Hangzhou hosts delegations as preparations for Asian Para Games gather pace

Deputies from Asia’s 45 national and regional Paralympic committees are being brought up to speed with the policies and procedures for the Hangzhou Asian Para Games at the ongoing delegation meeting held in Hangzhou from Sunday to Thursday.

The five-day meeting, a milestone in preparation for the Asian Para Games, is dedicated to publicizing the policies of the games, including registration, competition sign-up and accommodation, and helping the delegations to gain first-hand experience at the competition venues, according to the Hangzhou Asian Para Games Organizing Committee.

The 4th Asian Para Games is scheduled to take place from October 22 to 28 in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province. About 4,000 athletes will participate in 22 sports across 24 disciplines. The motto of the Asian Para Games is “Hearts Meet, Dreams Shine.” 

Deputies of 32 national and regional Paralympic committees have joined the meeting in Hangzhou with deputies of the other 13 committees attending online. 

The deputies will visit the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center and Para Games Village to gain a better understanding of the venues and facilities. They will also tour the West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Hangzhou, to experience the culture of the dynamic city.  

The Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium, one of three sports stadiums in China with a capacity of over 80,000 people, will host both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Hangzhou Asian Games and the Asian Para Games, as well as the athletics competitions.

Feedback from the deputies will help the organizing committee better meet the needs of the athletes, improve competition services and assist with logistics.

Hangzhou is committed to delivering a grand barrier-free sporting event, contributing to the athletic development of people with disabilities in Asia.

It is the second Chinese city to host the Asian Para Games after Guangzhou initiated the maiden Asian Para Games in 2010.

Xizang: home away from home for Nepali traveler

As I was getting ready to listen to a brief on the weeklong Southwest China’s Xizang Autonomous Region tour I was about to take at the multicultural hall of the Jianguomenwai Diplomatic Residence Compound in Beijing, my co-worker Mi Tian jokingly cautioned me: “Birat, don’t run away from Xizang just because your home is closer than Beijing.”

Having traveled the “roof of the world” for a week, I didn’t need to “run away” in search of my home in Nepal as I found Xizang was just like my home. My friend Tan Xiaoren, a Chinese from Malaysia, has told me some useful Chinese words. In Xizang, I was telling him the meaning of “Tashi Delek,” a greeting.

On October 6, a dinner was hosted for us by the Xizang regional foreign affairs office at the Phin Tsok Ge Don Restaurant in Lhasa. During the happiest dining hour, all of us were served sweet milk tea. Among the two dozen plus friends from 20 plus countries, we two Nepalese (me and my friend Manju) were sipping the tea we enjoy in our everyday life. However, for other foreign friends, it was a new experience. Deputy head of foreign affairs office of the Xizang Autonomous Region Yi Lin and the region’s noted public intellectual Lo Ten sang a Nepali song along with Tibetan songs. Other friends were surprised at seeing them sing a Nepali song.

When we were greeted at the Nyingchi Airport on October 3 by local officials with the gift of scarves, all out other friends greeted them back with greeting gestures. Interestingly, we two Nepali journalists greeted them by presenting our own scarves. Our friends were amazed to see how we greeted each other. For us, though, the Xizang greeting is familial as it shares some commonalities with the Himalayan communities of Nepal. These are some of the few examples of our recent memorable tour to Xizang.

On October 4, an open-air stage at the Dayhello Hotel of Lulang held an artistic performance which included a song titled “Welcome to Pokhara,” a tourism town in Nepal. It was the only song in a foreign language because Pokhara of Nepal and the Nyingchi of Xizang are officially sister cities.

I was more than happy to make my first footfall in Xizang. A journalist named Li Guangqing asked me: “Have you ever been to Xizang?” To which I replied, “I have been to Xizang many times in my imagination. But, this is my first time in reality.” I did not say this as a joke. It has historical legacy. Nepal’s Great Poet Laxmi Prashad Devkota’s iconic epic Muna Madan is the story of a Nepali man coming to Xizang. There are many Nepali sayings popular among ordinary Nepali people. For instance, there is “Lhasa janu kutiko bato,” which translates as head to “Lhasa via Kuti,” a popular pass. Another saying goes: “Lhasama sun chha kaan mero buchchai,” which roughly translates as “There is gold in Lhasa but I don’t have an earring.” This saying describes Nepal’s historic trade linkage with Xizang and its impacts among the ordinary people.

