MIT News - School of Humanities Arts and Social Science http://news.mit.edu/topic/mitschool-humanities-arts-and-social-science-rss.xml 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 Wed, 11 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 Moving beyond “defensive medicine” http://news.mit.edu/2020/c-sections-doctor-liability-grubner-0912 Study shows removing liability concerns slightly increases C-section procedures during childbirth. Wed, 11 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/c-sections-doctor-liability-grubner-0912 <p>Doctors face tough choices during difficult childbirths — often involving the decision of whether to perform a cesarian section operation. And in the background lies a question: To what extent are these medical decisions motivated by the desire to avoid liability lawsuits?</p> <p>When doctors’ actions are driven by a desire to avoid legal entanglements, it is known as “defensive medicine.” When it comes to childbirth, one common perception holds that doctors, at uncertain moments in the delivery process, would be more likely to intervene surgically to avoid other potential problems. Now, a unique study co-authored by an MIT economist sheds light on the practice of defensive medicine, with a surprising result.</p> <p>The research, based on evidence from the U.S. Military Health System, finds that when doctors have immunity from liability lawsuits, they actually perform slightly more C-section operations, compared to when they are legally liable for those operations — about 4 percent more, over a 10-year period.</p> <p>“When you’re worried about errors of commission, defensive medicine can lead to [less] treatment of patients,” says economist Jonathan Gruber, co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s findings. &nbsp;</p> <p>The paper, “Defensive Medicine and Obstetric Practices: Evidence from the Military Health System,” is published this month in the <em>Journal of Empirical Legal Studies</em>. The authors are Gruber, who is the Ford Professor of Economics in the MIT Department of Economics, and Michael Frakes ’01 PhD ’09, a professor of law and economics at the Duke University School of Law.</p> <p><strong>“Natural experiment” with military data</strong></p> <p>The finding adds new information to an area of medicine where legal liability issues loom large. As the scholars note in the paper, 74 percent of obstetricians and gynecologists face malpractice claims by age 45, compared to 55 percent of physicians in the area of internal medicine.</p> <p>To conduct the study, Gruber and Frakes used Military Health System data to conduct what economists call a “natural experiment,” in which two otherwise similar groups of people are divided by one circumstance — often a policy change or social program.</p> <p>In this case, the study examines the effects of the Feres Doctrine, stemming from a 1950 legal ruling, that active-duty members of the military receiving treatment from military facilities do not have recourse in case they suffer from negligent care. A significant portion of active-duty personnel receive medical treatment under these circumstances.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, military personnel can also opt to receive private care outside of military bases. For this reason, military medical policy generates two pools of otherwise similar people, divided by their two care options — one with no liability for doctors, and one with liability. The idea for doing a study based on this comparison occurred to Gruber while he was working with the Military Health Service on other health care delivery issues.</p> <p>“For decades, health economists have been searching to find the holy grail of a natural experiment to tell us what would happen if people couldn’t sue for malpractice,” Gruber notes.</p> <p>The study examines Military Health System data on 1,016,606 births in military families, from 2003 to 2013. About 44 percent of the deliveries occurred at military health facilities and 56 percent at civilian hospitals. Ultimately, as the study shows, C-sections are about 4 percent more common during the deliveries at military hospitals, compared to the times when mothers in the Military Health System deliver at civilian hospitals.</p> <p>As Gruber notes, that finding will seem unexpected to those who associate defensive medicine with an increase in operations, treatment, and interventions.</p> <p>“We tend to think of defensive medicine as … doctors doing extra testing because they’re afraid of getting sued,” he says. But this finding indicates that, in childbirth settings, doctors practice defensive medicine by intervening slightly less.</p> <p><strong>In each specialty, the right balance</strong></p> <p>The current finding also adds nuance to an earlier paper by Gruber and Frakes, based on inpatient care generally, which found that across medical areas, doctors who cannot be sued tended to spend 5 percent less on the treatment of patients. Doctors who could be sued, then, were spending more on tests and treatments.</p> <p>Among other things, Gruber observes, that earlier paper suggests that overall,&nbsp; defensive medicine leads doctors to spend more, although “it’s not the main driver of U.S. health care spending.”</p> <p>However, as Gruber also notes, what is true of medicine generally need not be true of particular medical specialties.</p> <p>“This [new] paper is sort of the flip side of the first paper,” Gruber notes. Indeed, he notes, the findings of the new paper may suggest that doctors’ practices are reasonably optimal, in subtle ways. Because doctors effectively receive more compensation for performing C-sections, they have a financial incentive to perform more of them. And yet, if the application of defensive medicine leads doctors to perform slightly fewer C-sections, that might appropriately adjust the overall rate of interventions.</p> <p>In any event, across medical specialties, the effects of defensive medicine may vary, and may push doctors toward more or less treatment on aggregate. Continued empirical studies of medical decisions will be necessary to shed more light on the matter.</p> <p>“The point is, there’s a balance,” Gruber says, adding: “We think of defensive medicine as playing a negative role, but it can also play a positive role.”</p> “For decades, health economists have been searching to find the holy grail of a natural experiment to tell us what would happen if people couldn’t sue for malpractice,” says economist and MIT professor Jonathan Gruber.Economics, Health care, Medicine, Research, School of Humanities Arts and Social Science Hospital rankings hold up http://news.mit.edu/2020/hospital-rankings-quality-0131 Some basic metrics do effectively diagnose care quality, according to MIT economists. Thu, 30 Jan 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/hospital-rankings-quality-0131 <p>Given the complexities of health care, do basic statistics used to rank hospitals really work well? A study co-authored by MIT economists indicates that some fundamental metrics do, in fact, provide real insight about hospital quality.</p> <p>“The results suggest a substantial improvement in health if you go to a hospital where the quality scores are higher,” says Joseph Doyle, an MIT economist and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s results.</p> <p>The study was designed to work around a difficult problem in evaluating hospital quality: Some high-performing hospitals may receive an above-average number of very sick patients. Accepting those difficult cases could, on the surface, worsen the aggregate outcomes of a given hospital’s patients and make such hospitals seem less effective than they are.</p> <p>However, the scholars found a way to study equivalent pools of patients, thus allowing them to judge the hospitals in level terms. Overall, the study shows, when patient sickness levels are accounted for, hospitals that score well on quality measures have 30-day readmission rates that are 15 percent lower than a set of lesser-rated hospitals, and 30-day mortality rates that are 17 percent lower.</p> <p>“It wasn’t clear going in whether these quality measures do a good job of sorting hospitals out,” Doyle adds. “These results suggest that they have predictive power.”</p> <p>The paper, “Evaluating Measures of Hospital Quality: Evidence from Hospital Referral Patterns,” was written by Doyle, <em>the Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management and Applied Economics&nbsp;</em>at the MIT Sloan School of Management; John Graves, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University; and Jonathan Gruber, the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT. It appears in the latest issue of the <em>Review of Economics and Statistics</em>.</p> <p><strong>Randomized evaluations</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, the researchers used a method that eliminates the issue of studying a skewed sample of admissions. They studied areas across the country where dispatchers’ calls are assigned randomly to different ambulance companies. Those ambulance companies tend to deliver patients to particular hospitals. Thus, otherwise similar groups of patients are admitted to different hospitals in what is essentially a random pattern; this allows outcomes to be compared among hospitals.