MIT News - Social sciences - Economics - Linguistics - Political science - Anthropology - Philosophy - Center for International Studies - Security studies and military 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 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 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) 3 Questions: Ron Rivest on trusting electronic voting systems MIT cryptography expert and election technology developer explains how to verify an election outcome. Wed, 26 Feb 2020 10:45:01 -0500 Ashley Belanger | School of Engineering <p><em>Ron Rivest is an MIT Institute Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He’s an authority on algorithms and an inventor of the RSA public-key cryptosystem, one of the most widely used algorithms to securely transmit data. Since the 1980s, he’s taught students how to use cryptography to help secure voting systems. Then, in 2000, an historic recount in Florida determined the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, and the <a href="" target="_blank">Caltech / MIT Voting Technology Project</a> was founded with the mission to secure future elections, pulling in Rivest, who has been involved since, as well as other MIT faculty from the Department of Political Science and the MIT Sloan School of Management.</em></p> <p><em>For five years, Rivest advised the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, where he helped set standards for voting system certification. In that time, he became an advocate for keeping paper ballots and auditing election outcomes based on a statistical analysis of a random sample of ballots, recommended steps to verify the reported outcome. In his research, he’s also developed technologies to use cryptography for voting, helping to secure elections dependent on electronic records.</em></p> <p><em>As election security becomes a top concern in the United States, Rivest continues applying his cryptography expertise to help improve voting systems. Here, he discusses the major issues with securing all-electronic voting systems and explains why he prefers keeping paper ballots as backup to verify voter intentions have been recorded </em>—<em> and that the election outcome isn’t based on a computer bug.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>If an electronic voting system has been certified, does that mean it’s secure?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>You have to be careful with what you expect from the certification process. You could go into it thinking, well, I’m going to have these systems certified, and because they’re certified, they’re secure, and therefore, because the voting systems are secure, I can trust the election outcomes are right. And that turns out not to be a terribly good mode of thought. For one thing, you can’t really show that something is secure by testing.</p> <p>Security relates to the absence of ways an adversary can affect the election outcome. Testing a voting system may show that certain adversarial attacks don’t work, but it doesn’t reveal that there are no<em> </em>attacks that work. Furthermore, commercial software is well-known to have several bugs per thousand lines of code, any of which could be a security hole. Finding all bugs is well-nigh impossible, even with a vigorous testing, so certification will never provide a guarantee that a voting system is secure.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Can an electronic voting system ever be secure?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>One major problem is that you never know that the system that is running is actually the system that was tested. There are procedures in place that are supposed to ensure that, but a common way to attack a system is to attack the supply chain, so that the voting system somebody installs is not what they think it is.</p> <p>You never want to be in a position where you have to say, “I trust the election outcomes because I trust the computer.” Because computers, in the end, aren’t that trustworthy. They can be manipulated. They can have their programming changed. Every day new breaches of major computer systems are reported. Computer systems just are very difficult to make secure, especially for something that's very important, like elections.</p> <p>All-electronic voting systems are therefore next-to-impossible to secure.&nbsp;A voting system founded instead on voter-verifiable paper ballots (preferably hand-marked paper ballots) provides a basis for checking that election outcomes are correctly derived from expressed voter intentions, instead of from some computer bug.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What’s your new philosophy when it comes to securing U.S. elections?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>The new philosophy and the change of perspective I’ve adopted is not to believe an election outcome is right because you believe that machinery is doing the right thing, but rather to check that the outcome is right for each election.</p> <p>You look at a sample of the paper ballots, you use some statistics, and you confirm with high confidence that the reported election outcome is consistent with that sample. A number of us have been working on that technology; Philip Stark at University of California at Berkeley is the leading statistician involved with this and the inventor of such “risk-limiting audits.”</p> <p>There was a panel I was on recently for the National Academy of Sciences that produced a report called “<a href="" target="_blank">Securing the Vote</a>” (September 2018). That report recommended two things strongly: using paper ballots, and performing statistical post-election audits to check the tabulation of the paper ballots.