Nepal has three international and three bilateral border crossings with Xizang together with a dozen plus local passes for people’s movement. This physical attachment is reflected in the cultural and emotional attachment among people from both sides of the Himalayas. For instance, when I saw an English-speaking lady at the Botai Nyingchi Grand Hotel in the Bayi district, I greeted her with “Tashi Delekh.” She replied with “Namaste,” the Nepali greeting. I later learned that she was from Xigaze, the second largest city in Xizang and which is in close proximity with Nepal. She had not been to Nepal. Still, she could greet in Nepali. This speaks volumes about cross-border camaraderie and cultural communication.

Nepal has 1,414 plus kilometer long border with Xizang. Nepal is the only nation with a diplomatic presence in Xizang. This is another reason for Nepal’s attachment to the region.

In the seventh century, Songtsan Gampo, the then king of Xizang, had married the Nepali princess Bhrikuti as his first wife.

This history is well-written in the Jokhang Temple of Lhasa, which was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2000. UNESCO also says that the Potala Palace, another World Heritage Site, has architecture that is a mixture of Chinese, Tibetan, Nepali and Indian.

Having traveled from Nyingchi to Lhasa, Lulang to Qiangna, and visited the touristic treasures around their vicinity, I saw Xizang as a home away from home. Lhasa, the sister city of Kathmandu, hosts thriving Nepali traders, including the recent awardee of the fifth edition of My China Story, which made me feel at home.

This time, I traveled by the bullet train from Ngingchi to Lhasa. However, in the future, I want to take a similar journey from Kathmandu to Lhasa. This is possible as Nepal is a BRI partner country and the China-Laos railway is an exemplary railway.

US veteran in Vietnam War regrets dropping cluster bombs

During the Vietnam War, the US used cluster bombs to carry out airstrikes on targets in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Between 1964 and 1973, 260 million tons of cluster bombs were dropped on Laos, particularly in the Xieng Khouang Province in northeastern Laos, of which 80 million tons failed to detonate. In Quang Tri Province in Vietnam alone, some 7,000 people were injured or killed by cluster bombs left over from the Vietnam War as of 2009.

Retired US Air Force officer Mike Burton, the board chairman of Legacies of War, an organization that raises awareness about the history of the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, now chairs the US Campaign to Ban Landmines & Cluster Munitions Coalition. 

In April, Burton expressed regret at dropping cluster bombs on Laos in the US’ “secret war” in an opinion piece published on USA Today, warning that “Ukraine shouldn’t want this nightmare.”

“All that was accomplished by using these inhumane weapons was to leave a trail of destruction that remains to this day, and a deep sense of regret for US veterans like myself,” stated Burton in the piece.

Burton joined the US Air Force in 1962 and spent the early part of his military career in special operations. He was assigned to the 56th Air Commando Wing in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, in 1966. “The primary mission of the units to which I was assigned was to stop the flow of personnel and materials coming from North Vietnam through the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam. The trail was located almost entirely in Laos,” he explained. “Despite the 2.5 million tons of ordnance that the US dropped from 1964 to 1973, it did nothing to impede traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”

“I saw this destruction firsthand from the air and on the ground. I have seen Lao children and adults with missing limbs, eyes, and mutilated faces all from unexploded ordnance. The impact of our decision to drop cluster bombs on Laos also found its way to the US with waves of refugees fleeing death,” he noted.

Burton regrets what he did during the Vietnam War, and hopes that similar tragedies will never happen again in the future.

Burton later took part in the detonation of some of the unexploded ordnances – work that is tedious, time consuming, and extremely dangerous. “It’s done in some of the most vulnerable areas where families are only a few steps away” as he said.

During the Vietnam War, the US dropped millions of tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, including large amounts of cluster munitions, burying the region in unexploded ordnance (UXOs). UXOs still kill or maim dozens of people each year in nations such as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Thousands have died or have been seriously maimed since the US-led war ended in 1975.

UXOs have also proven to be an obstacle to regional development. For example, when China constructed Laos’ first high-speed rail line, connecting China’s southern city of Kunming to Laos’ capital in Vientiane on the border with Thailand, engineers were initially required to clear the railway path of US-dropped UXOs, including cluster munitions.

