MIT News - School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Why do banking crises occur? In a new book, political scientist David Singer finds two key factors connected to financial-sector collapses around the globe. Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Why did the U.S. banking crisis of 2007-2008 occur? Many accounts have chronicled the bad decisions and poor risk management at places like Lehmann Brothers, the now-vanished investment bank. Still, plenty of banks have vanished, and many countries have had their own banking crises in recent decades. So, to pose the question more generally, why do modern banking crises occur?</p> <p>David Singer believes he knows. An MIT professor and head of the Institute’s Department of Political Science, Singer has spent years examining global data on the subject with his colleague Mark Copelovitch, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.</p> <p>Together, Singer and Copelovitch have identified two things, in tandem, that generate banking crises: One, a large amount of foreign investment surges into a country, and two, that country’s economy has a well-developed market in securities — especially stocks.</p> <p>“Empirically, we find that systemic bank failures are more likely when substantial foreign capital inflows meet a financial system with well-developed stock markets,” says Singer. “Banks take on more risk in these environments, which makes them more prone to collapse.”</p> <p>Singer and Copelovitch detail their findings in a new book, “Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises,” published by Cambridge University Press. In it, they emphasize that the historical development of markets creates conditions ripe for crisis — it is not just a matter of a few rogue bankers engaging in excessive profit-hunting.</p> <p>“There wasn’t much scholarship that explored the phenomenon from both a political and an economic perspective,” Singer adds. “We sought to go up to 30,000 feet and see what the patterns were, to explain why some banking systems were more resilient than others.”</p> <p><strong>Where the risk goes: Banks or stocks?</strong></p> <p>Through history, lending institutions have often been prone to instability. But Singer and Copelovitch examined what makes banks vulnerable under contemporary conditions. They looked at economic and banking-sector data from 1976-2011, for the 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).</p> <p>That time period begins soon after the Bretton Woods system of international monetary-policy cooperation vanished, which led to a significant increase in foreign capital movement. From 1990 to 2005 alone, international capital flow increased from $1 trillion to $12 trillion annually. (It has since slid back to $5 trillion, after the Great Recession.)</p> <p>Even so, a flood of capital entering a country is not enough, by itself, to send a banking sector under water, Singer says: “Why is it that some capital inflows can be accommodated and channeled productively throughout an economy, but other times they seem to lead a banking system to go awry?”</p> <p>The answer, Singer and Copelovitch contend, is that a highly active stock market is a form of competition for the banking sector, to which banks respond by taking greater risks.&nbsp;</p> <p>To see why, imagine a promising business needs capital. It could borrow funds from a bank. Or it could issue a stock offering, and raise the money from investors, as riskier firms generally do. If a lot of foreign investment enters a country, backing firms that issue stock offerings, bankers will want a piece of the action.</p> <p>“Banks and stock markets are competing for the business of firms that need to raise money,” Singer says. “When stock markets are small and unsophisticated, there’s not much competition. Firms go to their banks.” However, he adds, “A bank doesn’t want to lose a good chunk of its customer base to the stock markets. … And if that happens, banks start to do business with slightly riskier firms.”</p> <p><strong>Rethinking Canadian bank stability</strong></p> <p>Exploring this point in depth, the book develops contrasting case studies of Canada and Germany. Canada is one of the few countries to remain blissfully free of banking crises — something commentators usually ascribe to sensible regulation.</p> <p>However, Singer and Copelovitch observe, Canada has always had small, regional stock markets, and is the only OECD country without a national stock-market regulator.</p> <p>“There’s a sense that Canada has stable banks just because they’re well-regulated,” Singer says. “That’s the conventional wisdom we’re trying to poke holes in. And I think it’s not well-understood that Canada’s stock markets are as underdeveloped as they are.”</p> <p>He adds: “That’s one of the key considerations, when we analyze why Canada’s banks are so stable. They don’t face a competitive threat from stock markets the way banks in the United States do. They can be conservative and be competitive and still be profitable.”</p> <p>By contrast, German banks have been involved in many banking blowups in the last two decades. At one time, that would not have been the case. But Germany’s national-scale banks, feeling pressure from a thriving set of regional banks, tried to bolster profits through securities investment, leading to some notable problems.</p> <p>“Germany started off the period we study looking like a very bank-centric economy,” Singer says. “And that’s what Germany is often known for, close connections between banks and industry.” However, he notes, “The national banks started to feel a competitive threat and looked to stock markets to bolster their competitive advantage. … German banks used to be so stable and so long-term focused, and they’re now finding short-term trouble.”</p> <p>“Banks on the Brink” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Jeffry Frieden, a professor of government at Harvard University, says the book’s “careful logic, statistical analyses, and detailed case studies make compelling reading for anyone interested in the economics and politics of finance.”</p> <p>For their part, Singer and Copelovitch say they hope to generate more discussion about both the recent history of banking crises, and how to avoid them in the future.</p> <p>Perhaps surprisingly, Singer believes that separating commerical and investment banks from each other — which the Glass-Steagall Act used to do in the U.S. — would not prevent crises. Any bank, not just investment banks, can flounder if profit-hunting in risky territory.</p> <p>Instead, Singer says, “We think macroprudential regulations for banks are the way to go. That’s just about capital regulations, making sure banks are holding enough capital to absorb any losses they might incur. That seems to be the best approach to maintaining a stable banking system, especially in the face of large capital flows.”</p> David Singer, an MIT professor and head of the Department of Political Science, is the co-author of a new book, “Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises,” published by Cambridge University Press.Photo: M. Scott BrauerPolitical science, Banking, Finance, Books and authors, Faculty, Research, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Events postponed or canceled as MIT responds to COVID-19 Changes follow new Institute policies on travel, events, and visitors; some large classes to move online. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 14:48:39 -0400 MIT News Office <p>MIT schools, departments, labs, centers, and offices have acted swiftly to postpone or cancel large events through May 15 in the wake of the Institute’s <a href="">announcement last week</a> of new policies&nbsp;regarding gatherings likely to attract 150 or more people.</p> <p>To safeguard against COVID-19, and the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, many other MIT events have been modified both on campus and elsewhere, with increased opportunities offered for livestreaming.</p> <p>The guidelines put forth last week have also now been expanded to include some large classes: The Institute will move classes with more than 150 students online, starting this week.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on classes and student travel</strong></p> <p>Following consultation with senior academic leadership and experts within MIT Medical, the Institute has suspended in-person meetings of classes with more than 150 students, effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 10. The approximately 20 classes impacted by the decision will continue to be offered in virtual form.</p> <p>“We are being guided by our medical professionals who are in close contact with state and national public health officials,” Ian Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education, wrote today in a letter to deans and department heads. “They have advised us that while the risk to the community is low and there are no cases on campus as of now, we need to move quickly to help prevent the potential transmission of the disease and to be ready if and when it impacts our campus.”</p> <p>“Our approach is to be aggressive, but to move forward in stages,” Waitz added, “while keeping in mind that some individual faculty and departments may be moving faster than others, that the level of comfort with remote teaching varies, and that some classes may translate better than others to alternative formats.”