</p> <p>The patient data came primarily from Medicare claims made across the country during the period 2008-2012, and covered over 170,000 hospital admissions for patients who had just suffered a health event requiring “nondiscretionary” hospital admission. The patients also fit some basic criteria, such as not having previously been admitted recently for the same condition.</p> <p>In addition to analyzing 30-day readmission and mortality rates, the researchers looked at patient satisfaction levels. All these criteria, and more, are commonly used in hospital assessments.</p> <p>The researchers also found a 37 percent difference in one-year mortality, among highly-rated and lower-rated hospitals.</p> <p>“I thought our results were reasonable,” says Doyle . “They’re not too big to be believed, but they suggest a substantial improvement in health if you go to a hospital where the quality scores are much higher.”</p> <p>As the authors note in the paper, the subject is topical in the health policy world. Some lawmakers and experts want the hospital payment system to evolve in the direction of reimbursement for quality and oucomes, rather than treatment. As such, it is important to be able to tell if those quality measures are sturdy.&nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s been a lot of interest in whether these quality measures are informative or not, because there is a shift away from paying for the quantity of care provided to the quality of care provided,” Doyle says. “Most of the policymakers I’ve talked to want to use these quality measures.”</p> <p><strong>Management matters</strong></p> <p>Further research will be needed to help illuminate issues surrounding hospital quality in further depth. For instance, the current study is more focused on emergency care and not on care for chronic conditions; Doyle says that analysis of chronic care is “a fascinating question” that merits further investigation.</p> <p>Doyle also acknowledges the need for further study to explain why certain hospitals fare better than others on basic quality measures. He notes that some were historically quicker than others to adopt what are now almost universal practices — the allotment of blood-thinning drugs to heart patients, for instance — and suggests the rate of adoption of new practices is an important factor in this area.</p> <p>“Coming from a management school, we see that a lot of the variation in outcomes stems in large part from differences in management,” Doyle says. “Do you have the right procedures in places so that it’s easy for providers to do what the guidelines suggest? Improving management could yield big improvements in patient health.”</p> <p>The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.</p> A new study by MIT economists indicates that some metrics used in hospital rankings do, in fact, provide real insight about hospital quality.Economics, Health care, Medicine, Social sciences, Policy, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Science 2019 MacVicar Faculty Fellows named http://news.mit.edu/2019/angrist-demaine-jones-taylor-named-macvicar-faculty-fellows-0305 Professors Angrist, Demaine, Jones, and Taylor receive MIT&#039;s highest honor in undergraduate teaching. Mon, 04 Mar 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/angrist-demaine-jones-taylor-named-macvicar-faculty-fellows-0305 <p>The Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar’s Office have announced this year’s <a href="https://registrar.mit.edu/faculty-curriculum-support/faculty-awards/margaret-macvicar-faculty-fellows-program">Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows</a>: economics Professor Joshua Angrist, computer science Professor Erik Demaine, anthropology Associate Professor Graham Jones, and comparative media studies Professor T. L. Taylor. They will be honored this Friday, March 8, during <a href="https://registrar.mit.edu/faculty-curriculum-support/faculty-awards/margaret-macvicar-faculty-fellows-program/events">MacVicar Day</a>.</p> <p>The fellows come from across the Institute and represent a diverse range of academic disciplines. This academy of scholars is committed to exceptional instruction and innovation in education, embodying through their work the continuing promise of an MIT education for the future. This year’s MacVicar Day program seeks to examine what this future looks like.</p> <p>A symposium, entitled “The Educated Student: Thinking and Doing for the 21st Century,” will feature lightning talks by professors and students that address the following questions: “What’s important to today’s learner?” and “How is MIT adapting to these changing needs?”</p> <p>In addition to celebrating the new fellows, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz will host the event, which will take place on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. in Room 6-120. A Q&amp;A panel and reception will follow. All in the MIT community are welcome to attend.</p> <p>The Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was named to honor the life and contributions of the late Margaret MacVicar, professor of physical science and the first dean for undergraduate education. It recognizes exemplary undergraduate teaching by appointing fellows to 10-year terms in which they receive $10,000 per year of discretionary funds. Faculty are nominated through letters from colleagues and students.</p> <p><strong>Joshua Angrist</strong></p> <p>Joshua Angrist is the Ford Professor of Economics, a director of MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. After completing his undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, Angrist received his MA and PhD from Princeton University. He began teaching at MIT in 1996.</p> <p>“Joshua Angrist is a path-breaking scholar whose brilliant work has advanced the cause of transparency, robustness, and ultimately credibility in empirical economics and public policy for over three decades,” says Parag Pathak, the Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics.</p> <p>A disruptor and <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/s/508381/the-natural-experimenter/">natural experimenter</a>, Angrist isn’t afraid to rock the boat. “There’s always a good argument for why ‘the current way is the best way,’” says his colleague David Autor, the Ford Professor of Economics. “To Angrist’s credit, he pushed hard, made unpopular arguments, and coaxed and goaded the department to innovate in the undergraduate program. … He has devoted his scholarship, pedagogy, and Institute service to advancing teaching brilliantly, modernizing the economics curriculum broadly, and improving the MIT undergraduate experience at the Institute-wide level.”</p> <p>Duane Boning, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, concurs, admiring how Angrist encourages the committee to consider “big ideas and not just small tweaks” when it comes to the evolution of the undergraduate curriculum. “Josh is quite willing to be controversial in his positions and arguments — resulting in lively and much richer discussions that might not otherwise be possible," says Boning.</p> <p>When it comes to advising, Angrist goes the extra mile. Students considering doctoral programs appreciated how he shared his own experiences with graduate school and put them in touch with colleagues and former students who could offer additional perspectives. One wrote, “In econometrics, we argue causality when there is an exogenous shock to the system. Prof. Angrist is my exogenous shock. It was a stroke of random luck that I took his 14.32 class my sophomore spring, but that experience pushed me from a clueless undergraduate… to a Ph.D. candidate in economics hoping to use econometric techniques to better the world.”</p> <p>“I love teaching, especially at MIT,” Angrist says. “It’s gratifying to know that many of my students have as much fun in my classes as I do.”</p> <p><strong>Erik Demaine</strong></p> <p>In 2001, at the age of 20, Professor in Computer Science Erik Demaine became the youngest faculty member ever hired by MIT. He has been at the Institute ever since, pursuing wide-ranging interests that have led to a <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2003/macarthur">MacArthur “genius” grant</a> and <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2011/demaines-artwork-smithsonian">art displays</a> at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Smithsonian Institution. In 2017, he helped construct a <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2017/algorithm-origami-patterns-any-3-D-structure-0622">universal algorithm</a> for folding origami shapes, a project which he had initially begun almost two decades prior.</p> <p>“I chose to join MIT’s faculty because of their care for undergraduate education and the constant quest for improvement,” Demaine says. “It’s awesome to share this honor with the many great educators here.”</p> <p>Charles Leiserson, a Course 6 colleague, described what it was like to co-teach with Demaine during his first term at MIT: “In my 37 years at MIT, this teaching experience was surely among my most pleasurable. Erik … [was] well-prepared, articulate, inspiring, empathetic, imaginative, engaging, and fun. He taught with a passion. I have never seen a brand-new faculty member with such a complete ‘package’ of teaching skills.”