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Posts Tagged ‘Competition’

Has anyone played Foldit, the protein-folding game that is designed to advance the science?  This Wired article makes it sound like Ender’s Game meets biochemistry!  Sounds like the Poehlman kid is the protein-folding equivalent of Stephen Wiltshire.  I love the crowdsourcing, the meta-evolutionary algorithm of it (to find the savants), and the implications for science.

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As part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, NIH is awarding $200 million in “Challenge Grants.” But, according to Science Magazine, these grants are far more competitive than initially intended:

A frantic grant-writing effort that has consumed biomedical research scientists this spring came to an end last week, resulting in a huge pile of new applications—more than 10 times larger than expected—to be reviewed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After this enthusiastic response, there will be many disappointed applicants: The rejection rate could run as high as 97%.

Increased time cost spent not just applying for money but also reviewing applications to allocate the funds. Additionally, many qualified researchers chose not to apply for funding after hearing how competitive the grants were. Is this a good thing? Does this competition result in better science? Could there be a better way to allocate scientific funding?

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The Freakonomics guys have been on this rant for years, and until recently, I agreed with their logic.  But the mounting evidence (in my mind) is starting to swing the other way.

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In “Game Theory: Can a Round of Poker Solve Afghanistan’s Problems?” Major Richard J.H. Gash creates a simple two player game to show how game theory can be used to influence military planning. Gash’s game involves two villages in Afghanistan with the choice to either support the “Coalition” or support the “Taliban.” The scoring of the game generates a payoff matrix that is similar to that of the Prisoner’s Dilemma with a non Pareto-optimal Nash equilibrium. Unfortunately, Gash oversimplifies the game to just one round. In reality, Afghan villages participate in multiple rounds of decision making, with the actual number of rounds unknown, leading to differing strategies and outcomes than those proposed by Gash.

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I figured it was time for a reset and so the following is a summary of much of the foundational posting that I’ve done on this blog so far.  As always, a work in progress, subject to refinement and learning…

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There is a myth in evolutionary biology, as well as in the zeitgeist, that evolution by natural selection is all about competition.

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It is well-understood that the primary relationship between agents in an evolutionary system is that of competition for resources: food, mates, territory, control, etc. It is also recognized that agents not only compete but also cooperate with one another, sometimes simultaneously, for instance hunting in packs (cooperation) while also fighting for alpha status within the pack (competition). If we look at inter-agent behaviors as existing on a continuum of pure competition on one end and pure cooperation* on the other, it is clear that there is broad range both within species and between agents of different species. Originally, cooperative behavior was explained away as an exception to the general competitive landscape and happened only when two agents shared enough genetic code (such as between parent and child) that cooperation could be seen as a form of genetic selfishness. While this true in a narrow sense, it misses the larger point which is that cooperation between any two or more agents can confer advantages to all regardless of genetic distance. Consider symbiotic species such as crocodiles and the birds that clean their teeth and get a tasty meal in return, without being eaten themselves. (more…)

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