</p> <p>As of now, midterm examinations will proceed as scheduled, but the plan for large courses is to run midterms in several rooms simultaneously so the number of students in each room remains well below 150. The Registrar’s Office is working on room scheduling strategies to best accommodate that approach.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Institute has also decided that all MIT-sponsored student domestic travel of more than 100 miles will have to go through the Institute’s high-risk travel waiver process.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on undergraduate and graduate admissions</strong></p> <p>As shared in President L. Rafael Reif’s <a href="">letter of last Thursday</a>, MIT’s new policy on events will apply to <a href="">Campus Preview Weekend</a>, ordinarily an on-campus gathering for students admitted to the incoming first-year undergraduate class. In the coming weeks, the Admissions Office will be connecting with admitted students, current students, and campus partners to discuss what to do instead of a conventional CPW. For more information, please see:&nbsp;<a href="" title=""></a></p> <p>The Admissions Office will not host any programming for K-12 students, including admitted students and their families, between now and May 15, regardless of the size of the event.&nbsp;All scheduled admissions sessions and tours have been canceled between now and May 15, and MIT Admissions is canceling all scheduled admissions officer travel to domestic and international events in that time window.&nbsp;</p> <p>Additionally, all graduate admissions visit days have been canceled, effective immediately.&nbsp;“Based upon reducing risk, we ask all departments to cancel all remaining graduate open houses and visit days, and to move to virtual formats,” Waitz says. “Many departments have already done this.”</p> <p>Despite the cancellation of these formal events, the MIT campus currently remains open for visits by prospective students. However, in keeping with suggested best practices for public health, visitors from countries that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds&nbsp;<a href="">have “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19</a> cannot visit campus until they have successfully completed 14 days of self-quarantine.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on major campus events</strong></p> <p>The <strong>MIT Excellence Awards and Collier Medal</strong> celebration, scheduled for this Thursday, March 12, has been postponed; a rescheduled date will be announced as soon as it is confirmed. The Excellence Awards and Collier Medal recognize&nbsp;the work of service, support, administrative, and sponsored research staff. The Excellence Awards acknowledge the extraordinary efforts made by members of the MIT community toward fulfilling the goals, values, and mission of the Institute. The Collier Medal is awarded to an individual or group exhibiting qualities such as a commitment to community service, kindness, selflessness, and generosity; it honors the memory of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier,&nbsp;who lost his life&nbsp;while protecting the MIT campus.&nbsp;<a href="" title="">A full list of this year’s honorees is available</a>.</p> <p>Career Advising and Professional Development is working on plans to change the format of the <strong>Spring Career Fair</strong>, previously scheduled for April 2, to a virtual career fair for a date to be announced in April. All other large-scale employer engagement events — such as career fairs, mixers, symposiums, and networking events — will also be canceled; adopt a virtual model; be postponed beyond May 15; or adopt other models that meet the new policies involving large events.&nbsp;</p> <p>MIT is postponing the remaining two <strong>Climate Action Symposia</strong>, “<a href="">MIT Climate Initiatives and the Role of Research Universities</a>” and “<a href="" title="">Summing Up: Why Is the World Waiting?</a>” — previously scheduled for April 2 and April 22, respectively. These symposia will be rescheduled; new dates will be announced on <a href="applewebdata://7840DF2E-F494-42B9-B4DA-510B4A5DE3D9/" title=""></a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Solve at MIT</strong> on May 12-14 will be virtual. In addition to a livestream on <a href="">this page</a>, Solve will continue to bring together its cross-sector community via interactive online workshops and more. Participants can also contribute&nbsp;<a href="">a solution</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href="">a donation</a>&nbsp;to the&nbsp;<a href="">Health Security and Pandemics Challenge</a>.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on athletics and intercollegiate athletics events</strong></p> <p>The Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) is taking steps to safeguard student-athletes, staff, and community members who utilize DAPER facilities for club sports, intramurals, and recreation. Unless otherwise announced, MIT’s intercollegiate athletics events will continue as scheduled. However, visiting teams are asked to bring only student-athletes and essential team personnel to events at MIT. </p> <p>Additionally, DAPER has requested that only MIT students, faculty, and staff members attend upcoming home athletic events through May 15. All other spectators, including parents, are asked to watch events using&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">DAPER’s video streaming service</a>.</p> <p><strong>Other impacted events and activities</strong></p> <p>Discussions are ongoing about many additional events scheduled between now and May 15. The list below will be updated as more information becomes available. Among the affected events and activities announced so far:</p> <ul> <li>Use of the pillars in Lobby 7 for community discussion is suspended for the rest of the spring semester, to minimize close contact and sharing of writing implements.</li> <li><strong>SpaceTech 2020,</strong>&nbsp;scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, has been postponed until a later date. The all-day event, part of MIT Space Week, will highlight the future of space exploration by featuring lightning talks from current students; talks and panels from alumni; and an interactive guided tour along the Space Trail to visit Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) labs and ongoing research projects. Visit <a href=""></a> for the latest information.</li> <li><strong>MIT Getfit has</strong> canceled both of its midpoint events originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 11. Organizers are working to contact participants with more information.</li> <li>The March 13 lecture titled<strong> “Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations During the Cold War,” </strong>by Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution, has been postponed. More information is available at <a href="" target="_blank" title=""></a>.</li> <li><strong>To the Moon to Stay Hackathon</strong>, scheduled for Saturday, March 14, has been postponed until a later date. MIT AeroAstro and the MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative are partnering to design and build an experiment to go to the moon on board Blue Origin’s inaugural lunar mission. The goal of the hackathon is to bring the MIT community together to think about lunar missions and habitation through a variety of challenges. To receive updates,&nbsp;<a href="">join their email list</a>&nbsp;or visit <a href=""></a>.</li> <li>The Koch Institute is limiting attendance at the&nbsp;<a href="">SCIENCE with/in/sight: 2020 Visions</a>&nbsp;event on March 17. This event is now for invited guests only.</li> <li>All <a href="">MIT Communications Forum</a> events have been postponed until the fall. This includes <a href="">Science Under Attack</a>, originally scheduled for March 19, and <a href="">David Thorburn’s presentation</a> as part of the William Corbett Poetry Series, originally scheduled for April 8.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT de Florez Award Competition</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for April 15, will be conducted virtually. Additional information will be sent to the Mechanical Engineering community via email.&nbsp;</li> <li><strong>The Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Gala</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for April 19, has been canceled and will be rescheduled for the fall.</li> <li>The <strong>Mechanical Engineering Student Awards Banquet</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for May 15, has been canceled. Awards will be announced virtually.</li> <li>The&nbsp;<a href="" title="">Office of Engineering Outreach Programs</a>&nbsp;(OEOP) has canceled its&nbsp;<a href="">SEED Academy program</a>&nbsp;through May 15. This includes the SEED Academy Spring Final Symposium on May 9. OEOP will continue to communicate with SEED Academy students and parents via email and through The Sprout newsletter to offer information on course, project, and engagement options.</li> <li><strong>The 2020 Brazil Conference at MIT and Harvard</strong>&nbsp;has been canceled. More information can&nbsp;be found at&nbsp;<a href=""></a>.</li> <li>The March 12 Starr Forum, titled <strong>“Russia’s Putin: From Silent Coup to Legal Dictatorship,”</strong> has been changed to a <a href="">live webcast</a>.</li> <li>The March 13 Myron Weiner Seminar on International Migration, titled <strong>“Future Aspirations Among Refugee Youth in Turkey Between Integration &amp; Mobility,”</strong> has been canceled.