Deliberate Practice Is Key to Peak Performance

(p. D7) Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist who demystified how expertise is acquired, suggesting that anyone can become a grand chess master, a concert violinist or an Olympic athlete with the proper training and the will, died on June 17 at his home in Tallahassee, Fla.

. . .

Professor Ericsson discovered that what separated the violinists’ skill levels was not natural-born talent but the hours of practice they had logged since childhood. The future teachers registered around 4,000 hours, the very good violinists 8,000 and the elite performers more than 10,000. The same study was conducted with pianists, with similar results.

Published in 1993 in Psychological Review, the paper later formed the basis for the so-called 10,000-hour rule described in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” (2008), which holds that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field.

. . .

“Many people think what Anders discovered is that quantity of practice makes you a champion,” said Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Grit” (2016), a book about passion and perseverance. “That’s disastrously incomplete. It’s quantity and quality. One of his insights that I hope will have a lasting legacy is people need to work hard, but also smart.”

Professor Ericsson focused on what he called “deliberate practice,” which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A Sunday golfer may whack balls around the course for years, but without incorporating such methods that player will never become the next Tiger Woods.

. . .

He had his critics. One of them, Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, co-wrote a paper in 2014 that concluded that deliberate practice was not the sole reason for peak performance in chess players and musicians. Innate characteristics like talent and intelligence, Mr. Hambrick argued, play a far more significant role than Professor Ericsson allowed for.

“There’s a side of me that resonates with his hopeful message,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, a humanistic psychologist who studies creativity and hosts “The Psychology Podcast.” “However, there’s another side of me that has seen the research, in a wide range of aspects in the field, that suggests that we can have some pretty severe limits on what we can achieve in life.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Kaufman added, “I don’t think any of this invalidates his contributions. He showed that humans have the capacity to go beyond, from one generation to the next, what had been thought of the limits of human potential.”

For the full obituary see:

Steven Kurutz. “Anders Ericsson, 72, Psychologist Who Became ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, July 6, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated July 4, 2018, and has the title “Anders Ericsson, Psychologist and ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies at 72.”)

Anders Ericsson explained his views on peak performance in his co-authored book:

Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Net-Zero Emissions Costs 16% of GDP Per Year; Climate Change at Most Costs 4% of GDP Per Year

(p. C1) For decades, climate activists have exhorted people in the wealthy West to change their personal behavior to cut carbon emissions. We have been told to drive less, to stop flying and, in general, to reduce consumption—all in the name of saving the planet from ever higher temperatures.

The Covid-19 pandemic has now achieved these goals, at least temporarily. With the enormous reduction in global economic activity, it has been as if people around the world suddenly decided to heed the activists and curtail their travel and consumption. Largely as a result of the crisis, the International Energy Agency recently concluded, “global CO2 emissions are expected to decline by 8% in 2020, or almost 2.6 [billion tons], to levels of 10 years ago.”

It’s an unprecedented and impressive drop in emissions—by far the biggest year-to-year reduction since World War II. Unfortunately, it will have almost no discernible impact on climate change. Glen Peters, the research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, estimates that by 2100, this year’s enormous reduction will bring down global temperatures by less than one five-hundredth of a degree Fahrenheit.

. . .

(p. C4) Sadly, the vast majority of the actions that individuals can take in the service of reducing emissions—and certainly all of those that are achievable without entirely disrupting everyday life—make little practical difference. That’s true even if all of us do them.

. . .

Achieving global “net zero” emissions in three decades, as a growing number of activists and politicians advocate, would require the equivalent of a series of ongoing and ever-tightening lockdowns until 2050.

. . .

William Nordhaus of Yale, who in 2018 was awarded the first Nobel Prize for work in climate economics, has tabulated all of the estimates of climate-related economic damages from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and peer-reviewed studies to determine the total impact of different levels of global temperature increases. He found that, by 2050, the net negative impact of unmitigated climate change—that is, with current emissions trends unabated—is equivalent to losing about 1% of global GDP every year. By 2100 the loss will be about 4% of global GDP a year.

For comparison, what would it cost to reach net-zero by 2050, through cutting emissions and mandating new energy sources? So far, only one country, New Zealand, has commissioned an independent estimate. It turns out the optimistic cost is a whopping 16% of GDP each year by 2050. That projected figure exceeds what New Zealand spends today on social security, welfare, health, education, police, courts, defense, environment and every other part of government combined.