Burton believes that the US supply of cluster bombs to Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences that would haunt Americans and Ukrainians for decades, saying that he doesn’t “want it to happen again.”

Greece: Greek dance troop performs in Chaoyang Park

Coming amid the third China-Central Eastern European Countries Culture and Arts Carnival, traditional dances from all over Greece, such as ipirotikos, tsamiko, kalamatiano, sirtaki and ikariotiko, were performed on October 22 in Chaoyang Park, Beijing, by the Cultural Association “Peiros” dance troop from the municipality of Western Achaia. 

The performance was aimed at preserving and transmitting cultural traditions and various aspects of Greek cultural heritage from generation to generation.

Along with the performances, videos showcased the beauty of Western Peloponnese, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and informational materials were made available.

The eight-member dance group of the cultural association “Peiros” performed in Beijing as part of the third China-Central Eastern European Countries Culture and Arts Carnival, hosted by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism, Chaoyang District People’s Government of Beijing Municipality, and organized by the Beijing Overseas Cultural Exchange Center, Chaoyang District Bureau of Culture and Tourism of Beijing Municipality.

Hangzhou a chance for West to learn about Asia as an equal

After being postponed due to COVID, the 2022 Asian Games, set in Hangzhou, officially began on Saturday. This multi-sport tournament taking place on the world’s largest continent, as measured by both geographic area and population, will be bigger than the Paris 2024 Olympics in terms of athletes which number over 12,000.

Despite the scope of the Asian Games, few Westerners will even be aware this event is taking place, and fewer will have heard of the hosting city Hangzhou – let alone know how to pronounce it. This is not because the Asian games, which offers qualification to the Olympics, don’t offer a sporting feast – they do.

India and Pakistan will face each other in the non-Olympic sport of cricket, in track and field world champions like Neeraj Chopra of India and Kitaguchi Haruka of Japan will compete in the javelin, and in swimming South Korea’s Hwang Sun-woo is set to battle against China’s Pan Zhanle. Then there are a host of sports such as gymnastics, ping pong and badminton that Asia excels at. 

The Asian Games deserves extra attention as they reflect rising Asian culture – they are not just a copy of Western sports transposed onto Asia. You can expand your mind by witnessing the Indian contact sport of kabaddi, the Southeast Asian sport of sepak takraw (kick volleyball), and the martial art. 

Reflecting Asian values, the Asian Games also include mind sports such as bridge, chess, and Xiangqi – the Asian version of chess played on the streets in China and Vietnam. Personally, I find this version more engaging as games, though being just as complex as chess, are quicker due to the rapid opening phase and decisive endgame. It is a game that deserves to be more popular globally.

The Asian Games presents the West with an opportunity to learn from Asia. However, the Western press seems to be wilfully ignoring this giant sporting event and even casting the Asian games in a negative light. If you google the games, one of the first news pieces that will come up is an incredulous propaganda piece describing the “glum mood” of the Chinese people toward the Asian Games, which is portrayed as a vanity project wasting resources while the Chinese economy “splutters”! 

This is from the same playbook of the lead-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics which were thoroughly politicized to keep Westerners ignorant of China’s successes. However, I lived in Beijing between 2007 and 2009 and I witnessed the building of the infrastructure up to the games. Yes, it was grand and impressive but in contrast to the poverty alleviation I witnessed, this infrastructure and spending was a drop in the ocean. The very reason China could put on such an impressive 2008 Olympic Games was because it had an immense economic foundation to back up the “glitz.”

From 2008 to 2023 China has made leaps and bounds. Its GDP per capita has almost quadrupled and IMF figures show its real GDP growth for 2023 is around 5.2 percent, much higher than the US at 1.6 percent or the UK at -0.3 percent. 

As an example of China’s achievements, we would do well to look at the hosting city of Hangzhou, which I have visited on three occasions. With a population of nearly 12 million, renowned architecture, numerous museums, and set around the splendid natural attraction of the West Lake it warrants greater attention from the world, which these games will deservedly give to this city. When I last visited, in 2012, the city’s subway was not yet in operation. Today, the subway system stretches out over 500 kilometers.