</p> <p>Many nominators spoke of how his meticulous lecture notes have become the gold standard for teaching in the field. Demaine’s notes “convey the magic of algorithms in a clean, crisp, and inviting, yet still complete way,” says Konstantinos Daskalakis, professor of computer science and electrical engineering.</p> <p>“Erik has a deep conceptual view of how to organize and explain the interplay between the ideas in algorithm design,” adds Ronitt Rubinfeld, another EECS professor. “His notes especially shine in the difficult topics, such as how to teach dynamic programming. His deep and thoughtful classification of the different ideas that go into explaining why dynamic programming algorithms work is well beyond any explanation that I have heard in the past 30 years.”</p> <p>“Erik has a joyful, energetic style of teaching that everyone loves,” says Srini Devadas, the Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.</p> <p>This energy is evident in his classes, which are centered around collective problem-solving. To harness this spirit of cooperation, he developed a tool called Coauthor. As one student explained, “Coauthor allowed people to collaborate even beyond class hours … as people suggested different directions, and made incremental progress over several days.”</p> <p>“The combination of both the drive and ability to impact student learning for the better is what makes Erik such an effective teacher, both inside and outside the classroom,” said another student.</p> <p><strong>Graham Jones</strong></p> <p>An “infectious passion.” An “unassuming nature” and a “willingness to learn and grow.” A “commitment to excellence.” Nominators enthusiastically listed the qualities that made Graham Jones, associate professor of anthropology, worthy of the MacVicar Fellow honor.</p> <p>Jones came to MIT in 2010, following three years as a lecturer and postdoctoral member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. He received an undergraduate degree in literature at Reed College before attending New York University to complete his PhD in anthropology.</p> <p>Calling the recognition “both thrilling and humbling,” Jones expressed gratitude for his colleagues and reflected on how deep thought and conversation with students can lead to a strong sense of shared purpose. “Anthropology has been called the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities. I have learned to embrace that duality,” he says. “This makes for a really exciting way for me to invite brilliant students with backgrounds in science and engineering into the heart of a discipline that seeks to help us understand what it means to be human.”</p> <p>One particular class, <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2017/anthropology-course-meaning-of-life-0615">21A.157 (The Meaning of Life)</a>, seems to have had an outsized effect on the students who have taken it. “Given the name, I came in with high expectations,” wrote one student nominator. “Professors Jones and [Heather] Paxson, who co-taught the class, did not disappoint.”</p> <p>Another wrote: “The emphasis that Professor Jones places on fostering discussion that makes the abstracted ideas in a reading immediate and relevant creates an environment where students come into class bursting at the seams to start picking apart the day’s topics.”</p> <p>“Graham is without peer in my estimation, always leaving a positive, indelible mark on the students,” says Susan Silbey, the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology, and Anthropology, a professor of behavioral and policy sciences at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the head of the faculty. “Graham’s classes transform the students, setting them on paths of lifelong learning and self-reflection.”</p> <p>Students emphatically agreed. One wrote, “Professor Jones has been integral to my success as an undergraduate at MIT. I would not have nearly as much confidence, joy, self-respect, or courage as I have now without him.”</p> <p><strong>T. L. Taylor</strong></p> <p>“To be given such an honor based on doing work I truly enjoy is a rare gift,” says T. L. Taylor, professor of comparative media studies, upon learning that she had been named a MacVicar Fellow. “Our students are this wonderful mix of super-sharp, hardworking, and humble. I’m constantly impressed with how game they are to think critically and sociologically. Getting to work with them around topics related to media and technology has been incredibly gratifying.”</p> <p>Taylor received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and her MA and PhD from Brandeis University. Her classes, such as CMS.614 (Network Cultures) and CMS.616 (Games and Culture), focus on how we interact with online environments.</p> <p>In addition to <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/3q-tl-taylor-diversity-e-sports-0216">promoting inclusion</a> within the e-sports community, she is also active in the Institute’s First Generation Program, which champions students who are the first in their family to attend college. Scott Hughes, professor of physics and fellow program member, explains that Taylor “[is] always bringing a focus on the economic needs that are disproportionately important to first-gen students to our discussions. The passion that T. L. brings to our group’s work exemplifies the commitment to MIT’s undergraduate students that is a hallmark of a MacVicar Fellow.”</p> <p>Students appreciated Taylor’s ability to help them have a personal conversation with the course material. “Students have the freedom to dive deeper into what really intrigues them without losing sight of the path,” wrote one nominator. “The opportunity for us to personally engage with the content is critical to Taylor’s success in the classroom: It’s how she lets us bridge the gap between the theory and the reality of our personal world,” wrote another.</p> <p>In her involvement with the Comparative Media Studies/Writing curriculum committee, Taylor is “always sensitive and empathic where students are concerned,” says CMS Professor Heather Hendershot, and this commitment does not end at graduation. One alumnus wrote, “With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say with certainty that it took me two years to realize that T. L. was completely correct about my passions, skills, and what I want to do in the future. I continue to seek her advice even after MIT because she remains just as accessible and compassionate as she was when I was at MIT.”</p> Left to right: Erik Demaine, Graham Jones, T.L. Taylor, Joshua AngristImage courtesy of MITOffice of the Vice Chancellor, MacVicar fellows, School of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), School of Engineering, Anthropology, Sloan School of Management, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Undergraduate, Education, teaching, academics, Mentoring Study offers new view of how cartels work http://news.mit.edu/2018/cartels-collude-alexander-wolitzky-1219 Less data-sharing among firms can actually lead to more collusion, economists find. Wed, 19 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2018/cartels-collude-alexander-wolitzky-1219 <p>Suppose you were building a cartel — a group of business interests who coordinate to fix high prices that consumers must pay. How would you design it? Received economic wisdom says transparency among cartel members is crucial: If colluding suppliers share information, they can keep prices high and monitor members of the cartel to make sure no one deviates from the cartel’s norms.</p> <p>A newly published paper co-authored by MIT economist Alexander Wolitzky offers a different idea: Firms do not have to share information extensively in order to collude. Indeed, the paper contends, extensive information-sharing can help firms undercut cartels and gain market share for themselves. &nbsp;</p> <p>“If I’m thinking about entering your market, which I’m not supposed to do, but if I’m tempted to do it, then I can do it better if I have this information about your market,” Wolitzky says. The corollary, he notes, is that there appear to be cases where “by not sharing information about their pricing behavior, the firms make it easier to sustain collusion.”</p> <p>The paper is thus a rethinking of an important policy topic: In the U.S., Europe, and across the world, governments are charged with regulating cartels and collusion, in an attempt to ensure that consumers can benefit from market competition.</p> <p>Given the prevailing notion that data-sharing helps cartels, firms investigated for price-fixing can argue that they must not be illegally colluding if the evidence shows they have not been extensively sharing information with other businesses.</p> <p>“Because of this conventional wisdom that firms that collude share a lot of information, a firm’s defense is, ‘We weren’t sharing so much information,’” Wolitzky says. And yet, as the new paper suggests, that level of cooperation may not be necessary for collusion to occur.</p> <p>The paper, “Maintaining Privacy in Cartels,” is by Takuo Sugaya, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wolitzky, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Economics; it appears in the December issue of the <em>Journal of Political Economy</em>.