As this simple comparison suggests, suffering a 16% loss of GDP to reduce a problem estimated to cost 1% or even 4% of GDP is a bad way to help. That is especially true for the many parts of the world that are still in the early stages of economic development and desperately need growth to improve the lives of their impoverished populations.

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Lockdowns Highlight The Climate Challenge.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 11, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Lockdown’s Lessons for Climate Activism.” Where there are slight differences in wording between the versions in the passages quoted, the online version appears above. The online version does not list an author. I cite James Barron, who is listed as the author in the print version.)

Lomborg’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Simison Interviews Diamond on Mazzucato

Recently I was interviewed by Bob Simison for his profile of economist Mariana Mazzucato that appeared in the current issue of Finance & Development, an official publication of the International Monetary Fund. Mazzucato believes that innovation should be more centrally funded and directed by governments. Simison mentions my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, and summarizes my claim that for innovation to flourish entrepreneurs need the freedom to pursue serendipity, hunches, and trial-and-error experiments.

(p. 50) To economist Arthur Diamond of the University of Nebraska,Omaha, Mazzucato’s thesis sounds too much like centrally planned industrial policy, which he argues won’t work because government is inherently unable to foster innovation. In his 2019 book, Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, he argues that what drives innovation is entrepreneurs who are deeply immersed in their subject and able to benefit from serendipity, pursuing hunches, and plain old trial and error.

“Government decision-makers won’t be as immersed in the problems, won’t have the detailed information, and won’t be in a position to follow hunches toward breakthrough solutions,” Diamond says.

For Simison’s full profile of Mazzucato, see:

Simison, Bob. “Economics Agitator.” Finance & Development 57, no. 3 (Sept. 2020): 48-51.

(Note: in the original article, the title of my book was italicized.)

My book mentioned above is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Water Park Entrepreneur Did Not Use “Market Research or Long-Term Planning”

(p. 12) . . ., “someone had tied off the ankles and sleeves of an old janitorial jumpsuit, stuffed it with sand and fabricated a head out of a plastic grocery bag,” Mulvihill writes in his new book, “Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park.” “The makeshift dummy cleared the loop but emerged decapitated.”

. . .

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

I knew my father was a risk taker, but I never really understood the size of the risks, and the sheer tenacity and confidence he possessed to take them on. He was fearless.

I look back on the incredible number of crazy ride ideas and the inventors he’d back to develop those ideas, and it just blows you away. Some of them never worked out, but the ones that did were incredible. He didn’t rely on market research or long-term planning; he acted on gut instincts. Contrast it with the bigger parks and all of their exhaustive analysis.

. . .

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

My father. He was a creative genius and a driven entrepreneur. It’s one thing to have dreams and ideas, it’s another to execute them. He never took no for an answer — whether from an investor, regulator, inspector or government official.

He invented the water park and participation rides where you controlled the action, where you were in control of your own destiny. He was really the precursor to extreme sports and the X Games, only he did it at an amusement park. He wanted to show people something they’d never seen before. He never settled for mediocrity — that was boring. If you’re going to do something, go all out. Shoot for greatness. Do not check the box, blow it up. I’d like to think I’ve led my life embracing that premise.

For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer. “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; Risky Business? That’s Really an Understatement.” The New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipses, and bold font, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 12, 2018, and has the title “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; ‘Action Park’ Looks Back in Amusement and Terror.” The first couple of sentences and the bold questions are from the interviewer Williams. The unbold answers to the questions are from Andy Mulvihill. [Added later: I just figured out that in this blogging template, within the italics block quotations, bolded text does not appear to be bolded.])

The book discussed in the interview is:

Mulvihill, Andy, and Jake Rossen. Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park. New York: Penguin Books, 2020.

“Biggest Barrier” to Cell-Cultured Meat Is the “Difficult Regulatory Landscape” Created by Lobbyists

(p. 12) We should try to get beyond our disgust about “lab meat,” argues the journalist Chase Purdy, who is in the rare position of having actually tasted it. In a fast-paced global narrative, Purdy follows the various cell-cultured meat companies that are currently competing to get their product to market first. The front-runners are in Israel, the Netherlands and (no surprise) Silicon Valley.

. . .

