Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Jeremy Bernstein in Inference Review:
Enrico Fermi came to Harvard to give the Loeb Lectures in the fall of 1953. I was eager to meet him. I admired his work, of course, but I also thought there might be a distant family connection between us. My aunt had given me the impression that after Fermi’s arrival in the United States in 1939, she and members of the Fermi family had become the best of friends. When I ran into Fermi in the hallway of the Harvard physics building, I mentioned my aunt. Fermi gave me a chilly stare, and, without saying a word, walked away. Some years later, I described this encounter to someone who knew Fermi very well. He was not surprised.
During his visit, Fermi was persuaded to give an informal talk to a journal club formed under the guidance of Roy Glauber. Then a young assistant professor, Glauber would later win a Nobel Prize. He had gotten to know Fermi at Los Alamos during the war. I had hoped that Fermi would discuss the meson experiments being conducted at the University of Chicago. His talk went no further than describing an elementary problem in quantum theory. Most of us could have given the same lecture. With the exception of Paul Martin, we remained silent. Martin was the most brilliant of the graduate students; he objected to the approximations Fermi had made. Fermi gave a second lecture. Martin was still not satisfied. And a third. At that point, Martin gave up. Fermi would have continued until he had beaten Martin into submission.
The Pope of Physics is an account of Fermi’s life and times. Gino Segrè and his wife, Bettina Hoerlin, have written their account from the inside out; they knew a good many people who knew Fermi. Hoerlin’s father, Herman Hoerlin, worked with Fermi at Los Alamos, and Segrè’s uncle, Emilio Segrè, had been one of Fermi’s original collaborators in Rome. Both Segrè and Hoerlin could regard Fermi as a familiar presence.
Mohammed Hanif in the New York Times:
The army chief of Pakistan recently confirmed the death sentence of Saad Aziz, a business-school graduate and restaurant manager who was convicted of killing my friend Sabeen Mahmud. Sabeen, who was 40 then, ran The Second Floor in Karachi, a cafe where many writers and artists, including me, got their first break. It was also a hub for activists advocating controversial, often lost, causes. She was shot dead on April 24, 2015, minutes after a talk she had organized about the disappearance of Baloch activists, allegedly at the hand of Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies.
Chances are that after the requisite technical appeals to higher courts and a plea for mercy to the president of Pakistan, Aziz will hang. There are even stronger chances that we’ll never know for sure why he killed Sabeen.
Aziz was sentenced to death by a military court last May. The media weren’t allowed to cover the trial. There is no detailed judgment. We’ll never get to hear what Aziz may have said in his defense or about his motives.
Was he a lone killer, or acting on someone’s behalf? Was Sabeen killed for taking a stand against the Pakistani Taliban and their supporters in the mainstream? For defying the powerful military establishment? Because she insisted on drawing red hearts on walls around the city to mark Valentine’s Day?
Video length: 19:41
It’s hard to describe in a word what Kirk Franklin does for a living. Franklin, forty-six, is the most successful contemporary gospel artist of his generation, but he isn’t a singer. He plays the piano, but only intermittently onstage, more to contribute to the pageantry than to show off his modest chops. Above all, he is a songwriter, but in performance and on his albums his role more closely resembles that of a stock character in hip-hop: the hype man. The best hype men—Flavor Flav, Spliff Star, the early Sean (P. Diddy) Combs—hop around onstage, slightly behind and to the side of the lead m.c., addressing the microphone in order to ad-lib or to reinforce punch lines as they rumble by. But a hype man is, by definition, a sidekick, and while most of the sound in Franklin’s music comes from elsewhere—usually, a band and an ensemble of singers—he is always and unquestionably the locus of its energy and intention.
When I first saw Franklin perform live, last spring, at the newly renovated Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, he stood at center stage, spotlit, rasping out preachy interjections whenever his singers paused for breath. The theatre had the grandeur of a cathedral: blood-red velvet curtains framed the stage; golden ceilings, patterned with blue-and-purple paisleys, soared over vaudeville-era balconies and plush seats. During “I Smile,” a bouncy, piano-propelled anthem to joyful resilience against life’s troubles, Franklin punctuated the chorus with a rhythmic series of shouts: “I smile”—“Yes!”—“Even though I’m hurt, see, I smile”—“Come on!”—“Even though I’ve been here for a while”—“Hallelujah!”—“I smile.”