</p> <p><strong>What’s the whole story?</strong></p> <p>The current paper adds to a body of academic literature whose best-known component is “A Theory of Oligopoly,” a 1964 paper by economist George Stigler, which describes how the availability of information should help cartels maintain their grip on prices. Some subsequent empirical work also shows that in some conditions, increased transparency helps cartels sustain themselves.</p> <p>Sugaya and Wolitzky do not deny that a degree of transparency among cartel members helps collusion occur, but they complicate this picture by introducing alternate circumstances, in which less transparency helps cartels thrive and more transparency undercuts them.</p> <p>“We’re investigating the generality of this [older] result, and whether it tells the whole story,” says Wolitzky.</p> <p>The paper by the scholars builds a new model of firm behavior oriented around the “home-market principle” of collusion, in which cartels reduce the competitive supply of products in each other’s markets — which may often be segmented by geographic reach. North American and European firms in the same industry, in this scenario, would stay away from each other’s territory, thereby reducing competition.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the study, the authors contend that there are three effects that increased transparency has on cartels. Transparency within cartels enables firms to keep each other in check, and it helps them coordinate prices — but it also “lets individual firms tailor deviations to current market conditions,” as they write in the paper.</p> <p>This last point, Sugaya and Wolizky assert, has been seriously underexplored by scholars in the past. In the model they propose, the “deviation gain” — what happens when a firms leaves the cartel — “is strictly larger when all prices and quantities are observable,” that is, when the firm has more information about its erstwhile collaborators.</p> <p><strong>Real cartels, low transparency</strong></p> <p>The proposition that a relative lack of information-sharing coexists with collusion is not just an arbitrary function of the authors’ model, but something supported by empirical evidence as well, as they note in the paper. The European Commission, for instance, has uncovered several cartels that seemingly made a point of limiting transparency: The firms in question largely shared just industry-wide sales data among all members, not extensive firm-level data.</p> <p>These low-transparency cartels include industries such as plasterboard production, copper plumbing tube manufacturing, and plastics — all of whom structured their collusion operations around intermediaries. Those intermediaries — industry associations, in some cases — handled the sensitive information and only distributed small portions of it to the individual firms.</p> <p>A more vivid example comes from a graphite manufacturing cartel, as Sugaya and Wolitzky recount. At a meeting of cartel representatives, each member secretly entered their own sales data into a calculator passed around the room, in such a way that the firms could only learn the industry-wide sales volume, not the specific sales data of each firm.</p> <p>Such examples indicate that “conventional wisdom may not tell the whole story” when it comes to cartels and transparency, Sugaya and Wolitzky write.</p> <p>To be sure, the new theory developed by the scholars does not propose a uniform relationship between transparency and collusion; it all depends on the circumstances.</p> <p>“It would be nice to have a very thorough characterization of when more information among cartel members makes colluding easier, and when it makes it harder,” Wolitzky says.</p> <p>In the new model, Sugaya and Wolitzky do suggest that greater transparency corresponds with collusion specifically in volatile business conditions, which may necessitate more robust long-term projections of sales and demand. By contrast, given less volatile, more consistent consumer demand over time, firms need less transparency to deviate from tacit collusion agreements and undercut their erstwhile cartel partners. As the authors acknowledge, firm behavior within cartels, in a variety of these circumstances, could use further study.</p> <p>Wolitzky received support for the research from the National Science Foundation.</p> A new paper co-authored by MIT economist Alexander Wolitzky re-evaluates the extent to which firms in cartels share information.Image: MIT NewsSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Game theory, Economics, Business, National Science Foundation (NSF) Hot stuff: East Campus Fire Safety Day http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-east-campus-fire-safety-day-1218 At a hands-on event, East Campus dorm students learned about fire safety from members of the Cambridge Fire Department and staff from several MIT departments. Tue, 18 Dec 2018 16:00:00 -0500 Robyn Fizz | EVP Connect http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-east-campus-fire-safety-day-1218 <p>MIT students get fired up about their courses — so it's probably not surprising that fire safety would be a hot topic, too.</p> <p>Recently the Division of Student Life (DSL), the Environment, Health and Safety Office (EHS), and students from the <a href="http://ec.mit.edu/">East Campus dormitory</a> collaborated with the <a href="https://www.cambridgema.gov/cfd">Cambridge Fire Department</a> (CFD) to organize&nbsp;East Campus Fire Safety Day.&nbsp;</p> <p>The event featured a range of activities. In&nbsp;McDermott Court, students enjoyed blasting plastic buckets with a fire hose and checking out&nbsp;fire trucks. The CFD&nbsp;offered gear demos to anyone who wanted to try it on and experience what it feels like to wear 40 extra pounds of equipment while responding to a fire.</p> <p>In Talbot Lounge,&nbsp;firefighters and volunteers from MIT Police, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Facilities, DSL and EHS provided answers to the many questions students had about fire safety, while a video titled&nbsp;“<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izrfqWbTDOw&amp;feature=youtu.be">Dorm Don’ts</a>”&nbsp;played in the background.&nbsp;Students also heard about the dangers of synthetic materials in furniture: Modern furniture burns at 10 times the rate of furniture from just 25 years ago.</p> <p>Perhaps most impressive was the hallway smoke simulation on the third floor of the west parallel of the East Campus dorm. About 30 students participated, commenting afterwards that the smoke was surprisingly&nbsp;opaque and noting how disorienting it can be to lose visuals even in a place that's very&nbsp;familiar. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I’ve learned why you should crawl out of a fire,” one participant stated emphatically.</p> <p>About 100 East Campus students participated and, in a survey afterward, all of them reported learning something new. An impressive 90 percent&nbsp;said that they enjoyed the event very much.</p> <p>“This event was super super fun!!” read one&nbsp;typical comment.</p> <p>DSL and EHS offcials say they met their goal to make the MIT campus a little safer by educating students about fire safety, while enjoying the students’ enthusiasm during the event. The two groups plan to organize more Fire Safety Days in the coming years.</p> <p>More photos from the&nbsp;event are <a href="http://www.dropbox.com/sh/ak5cucuswndhx5t/AAC_C0txPGi9NkwfUHroQavga?dl=0">available online</a>.</p> East Campus students try on firefighter gear, while Cambridge Fire Department members explain the gear’s purpose.Photo: Andrew XiaSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Student life, Special events and guest speakers, Campus services, Community, Residential life Populism: a case-by-case study http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-cis-starr-forum-populism-case-studies-1129 MIT Starr Forum panel discusses extreme forms of populism that have endangered basic civil liberties and spawned intolerant rhetoric. Thu, 29 Nov 2018 12:25:00 -0500 Una Hajdari | Center for International Studies http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-cis-starr-forum-populism-case-studies-1129 <p>Discussions about populism have been front and center in recent societal debates — online, in the news, and in social settings. The subject has also drawn intense interest from academics and brought attention to those who have studied the phenomenon over the years.</p> <p>While many people&nbsp;associate the populist wave&nbsp;with current political leaders, such as Donald Trump in the United States, Nigel Farage in the U.K., and Marine Le Pen in France, its current&nbsp;manifestation has roots in movements, beliefs, and&nbsp;deficiencies in the liberal democratic order that predate these leaders' rise to power.</p> <p>For many countries experiencing an increase in support for populist ideas —&nbsp;or in the more extreme cases, whose current leader or leading party is of the populist mold —&nbsp;it represents a very acute risk, one that has endangered basic civil liberties and&nbsp;societal harmony, and has seen hateful and intolerant rhetoric permeate the public sphere.