Anyways, where was I... yes, TopCoder lying in their press releases.
It's interesting how a company can't learn a lesson that lying in public releases is not always a great idea. A while ago, they had hired some girl in china - she may have been a good choice for the job - I've no information about this - and then lied a shitton about her qualifications and achievements [see original TC's press release which was then echoed by girl's university] resulting in massive PR success followed by even more massive PR fail in the china, totally ruining girl's reputation. The lying, for a public release, was not very outstanding - just massive exaggerations, pretty standard for small company's public release, a small company has to look big, but it did ruin the girl's reputation 'cause of cultural misunderstanding, its not everywhere customary for a company to exaggerate how great their new hire is. On darker side, I bet they got her to sign their "affidavit" beforehand which explicitly forbids you from suing TopCoder for damages arising from this sort of misrepresentation of you. [you need to sign this at notary if you participate in competition and get a prize; that's quite serious. I won a prize at TopCoder once and asked for legal advice on their affidavit, a friend told me of that girl's story, which I remembered 'cause its really scary how individual could get chewed up by gears of commerce and spit out]
Recently, there had been a "NASA-TopCoder" contest with '25 000 $ in prizes'. It seemed a little strange.
The NASA-TopCoder Challenge will be the first time the TopCoder community of more than 220,000 software enthusiasts is utilized by the world's leading aerospace organization. Long-term human space missions such as those being planned for Mars, will require higher levels of pre-planning and more analysis of available data than ever before. Biometric modeling and simulation programs are algorithmically-intensive as flight surgeons explore and evaluate every possible medical scenario that might occur on long-term missions. In this experiment, competitors will develop algorithms to help NASA's flight surgeons make decisions involved with optimizing the contents of the medical supplies kit that may one day be carried onboard long-term space missions. The submissions will be compared with the results of an existing computer model that has simulated the expected medical occurrences and outcomes for various mission scenarios.
Under closer examination (I registered for the contest because I was rather curious and because invitation email didn't quite made it clear who funded the experiment), it turned out that it indeed was a business research experiment (25000$ from research grant from some business university were used to run 24 tiny contests in parallel for some sort of business research). Needless to say, there were no NASA representatives on contest forum answering the questions about problem or asking questions about solutions [correct me if any did show up since I lost the interest]. Nothing of this sort. Typical programming competition, with a typical competition problem that has only superficial resemblance to real requirements for real software. Very simple model - much simpler than your 'model' when you visit pharmacy and decide what to buy. In real life if you get a splinter under your skin, you will need tweezers to remove it. Then you can use hydrogen peroxide or you can use iodine, or other antiseptic, and if you don't treat the cut with antiseptic you might need to use topical antibiotic later to treat inflammation. That is not simulated in contest - the supplies are not ever interchangeable and medical conditions are not dependent on prior conditions and treatment (worse than that, them are totally statistically independent from prior conditions). It's absurd to think that contents of medical kit for a Mars mission would be based on such simplistic assumptions, so much more simplistic than the ones you'd make when you visit pharmacy. Yet participants would believe it because it's happier to believe you contribute something to space exploration.
Furthermore, interestingly enough, in the "community of more than 220,000 software enthusiasts", only about 1700 registered and only 400 participated in the contest.
As NASA source indicates, the truth boils down to this:
The competition originated when professor Karim R. Lakhani of Harvard Business School and professor Kevin Boudreau of London Business School invited NASA to provide a compelling technical challenge to monitor and analyze the results from an open innovation management perspective. Their research project is funded by grants from the London Business School M-Lab and the Harvard Business School.
, and naturally "topcoder asks for and gets a simple contest-style problem from NASA for use in their business experiment" is a whole bit less impressive than "NASA employs topcoder to solve something for human spaceflight".