Quotulatiousness

November 21, 2014

Marsha Ivins talks about the reality of working in space

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:27

In Wired, former astronaut Marsha Ivins talks to Caitlin Roper about what it’s really like to work in space:

Everyone imagines that when you’re sitting on the launchpad atop 7 million pounds of explosive rocket fuel, you’re nervous and worried; but the truth is, there isn’t much to do for those two hours after you climb into the shuttle. Many astronauts just take a nap. You’re strapped in like a sack of potatoes while the system goes through thousands of prelaunch checks. Occasionally you have to wake up and say “Roger” or “Loud and clear.” But the launch itself is a whole other thing — from the pad to orbit in 8.5 minutes, accelerating the entire time until you reach the orbital velocity of 17,500 mph. That is a ride.

It turns out that once you’re actually in orbit, zero-g has some upsides. Without gravity, bodily fluids move toward your head. It’s a great face-lift. Your stomach gets flat. You feel long, because you grow an inch or two. (I thought, “Oh cool, I’ll be tall,” but of course everybody else was taller too.)

But zero-g also has some disadvantages. As that fluid shifts north, you get an enormous headache. Your body compensates and loses about a liter of fluid in the first couple of days — you essentially pee the headache away. And a lot of people get nauseated. The way to feel better is to “lose up,” to convince your visual system that “up” is wherever you point your head and “down” is where your feet are. When you can do that, and go headfirst or earlobe-first wherever you want, then you’re getting adapted to zero-g. On each flight this adaptation happens more quickly — your body remembers having been in space. But it can take a few days before your stomach finally settles down and says, “OK, what’s for lunch?”

I didn’t eat much on any of my flights. I don’t have a big appetite even on Earth, but between the lack of gravity and the shifting fluids, things can taste different in space. I’d bring great chocolate with me and it would taste like wax — it was very disappointing. But you don’t go to space for the gourmet dining. There’s no way to cook, on the shuttle or on the ISS. Space food is already cooked and then either freeze-dried and vacuum-packed — so you add water and put it in the oven to warm up — or it’s thermo-stabilized, like a military MRE. With no refrigerator on board, fresh food won’t keep. So on the shuttle we’d have to eat anything fresh — usually fruit like apples, oranges, and grapefruit — early in the mission.

Elon Musk’s constant nagging worry

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

In the Washington Post, Justin Moyer talks about Elon Musk’s concern about runaway artificial intelligence:

Elon Musk — the futurist behind PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX — has been caught criticizing artificial intelligence again.

“The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe,” Musk wrote in a comment since deleted from the Web site Edge.org, but confirmed to Re/Code by his representatives. “10 years at most.”

The very future of Earth, Musk said, was at risk.

“The leading AI companies have taken great steps to ensure safety,” he wrote. “The recognize the danger, but believe that they can shape and control the digital superintelligences and prevent bad ones from escaping into the Internet. That remains to be seen.”

Musk seemed to sense that these comments might seem a little weird coming from a Fortune 1000 chief executive officer.

“This is not a case of crying wolf about something I don’t understand,” he wrote. “I am not alone in thinking we should be worried.”

Unfortunately, Musk didn’t explain how humanity might be compromised by “digital superintelligences,” “Terminator”-style.

He never does. Yet Musk has been holding forth on-and-off about the apocalypse artificial intelligence might bring for much of the past year.

The Enemy Within – The German Army’s Power Play I THE GREAT WAR Week 17

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:01

Published on 20 Nov 2014

The commanders of the German army blame each other for the missing victories. Falkenhayn and Hindenburg both believe that they have the only solution to the problems. The German emperor feels more and more excluded when it comes to military decisions. His soldiers become pieces on a chessboard and the war of the 20th century also takes it’s toll on some of the best commanders. The situation at the Western Front stays unaltered: the French and Germans fight each other between the trenches. On the contrary, at the Eastern Front the Russians and the Germans are battling in a heavy fight.