Hangzhou’s success is not a one-off vanity project that has been carefully crafted as a facade for the world to see. Hangzhou’s development pattern is typical throughout China. This is evidenced by it only having the sixth-longest subway system in China – behind Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

The build-up to the Hangzhou Asian Games has been spectacular – the impressive drone show which took place 200 days before the start of the games is a sample of what is to come. Beyond the glitz, sports parks have sprung up around the city and infrastructure has been improved to ensure easy access to facilities – I expect that this event, taking long term planning into account, will ultimately enrich the city.

The Asian Games were founded after World War II, when Asian colonies gained their independence from the West. Today, in Hangzhou, they act as an opportunity for the West to drop its negative colonial mindset and learn about Asian culture and economic development from the perspective of equals.

Chinese space telescopes accurately measure brightest gamma-ray burst ever detected, highlighting power of international cooperation

Together with 40 other research institutions worldwide, the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) released its latest discoveries on Wednesday, including the brightest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever detected by humans.

With the unique observations made by two Chinese space telescopes, namely Insight-HXMT and GECAM-C, scientists were able to accurately measure how bright the burst was and how much energy it released.

Nearly 10,000 gamma-ray bursts have been detected since the first was detected in 1967. The mechanism of gamma-ray bursts and the radiation mechanism are still a mystery.

China’s first homegrown X-ray telescope, the Insight-HXMT, was launched in 2017 to observe celestial sources of X-rays.

As the most energetic explosion phenomenon in the universe, GRBs can be produced by the core collapse of a massive star or the merger of two compact stars. The latest burst, dubbed GRB 221009A, belongs to the former category. A GRB typically lasts less than two seconds and usually emits gravitational waves.

With the Insight-HXMT and GECAM-C space telescopes, an IHEP-led international team with researchers from over 30 institutes from China, the US, Italy, France and Germany, has made accurate measurements of the prompt emission and early afterglow of this unprecedented burst in the hard X-ray and soft gamma energy bands.

“It is a beautiful example of collaboration,” said Andrea Santangelo, professor of the University of Tuebingen. “And this will give leadership to China, Germany, and all the parties involved in the project in this field. Leadership is not just a political word. Leadership means that in the next 10 years, we expect to reach fantastic discoveries because nature will give us the possibility,” he noted.

“Based on the accurate data obtained by GECAM-C, we found that this burst set new records for both the observed brightness and the isotropic-equivalent energy of all detected bursts, making this burst exceptional,” Xiong Shaolin, the principal investigator of GECAM-C who led this study, told the Global Times on Wednesday. “This burst was 50 times brighter than the last record-holder,” Xiong added.

According to the joint observation by Insight-HXMT and GECAM-C, the early afterglow of GRB 221009A appeared to switch from slow decay to rapid decay very early in time, meaning that this burst launched an extremely narrow and luminous jet.

“These findings shed new light on the physics of these energetic explosions in the universe,” Bing Zhang, professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, who led the theoretical interpretation in the project told the Global Times. “More detailed modeling is needed to understand how GRB engines manage to collimate the jets to produce such a huge isotropic equivalent energy in some cases.”

Filippo Frontera, principal investigator of the European BeppoSAX satellite payload Phoswich Detector System (PDS) and Gamma Ray Burst Monitor (GRBM), told the Global Times that the results obtained for GRB 221009A are unique among the numerous observations collected on this event. “The exceptional quality of such data is the result of smart design of the instruments aboard the HXMT and GECAM missions, which could be achieved only by a very experienced group,” he said.

Shock, speculation linger over Prigozhin’s reported death in plane crash; US, West launch ‘cognitive warfare’ using incident

Two months after a “rebellion” by the Wagner Group was quickly quelled, the leader of the private military company Yevgeny Prigozhin was reportedly killed in a plane crash, leaving a trail of shock, mystery and speculation over the incident. 

As of press time, the Kremlin did not release any details about the incident, which is still under investigation. However, Russia’s rivals, including the US and Ukraine, have pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Experts believe that although the existence of Prigozhin posed risks to all parties, the US and its allies are using the incident to launch a wave of public opinion and cognitive warfare against Russia in order to create more chaos and instability.

Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport confirmed on Wednesday that Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in the Tver Region near Moscow. According to the name list released by the agency on its Telegram account, Prigozhin, as well as his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin, were among the 10 people who lost their lives in the crash earlier Wednesday.

The agency said earlier that an investigation had been launched into the cause of the plane crash.