Up until now, the biggest obstacle to getting cultured meat on the market has been the sheer expense — hence the “billion dollar burger” of Purdy’s hyperbolic title. When the first lab-grown burger was unveiled in 2013 by a panel including the Dutch food scientist Mark Post, it was estimated to have cost $330,000 for a single five-ounce patty: equivalent to $1.2 million per pound of beef. But that cost is falling, and fast. In 2019 an Israeli firm called Future Meat Technologies claimed that by 2022, it would be able to get cell-cultured meat on the market for as little as $10 a pound.

. . .

Purdy says that the biggest barrier to getting these products to market in the United States is “a difficult regulatory landscape” influenced by meat lobbyists with a strong vested interest in keeping cell-cultured meat off the shelves.

For the full review, see:

Bee Wilson. “Frankenburger.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July [sic] 19, 2020): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June [sic] 18, 2020, and has the title “Are You Ready to Eat Meat Grown in a Lab?”)

The book under review is:

Purdy, Chase. Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food. New York: Portfolio, 2020.

Book Advice from Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty

(p. 6) Do you and your wife, the activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, share similar taste in books? What books has she recommended to you, and vice versa?

Very similar, so books frequently cross the bedroom from one nightstand to the other. A good example was Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty,” her favorite work of political philosophy, which she urged me to read.

. . .

Which books do you think capture the current social and political moment in America?

I shared the widespread enthusiasm for J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” last year, but the must-read book for Trump’s election and presidency remains Charles Murray’s astonishingly prescient “Coming Apart.” I wish the contemptible “students” who disrupted his lecture at Middlebury College earlier this year — not one of whom I’ll bet had ever read a word of his — would read “Coming Apart” and then look in the mirror and realize: “Oh God, I’m a member of that loathsome coastal cognitive elite that is completely out of touch with middle America.”

. . .

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

. . . To give an example of a book I found overrated, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was both conceptually unsound and tediously executed.

For the full interview, see:

“BY THE BOOK; Niall Ferguson.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 14, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipses added, bold in original. Bold questions are by the anonymous NYT interviewer. Unbold answers are by Niall Ferguson.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Jan. 11, 2018, and has the same title as the print version. The last question and answer quoted above, appeared in the online, but not in the print, version. Neither version gives the name of the interviewer.)

Ayann Hirsi Ali’s favorite political philosophy book, mentioned above, is:

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Constitution of Liberty. Reprint ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011 (1st ed. 1960).

Leo Szilard Was “Ever-Resourceful”

I remember Milton Friedman, in an aside during his price theory class at Chicago, telling us that Leo Szilard used to walk up to him as he walked across campus, and articulately raise some issue in economics. Friedman was clearly impressed with the range of Szilard’s mind. My thought was ‘what’s the big deal about this guy Leo Szilard?’ Since then I have learned that he indeed was a big deal, at least for fans of the survival of Western civilization.

(p. 12) Fatefully, the Fermis sailed from Italy the same week that two Berlin radiochemists discovered nuclear fission.

That discovery was totally unexpected. In spring 1939, working at Columbia with the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, Fermi set out to answer a crucial question about it. Uranium atoms release a burst of energy when they fission, enough per atom to make a grain of sand visibly jump. But what then? Was there a way to combine those individual fissions, to turn a small burst into a mighty roar?

Szilard, ever-resourceful, acquired hundreds of pounds of black, greasy uranium-oxide powder from a Canadian mining corporation. Fermi and his students packed the powder into pipe-like tin cans and arranged them equally spaced in a circle within a large tank of water mixed with powdered manganese. At the center of the arrangement they placed a neutron source.

Neutrons from the source, slowed down by the water, would penetrate the uranium atoms in the cans and induce fissions. If the fissioning atoms released more neutrons, those “secondary” neutrons would irradiate the manganese. Measuring the radioactivity induced in the manganese would tell Fermi if the fissions were multiplying. If so, then a chain reaction might be possible, one bombarding neutron splitting a uranium atom and releasing two neutrons, those two splitting two other uranium atoms and releasing four, the four releasing eight, and so on in a geometric progression that could potentially produce vast amounts of energy for power — or for an atomic bomb. The experiment worked.

For the full review, see:

Richard Rhodes. “Quantifying the World.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 28, 2018): 12.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 24, 2018, and has the title “A Remarkable Man Among Remarkable Men and Women.”)

The book under review is:

Schwartz, David N. The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Patients Die Due to Doctors Who Are “Busy Entering Health Care Data” Required by “Mandated Protocols”

(p. 18) Doctors today often complain of working in an occupational black hole in which patient encounters are compressed into smaller and smaller space and time. You can do a passable job in a 10-minute visit, they say, but it is impossible to appreciate the subtleties of patient care when you are rushing.