</li> <li>The MIT Sloan&nbsp;School of Management is&nbsp;canceling all international study tours and treks. Student conferences are either being cancelled or modified: The March 7 <strong><a href="">Robo-AI Exchange Conference</a></strong>, the March 13 <strong><a href="">New Space Age</a> Conference</strong>, and the April 2 <strong><a href="">Golub Center for Finance and Policy</a> discussion</strong> on equity market structure with the SEC are canceled. The March 13<strong> <a href="">ETA Summit</a></strong> and the April 17 <strong><a href="">Ops Sim Competition</a> </strong>are proceeding, with virtualization. The March 16 <strong><a href="">Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alumni gathering</a></strong> in San Franciso is also canceled.</li> <li>The 2020 MIT Scholarship and UROP Brunch that was scheduled for April 4 has been canceled.</li> <li>The MIT Campaign for a Better World event in Toronto, originally set for April 29, will be postponed.</li> <li>The Program in Science, Technology, and Society’s <strong>Morison Lecture and Prize in Science, Technology, and Society,</strong> originally scheduled for April 14, 2020, 4 p.m.; E51-Wong Auditorium,&nbsp;has been rescheduled for Oct. 1, 2020.</li> <li>The Women's and Gender Studies Program's <a href="">Women Take the Reel Series</a> film event,"<strong>Warrior Women</strong>,” scheduled for March 12 at 6:30 p.m., has been postponed until fall 2020.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT Graduate Alumni Gathering</strong>, scheduled for March 20–21 in Cambridge, has been postponed, with plans for rescheduling to a later date in 2021.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT Student Alumni Association’s Dinner</strong> with 12 Strangers event series, set to be held in Cambridge and Boston, has been cancelled for the spring semester.</li> </ul> <p><em>This article will be updated as more information on impacted events becomes available.</em></p> Community, Faculty, Staff, Students, Administration, MIT Medical, Health, Chancellor, School of Engineering, School of Science, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in STS, Campaign for a Better World, Alumnai/ae 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows named Anikeeva, Fuller, Tisdale, and White receive MIT&#039;s highest honor in undergraduate teaching. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office <p><em>This article has been updated to reflect the cancellation of the 2020 MacVicar Day symposium.</em></p> <p>The Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar’s Office have announced this year’s Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows: materials science and engineering Professor Polina Anikeeva, literature Professor Mary Fuller, chemical engineering Professor William Tisdale, and electrical engineering and computer science Professor Jacob White.</p> <p>Role models both in and out of the classroom, the new fellows have tirelessly sought to improve themselves, their students, and the Institute writ large. They have reimagined curricula, crossed disciplines, and pushed the boundaries of what education can be. They join a matchless academy of scholars committed to exceptional instruction and innovation.</p> <p>For nearly three decades, the <a href="">MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program</a> has been recognizing exemplary undergraduate teaching and advising around the Institute. The program was&nbsp;named after Margaret MacVicar, the first dean for undergraduate education and founder of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Nominations are made by departments and include letters of support from colleagues, students, and alumni. Fellows are appointed to 10-year terms in which they receive $10,000 per year of discretionary funds.</p> <p>This year’s MacVicar Day symposium — which had been scheduled for this Friday, March 13 — has been canceled after <a href="" target="_self">new MIT policies on events</a> were set in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus.</p> <p><strong>Polina Anikeeva</strong></p> <p>“I’m speechless,” Polina Anikeeva, associate professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, says of becoming a MacVicar Fellow. “In my opinion, this is the greatest honor one could have at MIT.”</p> <p>Anikeeva received her PhD from MIT in 2009 and became a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering two years later. She attended St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University for her undergraduate education. Through her research — which combines materials science, electronics, and neurobiology — she works to better understand and treat brain disorders.</p> <p>Anikeeva’s colleague Christopher Schuh says, “Her ability and willingness to work with students however and whenever they need help, her engaging classroom persona, and her creative solutions to real-time challenges all culminate in one of MIT’s most talented and beloved undergraduate professors.”</p> <p>As an instructor, advisor, and <a href="">marathon runner</a>, Anikeeva has learned the importance of finding balance. Her colleague Lionel Kimerling reflects on this delicate equilibrium: “As a teacher, Professor Anikeeva is among the elite who instruct, inspire, and nurture at the same time. It is a difficult task to demand rigor with a gentle mentoring hand.”</p> <p>Students call her classes “incredibly hard” but fun and exciting at the same time. She is “the consummate scientist, splitting her time evenly between honing her craft, sharing knowledge with students and colleagues, and mentoring aspiring researchers,” wrote one.</p> <p>Her passion for her work and her devotion to her students are evident in the nomination letters. One student recounted their first conversation: “We spoke for 15 minutes, and after talking to her about her research and materials science, I had never been so viscerally excited about anything.” This same student described the guidance and support Anikeeva provided her throughout her time at MIT. After working with Anikeeva to apply what she learned in the classroom to a real-world problem, this student recalled, “I honestly felt like an engineer and a scientist for the first time ever. I have never felt so fulfilled and capable. And I realize that’s what I want for the rest of my life — to feel the highs and lows of discovery.”</p> <p>Anikeeva champions her students in faculty and committee meetings as well. She is a “reliable advocate for student issues,” says Caroline Ross, associate department head and professor in DMSE. “Professor Anikeeva is always engaged with students, committed to student well-being, and passionate about education.”</p> <p>“Undergraduate teaching has always been a crucial part of my MIT career and life,” Anikeeva reflects. “I derive my enthusiasm and energy from the incredibly talented MIT students — every year they surprise me with their ability to rise to ever-expanding intellectual challenges. Watching them grow as scientists, engineers, and — most importantly — people is like nothing else.”</p> <p><strong>Mary Fuller</strong></p> <p>Experimentation is synonymous with education at MIT and it is a crucial part of literature Professor Mary Fuller’s classes. As her colleague Arthur Bahr notes, “Mary’s habit of starting with a discrete practical challenge can yield insights into much broader questions.”</p> <p>Fuller attended Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, then received both her MA and PhD in English and American literature from The Johns Hopkins University. She began teaching at MIT in 1989. From 2013 to 2019, Fuller was head of the Literature Section. Her successor in the role, Shankar Raman, says that her nominators “found [themselves] repeatedly surprised by the different ways Mary has pushed the limits of her teaching here, going beyond her own comfort zones to experiment with new texts and techniques.”</p> <p>“Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned in 30 years of teaching here is how to ask more and better questions,” says Fuller. As part of a series of discussions on ethics and computing, she has explored the possibilities of <a href="">artificial intelligence</a> from a literary perspective. She is also developing a tool for the edX platform called PoetryViz, which would allow MIT students and students around the world to practice close reading through poetry annotation in an entirely new way.</p> <p>“We all innovate in our teaching. Every year. But, some of us innovate more than others,” Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning, observes. “In addition to being an outstanding innovator, Mary is one of those colleagues who weaves the fabric of undergraduate education across the Institute.”</p> <p>Lessons learned in Fuller’s class also underline the importance of a well-rounded education. As one alumna reflected, “Mary’s teaching carried a compassion and ethic which enabled non-humanities students to appreciate literature as a diverse, valuable, and rewarding resource for personal and social reflection.”</p> <p>Professor Fuller, another student remarked, has created “an environment where learning is not merely the digestion of rote knowledge, but instead the broad-based exploration of ideas and the works connected to them.”</p> <p>“Her imagination is capacious, her knowledge is deep, and students trust her — so that they follow her eagerly into new and exploratory territory,” says Professor of Literature Stephen Tapscott.