The Telegram account Grey Zone linked to Wagner also reported Prigozhin’s death late on Wednesday, saying that the head of the Wagner Group “died as a result of the actions of traitors to Russia.”

US President Joe Biden said that he is “not surprised” about the incident, and strongly hinted at Putin’s involvement, according to media reports.

Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser, directly named Putin as being right behind the “demonstrative elimination” of Prigozhin, which is “a signal to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections.”

The prime minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas, Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau, and chair of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Alicia Kearns also suggested Russian president’s involvement to “eliminate opponents.” 

Chinese experts said that based on public information and video materials so far, there was little chance that Prigozhin’s death was just an accident. They added that continuous debate and recriminations are inevitable regardless of the final outcome of the Russian investigation, as Prigozhin’s existence generally posed a kind of “threat” to all sides.

Zhao Long, deputy director of the Institute of Global Governance at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times that for the US, although the “Wagner rebellion” created chaos in Russia, the group’s influence in Africa is an obstacle to the US’ global strategic layout. Wagner’s bloody campaign in Bakhmut and its deterrence also led NATO countries to identify Prigozhin as a threat.

Ukraine had called for Prigozhin to be held accountable over “war crimes”, and his death coincides with Ukraine’s warning of retaliation against Russia on Kiev’s Independence Day, Zhao said. 

In addition, internal strife within Wagner and the conflict between Prigozhin and the Russian Defense Ministry may also have been factors and even motives leading to the “accident,” Zhao said. 

While the results of the investigation are still not clear, the US and its allies pointed the finger at Putin, which is aimed at discrediting him at home and disrupting Russia’s internal unity and stability, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times. 

This is cognitive and information warfare against Russia launched by the West, Song added. 

The Kremlin needs more trust from Russian society, including confidence in winning the war and confidence in domestic order and security, some other experts commented, adding that there may be more attempts and actions aimed at undermining this trust.

When the plane crash took place, Putin appears to have been attending a concert in the city of Kursk to mark the 80th anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Kursk — the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, according to media reports. Video clips on Twitter shows the Russian President’s motorcade speeding through Moscow toward the Kremlin after his trip to Kursk.

Zhang Hong, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Russia is likely to investigate the incident before choosing a new head of Wagner.

If those responsible were Russian side, the appointment of a successor by the Russian government would provoke a revolt from some senior personnel in Wagner, but if the West was responsible, the impact on Russian domestic affairs would likely be limited, Zhang said.

According to experts, after the Prigozhin incident, the Russian legislature is likely to pass a new bill to fully regulate the activities of private military companies, and the Russian defense authorities may speed up the “recruitment” and integration of most Wagner personnel, and may also supervise and punish those who refuse to carry out orders through a unified military decision-making and command system.

The incident is unlikely to have a huge impact on the Russia-Ukraine battlefield, Zhao said, noting that Wagner’s offensive role in Bakhmut does not play a prominent part in the Russian military’s current strategic thinking of constantly depleting Ukraine’s military.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a strategic game between Russia and US-led NATO. Since the “rebellion,” Wagner is no longer the main force of the Russian military, Zhang said.

Everything you ever wanted to know about hair — and then some

After the Exxon Valdez dumped more than 10 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Alaska, hairdresser Phil McCrory got an idea.

He gathered up human hair from his salon, stuffed it into a pair of pantyhose and dunked the bundle into a solution of motor oil and water. The hair sopped up the oil — a discovery that has since inspired environmentalists to create “hair blankets” to clean up oil spills.
It’s not the most bizarre use of hair that Kurt Stenn describes in his new book, Hair: A Human History, or even the most surprising. From the felted wool covers of tennis balls to the horse-tail hair of a violin’s bow, Stenn, a former dermatologist and hair follicle scientist, digs up the myriad ways that hair has threaded its way into humans’ lives — and history.

A thriving wool trade starting in the 13th century, for example, helped some Italians amass enough wealth to later support famous artists of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo. And in 17th century Europe, beaver fur was so in demand (felted hats were a must for stylish gentlemen) that traders hunted beavers to near extinction.

Stenn jams an encyclopedia’s worth of material into a mere 256 pages, all the while shedding facts like a golden retriever sheds fur. But the book has more than just history. Stenn details the molecular biology of hair, those packed piles of cells that push out of nearly every square inch of human skin (except for the palms, soles and a few other areas). Hair conditioner, he explains, works by leaving positively charged molecules on strands, so that they repel each other rather than tangling together.

