new guidance to moderate and regulate any such moves in the future. The Trump administration appears to have exceeded or ignored that guidance.
On average, there are 123 suicides per day in the United States. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. USA TODAY
Don’t pathologize the despair that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements.
In September of 2004, I received the call that every person dreads: my father had dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 61. It came at a time I was already grappling with other issues, including watching my mother fight breast cancer for the preceding six months, a breakup with a boyfriend and a lack of structure in my life as I was freelancing as a consultant while I tried to determine what I wanted to do next with my career.
I was in an emotional free-fall, so I visited a psychiatrist. He said the antidepressant my general practitioner prescribed to help with my life-long struggle with anxiety wasn’t what I needed, so he prescribed a new one. This seemed to only make things worse. Within a few days, I found myself thinking the unthinkable: I want to die.
I couldn’t imagine a life without my father and our hours-long conversations about, well, everything. The pain was debilitating, getting out of bed was an Olympian event, and life was utterly devoid of meaning. I stopped eating and shed 15 pounds in a month. I couldn’t see any reason to be alive.
I’ve thought a lot about this period following the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two people who by public appearances seemed to be living their best lives. We also learned this week that suicide rates increased 25% nationally, making it a national crisis.
I decided to share my story after interviewing John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, who happens to be my future brother-in-law. “What people don’t really know is that there is research that shows the media can reduce suicide,” Draper told me. “What creates a contagion effect is when the media focus mostly on the suicide and the way the person killed themselves. If people are more open about talking about coping through suicidal experiences, and the media highlight those stories, the evidence is very clear that this has a very positive effect on getting people through a suicidal crisis.”
More: From Anthony Bourdain to Kate Spade: How news media only covered one death correctly
So it might help a person contemplating suicide to read that I am thankful I didn’t succumb to my suicidal impulses. Or to learn that people like Halle Barry, Elton John and Drew Barrymore attempted and survived suicide. Or that Oprah, Olympian Michael Phelps and singer Demi Lovato considered suicide but didn’t go through with it.
Many factors in suicide
We often assume that people who commit suicide are mentally ill, but this isn’t always the case. There are many factors that can contribute to suicide that have nothing to do with mental illness, including loss of a relationship, loneliness, chronic illness, financial loss, history of trauma or abuse and the stigma associated with asking for help.
Even for those who do ask for help, friends and family can be flummoxed by “successful people” planning their own deaths. My family and friends told me I was “living the dream” and that I was “too strong” to succumb to suicide. Even my psychiatrist didn’t take my complaints seriously, saying I didn’t present as a suicidal person who was more likely to show up disheveled and unbathed than with a blowout and a fresh manicure.
Never mind that the day before, I had stood pressed against the 20th floor bathroom window of a building where I was consulting for a campaign, sobbing and wishing I could open it and jump to my death. Or that a few days before that, I had turned on the oven and put my head in, pulling it out only when an image of my younger brothers, also grieving my father’s sudden death, flashed in my mind.
Despite my doctor’s claim that nothing was wrong, I insisted that he change my anti-depressant, and within a few weeks my suicidal thoughts diminished. I’ll never know if the anti-depressant was the cause of my suicidal thoughts or not. What I do know is that every day I didn’t kill myself felt like a victory.
Though my suicidal thoughts passed, an oppressive depression ground me down that year. Life was an agonizing and daily struggle. So, when I hear that Kate Spade was reportedly fighting depression and anxiety for five years, all I can think is that it was nothing short of heroic for her to stay alive as long as she did.
Why we suffer emotional despair
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that a person contemplating suicide is in overwhelming emotional pain and they think very differently than people who are rational,” Draper told me. “It’s cognitive constriction. Your pre-frontal cortex goes off line and you have a flight, fight or freeze impulse. In that case suicide seems like the best way out or the best way to fight for your survival. They think, maybe my afterlife will be better.”
But why are so many more Americans getting to this level of emotional despair than in the past? As journalist Johann Hari wrote in his best-selling book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions, the epidemic of depression and despair in the Western World isn’t always caused by our brains. It’s largely caused by key problems in the way we live.
We exist largely disconnected from our extended families, friends and communities — except in the shallow interactions of social media — because we are too busy trying to “make it” without realizing that once we reach that goal, it won’t be enough.
In an interview this year, the comedian and actor Jim Carrey talked about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamt of and more….”
If only we get that big raise, or new house or have children we will finally be happy. But we won’t. In fact, as Carrey points out, in many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: it lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or achieve that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term.
Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.
Yes, there are people who have chemical imbalances who should be supported and treated with medicine. But most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.
Changing our culture is critical. Being honest with others about our own personal struggles and dark nights of the soul is the first step. People on the edge need to hear stories that assure them there is a way through the all-consuming pain to a meaningful life.
I’ve told mine, now go tell yours.
Kirsten Powers, author of The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, writes often for USA TODAY. Previously, she worked for Fox News and is now an analyst for CNN. Follow her on Twitter @KirstenPowers.
There are a lot of ancient medicinal cures that we no longer use. We don’t consume dried mummy powder, for example. We generally don’t use leeches (though there’s still at least one present-day use). But somehow, some so-called medical practitioners are still employing homeopathic medicine, a discredited 18th-century practice.
Homeopathy describes an entire system of alternative medicine devised by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 based on a “like cures like” principle. Essentially, Hahnemann believed that something can cure a sick person if it causes similar problems in healthy people. This may sound similar to, but is nothing like vaccines, weakened microbes used to train the body’s immune system.
Basically, homeopaths find a substance from a list of many remedies, and then dilute it a great deal either in tincture, water, or some other substance and have patients ingest it to cure symptoms. This is fine because ultimately the placebo effect can cure a whole lot, symptomatically. But when homeopathic remedies are offered in place of cancer treatment, well, that’s bad news. Last week, the European Academies Science Advisory Council issued a statement: After reviewing the research out there, they determined that there’s no robust, reproducible evidence backing homeopathy’s effectiveness for any of the diseases it’s supposed to treat.
Now, the European scientists don’t want to ban homeopathic medicines outright. Rather, they’d like to ensure that consumers are better informed and that vendors are upfront about the evidence backing the products’ effectiveness.
The council’s decision isn’t the law, though. “I don’t think there’s going to be any decline in interest” in homeopathic treatments, Arthur Caplan, bioethicist at the New York University School of Medicine told Gizmodo. “Especially given the internet claims” regarding their effectiveness. Obviously, super diluted mixtures are safe, which homeopathy websites emphasize. This is not the case if you have a life-threatening illness—again, some suspect websites claim homeopathic remedies can treat cancer. Regardless, the committee is meant to help guide the European Union’s regulatory bodies as they make decisions on the practice.
Here in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates homeopathy, allowing “homeopathic remedies that meet certain conditions to be marketed without agency pre approval” so long as vendors are upfront about the product’s strength and what it contains. The FDA “does not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness,” though. And while remedies are so diluted that they’re safe, recently, several “homeopathic products” used by infants have caused harm, like a magnetic bracelet that caused lead poisoning.
Caplan said that if you’d like to see less use of homeopathic remedies, it’s not the FDA to blame—after all, it’s Congress and state legislatures who make laws. Still, he thinks the FDA should condemn the entire practice outright. But until then, he hopes more people at least see the EASAC’s statement.
After all, homeopathy is quackery, he said. “It’s a bit like fortune telling and astrology,” he said. “It’s got traditions and practitioners who make money on it.”