</p> <p>Fuller praises her students’ willingness to take that journey with her, saying, “None of my classes are required, and none are technical, so I feel that students have already shown a kind of intellectual generosity by putting themselves in the room to do the work.”</p> <p>For students, the hard work is worth it. Mary Fuller, one nominator declared, is exactly “the type of deeply impactful professor that I attended MIT hoping to learn from.”</p> <p><strong>William Tisdale</strong></p> <p>William Tisdale is the ARCO Career Development Professor of chemical engineering and, according to his colleagues, a “true star” in the department.</p> <p>A member of the faculty since 2012, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and his PhD from the University of Minnesota. After a year as a postdoc at MIT, Tisdale became an assistant professor. His <a href="">research interests</a> include nanotechnology and energy transport.</p> <p>Tisdale’s colleague Kristala Prather calls him a “curriculum fixer.” During an internal review of Course 10 subjects, the department discovered that 10.213 (Chemical and Biological Engineering) was the least popular subject in the major and needed to be revised. After carefully evaluating the coursework, and despite having never taught 10.213 himself, Tisdale envisioned a novel way of teaching it. With his suggestions, the class went from being “despised” to loved, with subject evaluations improving by 70 percent from one spring to the next. “I knew Will could make a difference, but I had no idea he could make that big of a difference in just one year,” remarks Prather. One student nominator even went so far as to call 10.213, as taught by Tisdale, “one of my best experiences at MIT.”</p> <p>Always patient, kind, and adaptable, Tisdale’s willingness to tackle difficult problems is reflected in his teaching. “While the class would occasionally start to mutiny when faced with a particularly confusing section, Prof. Tisdale would take our groans on with excitement,” wrote one student. “His attitude made us feel like we could all get through the class together.” Regardless of how they performed on a test, wrote another, Tisdale “clearly sent the message that we all always have so much more to learn, but that first and foremost he respected you as a person.”</p> <p>“I don’t think I could teach the way I teach at many other universities,” Tisdale says. “MIT students show up on the first day of class with an innate desire to understand the world around them; all I have to do is pull back the curtain!”</p> <p>“Professor Tisdale remains the best teacher, mentor, and role model that I have encountered,” one student remarked. “He has truly changed the course of my life.”</p> <p>“I am extremely thankful to be at a university that values undergraduate education so highly,” Tisdale says. “Those of us who devote ourselves to undergraduate teaching and mentoring do so out of a strong sense of responsibility to the students as well as a genuine love of learning. There are few things more validating than being rewarded for doing something that already brings you joy.”</p> <p><strong>Jacob White</strong></p> <p>Jacob White is the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and chair of the Committee on Curricula. After completing his undergraduate degree at MIT, he received a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a member of the Course 6 faculty since 1987.</p> <p>Colleagues and students alike observed White’s dedication not just to teaching, but to improving teaching throughout the Institute. As Luca Daniel and Asu Ozdaglar of the EECS department noted in their nomination letter, “Jacob completely understands that the most efficient way to make his passion and ideas for undergraduate education have a real lasting impact is to ‘teach it to the teachers!’”</p> <p>One student wrote that White “has spent significant time and effort educating the lab assistants” of 6.302 (Feedback System Design). As one of these teaching assistants confirmed, White’s “enthusiastic spirit” inspired them to spend hours discussing how to best teach the subject. “Many people might think this is not how they want to spend their Thursday nights,” the student wrote. “I can speak for myself and the other TAs when I say that it was an incredibly fun and educational experience.”</p> <p>His work to improve instruction has even expanded to other departments. A colleague describes White’s efforts to revamp 8.02 (Physics II) as “Herculean.” Working with a group of students and postdocs to develop experiments for this subject, “he seemed to be everywhere at once … while simultaneously teaching his own class.” Iterations took place over a year and a half, after which White trained the subject’s TAs as well. Hundreds of students are benefitting from these improved experiments.</p> <p>White is, according to Daniel and Ozdaglar, “a colleague who sincerely, genuinely, and enormously cares about our undergraduate students and their education, not just in our EECS department, but also in our entire MIT home.”</p> <p>When he’s not fine-tuning pedagogy or conducting teacher training, he is personally supporting his students. A visiting student described White’s attention: “He would regularly meet with us in groups of two to make sure we were learning. In a class of about 80 students in a huge lecture hall, it really felt like he cared for each of us.”</p> <p>And his zeal has rubbed off: “He made me feel like being excited about the material was the most important thing,” one student wrote.</p> <p>The significance of such a spark is not lost on White. "As an MIT freshman in the late 1970s, I joined an undergraduate research program being pioneered by Professor Margaret MacVicar," he says. "It was Professor MacVicar and UROP that put me on the academic's path of looking for interesting problems with instructive solutions. It is a path I have walked for decades, with extraordinary colleagues and incredible students. So, being selected as a MacVicar Fellow? No honor could mean more to me."</p> The 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows are: (clockwise from top left) Polina Anikeeva, Jacob White, William Tisdale, and Mary Fuller.Photos (clockwise from top left): Lillie Paquette, Sampson Wilcox, Webb Chappell, Jon SachsOffice of the Vice Chancellor, MacVicar fellows, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Materials Science and Engineering, Literature, EdX, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Education, teaching, academics, Mentoring, Undergraduate, Chemical engineering MIT senior Christine Soh integrates computer science and linguistics Knowledge in both a technical and humanistic field prepares her to make new tools in computational linguistics. Thu, 05 Mar 2020 14:50:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>Christine Soh fell in love with MIT the summer before her senior year of high school while attending the Women’s Technology Program run by MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. That’s when she discovered that learning to program in Python is just like learning a new language — and Soh loves languages.<br /> <br /> Growing up in Colorado, Soh spoke both English and Korean; she learned French and Latin in school. This June, Soh will graduate from MIT, where she has happily combined her passions by majoring in computer science and engineering (Course 6-3) and linguistics (Course 24). She plans to begin working toward a PhD in linguistics next year.<br /> <br /> With fluency in both technical and humanistic modes of thinking, Soh exemplifies a "bilingual" perspective. "Dual competence is a good model for undergraduates at MIT," says engineer/historian David Mindell, who encourages MIT students to "master two fundamental ways of thinking about the world, one technical and one humanistic or social. Sometimes these two modes will be at odds with each other, which raises critical questions. Other times they will be synergistic and energizing."<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>The challenge of natural language and computation</strong><br /> <br /> “The really cool thing about language is that it’s universal,” says Soh, who has added ancient Greek, Chinese, and the programming language Java to her credits since that summer. “I can have a really interesting conversation with anybody, even if they don’t have a linguistics background, because everyone has experience with language.”<br /> <br /> That said, natural language is difficult for computers to comprehend — something Soh finds fascinating. “It’s really interesting to think about how we understand language,” she says. “How is it that computers have such a hard time understanding what we find so easy?”<br /> <br /> <strong>Tools from computational linguistics to improve speech</strong><br /> <br /> Pairing linguistics with computer science has allowed Soh to explore cutting-edge research combining the two disciplines. Thanks to MIT’s Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Soh got the chance to explore whether speech analysis software can be used as a tool for the clinical diagnosis of speech impairments.