Enter “Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing,” a wonderful new memoir by Dr. Victoria Sweet.

. . .

One of the most compelling stories in the book is about Joey, a 3-year-old who is diagnosed with terminal lung disease after a near-drowning but against the odds makes it off the ventilator and out of the hospital. Sweet interprets Joey’s recovery in part as a victory for prayer. “Prayer worked,” she writes, “at least that once and maybe sometimes and maybe always.” I would see it differently: Joey was saved because a lung specialist slowly decreased airway pressure and tidal volume over several weeks in a patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome. And, as Sweet points out, it was slow medicine that allowed that doctor to make the proper adjustments.

Perhaps Sweet’s most depressing conclusion is that Joey would have died today. His doctors “would have been too busy entering health care data” that was required “according to all the mandated protocols.”

For the full review, see:

Sandeep Jauhar. “Heals Over Time.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 28, 2018): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2018, and has the title “A Doctor Argues That Her Profession Needs to Slow Down, Stat.”)

The book under review is:

Sweet, Victoria. Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2017.

Oppenheim Recommends Diamond’s “Well-Researched,” “Well-Written,” and “Fascinating” Openness to Creative Destruction

Charles Oppenheim is an Information Science expert whose recent focus has been intellectual property. He is currently a visiting professor at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. (I do not remember ever meeting him.) Oppenheim has written a gracious, though mixed, review of my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. Although mixed, what he likes outweighs what he dislikes. Below I quote his first and his final paragraphs.

(p. 82) The author is a well-known professor of economics in the United States. In this book, well researched and supported by numerous references, his philosophy of life is made clear – and a rather worrying philosophy it is, as we shall see. The book addresses the question of how to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in an advanced economy such as that of the United States.

. . .

(p. 83) This is a well-written book with an easy style that will appeal to economists, students and perhaps the general public. It is supported by a large number of references, as well as figures and tables. It has an exemplary index. Diamond covers interesting ground and provides some fascinating histories of the development of many of the inventions we now take for granted. Such a pity that Diamond’s argument is so one-sided, and that he fails to take into account moral, ethical and environmental concerns in his optimistic vision of how innovation can make economies thrive. The book is recommended, but treat its contents with caution.

For the full review, see:

Oppenheim, Charles. “Openness to Creative Destruction, Arthur M. Diamond Jr. (2019), Oxford University Press.” Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation 36, no. 1 (March 2020): 82-83.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

My book, reviewed by Oppenheim, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

After Age 65, Men Lose More “Antibody-Producing B Cells” Than Women Lose

(p. B5) By examining gender-based distinctions in the immune system, cell structure, brain and other systems, researchers are discovering how and why men and women grow older in clearly different ways.

Their findings could help explain why Covid-19 has had a greater impact on older men than older women. A recent study found that men, after the age of 65, lost important antibody-producing B cells in the blood, while women didn’t.

“It was surprising,” said Duygu Ucar, an associate professor who led the study at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn. The research team also found that men, as they age, experience greater inflammation in their blood, which has been associated with severe cases of Covid-19.

. . .

Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, looked at the blood of men and women between the ages of 65 and 95 and found protein levels changed at different rates. Less change means more stability, he said. Men’s levels changed far more than women’s, with 600 significant changes versus 277 for women, according to the study, published in December.

“The female biology seems to be more stable than men’s,” says Dr. Barzilai, the author of “Age Later” who specializes in geroscience.

For the full story, see:

Clare Ansberry. “Women and Men Age Differently—-And in More Ways Than Just Longevity.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 15, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 14, 2020, and has the title “Women and Men Age Differently—in More Ways Than Just Longevity.” The last couple of paragraphs quoted above, appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

The “recent study” mentioned above is:

Márquez, Eladio J., Cheng-han Chung, Radu Marches, Robert J. Rossi, Djamel Nehar-Belaid, Alper Eroglu, David J. Mellert, George A. Kuchel, Jacques Banchereau, and Duygu Ucar. “Sexual-Dimorphism in Human Immune System Aging.” Nature Communications 11, Article #751 (Feb. 6, 2020): 1-17.

The book by Barzilai, mentioned above, is:

Barzilai, Nir. Age Later: Health Span, Life Span, and the New Science of Longevity. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020.