QotD: Trigger warnings

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

I like trigger warnings. I like them because they’re not censorship, they’re the opposite of censorship. Censorship says “Read what we tell you”. The opposite of censorship is “Read whatever you want”. The philosophy of censorship is “We know what is best for you to read”. The philosophy opposite censorship is “You are an adult and can make your own decisions about what to read”.

And part of letting people make their own decisions is giving them relevant information and trusting them to know what to do with them. Uninformed choices are worse choices. Trigger warnings are an attempt to provide you with the information to make good free choices of reading material.

And my role model here, as in so many other places, is Commissioner Lal: “Beware he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart, he dreams himself your master.”

Scott Alexander, “The Wonderful Thing About Triggers”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-05-30.

November 20, 2014

“The Piketty Gang ride in, a hollerin’ an’ a whoopin’ and take all the money from Scrooge McDuck”

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:30

At Forbes, Tim Worstall explains why — despite the headlines — Piketty didn’t actually change economics:

That optimal taxation theory really rests on two things that we’re pretty sure are true. The first being that Laffer Curve thing. No, this doesn’t mean that all tax cuts pay for themselves. Rather, that it’s possible for tax rates to be so high that they actually reduce the amount of tax revenue being collected. A nice example of this is the latest rise in New York’s cigarette tax: less money in total is now being raised even though the tax rate has risen. Given that our primary purpose in taxing is to get the money we need to run the government that we must have (as ever, my opinion being that we might want to have less government, and thus lower taxes, than we currently do but that’s another matter) having a tax over the revenue maximising rate just isn’t sensible.

The second pillar is that we know that different taxes destroy different amounts of economic activity for the same revenue collected. As above, we want to gain revenue but obviously we also want it at the least cost. That means getting as much of it as we can from the low deadweight costs taxes and as little of it as we can manage from the high cost ones. We also know how the spectrum looks. At the lowest deadweight costs we have repeated taxes on real property (say, a land value tax), then taxes upon consumption (VAT or sales taxes) then on incomes and highest of all, upon corporates and capital. There’s one off the spectrum, transactions taxes like the financial transactions tax, but that’s so silly that no one serious is suggesting it.

So, standard and general theory insists that we shouldn’t be taxing corporates and capital at all if we can manage it and also that we don’t want to have very high taxes rates on anything.

So, if for political (or even emotional) reasons you think that we really should be gouging the rich then you’re going to have to go find yourself some new economic theories. And that, I think, is really what is going on here with Piketty and the gang (slightly catchy that, isn’t it? The Piketty Gang ride in, a hollerin’ an’ a whoopin’ and take all the money from Scrooge McDuck?). They want to find a reason to tax wealth, something conventionally contraindicated, and they want to have very high income tax rates, something also contraindicated by conventional theory. So, rather than try to overturn that conventional theory they’re bypassing it. Ignoring it even and just bringing up the idea of inequality instead to see if that will convince people.

Chimpanzee sexual behaviour and what it says about humans

Filed under: Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:20

Tia Ghose discusses some recent findings on the sexual aggression of male chimpanzees and (given that humans are closely related to chimps) looks for parallels in human behaviour:

Male chimpanzees that wage a campaign of sustained aggression against females sire more offspring than their less violent counterparts, new research finds.

The results suggest that such nasty behavior from males evolved because it gave the meanest males a reproductive advantage, said study co-author Ian Gilby, a primatologist at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

This chimpanzee behavior could also provide some insight into the roots of sexual aggression in men.

“It is possible that in our early ancestors there may have been an adaptive value to male aggression against females,” Gilby said.

[…]

Though the findings are in chimpanzees, they lend credence to the notion that male sexual aggression in humans may have some genetic or evolutionary basis, Gilby said.

On the other hand, drawing parallels can be perilous. Humans diverged from chimpanzees at least 7 million years ago, and the human mating system looks very different from chimps’ violent, multi-male, multi-female system. Humans form pair bonds and have varied and complex mating strategies and behaviors. And most men aren’t brutes to their partners.