</p> <p>“It’s very difficult to correctly diagnose a child because a speech impairment can be caused by a ton of different things,” says Soh. Working with the Speech Communication Group in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, Soh has been developing a tool that can listen to a child’s speech and extract linguistic information, such where in the mouth the sound was produced, thus identifying modifications from the proper formation of the word. “We can then use computational techniques to see if there are patterns to the modifications that have been made and see if these patterns can distinguish one underlying condition from another.”<br /> <br /> <strong>A natural leader</strong></p> <p>Even if the team isn’t able to find such patterns, Soh says the tool could be used by speech pathologists to learn more about what linguistic modifications a child might need to make to improve speech. In December, Soh presented a poster on this work at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and was honored with a first-place prize in her category (signal processing in acoustics).<br /> <br /> Exploring such real-world applications for computational linguistics helped inspire Soh to apply to doctoral programs in linguistics for next year. “I’ll be doing research that will be integrating computer science and linguistics,” she says, noting that possible applications of computational linguistics include working to improve speech-recognition software or to make machine-produced speech sound more natural. “I look forward to using the knowledge and skills I’ve learned at MIT in doing that research.”<br /> <br /> “Christine’s unique interests,&nbsp;energy, and deep interests in both linguistics and computer science should enable her to accomplish great things,” says Suzanne Flynn, a professor of linguistics who has had Soh as a student. “She is a natural leader.”<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>From field methods to neurolinguistics</strong><br /> <br /> Looking back at her time at MIT, Soh recalls particularly enjoying two linguistics classes: 24.909 (Field Methods in Linguistics) which explores the structure of an unfamiliar language through direct work with a native speaker (in Soh’s year, the class centered on Wolof, which is spoken in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania), and 24.906 (The Linguistic Study of Bilingualism).<br /> <br /> In the latter class, Soh says, “We looked at neurolinguistics, what’s happening in the brain as the bilingual brain developed. We looked at topics in sociolinguistics: In communities that are bilingual, like Quebec, what kind of impact does it have on society, such as how schools are run? … We got to see a spectrum of linguistics. It was really cool.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Building community at MIT</strong><br /> <br /> Outside class, Soh says she found community at MIT through the Asian Christian Fellowship and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which she served last year as vice president of membership. “SWE has also been a really awesome community and has opened up opportunities for conversation about what it means to be a woman engineer,” she says.<br /> <br /> Interestingly, Soh almost didn’t apply to MIT at all, simply because her brother was already at the Institute. (Albert Soh ’18 is now a high school teacher of math and physics.) Fortunately, the Women’s Technology Program changed her mind, and as she nears graduation, Soh says, "MIT has been absolutely fantastic.”<br /> &nbsp;</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Senior Writer: Kathryn O'Neill</em><br /> &nbsp;</h5> Potential applications of Soh's work in computational linguistics include improving speech recognition software and making machine-produced speech sound more natural.Photo: Jon Sachs/MIT SHASS Communications School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), SuperUROP, Research Laboratory of Electronics, computer science, Linguistics, Students, Profile, Women in STEM, School of Engineering, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing Agustín Rayo wins 2020 PROSE Award MIT philosophy professor&#039;s “On the Brink of Paradox” honored as one of the best books in professional and scholarly publishing. Wed, 04 Mar 2020 13:00:01 -0500 MIT Press <p>The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has announced the winners for the 2020 PROSE Awards, which annually recognize the best in professional and scholarly publishing. Among the winners is “<a href="" target="_blank">On the Brink of Paradox: Highlights from the Intersection of Philosophy and Mathematics</a>” (MIT Press, 2019) by Agustín Rayo, author and professor of philosophy at MIT.</p> <p>The book won for the textbook/humanities category. In it, Rayo, who is also associate dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, offers an introduction to awe-inspiring issues at the intersection of philosophy and mathematics and explores ideas at the brink of paradox: infinities of different sizes, time travel, probability and measure theory, computability theory, the Grandfather Paradox, Newcomb's Problem, and others. The book is based on a popular course (<a href="" target="_blank">and massive open online course</a>) taught by the author at MIT.</p> <p>The AAP unveiled 49 subject category <a href="" target="_blank">winners&nbsp;</a>for the 2020&nbsp;<a href="">PROSE Awards</a>&nbsp;honoring the best scholarly works published in 2019. The winners were selected by a panel of 19 judges from the&nbsp;<a href="">157 finalists</a>&nbsp;previously identified from the more than 630 entries in this year’s PROSE Awards competition. The subject category winners announced demonstrate exceptional scholarship and have made a significant contribution to a field of study.</p> <p>“I want to congratulate the winners of this year’s PROSE Awards and recognize the 10 MIT Press books that were named finalists,” says Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press. “'On the Brink' offers unique and compelling insights into mathematics and reflects the overall mission of the MIT Press to push the boundaries of what a university press can be. We are honored to be among the other winners for this distinguished prize.”</p> <p>Another MIT Press book, “<a href="">Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music</a>,” by Kyle Devine, also won a PROSE Award for the music and the performing arts category.</p> MIT Press, Awards, honors and fellowships, Books and authors, Faculty, Philosophy, Mathematics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Design, power, and justice In new book “Design Justice,” Associate Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock examines how to make technology work for more people in society. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>When Sasha Costanza-Chock goes through airport security, it is an unusually uncomfortable experience.</p> <p>Costanza-Chock, an MIT associate professor, is transgender and nonbinary. They use the pronouns they/them, and their body does not match binary norms. But airport security millimeter wave scanners are set up with binary, male/female configurations. To operate the machine, agents press a button based on their assumptions about the person entering the scanner: blue for “boy,” or pink for “girl.” &nbsp;The machine nearly always flags Costanza-Chock for a hands-on check by security officials.</p> <p>“I know I’m almost certainly about to experience an embarrassing, uncomfortable, and perhaps humiliating search … after my body is flagged as anomalous by the millimeter wave scanner,” they write, recounting one such episode, in a new book about technology, design, and social justice.</p> <p>This is an experience familiar to many who fall outside the system’s norms, Costanza-Chock explains: Trans and gender nonconforming people’s bodies, black women’s hair, head wraps, and assistive devices are regularly flagged as “risky.”</p> <p>The airport security scanner is just one type of problem that emerges when technology does not match social reality. There are biases built into everyday objects, including software interfaces, medical devices, social media, and the built environment, and these biases reflect existing power structures in society.</p> <p>The new book — “Design Justice: Community Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need,” published by the MIT Press — looks broadly at such shortcomings and offers a framework for fixing them while lifting up methods of technology design that can be used to help build a more inclusive future.</p> <p>“Design justice is both a community of practice, and a framework for analysis,” says Costanza-Chock, who is the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program. “In the book I’m trying to both narrate the emergence of this community, based on my own participation in it, and rethink some of the core concepts from design theory through this lens.”</p> <p><strong>Who designs? </strong></p> <p>The book has its roots in the activities of the Design Justice Network (DJN), founded in 2016 with the aim of “rethinking design processes so they center people who are often marginalized by design,” in the organization’s own description. (Costanza-Chock sits on the DJN’s steering committee.) The book draws on the concepts of intersectional feminism and the idea that technologies, and society more broadly, are structured by what the black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins calls a “matrix of domination” in the form of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism.</p> <p>The book also looks at the issue of who designs technology, a subject Costanza-Chock has examined extensively — for instance in the 2018 report “#MoreThanCode,” which pointed out the need for more systematic inclusion and equity efforts in the emerging field of public interest technology.</p> <p>“There is a growing conversation about the lack of intersectional racial and gender diversity in the tech sector,” notes Costanza-Chock. “Many Silicon Valley firms are now producing diversity statistics every year. …&nbsp; But just because it’s being recognized doesn’t mean it’s going to be solved any time soon.”</p> <p>The problem of designing fairly for society is not as simple as diversifying that workforce, however.</p> <p>“Design justice goes farther,” Costanza-Chock says. “Even if we had extremely diverse teams of people working inside Silicon Valley, they would by and large still be mostly organizing their time and energy around producing products that would be attractive to a very thin slice of the global population — people who have disposable income, always-on internet connectivity, and broadband.”</p> <p>Still, the two problems are related, and “Design Justice” references a wide range of innovation areas where a lack of design inclusivity generates problematic products. Many product users have long had to devise ad-hoc improvements to technology themselves. For instance, nurses have often been prolific innovators, tinkering with medical devices — a phenomenon partly unearthed, the book notes, by Jose Gomez-Marquez, co-director of MIT’s Little Devices Lab.</p> <p>“Every day, all around us, people are innovating in small and large ways, based on everyday needs,” Costanza-Chock reflects. Although that’s not what we hear from tech firms, which often circulate narratives “about a lone genius inventor, who had a ‘eureka’ moment and created a product and brought it into the world.”</p> <p>For instance, in one widely circulated story, Twitter’s origins flow from a flash of insight by co-founder Jack Dorsey. Another version assigns its beginnings to hackers and activists of the Indymedia network and to then-MIT researcher Tad Hirsch, who in 2004 created a tool for protestors called TXTMob, which served as the demo design for the first Twitter prototype.</p> <p>“I’m not making a claim in the book for the one true origin story,” explains Costanza-Chock. “I’m emphasizing that technological innovation and design processes are quite messy, and that people are often marginalized from the stories we hear about the creation of new tools. Social movements are often hotbeds of innovation, but their contributions aren't always recognized.”</p> <p><strong>Better hackathons and more collaboration</strong></p> <p>Costanza-Chock does believe that design processes can be made more inclusive. In the book, they draw on years of experience teaching the <a href="">MIT Collaborative Design Studio </a>to synthesize lessons for inclusive innovation. For example: Try staging a hackathon that is more inclusive than the usual format of marathon sessions catered only to twenty-something coders.</p> <p>“I really enjoy hackathons, and I have participated in many of them myself,” Costanza-Chock says. “That said, hackathons … tend to be dominated by certain kinds of people. They tend to be gendered, more accessible to younger people who don’t have kids, can take an entire day or weekend for free labor, and who can survive on pizza and soda.”</p> <p>Whether designing a hackathon or building a long-term design team, “There are many ways to be better and more inclusive,” Costanza-Chock adds. “You need people with domain experience in the areas you’re working on, personal experience, or deep knowledge from study. If you’re working on Boston’s urban transit systems, you need to have people from different places in those systems on your designs teams, from the MBTA [Boston’s transit authority] to people that ride transit on a daily basis.”</p> <p>Scholars who examine the social dimension of innovation have praised “Design Justice.” Princeton University sociologist Ruha Benjamin has said the book “offers essential tools for rethinking and reimagining the social infrastructure of tech design.”</p> <p>Costanza-Chock, for one, hopes the book will interest people not only for the criticism it offers, but as a way of moving forward and deploying better practices.</p> <p>“My book is not primarily or only critique,” Costanza-Chock says. “One of the things about the Design Justice Network is that we try to spend more time building than tearing down. I think design justice is about articulating a critique, while constantly trying to point toward ways of doing things better.”</p> Sasha Costanza-Chock, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, is author of a new book, “Design Justice: Community Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need,” published by the MIT Press.Photo: Caydie McCumberComparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences QS World University Rankings rates MIT No. 1 in 12 subjects for 2020 Institute ranks second in five subject areas. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 19:01:01 -0500 MIT News Office <p>MIT has been honored with 12 No. 1 subject rankings in the QS World University Rankings for 2020.</p> <p>The Institute received a No. 1 ranking in the following QS subject areas: Architecture/Built Environment; Chemistry; Computer Science and Information Systems; Chemical Engineering; Civil and Structural Engineering; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering; Linguistics; Materials Science; Mathematics; Physics and Astronomy; and Statistics and Operational Research.</p> <p>MIT also placed second in five subject areas: Accounting and Finance; Biological Sciences; Earth and Marine Sciences; Economics and Econometrics; and Environmental Sciences.</p> <p>Quacquarelli Symonds Limited subject rankings, published annually, are designed to help prospective students find the leading schools in their field of interest. Rankings are based on research quality and accomplishments, academic reputation, and graduate employment.</p> <p>MIT has been ranked as the No. 1 university in the world by QS World University Rankings for eight straight years.</p> Afternoon light streams into MIT’s Lobby 7.Image: Jake BelcherRankings, Computer science and technology, Linguistics, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Mechanical engineering, Chemistry, Materials science, Mathematics, Physics, Economics, EAPS, Business and management, Accounting, Finance, DMSE, School of Engineering, School of Science, School of Architecture and Planning, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Architecture, Biology, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering Empowering faculty partnerships across the globe MISTI Global Seed Funds program has delivered $22 million to faculty since 2008. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 12:20:01 -0500 MISTI <p>MIT faculty share their creative and technical talent on campus as well as across the globe, compounding the Institute’s impact through strong international partnerships. Thanks to the MIT Global Seed Funds (GSF) program, managed by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (<a href="" target="_blank">MISTI</a>), more of these faculty members will be able to build on these relationships to develop ideas and create new projects.</p> <p>“This MISTI fund was extremely helpful in consolidating our collaboration and has been the start of a long-term interaction between the two teams,” says 2017 GSF awardee Mehrdad Jazayeri, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “We have already submitted multiple abstracts to conferences together, mapped out several ongoing projects, and secured international funding thanks to the preliminary progress this seed fund enabled.”</p> <p>This year, the 28 funds that comprise MISTI GSF received 232 MIT applications. Over $2.3 million was awarded to 107 projects from 23 departments across the entire Institute. This brings the amount awarded to $22 million over the 12-year life of the program. Besides supporting faculty, these funds also provide meaningful educational opportunities for students. The majority of GSF teams include students from MIT and international collaborators, bolstering both their research portfolios and global experience.</p> <p>“This project has had important impact on my grad student’s education and development. She was able to apply techniques she has learned to a new and challenging system, mentor an international student, participate in a major international meeting, and visit CEA,” says Professor of Chemistry Elizabeth Nolan, a 2017 GSF awardee.</p> <p>On top of these academic and research goals, students are actively broadening their cultural experience and scope. “The environment at CEA differs enormously from MIT because it is a national lab and because lab structure and graduate education in France is markedly different than at MIT,” Nolan continues. “At CEA, she had the opportunity to present research to distinguished international colleagues.”</p> <p>These impactful partnerships unite faculty teams behind common goals to tackle worldwide challenges, helping to develop solutions that would not be possible without international collaboration. 2017 GSF winner Emilio Bizzi, professor emeritus of brain and cognitive sciences and emeritus investigator at the McGovern Institute, articulated the advantage of combining these individual skills within a high-level team. “The collaboration among researchers was valuable in sharing knowledge, experience, skills and techniques … as well as offering the probability of future development of systems to aid in rehabilitation of patients suffering TBI.”