Stenn roots his story in science, discussing evolution, development and disease, among other topics. (The book could give readers a sure win for any hair category on Jeopardy!.) But Hair shines when Stenn steps out of the lab and into the world. He visits a wigmaker’s workshop in London, tours a modern barbering institute in Pennsylvania and learns about synthetic fibers at the laboratories of a Tokyo-based wig company.

These interludes are subtle highlights in a densely woven tale. But throughout, Stenn manages to convey a sense of wonder for a seemingly mundane material so tough, so strong and so versatile that it can be used for virtually anything — even mopping oil from the sea.

Nuclear bomb debris can reveal blast size, even decades later

A new type of fallout forensics can reconstruct nuclear blasts decades after detonation. By measuring the relative abundance of various elements in debris left over from nuclear explosions, researchers say they can accurately estimate the amount of energy released during the initial blast.

As proof of concept, the researchers estimated the yield of the 1945 Trinity nuclear test in New Mexico — the world’s first detonation of a nuclear device. The work pegged the explosion as equivalent to 22.1 kilotons of TNT, close to the official estimate of 21 kilotons. Applying the method to modern blasts could help regulators identify nuclear tests long after the fact and better enforce nonproliferation treaties, the researchers propose in a paper to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of July 4.
Regulators currently monitor nuclear tests by detecting tremors and radioactive material emanating from blasts. Those effects are short-lived, however, so the techniques can only be used within a few days or weeks of a test.

Chemist Susan Hanson and colleagues at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory looked at the element molybdenum in glassy debris created by the Trinity test. Stable molybdenum forms when zirconium from the bomb’s fireball radioactively decays. The relative abundance of different molybdenum isotopes created from this process differs from that found naturally. By measuring the overabundance of certain molybdenum isotopes, researchers can determine the original amount of zirconium created by the explosion. Pairing the amount of remnant plutonium in the debris with the zirconium estimate, the researchers can estimate a blast’s explosive yield.

The Los Alamos group declined to comment on the method’s usefulness for measuring the yield of more recent nuclear tests, such as the test North Korea conducted in January (SN Online: 1/6/16).

Website tests predictive powers of the hive mind

As the saying goes, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” The website Metaculus.com aims to make this challenging task easier by harnessing collective wisdom.

Metaculus solicits answers to questions about the future — on topics spanning science, politics and economics — and combines these predictions to infer the likely outcomes. Will 2016 be the hottest year yet recorded? Will we find evidence for aliens soon? Will we hail self-driving taxis in the next few years? The hive mind might provide answers.
The website, created by physicists Anthony Aguirre and Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, along with former postdoc Max Wainwright, is an experiment to test whether our pooled instincts can produce reliable predictions. The site may also help scientists make informed decisions about which research to prioritize. Organizations funding research on pandemics, for instance, might want to know whether people are more concerned about bioterrorism, powerful germs escaping laboratories or naturally circulating diseases like the flu.

There’s a precedent for successful crowdsourcing of predictions. A U.S. government–funded geopolitical forecasting effort, the Good Judgment Project, has found that collective predictions can be remarkably accurate, and that prediction is a skill that can be honed.

After completing a free sign-up process, Metaculus users click through yes-or-no questions and make predictions, moving a slider from zero to 100 percent to indicate their level of certainty. The site provides relevant background information on each question, and additional research is encouraged. Prognosticators can hash things out in the comments section and share resources to help others make their predictions. Users rack up points — and bragging rights — when their predictions turn out to be correct.

The hive mind isn’t perfect — Metaculus users pegged the probability that the United Kingdom would vote to leave the European Union at just 32 percent. The United Kingdom did vote to leave, but that doesn’t mean the method is flawed. “The point of this is not to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” Aguirre says, “but to get what is the probability.” Most events aren’t predictable with complete certainty, he says, but attaching a probability to such events can be useful in planning for the future.

So far, Metaculus has about 1,300 registered participants. In a review of more than 2,000 user predictions, the results were about as expected. When users predicted an event would happen with 80 percent certainty, they were correct about eight times out of 10. When many minds join forces, even nonexperts may collectively become capable guesstimators.