“We definitely don’t mean to say this excuses or fully explains violence in this way in humans,” Gilby said.

The study’s findings may provide fodder for a long-standing debate in evolutionary biology about whether rape and sexual aggression are evolutionarily advantageous in humans, said William McKibbin, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan–Flint, who was not involved in the study. No studies in humans have ever shown that rape increases reproductive success, he added.

Fortunately, T-shirts aren’t as permanent as tattoos

Filed under: Humour, Japan — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

If you’re of a skeptical turn, you may have wondered just what your friend’s new tattoo really says in Chinese, or Russian, or whatever script their tattoo artist just inked into their skin. My suspicion is that at least a significant proportion of the new ‘tats are the equivalent of these Japanese discount store shirts with random English words:

Reddit user k-popstar recently moved to Japan to teach English. Over the last few months he has been wandering into various discount stores and taking photos of shirts with random English words on them. I have to admit, that potato one is pretty sweet!

japanese-discount-store-t-shirts-with-random-english-words-12

japanese-discount-store-shirts-with-random-english-words-6

japanese-discount-store-shirts-with-random-english-words-17

That second one is almost poetic. If I knew what “thirstry” was.

H/T to Coyote Blog for the link.

Are you as smart as a Neanderthal parent?

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In The Federalist, Rachel Lu says that Neanderthals were better at parenting than modern humans:

Is it just me, or has the world gone completely crazy when it comes to childrearing?

You know what I’m talking about. Once upon a time, people expected to get married in early adulthood and have kids at reasonable intervals. Parents stayed married and paid the bills, while kids played in front yards and freely opened sidewalk lemonade stands. Children fit naturally into the rhythm of American life.

Nowadays, we treat children like a deathly plague, unless of course you’ve decided you want one. Then they become a luxury good worth tens or even hundreds of thousands. Once acquired, they must be treated like prize poodles, feted and protected at every turn.

The traditional family model has largely been put through the shredder, much to the detriment of children. We try to make up for this by hovering over our kids every second, and sending the police after parents who still think it’s fine to take their grandparents’ more laid-back, “let the kids play” approach.

In other words, our ideas about family are a huge, hairy mess. It’s strange we would have so much trouble figuring out a thing that’s been done since Neanderthal times. Then again, maybe that’s the real problem. Unlike Neanderthals, we’re obsessed with figuring out how to do this. We’ve fought tooth and nail to free ourselves from the natural implications of our biology and, as a reward, we now have to plan every detail of family formation. There’s no taking comfort in “the done thing” anymore. Parenthood today is all about doing it right.

QotD: Obama’s negotiation skills

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

[President Obama] said he would take executive action on immigration by year’s end unless Republicans passed a bill. It’s certainly a bold negotiating tactic: You can do what I want, or I’ll go ahead and do what I want anyway. This is how you “negotiate” with a seven-year old, not a Senate Majority Leader.

I’m not sure that isn’t what Obama thinks he’s doing, and I’m sure many of my left-leaning readers are chuckling right now at the comparison. But Mitch McConnell is not a seven year old; he’s an adult, and he just won an election in which voters repudiated Obama and his party. (Temporarily, I am sure, but just the same: As someone once said, “Elections have consequences.”) McConnell is not the proverbial Tea Party extremist who won’t negotiate; he’s an establishment guy, known as a strategist and a tactician, not an ideologue (which is why the Tea Party isn’t that fond of him). In short, he’s someone who can make deals. Responding to McConnell’s rather gracious remarks about finding common goals by announcing that you know what the American public wants, and you’re going to give it to them no matter what their elected representatives say, seems curiously brash. It might chill the atmosphere today when he sits down with congressional leaders.

I wonder if Obama even knows how to negotiate with Republicans. It’s not as if he has a long, distinguished record of passing legislation in a mixed environment. His later years in the Illinois State Senate enjoyed a solid Democratic majority, and he jumped into the U.S. Senate at a propitious time. Soon after he arrived came the wave of 2006, when Democrats controlled both houses of congress by comfortable margins, and Senator Obama was far too junior to be negotiating with the White House. Then came the financial crisis, and another wave, and Obama spent the first two years of his presidency in a happy situation where he could get things done without needing the support of the opposition. He didn’t even negotiate with his own party; the Senate negotiated his health care bill, and Nancy Pelosi whipped it through the House.