</p> <p>At its latest Starr Forum, MIT’s Center for International Studies brought together a panel of academics whose work has focused on some of the most extreme forms of populism seen in the past years, and whose leaders have become synonymous on a global level with the state capture&nbsp;that is part and parcel of governments led by populists.</p> <p>The three countries —&nbsp;Brazil, India, and&nbsp;Turkey — share certain characteristics. All of them are very influential in their part of the world, both in size and political clout. They are all emerging economic powerhouses, and they all boast ethnically diverse populations. In their presentations in front of the MIT public, the speakers, all academics who are either from these countries or have studied them over a long period of time,&nbsp;highlighted the way in which the current populist governments slowly accumulated power&nbsp;and made use of the deficiencies in their societies to amass wide voter support.</p> <p><strong>General overview</strong></p> <p>Pippa Norris, the Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, explained&nbsp;the rise in support for populist parties as a result of what she called&nbsp;a “cultural backlash” leveled at the mainstreaming of progressive and liberal values. According to Norris’ research with Ronald Inglehart, to be published soon in a book titled “Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism,” this wave of populist support is buttressed by social conservatives who are uncomfortable with cosmopolitan lifestyles that encourage diverse sexual and gender identities, as well as other markers of progressive thinking.</p> <p>This group supports authoritarian populists and strongmen, she said, because they offer&nbsp;forms of “tribal protection” against “perceived risks of instability and disorder,” and feed into their insecurities by promoting a hostile approach towards “outsiders” such as immigrants, people of religious or ethnic backgrounds different from their own. These parties and leaders react to perceptions of cultural threat, and they in turn offer the leaders their loyalty in the voting booths.</p> <p>Norris explained&nbsp;that this is the main reason for an increase in populist support for leaders like Trump, Farage, and Le Pen.</p> <p><strong>Brazil: a sharp turn to the far right</strong></p> <p>“Brazil’s perfect storm of negative trends began in the late 2000s, which led to the ascension of the radical right,” explained Elizabeth Leeds, a research affiliate of the Center for International Studies, is a leading expert on police reform and issues of citizen security in Brazil.&nbsp;Leeds has conducted research on these topics over the last four decades. “The economic downturn and the subsequent recession starting around 2013 due in part to the worldwide drop in petroleum prices —&nbsp;petroleum is one of the engines of the Brazilian economy —&nbsp;and China’s economic retrenchment which caused drops in Brazilian exports to China, led to a sense of hopelessness and unemployment, especially amongst the Brazilian youth that had recently graduated from college.”</p> <p>In the mid-20th century, Brazil emerged from a military coup and subsequent military dictatorship as a country that largely voted for left-wing or left-leaning parties. The progressive spirit of these parties embraced its rich cultural composition and included many welfare programs to pull its most disenfranchised segments of society out of poverty. The deficiencies of these policies —&nbsp;lack of equal distribution of resources — proved to be its undoing.</p> <p>“The Workers Party, what it had become famous for and praised in its first eight years, its redistributor policies, its poverty alleviation programs, the Bolsa Familia, racial justice, gender equality, LGBT rights, gay marriage —&nbsp;all of these policies became fodder for those who were not benefitting from economic redistribution and were resentful at the attempt for racial justice,” Leeds said.</p> <p>The founder of Brazil’s previous ruling party, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or “Lula”, and the creator of its landmark social welfare programs, was found to have been part of a massive corruption scandal and initially wanted to run his campaign from prison, where he is currently serving a sentence.</p> <p>“The massive corruption scandal that occurred on the Worker Party’s watch and involved all parties [severely damaged their electoral success],”&nbsp;Leeds explained.&nbsp;“This provided further pretext for attacking the Worker’s Party and its redistributor policies.”</p> <p>“The increase in violent crime, prison rebellions and the spread of organized criminal activity in the country, led people to search for a savior,” she said.</p> <p>In this chaos, Jair Bolsonaro, the head of the Social Liberal party and a former military officer, provided an appealing contrast to everything the Worker’s Party represented. Fernando Haddad was put forward as the candidate of the Worker’s Party. While having a clean slate, he did not offer the appeal of “Lulism” and did not offer strong opposition to Bolsonaro.</p> <p>The news that Bolsonaro won the October presidential elections with 55&nbsp;percent of the vote was met with shock in intellectual and political circles around the world and led to headlines claiming that Brazil had “elected a fascist” to office. Bolsonaro&nbsp;has openly praised Donald Trump’s foreign policies, has said that women and men should not be paid the same salaries, and is thought to be against progressive policies towards the LGBT community in the country.</p> <p>Of the things he is expected to reverse, Leeds explains that his lack of commitment to the Amazon and wildlife reserves in the country is causing the most outrage.</p> <p>“The most acute issues that people are aware of and afraid of are reversal in economic regulations especially in the Amazon. He is planning to reverse may of the indigenous reserves to expand agricultural development and mining,” Leeds said.</p> <p>He also wants to quash dissent, by “criminalizing social movements,” she&nbsp;said.</p> <p>“The well-known MST or Landless Workers Movement may be prosecuted under the anti-terrorism laws,” said Leeds, who believes Bolsonaro also wants to quash the liberal ideas that seem as if they support his predecessor’s beliefs.&nbsp;“He has attempted to constrain academic expression or ideological expression labelled communist, he has asked students to report professors for spreading objectionable or ideological speech. The protection of minority rights, gender rights, is in jeopardy.”</p> <p><strong>India:&nbsp;a&nbsp;reversal of diversity</strong></p> <p>Sana Aiyar, an associate professor of history at MIT, explored the ways in which populist nationalism has reversed the progressive and inclusive policies of post-independence India, and the way it clashes with the beliefs of the post-colonial secular and supra-ethnic state.</p> <p>India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, is a proponent of the belief that India should be ruled by its Hindu-centered party and that ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Muslim population, should not have a central role in the government.</p> <p>“Modi turned his back on India’s spirit of tolerance, its inclusive pluralism,” said&nbsp;Aiyar of Modi’s beliefs. “When India declared independence in 1947 ...&nbsp;the nationhood of India was defined by its equality and diversity.”</p> <p>India’s first post-independence Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress, insisted on an Indian identity that was secular —&nbsp;thus eradicating, at least in the political sphere, the ethnic differences between the various religious groups in the country. However, in a large country with many states composed of different groups, this status quo was difficult to maintain.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Indian National Congress (INC), the party that ruled India in its post-independence period began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s as regional populist parties began to form,” explained Aiyar.&nbsp;“Through the 1990s and 2000s two major changes took place.&nbsp;First the Congress itself began to decline, primarily in the states where regional parties began emerging at the state level, and eventually at the national level.”&nbsp;</p> <p>From the late 1990s onwards, there was a change and a shift towards coalition governments. The INC and the BJP would form alliances with these regional parties that had been emerging over the years. In 1991, India shifted&nbsp;from a socialist to a neoliberal country through economic reforms, and the Indian middle class began expanding.</p> <p>One of the promises of these reforms, Aiyar said, is “that the economy will be depoliticized. That the institutions will be the mediators between the public and the state.”</p> <p>“As this unravels in the 2000s, growth falls from around 7 percent at the turn of the century, there is rising inequality, and there is a sense that aspirations were not fulfilled,” sais&nbsp;Aiyar, explaining the spread of disenchantment across the country.&nbsp;“The institutions begin being seen, at best, as ineffective and at worst as incredibly corrupt,&nbsp;the INC blames this on coalition politics and regional parties.”