&nbsp;In conjunction with other procedures (that, for example, ensure that the paper ballots checked are those that are cast and tabulated), one can develop confidence that our election outcomes are indeed correct.</p> Testing a voting system may show that certain adversarial attacks don’t work, but it doesn’t reveal that there are no attacks that work.Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, 3 Questions, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Cryptography, Cyber security, Faculty, Voting and elections, Political science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Sloan School of Management Thirty-eight exceptional MIT students named 2020 Burchard Scholars Students expand intellectual horizons and leadership skills at dinner-seminars with MIT faculty.   Tue, 25 Feb 2020 12:50:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) announced 38 exceptional sophomore and junior students as the new Burchard Scholars for 2020.</p> <p>The selective Burchard Scholars program, named in honor of John Ely Burchard, the first dean of SHASS, recognizes sophomores and juniors who have&nbsp;demonstrated outstanding abilities and academic excellence in&nbsp;some aspect of the humanistic fields — the humanities, arts, and social sciences — as well as in STEM fields.</p> <p>Over one calendar year, from February to December, the Burchards attend a series of dinner-seminars with distinguished MIT faculty, as well as cultural events in the Boston, Massachusetts, metropolitan area. The experiences provide a challenging, intellectual space in which the scholars further expand their intellectual horizons.</p> <p><strong>Excellence in both the humanistic and STEM fields</strong><br /> <br /> “The Burchard Scholars are an extraordinary group of MIT undergraduates who have demonstrated enthusiasm and aptitude for the humanities, social sciences, or arts,”&nbsp;says Margery Resnick, professor of literature and director of the Burchard program. “Selection is competitive, and the students who are chosen are thoughtful, smart, and grateful for the opportunity to discuss ideas with faculty and fellow students.”<br /> <br /> The scholars themselves represent a diverse swath of studies across the Institute. This year, the Burchards come from over a dozen different fields of study, among them biology, anthropology, mechanical engineering, management, and music. What binds the group together&nbsp;is a powerful&nbsp;curiosity about ideas. This year’s selection process was especially competitive, with 100 applicants vying for a spot.</p> <p><strong>Developing powerful skills</strong><br /> <br /> The Burchard Scholars program is designed to provide promising students a challenging and friendly arena in which to develop and hone skills in expressing, critiquing, and debating ideas with peers and mentors. The scholars learn respectful and adaptable approaches for engaging in complex intellectual discussions.&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of the MIT students who receive Rhodes, Marshall, and other major scholarships and fellowships are former Burchard Scholars. Most recently, senior Steven Truong, a 2019 Burchard Scholar, was awarded a Marshall Scholarship.</p> <p><strong>The 2020 Burchard Scholars are:</strong><br /> <br /> Paolo Adajar, junior in mathematical economics, computer science, and public policy<br /> <br /> Ifeoluwapo Ademolu-Odeneye, sophomore in mathematics with computer science&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Boluwatife Akinola, junior in mathematical economics&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Anna Aldins, sophomore in music and theater arts<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Isabel Barnet, sophomore in mechanical engineering<br /> <br /> Israel Bonilla, junior in aeronautics and astronautics<br /> <br /> Owen Broderick, junior in management<br /> <br /> Kevin Costello, junior in mathematics and music<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Hope Dargan, junior in computer science and engineering, and in history<br /> <br /> Nadezhda Dimitrova, junior in aeronautics and astronautics&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Jade Fischer, junior in earth, atmosphere, and planetary sciences &nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Rogerio&nbsp;Guimaraes Jr., junior in electrical engineering and computer science and in linguistics and philosophy<br /> <br /> Madeline Holtz,&nbsp;sophomore in chemistry<br /> <br /> Lily Huo, junior in biological engineering<br /> <br /> Aditya Jog, junior in biology<br /> <br /> Shuli Jones, sophomore in computer science and engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Melissa Klein, junior in mechanical engineering, and in music and theater arts&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Maximillian Langenkamp, junior in electrical engineering and computer science&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Keiran Lewellen, sophomore in physics<br /> <br /> Bhavik Nagda, junior in computer science and engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Neosha Narayanan, sophomore in materials science and engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Avery Nguyen, sophomore in materials science and engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Samuel Nitz, junior in computer science, and in molecular biology&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Isloma Osubor, junior in mechanical engineering and management<br /> <br /> Noopur Ranganathan, junior in anthropology, and