Post 2010, of course, he also hasn’t had much practice negotiating. I’m not interested in another tedious argument about who did what to whom; whatever the cause and whoever’s fault it may be, the fact remains that the president has spent the last four years in a stalemate: Neither party can leave, and neither party can win.

It’s a little late in the president’s career to learn the fine art of making deals with people who fundamentally disagree with you, but might be willing to work on whatever small goals you might share. I suspect it feels more comfortable to go along with the strategy that has worked decently well over the last four years: hold your ground, complain about Republican intransigence, and hope that Republican legislators give you another opportunity to play long-suffering adult in the room.

Megan McArdle, “Does Obama Even Know How to Negotiate?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-07.

November 19, 2014

A worthwhile Zambian initiative

Filed under: Africa, Economics, Law — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:43

Tim Worstall unexpectedly finds himself on the same side of an economic and political question as a Green Party politician from Zambia:

This strikes me as being one of the very few good ideas that has been put forward at any recent election in any country that I’m aware of. A Zambian politician has decided that, given that the world seems to be moving toward legal medical marijuana at least, if not full legalisation, then that country should make use of its comparative and absolute advantage in growing the stuff and thus supply it to the rest of the world. […]

It’s slightly disconcerting to find myself agreeing with a politician, let alone one from the Green Party, but as I say this strikes me as an excellent policy.

Let’s start from the beginning: all of us liberals (whether economic or social liberals) agree that allowing people to legally toke is a thoroughly good idea. The drug itself is almost entirely harmless (obviously less so than tobacco for example, and those stories about it bringing on schizophrenia and the like are more to do with people becoming schizophrenic self-medicating than anything else) and being banged up in a jail cell, convicted of a felony, for having possession of a joint or two is going to do far more harm to your life chances than actually smoking them.

If we’re going to agree to that (and I agree people not liberals of any flavour may not) then similarly clearly we would like the best dope we can get at the lowest possible price. Given that this is true of every other product we consume it’s going to be true of this one too. And that means that if other places around the world can produce it better, or more cheaply, or some combination of the two, than we can then we should be trading with them.

Adrian Peterson’s suspension and the Vikings’ future plans

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:10

Andrew Krammer looks at the implications of Adrian Peterson’s six game suspension in the light of the Vikings’ planning for next season:

By April 15, the Minnesota Vikings had considerably narrowed down their NFL Draft prospects, had already signed their bulk of free agents and were well on their way to constructing the 2014 roster.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell essentially made the Vikings’ decision for them, if they were even strongly considering keeping Adrian Peterson after 2014 to begin with. On Tuesday, Goodell suspended Peterson for the remainder of the 2014 season (six games) without pay, adding he can’t be reinstated until April 15, 2015 — well into the Vikings’ preparations for the next season.

If Peterson has any chance of being on the Vikings’ 2015 roster, it won’t be as a suspended 30-year-old running back with a $15.5 million cap hit.

He’s likely donned the purple as one of the franchise’s all-time best players for the last time on Sept. 7, unless a few circumstances play out: (1) Arbitrator Shyam Das would need to rule in favor of the NFLPA this week, saying the NFL had no grounds to keep Peterson on the Commissioner’s/Exempt list after his Nov. 4 plea deal was accepted by a Texas judge. (2) The Vikings, who released a statement in support of Goodell’s decision, would have to then activate Peterson against the grain of public relations backlash that forced their own change of course on Sept. 17 to initially get him on the CE list and (3) if Peterson has any shot of winning an appeal, it’ll come with a neutral arbitrator hearing his appeal and not Goodell, as ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling pointed out.