I was flown across the Atlantic to meet my new employers. In downtown Washington, I was surprised by the ubiquity of fresh-faced young men, their blue short-sleeved buttondowns tucked neatly into khakis. Lincoln Group had its headquarters above an Indian grocery on K Street; a small placard in the building’s foyer read: VISITORS TO LINCOLN GROUP/ IRAQEX, 10TH FLOOR, SHOULD BE ANNOUNCED IN ADVANCE. On the tenth floor, electricians wired lights in some rooms while in others suited men conferenced behind glass walls. The company’s head of human resources, who had only just been hired herself, told me with a weary smile that things had been crazy lately.
Paige Craig popped in to see me as I filled out work papers in a tiny waiting room. Shaking my hand with a mighty grip, he uttered something to the effect of “welcome aboard.” He was very well built, with short, tidy hair and the tight khaki trousers and shirt of a military man. As he strode away, he seemed purposeful. Bailey, by contrast, was baby-faced and slight, his sandy-brown hair cut in a Bill Gates bob. In his comer office, we chatted about Oxford. He had studied economics and management at Lincoln College. When I asked whether his college had inspired the company’s new name, he shrugged. “Partly,” he said cryptically. He did say that Lincoln Group was rapidly expanding and that it offered incredible opportunities for bright young people like me: stock options were available to employees after just three months, and I might consider staying on after the summer. Christian Bailey hadn’t yet been to Iraq himself. Although he had planned numerous trips, he said, something always came up that kept him in D.C.
The biggest problem for me is that the theater of the age I live in has almost always tried to be “innovative” and “modern.” And that supposed innovation and modernity often consists in such infelicities as these: if it’s a classic work, you almost never see that work, but a version, adaptation, or recreation by some sly contemporary who thus pockets all the money, given that Sophocles, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Molière, Goldoni, and other such luminaries are all out of copyright. These adaptations generally involve the destruction of the classic work: some dispense with verse, if there is any; others dress Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Brutus in suit and tie, or as Nazi bigwigs, or have them run around naked throughout the entire play (although there is also a fashion for dressing everyone in a kind of hideous sack, so that they all look the same); there are those who prefer to have the characters prancing around a completely bare stage, screaming loudly, or on a stage equipped with a ramp or a tent or a net they can dangle from. Actors are usually told to be either “very natural” or “very artificial,” but the result is always the same, namely, their complete inability to speak the words audibly and in a way that captures the interest of the audience, who end up being so distracted by the actors’ howls, phoney pauses, incomprehensible songs or litanies, and imperfect diction (as well as looking to their own protection, because actors often hurl water or even fireworks into the audience) that they take little notice of what the actors are trying to communicate verbally. In the theater nowadays, it’s almost impossible, regardless of whether it’s relevant or not, to escape (a) hysterical, meaningless dancing, perhaps so that the audience can enjoy some “physical movement”; (b) a more or less “savage” or vaguely medieval scene, along the lines of some kind of revelry or peasant hoedown, or a lynching perhaps, or a gang rape, or a bit of group cannibalism—and whichever option they choose, none of them impresses or seems remotely believable; (c) somersaults, pirouettes, and juggling with a bit of mime thrown in, and there’s nothing I loathe more than mime and juggling (no need, I hope, to explain why).
So by sixteen we move in packs
learn to strut and slide
in deliberate lowdown rhythm
talk in syn/co/pa/ted beat
because we want so bad
to be cool, never to be mistaken
for white, even when we leave
these rowdier L.A. streets—
remember how we paint our eyes
flash our legs in nylons
sassy black high heels
or two inch zippered boots
stack them by the door at night
next to Daddy’s muddy gardening shoes.
by Amy Uyematsu
from Poetry Outloud
Poetry Foundation, 2005
Paula Span in The New York Times:
Judith Katherine Dunning had been waiting anxiously for California to adopt legislation that would make it legal for her to end her life. The cancer in her brain was progressing despite several rounds of treatment. At 68, she spent most of her day asleep and needed an aide to help with basic tasks. More centrally, Ms. Dunning — who, poignantly, had worked as an oral historian in Berkeley, Calif. — was losing her ability to speak. Even before the End of Life Option Act became law, in October 2015, she had recorded a video expressing her desire to hasten her death. The video, she hoped, would make her wishes clear, in case there were any doubts later on. “She felt she had completed all the important tasks of her life,” recalled her physician, Dr. Michael Rabow, director of the symptom management service at the University of California, San Francisco. “When she could no longer communicate, life was no longer worth living.”
