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Economist Tyler Cowen launches a fellowship and grant program for moon shot ideas

Tyler Cowen, who I interviewed here, is a fascinating economist. Part pragmatist and part dreamer, he has been researching and writing about the future for a long time in books and his blog, Marginal Revolution. Now he and his university, George Mason, are putting some money where his mouth is. Cowen and the team at GMU are working on Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program for moon shots. The goal is to give people with big ideas a little capital to help them build out their dreams. “It has long been my view that risk-takers are not sufficiently rewarded in the world of ideas and that academic incentives are too conservative,” he said. “The intellectual scene should learn something from Silicon Valley and venture capital.” Cowen is raising $4 million for the first fund. He announced the fund in a podcast on the Mercatus website. “People such as Satoshi and Jordan Peterson have had huge impacts (regardless of one’s degree of enthusiasm for their ideas), and yet in terms of philanthropic funding the world just isn’t geared to seed their ambitions,” said Cowen. The project is part of the GMU Mercatus Center, a “source for market-oriented ideas—bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems.” The fund has just opened applications and the amounts granted depend on the project and creator. Cowen, for his part, is optimistic about the prospects of the future-focused fund. “I expect to produce a better and freer world, some degree of human self-realization, a better climate for public intellectuals and other creators of ideas, more innovation, and to bring the intellectual side of America more in touch with the entrepreneurial side,” said Cowen.

The FDA OK’d an app as a form of birth control

Don’t want to get pregnant? There’s a Food and Drug Administration approved app for that. The FDA has just given the go ahead for Swedish app Natural Cycles to market itself as a form of birth control in the U.S. Natural Cycles was already in use as a way to prevent pregnancy in certain European countries. However, this is the first time a so-called ‘digital contraceptive’ has been approved in America. The app works using an algorithm based on data given by women using the app such as daily body temperature and monthly menstrual cycles. It then calculates the exact window of days each month a woman is most fertile and therefore likely to conceive. Women can then see which days the app recommends they should avoid having sex or use protection to avoid getting pregnant. Tracking your cycle to determine a fertile window has long been used to either become pregnant or avoid conceiving. However, Natural Cycles put a scientific spin on the age-old method by evaluating over 15,000 women to determine its algorithm had an effectiveness rate with a margin of error of 1.8 percent for “perfect use” and a 6 percent failure rate for “typical use.” What that means is almost two in every 100 women could likely conceive on a different date than the calculated fertile window. That’s not exactly fool-proof but it is higher than many other contraceptive methods. A condom, for instance, has an 18 percent margin of error rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And though the app makers were able to convince the FDA of its effectiveness, at least one hospital in Stockholm has opened an investigation with Sweden’s Medical Products Agency (MPA) after it recorded 37 unwanted pregnancies among women who said they had been using the app as their contraception method. “Consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it’s used carefully and correctly,” assistant director for the health of women in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health Terri…

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