</p> <p>“The one state that began defying this all-India trend of inefficiency, corruption and lack of development is Gujarat, where Narendra Modi had been the Chief Minister since 2001. He builds up a reputation as being pro-business, as being an extremely effective leader, attracting huge foreign investments,” Aiyar continued.</p> <p>“Modi, with his strong record, transforms his anti-corruption movement into an anti-Congress one. He cast the Congress leaders as being very out of touch with the nation,” he said. “The Congress was cast as corrupt, out of touch with the pulse of the nation, its leaders as elites. Congress beliefs, such as socialism,&nbsp;secularism, and the focus on diversity were depicted as being Western&nbsp;or English&nbsp;notions of the nation.”</p> <p>Modi was part of a group of politicians in India at the time who were offering various definitions of populism. The approaches attempted to define Indian nationhood, and his belief centred around the fact that India should be dominated by its majority ethnic and religious group.</p> <p>Modi supported “the idea that a nation’s political destiny is [should] be determined by its religious and ethnic majority,” Aiyar said.</p> <p>“Majoritarianism has two components that one should keep in mind. It differentiates between citizens – those who are seen as having the majority faith are seen as being true citizens, the sons of the soil. The rest are minorities or courtesy citizens,”&nbsp;he said.&nbsp;“For the first years after independence, by defining India as secular rather than Hindu, Nehru manages not to commit India to the decolonization’s original sin. India defines herself not as majoritarian — not because these tendencies didn’t exist but precisely because there were these notions that had existed from the 1920s onwards.”</p> <p>In many countries around the world, populist politicians attempt to instill the fear amongst the majority populations or ethnic groups — those they rely on for electoral victories — that they are being threatened by a minority or that they have to “appease” to them rather than assert their dominance, Aiyar said.&nbsp;In many of these countries, the minority populations can be first-generation immigrants; religious, ethnic or linguistic minorities that have always been present in the country or those who plan to move there in larger numbers for academic or work opportunities.</p> <p>For Modi, promoting the idea that only Hindus were truly autochthonous in India since it was the birthplace of Hinduism helped him secure a win in 2014 and continues to be a hallmark of his mandate as prime minister. Aiyar described&nbsp;the ideology as emphasizing “a common fatherland, and a common holy land. This meant that all Hindus are Indians and that minorities, for whom the holy land lays in the west, are seen as somewhat suspect.”</p> <p><strong>Turkey: a blueprint for populism</strong></p> <p>Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been making headlines in the past couple of years as his authoritarian grasp on the country grows stronger. His Justice and Development Party, or AKP in Turkish, has become the largest party in the country and promotes a conservative platform that insists on an Islamic identity for Turkey and fondly looks back at the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey that controlled vast territories in the Balkans and the Middle East.</p> <p>Intially seen as a reformer when he started making gains on the political scene in the early 2000s, Erdogan has asserted his dominance by weakening Turkey’s strong military, which&nbsp;promoted the country’s secularism in the 20th century, and by expanding the powers and mandate of the president in a referendum held last year.</p> <p>His mandate has seen a crackdown on critical journalists, NGOs, and academics, and he has persecuted opponents both within the country and abroad. Aysen Candas, an associate professor at Bogazici University and a visiting associate professor at Yale University, explained what she called&nbsp;the core components of “a successful populist takeover.”</p> <p>According to Candas, the populist checklist includes certain key components. “Desecularization, no matter what religion the country is based on, is detrimental for the constitutional order of the country,” she said. For populists, constitutions are not binding. “When movements that rely on a majority’s identitarian claims monopolize power, they acquire the ability to reverse the accomplishments of constitutional democracies, no matter how weak or strong these accomplishments may be.”</p> <p>Another component is that populism is only a transitional phase. “Turkey’s experience with unhinged advanced populism proves that populism is a temporary phase, a snapshot, within the [counter]revolutionary transformation process of constitutional states, into right-leaning totalitarianisms,” she said. “The only remedy against it is forging a common front.”</p> <p>Candas explains that populism comes from a feeling of insecurity, where people feel that opportunities they are given in life are becoming constrained.</p> <p>“They respond to the shrinking or uncertainty of the economic pie, and the associated crisis of solidarity in the most regressive manner,”&nbsp;she said.&nbsp;“Populism's political proposal consists of a counterrevolution, against egalitarian, liberal democratic sources of political legitimacy to reinstall status hierarchies.”</p> <p>Candas said&nbsp;populist ideologies and influences should not be taken lightly. “The ideology of populists must be taken very seriously, as they do fulfil their campaign promises and they are not short-termers but marathon runners.”</p> <p>The Turkey of the 20th century&nbsp;was a modern, secular country that consciously split from its Islamic identity following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. “A Pew Research study, repeated every year, shows that only 12 percent of the people in Turkey want to live under Islamic rule. The rest, the majority, want to live in a secular society. How could it then be that political Islamists monopolized power in Turkey? The short answer to that question is that the majority failed to forge a common front.”</p> <p>The two main fault lines along which the country is divided include the religion issue, but also the question of the large Kurdish minority, consisting of 20 percent&nbsp;of the population. “Since the 1980s there is an ongoing kulturkampf on two major fault lines in Turkey. The first one is on the Kurdish issue,”&nbsp;she said. "Recognition of Kurdish identity, some form of regional autonomy, equal representation, and the unsurmountable 10 percent&nbsp;threshold that was put into practice in 1983 to prevent Kurdish parties from entering the parliament.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“This threshold grossly skewed every election result, so much so that in 2002 AKP came to power with 34&nbsp;percent of the vote, which translated into 66 seats in the parliament,” Candas explained. “The electoral threshold designed by the military&nbsp;in the 1990s, that was designed to keep Kurds out, let Islamists in.”</p> <p>“The second question is that of the secular republic or Sharia-based monarchy. These two fault lines cross-cut each other, in the sense that many Turkish secularists, who are for example gender and LGBTQ egalitarians turn into illiberal authoritarians on the Kurdish issue because they suspect that granting Kurds cultural rights and autonomy will lead to the partition of the country.”</p> <p>“Similarly, the intensely religious portion of the Kurds supported and still support the Islamist party even when repressive policies remain in place,” she said.</p> In a recent Starr Forum, Sana Aiyar, an associate professor of history at MIT, explored ways in which populist nationalism has reversed the progressive and inclusive policies of post-independence India.Photo: Laura Kerwin/MIT Center for International StudiesSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Center for International Studies, Special events and guest speakers, Policy, Government, History MIT Open Learning launches Center for Advanced Virtuality http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-open-learning-launches-center-advanced-virtuality-1127 The new center will explore how MIT can use virtual reality and artificial intelligence and other technologies to better serve human needs. Tue, 27 Nov 2018 17:00:00 -0500 Liz Jukovsky | MIT Open Learning http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-open-learning-launches-center-advanced-virtuality-1127 <p>Virtual reality (VR) technologies are having&nbsp;a growing impact on people's&nbsp;everyday lives. <a href="https://openlearning.mit.edu/about/our-team/sanjay-sarma">Sanjay Sarma</a>, vice president for open learning,&nbsp;and <a href="https://www.csail.mit.edu/person/d-fox-harrell">D. Fox Harrell</a>, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence&nbsp;in the&nbsp;Comparative Media Studies Program and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, have combined their efforts&nbsp;to launch&nbsp;MIT Open Learning’s new initiative, the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality. The new initiative will help determine how MIT can&nbsp;use a group of technologies including virtual and mixed reality (collectively called extended reality or XR)&nbsp;to better serve human needs through artful innovation of virtual experiences, on-campus and beyond.