In recent months, this option has become available to a growing number of Americans. Last June, aid-in-dying legislation took effect in California, the most populous state. In November, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure by nearly a two-thirds majority. The District of Columbia Council has passed a similar law, and the mayor quietly signed it last month. Aid in dying was already legal in Washington, Vermont, Montana and Oregon. So even if the District of Columbia’s law is blocked, as a prominent Republican representative has threatened to do, the country has arrived at a remarkable moment: Close to 20 percent of Americans live in jurisdictions where adults can legally end their lives if they are terminally ill and meet eligibility requirements. The laws, all based on the Death With Dignity Act Oregon adopted in 1997, allow physicians to write prescriptions for lethal drugs when patients qualify. The somewhat complicated procedure involves two oral requests and a written one, extensive discussions, and approval by two physicians. Patients must have the mental capacity to make medical decisions.
Monday, January 16, 2017
by Holly A. Case
The first and last time I saw Zygmunt Bauman was in October 2011. The Polish sociologist had come to Jena where he was one of the star participants, along with the Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller, at a workshop on "Approaches to Postmodernity from the East." As the organizers of the conference repeatedly emphasized, Bauman and Heller did not merely write about modern European history, they were modern European history. They were invited to reflect on their mid-century experiences—of the Holocaust, Stalinism, dissidence—in light of what they (we) know now. The conceit seemed straightforward enough, but as the German historian Reinhart Koselleck wrote, "modernity only became recognizable as a new time once expectations distanced themselves ever more from all previous experiences." In other words, nothing ever turns out like you expect.
Although at the time I had not read Bauman's work, the particular tragicomic trajectory of the workshop left a deep impression on me. I reported on it at length to a German acquaintance in a series of emails, and even wrote a poem about Bauman's role. (Historians are not, in general, renowned for their poetry; it will soon become clear why.) When I saw the announcement of Bauman's death last week, it brought to mind that October five years ago. The following are excerpts from my letters (translated from the mediocre German) and the poem, along with passages from Bauman's own writings. The "exchange" that emerges is meant not as an in memoriam, but as a sign of life and a continuation of thought, an attempt to follow his example.
A couple of hours before twilight
a gibbous moon rose in the east
over the serpentine spine of the mountain
a bright hole in a bluegrey scrim,
just there without reason,
as uncomplicated and expected
as a shard of granite on the slope of a talus,
as common as the little moons that rise
above the cuticles of each finger
of your familiar hands, as singular,
as sure as the hidden sun it mirrors,
and I wondered at what the ancients thought
as it appeared and disappeared
regular as breath, opulent as a third eye,
as crisp as the feel of a January breeze
slapping my cheek as I cross the bridge
from here to there. I’m as stupefied
as they must have been,
even though I’ve been told this bright hole
is no more than dust and rock
tethered by a wrinkle in space
which holds it in a groove of time
like a stylus spiraling in black vinyl
sending mute tunes
hushed as the sure breath
that billowed from our mouths
as we threw row cover
over the kale
by Carl Pierer
Of the many properties a space can have, one of the most intuitively clear seems to be connectedness. Connectedness appears to be the simple property of hanging together in one piece. But how do we make this notion precise? On the one hand, we could think of it as the property that we can reach any point in the space without stepping outside. That is, in other words, that there is a path from any given point to any other point in the space. So, this would make the letter "o" connected, while the letter "i" wouldn't be. This notion corresponds to the topological notion of path connectedness. We say that a space is path connected if for any two points in the space there exists a continuous path from one to the other (which lies entirely inside the space).
On the other hand, we can think of connectedness in slightly different terms. The notion is perhaps clarest if we think about a musical melody. Somehow a succession of sounds turns into a melodic whole, which hangs together in a meaningful way. Breaking up the melody, interrupting it at any one point, can – provided the melody is complex enough – create two full, individual melodies, or one full melody and a somewhat incomplete, unresolved one, or two incomplete succession of notes. If the melody doesn't break into two simpler, shorter melodies, then at least one of the pieces will carry a certain tension that points beyond itself to a resolution of the harmonic build-up. If this is the case, we can think of the melody as in some way the simplest meaningful whole – there is no natural way to separate it into meaningful simpler pieces. This is the second notion of connectedness.