[…]

I have no doubt Peterson will play in the NFL again, I don’t believe it will be for the Vikings after this mess was made worse with Goodell’s handling and the way Peterson has been used as a pawn in a battle between the league and its union.

The first benchmark to watch is the start of the new league year in the beginning of March. If they cut him by then, they’ll avoid paying a $250,000 workout bonus.

Put your proverbial money on that happening if Goodell upholds his own suspension (likely) and if the Vikings are ready to move on after paying Peterson $7 million in 2014 base salary for 75 rushing yards.

Update: At the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan enjoys the spectacle.

The most artfully-written jokes are those that contain the punch line in the premise.

Like this one:

Adrian Peterson thinks his punishment is too harsh.

Tuesday morning, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the Vikings star for the rest of the season without pay, meaning Peterson will not play for the Vikings again this season, and perhaps not ever.

Peterson’s case is bound to become a quagmire of legal positioning, union rights, management overreach and the ongoing course corrections of one of the most powerful people in sports.

There is one matter that remains clear.

A powerful football player took a branch and beat a 4-year-old until the boy bled through large welts on his back, suffered defense wounds on his hands, and took at least one lash to his genitalia.

Peterson deserves no sympathy, and anyone arguing that he is being unfairly prevented from finishing the season with the Vikings hasn’t done enough reading between the legalistic lines.

Peterson chose to be a legal pawn instead of a football king.

He has chosen to spend the rest of the season as a symbol of Goodell’s arrogance rather than a standout football player.

Peterson could have found his way back to Winter Park this season. His path was cleared by a lenient Texas court. Had he displayed remorse over his acts, and sought counseling, and thrown himself at Goodell’s feet, the commissioner likely would have levied a lighter sentence, perhaps even a retroactive one.

Instead, Peterson played into Goodell’s hands, and Goodell must have cackled at the opportunity presented to allow him to display strength.

Peterson showed no real remorse. He did not promise to change his behavior. He chose to side with the NFLPA and his legal team in challenging Goodell’s power.

If Goodell didn’t have Peterson, he would have invented him.

Net Neutrality is a good thing, right?

Net Neutrality is back in the news thanks to President Obama making a PR push to the regulators who may (or may not) be crafting regulations to bring the internet under government supervision:

Because this issue is still in the FCC’s hands, no one can know for sure what rules the agency will adopt. One important question, though, is: will neutrality apply to wireless services or only to cable-based ISPs, such as Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T? In addition, will failure to preserve the status quo slow down the speed at which Internet connections and broadband capacity expand (because ISPs won’t be able to shift more of the expansion costs onto the “hogs”)? And what exactly is wrong with ISPs wanting to charge content providers higher prices for more bandwidth and faster, more reliable downloads?

More certain, however, is that regulations requiring “net neutrality” will end up benefiting the large, established ISPs. Incumbent firms have gained from “common carrier” regulation throughout U.S. history. As a matter of fact, the FCC predictably will be captured (if it has not already been) by the very companies President Obama wants to regulate “in the public interest.”

The president’s call to action sounds eerily similar to demands for federal railroad regulation that ultimately led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. Until it was put out of business in the early 1980s by President Jimmy Carter, the ICC allowed the railroads and, later, motor carriers and pipelines to charge prices exceeding competitive levels, thereby trying its best to protect the carriers’ profits at consumers’ expense.

William Shugart follows up on his original post:

The source of today’s online bottleneck can be traced back to local and regional government authorities, who quickly recognized the benefits (to them personally) of creating and granting exclusive franchises to one ISP that would, for the term of the contract, be a monopolist. (Government officials can extract more rents if they negotiate with only a handful of contestants.) Given that only one ISP would “win” the right to provide online content to local customers, the local monopolists also recognized a benefit of exclusive franchises: They would have the freedom to discriminate against some content suppliers by adding extra fees for privileged access.

So, a simple solution to the absence of net neutrality is readily available: Foster competition between ISPs.

