By Charles Anifowose
The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and the American Statistical Association are honouring one of the most important scientific revolutions in history with a competition that will award $3,500 in cash to teams that tell a great story.
The Taming of Chance Story Competition is the first contest to ask: “What would the world be like if the Normal Curve had never been discovered?” This competition will dramatically change the way people see statistics in their daily lives.
The competition was organized by a group of mathematicians, educators, psychologists, historians, and science-fiction writers at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in Toronto, with involvement and support from the Playwrights Guild of Canada and the Merill Collection for Science Fiction.
Launched at the beginning of the year, the Taming of Chance Story Competition will award $3,500 for stories told through writing, film or illustration that portray a world in which the slow probabilistic revolution of the past 150 years did not occur. Designed to bring about a new type of story for the world to understand the impact of the probabilistic revolution on our daily lives and encourage people from all over the world to enter, the not-for-profit Fields Institute’s new contest promises to be a major contribution to the public’s understanding of chance.
“What is clear, beyond all scholasticism is this: The taming of chance and the erosion of determinism constitute one of the most revolutionary changes in the history of the human mind. I use the word ‘revolutionary’ not as a scholar but as a speaker of common English. If that change is not revolutionary, nothing is. That is the real justification for talk of a Probabilistic Revolution 1800-1930,” writes eminent philosopher and historian Ian Hacking in The Probabilistic Revolution: Volume 1, published by MIT Press.
Dozens of leading thinkers have echoed the importance of the relatively recent discovery of probability and statistics. The contest’s primary theme—“What would the world be like if the Normal Curve had never been discovered?”—encourages storytellers to anchor their fiction around one of the primary symbols of this mathematical and scientific discovery. “The Normal Curve rivals in importance Einstein’s equally simple equation, which represents the revolution in thought that was the Theory of Relativity,” says Charles Anifowose, lead contest organizer.
To reflect its global perspective, the Taming of Chance contest has assembled a team of accomplished science-fiction writers and educators to judge entries. These storytellers will select 20 stories for a competition shortlist, which will be published in the first volume of “Stories of the Probabilistic Revolution,” that will be released as a Creative Commons work. From the list of finalists, the judges will select the winners in each of the three primary formats (short-story, film and illustrations) and award prize money.
The prize money was contributed by the American Statistical Association as well as individual contributors, who aim to improve public literacy of statistical concepts and foster a vibrant global culture for science and engineering. One contributor commented, “Stories are the currency of social exchange and this is one story that has been in need of telling for decades.”
The competition will run throughout 2014. See the website at http://tamingofchance.vretta.com/ for more information and key entry deadlines.
For more information on the Taming of Chance contest, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anifowose is a volunteer at the Fields Institute’s Mathed Forum.