</p> <p>The research opportunities that grow from these seed funds often lead to published papers and additional funding leveraged from early results. The next call for proposals will be in mid-May.</p> <p>MISTI creates applied international learning opportunities for MIT students that increase their ability to understand and address real-world problems. MISTI collaborates with partners at MIT and beyond, serving as a vital nexus of international activity and bolstering the Institute’s research mission by promoting collaborations between MIT faculty members and their counterparts abroad.</p> Left to right: The Machu Picchu Design Heritage project is a past Global Seed Fund recipient. Paloma Gonzalez, Takehiko Nagakura, Chang Liu, and Wenzhe Peng pose with a panoramic view of Machu Picchu in Peru. They are part of an MIT team that has worked to digitally document the site.Photo: MISTIMISTI, McGovern Institute, Brain and cognitive sciences, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Research, Faculty, Funding, Global, Center for International Studies The case for economics — by the numbers A multidecade study shows economics increasingly overlaps with other disciplines, and has become more empirical in nature. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>In recent years, criticism has been levelled at economics for being insular and unconcerned about real-world problems. But a new study led by MIT scholars finds the field increasingly overlaps with the work of other disciplines, and, in a related development, has become more empirical and data-driven, while producing less work of pure theory.</p> <p>The study examines 140,000 economics papers published over a 45-year span, from 1970 to 2015, tallying the “extramural” citations that economics papers received in 16 other academic fields — ranging from other social sciences such as sociology to medicine and public health. In seven of those fields, economics is the social science most likely to be cited, and it is virtually tied for first in citations in another two disciplines.</p> <p>In psychology journals, for instance, citations of economics papers have more than doubled since 2000. Public health papers now cite economics work twice as often as they did 10 years ago, and citations of economics research in fields from operations research to computer science have risen sharply as well.</p> <p>While citations of economics papers in the field of finance have risen slightly in the last two decades, that rate of growth is no higher than it is in many other fields, and the overall interaction between economics and finance has not changed much. That suggests economics has not been unusually oriented toward finance issues — as some critics have claimed since the banking-sector crash of 2007-2008. And the study’s authors contend that as economics becomes more empirical, it is less dogmatic.</p> <p>“If you ask me, economics has never been better,” says Josh Angrist, an MIT economist who led the study. “It’s never been more useful. It’s never been more scientific and more evidence-based.”</p> <p>Indeed, the proportion of economics papers based on empirical work — as opposed to theory or methodology — cited in top journals within the field has risen by roughly 20 percentage points since 1990.</p> <p>The paper, “Inside Job or Deep Impact? Extramural Citations and the Influence of Economic Scholarship,” appears in this month’s issue of the <em>Journal of Economic Literature</em>.</p> <p>The co-authors are Angrist, who is the Ford Professor of Economics in MIT Department of Economics; Pierre Azoulay, the International Programs Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management; Glenn Ellison, the Gregory K. Palm Professor Economics and associate head of the Department of Economics; Ryan Hill, a doctoral candidate in MIT’s Department of Economics; and Susan Feng Lu, an associate professor of management in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.</p> <p><strong>Taking critics seriously</strong></p> <p>As Angrist acknowledges, one impetus for the study was the wave of criticism the economics profession has faced over the last decade, after the banking crisis and the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009, which included the finance-sector crash of 2008. The paper’s title alludes to the film “Inside Job” — whose thesis holds that, as Angrist puts it, “economics scholarship as an academic enterprise was captured somehow by finance, and that academic economists should therefore be blamed for the Great Recession.”</p> <p>To conduct the study, the researchers used the Web of Science, a comprehensive bibliographic database, to examine citations between 1970 and 2015. The scholars developed machine-learning techniques to classify economics papers into subfields (such as macroeconomics or industrial organization) and by research “style” —&nbsp; meaning whether papers are primarily concerned with economic theory, empirical analysis, or econometric methods.</p> <p>“We did a lot of fine-tuning of that,” says Hill, noting that for a study of this size, a machine-learning approach is a necessity.</p> <p>The study also details the relationship between economics and four additional social science disciplines: anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology. Among these, political science has overtaken sociology as the discipline most engaged with economics. Psychology papers now cite economics research about as often as they cite works of sociology.</p> <p>The new intellectual connectivity between economics and psychology appears to be a product of the growth of behavioral economics, which examines the irrational, short-sighted financial decision-making of individuals — a different paradigm than the assumptions about rational decision-making found in neoclassical economics. During the study’s entire time period, one of the economics papers cited most often by other disciplines is the classic article “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk,” by behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.</p> <p>Beyond the social sciences, other academic disciplines for which the researchers studied the influence of economics include four classic business fields — accounting, finance, management, and marketing — as well as computer science, mathematics, medicine, operations research, physics, public health, and statistics.</p> <p>The researchers believe these “extramural” citations of economics are a good indicator of economics’ scientific value and relevance.</p> <p>“Economics is getting more citations from computer science and sociology, political science, and psychology, but we also see fields like public health and medicine starting to cite economics papers,” Angrist says. “The empirical share of the economics publication output is growing. That’s a fairly marked change. But even more dramatic is the proportion of citations that flow to empirical work.”</p> <p>Ellison emphasizes that because other disciplines are citing empirical economics more often, it shows that the growth of empirical research in economics is not just a self-reinforcing change, in which scholars chase trendy ideas. Instead, he notes, economists are producing broadly useful empirical research. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Political scientists would feel totally free to ignore what economists were writing if what economists were writing today wasn’t of interest to them,” Ellison says. “But we’ve had this big shift in what we do, and other disciplines are showing their interest.”</p> <p>It may also be that the empirical methods used in economics now more closely match those in other disciplines as well.</p> <p>“What’s new is that economics is producing more accessible empirical work,” Hill says. “Our methods are becoming more similar … through randomized controlled trials, lab experiments, and other experimental approaches.”</p> <p>But as the scholars note, there are exceptions to the general pattern in which greater empiricism in economics corresponds to greater interest from other fields. Computer science and operations research papers, which increasingly cite economists’ research, are mostly interested in the theory side of economics. And the growing overlap between psychology and economics involves a mix of theory and data-driven work.</p> <p><strong>In a big country</strong></p> <p>Angrist says he hopes the paper will help journalists and the general public appreciate how varied economics research is.</p> <p>“To talk about economics is sort of like talking about [the United States of] America,” Angrist says. “America is a big, diverse country, and economics scholarship is a big, diverse enterprise, with many fields.”</p> <p>He adds: “I think economics is incredibly eclectic.”</p> <p>Ellison emphasizes this point as well, observing that the sheer breadth of the discipline gives economics the ability to have an impact in so many other fields. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It really seems to be the diversity of economics that makes it do well in influencing other fields,” Ellison says. “Operations research, computer science, and psychology are paying a lot of attention to economic theory. Sociologists are paying a lot of attention to labor economics, marketing and management are paying attention to industrial organization, statisticians are paying attention to econometrics, and the public health people are paying attention to health economics. Just about everything in economics is influential somewhere.”