With some poetic licence, we can link the idea of an unresolved melody to the notion of openness, whilst a resolved melody would correspond to closedness, in topological terms. This identification has to be taken with a grain of salt, however, for the two notions – to a topologist – are not opposites. A set can be both open and closed or neither. What does justify the idea, however, is that an unresolved melody, much like an open set, points to a resolution that lies beyond itself: the tone that would form a complete whole, or the limit point that would render the set not open. In any case, we get the second notion of connectedness as a space that does not break up into two, non-empty and non-intersecting, open sets. To translate this into the language of melodies would be to say that a melody is connected if the only way to break it up is that there is one full, simpler melody and one unresolved.
Sopheap Pich. Wall Structure No. 2, 2015.
Bamboo, rattan, and wire.
Digital photograph by Sughra Raza at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Jan 15, 2017, thanks to Amna Naqvi who recommended the visit!
by Emrys Westacott
- it keeps you away from morally corrupting temptations;
- it cultivates virtues like self-sufficiency and hardihood;
- it makes one better able to cope with adversity;
- it is the surest path to happiness since it curtails misguided desires and directs us toward enjoying simple pleasures
- it helps us focus on what really matters in life, like love, friendship, and our relationship with nature.
One idea that has come to the fore in recent times is that living simply is better for the environment. The basic argument is pretty straightforward. Industrialization and population growth have massively increased the impact of human beings on the natural environment. Much of this impact is negative: smog; acid rain; polluted rivers, lakes and seas; contaminated groundwater; litter; garbage dumps; toxic waste; soil erosion; deforestation; extinction or threatened extinction of plant and animal species; habitat destruction; reduced biodiversity; and perhaps most significant of all in the long term, global warming. Consumerism, extravagance, and wastefulness increase the damage being done; living frugally and simply, by contrast, reduces one's ecological footprint.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is the familiar slogan shared by both frugal zealots and environmentalists. Books, articles and blogs abound advocating "ecofrugality" and advising us how to simultaneously save money and the environment by following practices such as walking or cycling instead of driving, drying clothes on the line, buying used items whenever feasible, and so on
Such measures, in addition to saving money, reduces the consumption of energy either directly, as when you turn off unnecessary lights, or indirectly by reducing demand for the production of new commodities. And as ecofrugalist Keith Heidorn says: "Reduction of waste in any form is a win for the environment. Reduction of material and energy use is a win for the planet and all life forms."
Critics and skeptics, however, can point out that simplicity is not always green.
by Brooks Riley
by Richard King
And, now, of the world's latest experiment in Universal Basic Income, which a whole array of public figures, from Elon Musk to Yanis Varoufakis, agrees is A Bloody Good Idea.
As do I. But the fact that so many people are agreeing makes me wonder what is being agreed upon, and upon what basis the agreement has been reached. In particular: Why are right-libertarians and uberwealthy business types and even some conservatives pulling on the gloves and pads and going out to bat for an idea more usually associated with the material left? Can an idea that attracts support from Charles Murray and the American Enterprise Institute really have moral merit? I mean, can it?
I think it can, but it's important to consider the very different assumptions that are being employed in the arguments over UBI, which, in case you've just returned from a two-year yoga and ice-fishing retreat in Ittoqqortoormiit, is a scheme whereby all citizens receive an unconditional flat-rate sum from the state or other public institution. It's important because those assumptions will shape not only what kind of UBI we may get (if we're lucky enough to get one at all) but also where such a scheme might lead in terms of other redistributive arrangements. If UBI is a means to an end, what end are we aiming at?
Very different ones, obviously. I'll state, briefly, the business and conservative/right-libertarian cases for a UBI as I understand them, before outlining in a bit more detail the radical or leftwing case. I hope the latter, as well as being more persuasive, will also serve as a critique of the assumptions underlying the first two cases.
by Sue Hubbard
This is my first art review of 2017 and, in the last few months, the world has changed dramatically. It's hard not to look at everything through the prism of Donald Trump's election as leader of (for now, at least) the free world. Culture is taking on new metaphors and resonances. Optimism, hope and humour? Can there still be a place for them? Are such emotions still possible or even appropriate as we stand on the cliff top looking out, like stout Cortez on a peak in Darien, towards the stormy seas of the future?