</p> <p>Harrell’s research explores the relationship between imagination and computation and involves developing new forms of computational narrative, gaming, social media, and related digital media based in computer science, cognitive science, and digital media arts. Harrell announced the creation of the center, which he will direct, in his remarks at this month’s &nbsp;“Human-Computer Interaction Salon and Mixer,”&nbsp;as part of the <a href="https://computationalcultures.mit.edu/" style="text-decoration-line: none;">Computational Cultures Initiative</a>, sponsored by the&nbsp;School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.</p> <p>“The center’s mission is to pioneer innovative experiences using technologies of virtuality,” Harrell said. “Such technologies, ranging from Virtual Reality (VR) to Mixed Reality (MR) and beyond, all use computing to construct imaginative experiences atop our physical world. We endeavor to design and understand how these systems impact how we now communicate, express, learn, play, and work.”</p> <p>The center — “MIT Virtuality”&nbsp;for short —&nbsp;will bring faculty, researchers, and VR professionals together to create new models for the deployment of impactful XR learning. The center will focus on creation, research, and innovation, through its Studio, Lab, Salon, and Hub functionalities.</p> <p>The Studio, Harrell explained, will bring professionals and faculty together to innovate new uses for XR, while the Lab will investigate the impacts of these technologies, focusing on learning, simulation and cognition. The Salon and Hub will focus on capacity building and resource sharing, pairing students and experts with resources that will help expand VR technologies across MIT.</p> <p>Sarma is ethusiastic about the&nbsp;new venture. “AR and VR are new ways of seeing and experiencing, and will be a key tool in changing and improving how we learn,” he&nbsp;said.&nbsp;“This center will advance fundamental research and application of virtual technologies in teaching, training and work.” &nbsp;</p> <p>MIT Virtuality aims to enhance the production, research, and innovation capacity of VR at MIT, while investigating the social and ethical impacts of technologies as they are&nbsp;being innovated.&nbsp;Anyone interested in more information is encouraged to visit <a href="http://virtuality.mit.edu">MIT Virtuality online</a>.</p> Professor and MIT Virtuality Director Fox Harrell is seeking to determine how MIT could use extended reality technologies, both on campus and beyond, to better serve human needs through artful innovation of virtual experiences. Photo: Karim Ben KhelifaSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Science, online learning, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), virtual reality, Computer science and technology, Artificial intelligence, Collaboration, School of Engineering, Office of Open Learning 3 Questions: Stephen Van Evera revisits World War I http://news.mit.edu/2018/3-questions-stephen-van-evera-revisits-world-war-i-100-years-after-bitter-end-1108 A century after its bitter end, the political science professor calls the Great War a wellspring of the 20th century&#039;s horrors and tragedies. Thu, 08 Nov 2018 17:00:00 -0500 Michelle English | Center for International Studies http://news.mit.edu/2018/3-questions-stephen-van-evera-revisits-world-war-i-100-years-after-bitter-end-1108 <p><em>One hundred years ago on Nov. 11, 1918, the Allied Powers and Germany signed an armistice bringing to an end World War I. That bloody conflict decimated Europe and destroyed three major empires (Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman). Its aftershocks still echo in our own times.</em></p> <p><em>As this day of remembrance approaches — commemorated throughout Europe as Armistice Day, and in the U.S. as Veterans Day — it is a reminder of Machiavelli's tenet that ‘</em>‘whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past."&nbsp;<em><a href="http://polisci.mit.edu/people/stephen-van-evera">Stephen Van Evera</a>, the Ford International Professor of Political Science and an expert on the causes of war, revisits the Great War and discusses key insights for today a full century after its bitter end.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Who caused the war? Do historians agree or not? Where does the debate stand?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp;My answer is: The Germans caused the war.&nbsp;They wanted a general European war in 1914 and deliberately brought it about. Their deed was the crime of the century. But others disagree. A hundred years later scholars still dispute which state was most responsible. Views have evolved a lot, but there is no consensus.</p> <p>During 1919 to 45 most German historians blamed Russia, or Britain, or France, while deeming Germany largely innocent. Historians outside Germany generally viewed the war as an accident, for which all the European powers deserved blame.&nbsp; Few put primary responsibility on Germany.</p> <p>Then in 1961 and 1969 German historian Fritz Fischer published books that put greatest blame on Germany. His books stirred one of the most intense historical debates we've ever seen. The firestorm was covered in the German popular press, debated at public forums attended by thousands, and discussed in the German parliament, as though the soul of Germany was at stake — which in a way it was.&nbsp;</p> <p>Fischer and most Fischer followers argued that Germany instigated the 1914 July crisis in order to ignite a local Balkan war that would improve Germany’s power position in Europe. German leaders did not want a general European war, but they deliberately risked such a war, and lost control of events. Some Fischerites went further, arguing that Germany instigated the 1914 July crisis in order to cause a general European war, which they wanted for “preventive” reasons — they hoped to cut Russian power down to size before Russia’s military power outgrew German power — and to position Germany to seize a wider empire in Europe and Africa. Both Fischer variants assign Germany prime responsibility.</p> <p>Within Germany the Fischer view holds sway today.&nbsp; Germans broadly take responsibility for the war. But several recent works by non-Germans reject the Fischer view, assigning Germany less responsibility than Fischer while blaming others. So the Fischer school's views predominate in Germany but elsewhere the debate continues.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Why is it important for scholars to assign responsibility for World War I, or for other wars?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp;When responsibility for past war is left unassigned, chauvinist mythmakers on one or both sides will over-blame the other for causing the war while whitewashing their own responsibility.&nbsp;Both sides will then be angered when the other refuses to admit responsibility and apologize for violence they believe the other caused, and be further angered that the other has the gall to blame them for this violence.&nbsp;They may also infer that the other may resort to violence again, as its non-apology shows that it sees nothing wrong with its past violence.</p> <p>The German government infused German society with self-whitewashing, other-maligning myths of this kind about World War I origins during the interwar years.&nbsp;These myths played a key role in fueling Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933.&nbsp;They were devised and spread by the Kriegsschuldreferat (War Guilt Office), a secret unit in the German foreign ministry.&nbsp;The Kriegsschuldreferat sponsored twisted accounts of the war’s origins by nationalist German historians,&nbsp;underwrote mass propaganda on the war’s origins, selectively edited document collections, and worked to corrupt historical understanding abroad by exporting this propaganda to Britain, France, and the U.S.&nbsp;This innocence propaganda persuaded the German public that Germany had little or no responsibility for causing the war.&nbsp;Germans&nbsp;were taught instead that Britain instigated the war; then outrageously blamed Germany for the war in the Versailles treaty’s War Guilt&nbsp;clause; and then forced Germany to pay reparations for a war Britain itself began.</p> <p>An enraging narrative for Germans who believed it.&nbsp;And many Germans did. Hitler’s rise to power was fueled in part by the wave of German public fear and fury that this false narrative fostered. Hitler told Germans that Germany’s neighbors had attacked Germany in 1914 without reason, and then falsely denied their crime while falsely blaming Germany.&nbsp;States so malicious could well attack Germany again. Germany therefore had to recover its power and strike its neighbors before they struck Germany.</p> <p>After 1945 international politics in Western Europe was miraculously transformed.&nbsp;War became unthinkable in a region where rivers of blood had flowed for centuries.&nbsp;This political transformation stemmed in important part from a transformation in the teaching of international history in European schools and universities.