</p> <p>For his part, Angrist notes that he is a biased observer: He is a dedicated empiricist and a leading practitioner of research that uses quasiexperimental methods. His studies leverage circumstances in which, say, policy changes random assignments in civic life allow researchers to study two otherwise similar groups of people separated by one thing, such as access to health care.</p> <p>Angrist was also a graduate-school advisor of Esther Duflo PhD ’99, who won the Nobel Prize in economics last fall, along with MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee — and Duflo thanked Angrist at their Nobel press conference, citing his methodological influence on her work. Duflo and Banerjee, as co-founders of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), are advocates of using field experiments in economics, which is still another way of producing empirical results with policy implications.</p> <p>“More and more of our empirical work is worth paying attention to, and people do increasingly pay attention to it,” Angrist says. “At the same time, economists are much less inward-looking than they used to be.”</p> A new study examines 140,000 economics papers published from 1970 to 2015, tallying the “extramural” citations that economics papers received in 16 other academic fields, including sociology, medicine, and public health.Image: Christine Daniloff, MITEconomics, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Research, History of science, Social sciences How door-to-door canvassing slowed an epidemic Study finds that in Liberia, volunteers limited damage from Ebola by distributing information within their own communities. Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Liberia was the epicenter of a high-profile Ebola outbreak in 2014-15, which led to more than 10,000 deaths in West Africa. But for all the devastation the illness caused, it could have been worse without an innovative, volunteer-based outreach program Liberia’s government deployed in late 2014.</p> <p>Now, a study co-authored by an MIT professor shows how much that program, consisting of door-to-door canvassing by community volunteers, spread valuable information and changed public practices during the epidemic. The findings also demonstrate how countries with minimal resources can both fight back against epidemics and gain public trust in difficult circumstances. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Mediated [volunteer-based] government outreach had a positive impact on all of the [health] outcomes we measured,” says Lily Tsai, a professor of political science at MIT and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s findings. “People knew more [about Ebola], had a more factual understanding of the epidemic, and were more willing to comply with government control measures. And downstream, they’re more likely to trust government institutions.”</p> <p>Indeed, after talking to canvassers, residents of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, were 15 percentage points more supportive of disease control policies, 10 percentage points less likely to violate a ban on public gatherings (to limit the spread of Ebola), 26 percentage points more likely to support victims’ burials by government workers, and 9 percentage points more likely to trust Liberia’s Ministry of Health, among other outcomes. They were also 10 percentage points more likely to use hand sanitizer.</p> <p>Intriguingly, the volunteer-based outreach program succeeded after an earlier 2014 campaign, using Ministry of Health staff, was abandoned, having been “met with disbelief and outright violence,” as the new paper states.</p> <p>“There’s often an assumption that government outreach doesn’t work,” says Tsai, the Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT. “What we find is that it does work, but it really matters how that government outreach is conducted and structured.”</p> <p>The research shows that, crucially, 30 percent of the people who spoke with canvassers already knew those volunteers, adding a layer of social trust to the program. And all volunteers canvassed in communities where they lived.</p> <p>“They were building interpersonal trust and enabling people to hold them accountable for any misinformation,” Tsai says. “They were like guarantors for a loan. It’s a way of saying, ‘You can trust me. I’m going to co-sign for the government. I’m going to guarantee it.’”</p> <p>The paper, “Building Credibility and Cooperation in Low-Trust Settings: Persuasion and Source Accountability in Liberia During the 2014-2015 Ebola Crisis,” appears in advance online form in the journal <em>Comparative Political Studies.</em></p> <p>In addition to Tsai, the authors are Benjamin S. Morse PhD ’19, a senior training manager and researcher at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), and Robert A. Blair, an assistant professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>When “costly signals” build confidence</strong></p> <p>Liberia faced many challenges while responding to the Ebola crisis. The nation’s brutal civil wars, from 1989 to 2003, stripped away much of the government’s functionality, and while the country has since taken major steps toward stability, there is still deep and widespread suspicion about government.</p> <p>“In Liberia, you have a postconflict setting where citizens already mistrusted the government strongly,” Tsai explains. “When citizens say they don’t trust the government, they sometimes think the government is actually out to hurt them, physically.”</p> <p>To conduct the study, the research conducted multiple public-opinion surveys in Liberia in 2014 and 2015, and added 80 in-depth interviews with government leaders and residents in 40 randomly sampled communities in Monrovia.</p> <p>To be sure, Ebola was a substantial problem in Liberia. Overall, there were 10,678 reported cases of Ebola and 4,810 deaths attributed to the illness. In June 2014, the surveys showed, 38 percent of Monrovia residents thought the government’s statements about Ebola constituted a “lie” designed to generate more funding from outside aid groups.</p> <p>However, the study found, once the volunteer-based program got underway, canvassers were able to not only reach large numbers of residents but persuade residents to believe what they were saying.</p> <p>While knocking on doors in their own communities, the canvassers were equipped with bibs and badges to identify themselves as program volunteers. They distributed information and had conversations with other residents, and even offered their own contact information to people — a significant (and potentially risky) gesture providing a form of accountability to other citizens.</p> <p>“A large part of what worked was that the outreach workers made it possible for the people that they were canvassing to track them down,” Tsai says. “That’s a pretty big commitment, what we call a ‘costly signal.’ Costly signals help build trust, because it’s not cheap talk.”</p> <p>Ultimately, while Ebola took a significant toll in Liberia, the volunteer campaign was “remarkably (and surprisingly) effective” in changing both behavior and attitudes, the paper concludes. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A case study in rebuilding trust? </strong></p> <p>Tsai believes that beyond the specific contours of Liberia’s Ebola response, there are larger issues that can be applied to the study of other countries. For one, while Liberia received significant aid in combatting Ebola from the World Health Organization and other nongovernmental organizations, she thinks the need for short-term aid should not preclude the long-term building of government capacity.</p> <p>“In the short term, it can make sense for external actors to substitute for the government,” Tsai says. “In the medium and long term we need to think about what that substitution might do to the trust and confidence that people have in their government.” For many people, she adds, “the assumption is the government either isn’t capable of doing it, or shouldn’t be doing it,” when in fact even underresourced governments can make progress on serious issues.</p> <p>Another point is that the Liberia case shows some ways governments can build confidence among their citizens.</p> <p>“In so many countries these days, trust in institutions, trust in authorities, trust in sources of information is so low, and in the past there’s been very little research on how to rebuild trust,” Tsai notes. “There’s a lot of research on what lowers trust.”</p> <p>However, she adds, “That’s what I think is special about this case. Trust was successfully built and constructed under a pretty unlikely set of circumstances.”</p> <p>Support for the study was provided by the International Growth Centre, the Omidyar Network, and the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.</p> A billboard in Liberia urges people to help stop the spread of Ebola, which was widespread in 2014-2015. A new study shows how a public awareness campaign helped people understand and cooperate with government efforts to control the disease. Photo: United Nations Mission in Liberia/ Emmanuel TobeyPolitical science, Africa, Public health, Developing countries, Disease, Disaster response, Government, Health, Medicine, Policy, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)