Born in 1931 the Californian artist John Baldessari was honed by the zeitgeist of the 1960s, that decade of revolt, revolution, muddled thinking and creativity. The granddaddy of conceptual art he's known for his magpie appropriations of painting, photography and language. In an increasingly prosperous post-war world his concerns were to dismantle old shibboleths and stretch early 20th century artistic boundaries to see how elastic they could become. Iconoclasm was the name of the game. By the early 1990s he was a celebrity. A 1990 retrospective organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, travelled across the United States and Canada. With wit and irony he deconstructed the processes of contemporary artistic practice to include language. "I guess", he said, "it's fundamental to my work that I tend to think of words as substitutes for images. I can never seem to figure out what one does that the other doesn't do, so it propels me, this kind of bafflement." His aim has been to be as "disarming as possible", whilst establishing or deconstructing meaning through juxtaposition. By beguiling his viewers he's offered his own laconic visual commentary. Often citing semiotics and, in particular, Claude Lévi-Strauss's structuralism, as a major influence on his treating language as sign and on his deliberate play between word and image, he's taken phrases from art manuals and quotes from celebrated art critics and painted them onto the surfaces of his canvases. For him there has been no reason why a 'text' painting shouldn't be just as much a 'work of art' as a nude or a still life. Everything has been up for grabs.
Looking at this new show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in London I couldn't decide whether John Baldessari is, now, a dinosaur - irrelevant to the current political and social landscape of this new autocratic post-truth world - or a sensitive barometer of it.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the New York Times:
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s friend Senator Richard Henry Lee expressed both of their opinions when he asserted in Congress, referring to Muslims and Hindus, that “true freedom embraces the Mahometan and the Gentoo as well as the Christian religion.” In 1777, the Muslim kingdom of Morocco became the first country in the world to formally accept the United States as a sovereign nation. In 1786, when the United States needed protection from North African pirates who were stealing ships and enslaving crews, it signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen.” In 1785, George Washington declared that he would welcome Muslim workers at Mount Vernon. In 1786, Jefferson triumphed in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, by persuading the Legislature to overwhelmingly reject attempts to include Jesus Christ as the religious authority in the bill. Jefferson later declared that this was one of his three greatest accomplishments.
Clearly, some of our founding fathers were very comfortable extending religious freedom to include Islam. They should have been. Islam didn’t just show up in America one day like an excited tourist. America imported it when we brought slaves over from Africa, an estimated 20 percent of whom were Muslim.
Ashutosh Jogalekar in The Curious Wavefunction:
Beth Mole in Ars Technica:
In a new 400-page analysis that blows through the current state of scientific knowledge on the health risks and benefits of marijuana, one of the strongest conclusions is that it can effectively treat chronic pain in some patients.
The sweeping report, released Thursday by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, covered more than 10,000 scientific studies and came to nearly 100 other conclusions. Those mostly highlight unanswered questions and insufficient research related to health effects of marijuana, as well as several risks. However, the firm verification that marijuana does have legitimate medical uses—supported by high-quality scientific studies—is a significant takeaway in light of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision in August to maintain marijuana’s listing as a Schedule I drug. That is, a drug that has no medical use.
The new report also strongly concludes that the Schedule I listing creates significant administrative barriers for researchers wishing to conduct health research on marijuana and its components—an issue Ars has previously reported on.
“It is often difficult for researchers to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions on the health effects of cannabis use,” concluded the authors, a panel of experts led by Marie McCormick, a pediatrician and public health researcher at Harvard.
In a public presentation of their findings, the report’s authors repeatedly refused to comment on the DEA’s scheduling of marijuana, noting that the issue was outside the scope of their scientific review.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
Three days into the "Russian dossier" scandal, which history will remember by a far more colorful name, we still have no clue what we're dealing with. We're either learning the outlines of the most extraordinary compromise to date of an incoming American president by a foreign power, or we're watching an unparalleled libel and media overreach.
The tale was first made public by David Corn at Mother Jones a week before the presidential election. Corn's October 31st article was entitled, "A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump."