&nbsp;The international history of Europe was commonized.&nbsp;Europeans everywhere now learned largely the same history instead of imbibing their own national myths.&nbsp;An important cause of war, chauvinist nationalist mythmaking, was erased.&nbsp;Greatest credit for this achievement goes to truthtelling German historians — including the Fischer school — and schoolteachers&nbsp;who documented German responsibility for World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust and explained it to the German people.&nbsp;By enabling a rough consensus among former belligerents on who was responsible for past violence these historians&nbsp;and schoolteachers&nbsp;played a large role in healing the wounds of the world wars and making another round of war impossible.</p> <p>Nationalist/chauvinist historical mythmaking declined worldwide after World War II but it never disappeared.&nbsp;It still infects many places.&nbsp;If, like the Germans, the people of these still-infected places&nbsp;faced&nbsp;their past truthfully they would downsize their sense of victimhood to better fit the facts. Their sense of grievance and entitlement would diminish accordingly.&nbsp;They would be quicker to see the justice in others' claims and to grant what others deserve.&nbsp;Peace with their neighbors would be easier to reach and sustain.&nbsp;War would be easier to avoid.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What consequences — past and present —&nbsp;arose from the impact of the Great War?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp;Like a boulder that triggers a landslide as it tumbles downhill, World War I unleashed forces that later caused even greater violence.</p> <p>Without World War I there would have been no Hitler, as he rose to power on trumped up&nbsp;grievances that stemmed from World War I.&nbsp;Hence without World War I, there would have been no World War II.&nbsp;There also would have been no Holocaust, as the Holocaust was a particular project of the Nazi elite that other German elites would not have pursued had they ruled instead of Hitler.</p> <p>Without World War I there would have been no Russian revolution; hence no Leninism or Stalinism; hence no vast massacres by Stalin — approximately 30 million murdered —&nbsp;and no Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West during 1947 to 1989; hence no peripheral wars in Korea, Indochina, Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, killing millions.&nbsp;</p> <p>The moral of story is: War can be self-feeding, self-perpetuating, and self-expanding.&nbsp;It has fire-like properties that cause it to continue once it begins.&nbsp;It is hard to extinguish because, like fire, it sustains itself by generating its own heat.&nbsp;In this case the “heat” is mutual fear and mutual hatred born of wartime violence, and&nbsp;war-generated&nbsp;combat political ideologies, like Bolshevism, Naziism, and extremist Sunni jihadism, that see human affairs as a Darwinistic struggle that compels groups to destroy others or be destroyed themselves.</p> One hundred years ago on Nov. 11, 1918, the Allied Powers and Germany signed an armistice bringing to an end World War I. Images courtesy of the Center for International Studies and Wikipedia CommonsSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Political science, Security studies and military, History, Faculty, Policy Novelist Min Jin Lee makes the case for understanding through fiction http://news.mit.edu/2018/novelist-min-jin-lee-understanding-through-fiction-1101 At MIT event, “Pachinko” author talks about literature as a way of understanding outsiders in modern culture. Thu, 01 Nov 2018 13:23:46 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News http://news.mit.edu/2018/novelist-min-jin-lee-understanding-through-fiction-1101 <p>Renowned author Min Jin Lee made a vigorous case for literature as an essential means for understanding complex cultures around the globe, during a public event at MIT on Tuesday.</p> <p>Lee, a childhood immigrant to the U.S. from Korea whose celebrated 2017 novel “Pachinko” details four generations of a Korean family in times of great upheaval, centered her remarks on the value of writing as a way of teaching people about their counterparts in unfamiliar cultures.</p> <p>“Perhaps the job of the writer is to ask, ‘Could they be us?’” Lee said, speaking to a large and appreciative audience of over 300 people in MIT’s room 10-250.</p> <p>The experience of reading fiction, she noted, brings a unique depth and commitment to the process of learning.</p> <p>“What I’m asking is for you to hang out with me for 16 hours,” Lee said, referring to the amount of time “Pachinko” might take to read. “That’s a pretty big deal.” But one reward, she added, is, “If you could be Korean, only for those 16 hours … then you’ll realize you have the capacity to cross that ocean of unfamiliarity, where the unfamiliar becomes intimately your experience. And that is my goal, absolutely.”</p> <p><strong>Starr turn</strong></p> <p>Lee’s remarks were part of the Starr Forum series held by MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS). The events feature public discussions about world politics, global trends, and international relations.</p> <p>After delivering her remarks, Lee answered questions from the audience as well as from discussant Amy Carleton, a lecturer in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program. Lee was introduced at the event by Richard Samuels, the Ford International Professor Professor of Political Science at MIT and director of CIS.</p> <p>“Pachinko,” Lee’s second novel and best-known work, was named one of the 10 best books of 2017 by <em>The New York Times</em> and a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction. The novel is a sprawling historical narrative that includes sections set in Japanese-occupied Korea during the early 20th century, and in a later period when some of the book’s key characters live in Japan, where Koreans — even those born in Japan — are denied certain rights and live in a distinct minority culture.</p> <p>Lee’s writerly interest in life as an often-excluded member of society derives to a significant extent from her own family’s experience. In 1976, at age 7, Lee immigrated with her parents to the U.S. from Korea, an experience she referred to throughout the event.</p> <p>“As I child I remember thinking it was so difficult,” Lee said about her parents, who left a middle-class life in Korea when they came to America and settled in Queens, New York. “They had to deal with poverty, and being mistreated, and so many inequities and indignities, from being a person on the outside.” Over time, she added, “You know what it feels like to watch your parents being insulted.”</p> <p>For several reasons, Lee added, “My childhood was in many ways complicated and dark.” Still, she thrived as a student, graduated from Yale University and Georgetown University’s law school, and was a lawyer before deciding to become a full-time writer.</p> <p>In so doing, Lee said, she was fulfilling a longstanding need to describe her own kind of social experience to others.</p> <p>“In terms of writing ‘Pachinko,’ I wrote this as an adult, but I started it as a child,” Lee said. “I got the idea when I was 19.”</p> <p><strong>Validation for readers</strong></p> <p>Responding to an audience question about anything she might have done differently in her life and career, Lee said, “I wish I thought [earlier] that my story mattered. I wouldn’t have taken so long” to write it.</p> <p>And in response to one student’s comment that he felt “validated” after reading a novel about Koreans marginalized in a larger society, Lee had some sharp criticisms about the lack of representation for people of Asian heritage in our culture.</p> <p>“Asian-Americans in this country are systematically and routinely erased in the media,” Lee said. “It’s intentional.” As a result, she added, Asian-Americans can easily doubt that their presence and experiences should matter to others.</p> <p>As Lee made clear, her family’s identity when they lived in Korea was a bit complicated, too. Lee’s grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, a position she said was associated with reformist politics in Korea and the tensions that come with such such a position.</p> <p>Lee also joked about the personal intricacies of maintaining a belief in both predestination on the one hand, and free will on the other. As she quipped, drawing laughs, “How do those two things work together? The way I think about it also, I can say this at MIT, is: Light is both a particle and a wave.”</p> <p>Near the end of the question-and-answer session, one student asked Lee if she had thought about turning “Pachinko” into a longer work or continuing series in some form.</p> <p>“It was an insane amount of work,” Lee replied. “I’m really glad I did it, but I would not continue it.”</p> Author Min Jin Lee speaking at MIT’s CIS Starr Forum event on Oct. 30Images: Laura Kerwin, MIT Center for International StudiesSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Center for International Studies, Korea, Special events and guest speakers, Students, Community, Diversity and inclusion, Books and authors, Literature, languages and writing