Some people might raise the objection that, in this realm, robust competition for consumer dollars is unlikely because the suppliers of connections to the Internet are “natural monopolists”. In fact, ISPs are not “natural monopolists” as some commentators would have us believe. They are local government-granted monopolies. (Even Frederic Scherer, the author of the influential textbook Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance, wrote that such claims of “natural monopoly” are “trumped up.”) Competition between ISPs nowadays is a contest for the favors of mayors and city councils who ultimately will determine who will win the exclusive franchise; it is not competition for the business of paying customers.

Corruption in the sport of … Badminton?

Filed under: Asia, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Vice‘s Brian Blickenstaff smashes Badminton as “the world’s most corrupt sport”:

Late last week, it emerged that Lee Chong Wei, the world’s top badminton player, failed a drug test. A niche sport in the United States, badminton has been part of the Olympics since 1992 and enjoys huge popularity in Asia. Lee is the sport’s Novak Djokovic, a truly dominant force over the past several years. He’s the best player Malaysia, one of the world’s most badminton-mad countries, has ever produced. A two-time Olympic silver-medal winner, Lee is, or was, a favorite for gold in Rio de Janeiro; he faces a two year ban and could miss the Olympics entirely.

But Lee’s drug test isn’t notable simply because sports fans can’t look away when a giant teeters and falls; it’s notable because the incident is one of many scandals to hit badminton over the past year. On current form, badminton might be the world’s most corrupt sport.

In June, during the Japan Open, two Danish players were approached and offered north of 2,500 Euros to fix matches. The alleged fixer was Malaysian. The two players, Kim Astrup Sorenson and Hans Kristian Vittinghus, both reported the incident to authorities. 2,500 Euros might not be a lot of money, but the implications are huge. Vittinghus is the world’s 10th ranked singles player. If people are trying to flip a top-ten athlete, what’s happening lower down the pyramid?

I can attest that I’ve never been offered a bribe to throw a badminton game. Perhaps that’s because I’m not good enough to convincingly throw a game … unlike the Chinese Olympic players in 2012. Oh, wait … they weren’t convincing either.

QotD: Celebrate conformity

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian ‘human rights’ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’… which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.

But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’

A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.

Mark Steyn, “The slow death of free speech”, The Spectator, 2014-04-19

November 18, 2014

The Wikipedia editors circle the wagons

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:50

Virginia Postrel talks about the greatest danger to the long-term health of Wikipedia — the diminishing central group of editors who do the most to keep it going:

Few of the tens of millions of readers who rely on Wikipedia give much thought to where its content comes from or why the site, which is crowdsourced and open (at least in theory) for anyone to edit, doesn’t degenerate into gibberish and graffiti. Like Google or running water, it is simply there. Yet its very existence is something of a miracle. Despite its ocean of content, this vital piece of informational infrastructure is the work of a surprisingly small community of volunteers. Only about 3,000 editors contribute more than 100 changes a month to the English-language Wikipedia, down from a high of more than 4,700 in early 2007. Without any central direction or outside recognition, these dedicated amateurs create, refine, and maintain millions of content pages.

But they don’t really do it for you. Wikipedia “is operated by and for the benefit of the editors,” writes Richard Jensen, one of their number, in a 2012 article in the Journal of Military History. (Jensen, a retired history professor, is a credentialed scholar, which makes him unusual among Wikipedia’s editors.) Unlike open-source software contributions, working on Wikipedia provides few career advantages. It’s a hobby, offering a combination of intrinsic and social rewards. People edit Wikipedia because they enjoy it.

And that is both the genius and the vulnerability of the organization. Wikipedia’s continued improvement — indeed, its continued existence — depends on this self-selected group of obsessives and the organizational culture they’ve developed over time. But the open structure that enabled the creation of so many entries on so many topics also attracts a never-ending stream of attacks from outright vandals and other bad actors. Forced to defend the site’s integrity, incumbent editors become skeptical, even hostile, toward the newcomers who could ensure its future. If Wikipedia eventually fades away, the reasons will lie in a culture that worked brilliantly until it devolved from dynamism to sclerosis.

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