Corn, with whom I spoke Wednesday, had documents back in October containing explosive accusations of Trump sex romps and other serious blackmailable behavior. But he chose not to publish them, because he couldn't confirm those details.
Corn says now he was also concerned that running the documents might lead to damage to/outing of some sources. (Hang on to that thought.)
Corn ultimately focused on the elements he could confirm: that a dossier asserting that Russians had a file of compromising information on Trump had been prepared by a veteran intelligence source, one with enough standing in Washington that the FBI chose to investigate the claims.
There are some who would quibble even with printing that much. But in the context of this election season, which saw awesome publishing excesses on all sides, Corn showed restraint.
Anthony Daniels in The New Criterion:
In Russia in 1839, Custine wrote that Tsar Nicholas I was both eagle and insect: eagle because he soared over society surveying it with a sharp raptor’s eye from above, and insect because he bored himself into every tiny crack and crevice of society from below. Nothing was either too large or too small for his attention; and sometimes one feels that political correctness is rather like that. For the politically correct, nothing is too large or too small to escape their puritanical attention. As a consequence, we suspect that we are living an authoritarian prelude to a totalitarian future. Whether medical journals be large or small depends, of course, on the importance that you attach to them. As a doctor I am inclined to accord them more importance than the average citizen might; but what is indisputable is that they are not immune from political correctness, quite the reverse. Reading them, one has the impression of being buttonholed by a terrific bore at a cocktail party, who won’t let you go unless you agree with his assessment of the situation in Somalia.
At first sight, medicine might appear an unpromising subject for political correctness. You are ill, you go to the doctor, he tries to cure you, whoever you might be: what could be more straightforward than that? But in fact medicine is a field ripe for political correctness’s harvester. The arrangement by which health care is delivered is eminently a subject of politics; moreover we live in the golden age of epidemiology, in which the distribution of health and disease is studied more closely even than the distribution of income. Inequalities are usually presented as inequities (they have to be selected carefully, however: I have never seen the superior life expectancy of women, sometimes considerable and present almost everywhere, described as an inequity, even though the right to life is supposedly the most basic of all in the modern catechism of human rights). The decent man abominates unfairness or injustice: therefore the man who abominates unfairness or injustice is decent. Political correctness—linguistic and semantic reform as the first step to world domination—came comparatively late to medical journals. This is because, where intellectual fashions are concerned, doctors are usually in the rear, rather than the vanguard. Their patients plant their feet on the ground for them, whether they want them planted there or not; for there is nothing quite like contact with a cross-section of humanity for destroying utopian illusions.
Michael Fitzgerald in Harvard Magazine:
Karim Lakhani says his work poses a provocative question: can a crowd of random people outsmart Harvard experts? Lakhani, professor of business administration, seeks the answer in his role at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, where he is principal investigator at the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab.
...His research got a real-world boost when he began teaching at Harvard Business School (HBS). After he presented a case study on crowdsourcing at an HBS executive-education program, one of the attendees—NASA’s chief medical officer—asked whether such a contest could help the agency. “Give me a test case,” Lakhani responded. NASA asked him to come up with an algorithm that would identify the ideal contents for a space emergency medical kit. Using Topcoder, a crowdsourcing company that brings random groups of developers and designers together to work on problems, and $25,000 in prize money, the contest led to a solution that worked better and faster than one NASA had developed internally. That led to the creation of the NASA Tournament Lab, which added economists to help design effective contests, as well as post-docs in physics and computer science to tackle the full range of problems NASA wanted to solve. In six years, the lab has run hundreds of competitions on Topcoder, addressing challenges ranging from solar-flare detection to the counting of asteroids. Almost all have produced effective code for the agency. The Tournament Lab also addresses a crucial problem with competitions: lack of empirical evidence for why they work. Lakhani notes that a crop of good textbooks explains how to design competitions and other theoretical aspects of competitions, but “What’s been missing is field evidence” of what—apart from sports or internal contests—motivates crowds to solve problems. The lab has provided answers. People form crowds to solve problems for three reasons, Lakhani says: extrinsic benefits (improved professional profile or rewards like cash); intrinsic benefits (it helps solve a problem, or it’s fun); and pro-social benefits (participants like being part of something bigger than themselves that makes the world a better place).