in biology<br /> <br /> James Santoro, sophomore in management<br /> <br /> Haniya Shareef,&nbsp;sophomore in biological engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Aaditya Singh, junior in brain and cognitive science, and in computer science and engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Nailah Smith, sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Madison Sneve,&nbsp;sophomore in biology<br /> <br /> Edwin Song, sophomore in mathematical economics&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Sarah Spector, junior in electrical engineering and computer science, and in Latin American and Latino/a studies<br /> <br /> Shobhita Sundaram, sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Sarah Weidman, junior in earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, and in physics&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> Alyssa Wells-Lewis, junior in mechanical engineering&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Kevin Wesel, junior in biology<br /> <br /> Carine You, sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science</p> "The Burchard Scholars are an extraordinary group of MIT undergraduates who have demonstrated enthusiasm and aptitude for the humanities, social sciences, or arts,” says Margery Resnick, an MIT professor of literature and director of the Burchard program.School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Arts, Humanities, Leadership, Social sciences, Students, Undergraduate, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships Dreaming big in a small country MIT students teach machine learning and entrepreneurship in Uruguay through MIT Global Startup Labs. Mon, 24 Feb 2020 15:15:01 -0500 MISTI <p>When Miguel Brechner started planning a new ambitious plan to foster a new generation of data scientists in Uruguay and Latin America, he immediately thought of MIT. “There is no question that MIT is a world leader in science and technology. In Uruguay we are a small country, but we dream big.” Brechner is president of Plan Ceibal, an internationally awarded public initiative that has as main goals to distribute technology, promote knowledge, and generate social equity by widening access to digital technologies.</p> <p>In 2019, Uruguayan public institutions like Plan Ceibal, ANII (Agencia Nacional de Investigaci<span class="st">ó</span>n e Innovaci<span class="st">ó</span>n), and UTEC (<span class="st">Universidad Tecnológica del Uruguay)</span> began collaborating with MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives&nbsp;(<a href="">MISTI</a>) and the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (<a href="">J-WEL</a>). The partnership supports 60 Latin American students that are part of <a href="">the Program in Data Science</a>, a program which includes online courses from <em>MITx</em> and on-site workshops run by J-WEL and MISTI. Local students include CEOs, entrepreneurs, engineers, economists, medical professionals, and senior administrators.</p> <p>The MISTI Global Startup Labs (GSL) program, now in its 20th&nbsp;year, has expanded its partnerships to include Uruguayan institutions to promote entrepreneurship and data science across Latin America. GSL is a unique program designed to offer the opportunity to blend digital technologies and entrepreneurship in emerging regions in the world. Since 1998, hundreds of MIT students have traveled to more than 15 countries to be part of the program that has benefited thousands of technology entrepreneurs around the world. GSL instructors are MIT graduate and undergraduate students, selected among many applicants from all over the institute. GSL programs in different countries are uniquely crafted based on the needs of the local partners, and MIT student instructors take the lead teaching app and web development, coding, data science, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship.</p> <p>The new GSL, one of the first to be run over Independent Acitivities Period, took place during January in Montevideo. The Uruguay program focused specifically on machine learning and the business opportunities of the technology. The local student participants had previously taken courses from the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters in Data Science, and the GSL workshop gave them the opportunity to experience project-based learning in data science. This hands-on experiential immersion in the subject matter is the core methodology of the GSL program.</p> <p>More than 30 graduate and undergraduate students applied to be part of GSL in Uruguay this year, and 13 were selected to be part of the workshop in Montevideo. Eduardo Rivera, managing director for Uruguay, explained the process: “Recruiting students for GSL is always a challenge. We look for expertise and experience teaching, but also for team players and risk-takers. The team is composed of students from different disciplines and levels of studies, which makes the experience a unique opportunity for our students to learn from their MIT peers in new and challenging contexts.” Rivera adds, “At MIT, we are fortunate to have plenty of talented and passionate students, willing to cross borders and oceans to teach and learn.”</p> <p>Over the course of a month, the local students were taught how to build prototypes, create business models, and pitch presentations. The class pursued projects ranging from predictive maintenance to autism detection to logistics optimization. The final results were presented in a pitch event hosted in Zonamerica, Uruguay's premier hub for technology and innovation.</p> <p>"Working with our local students was a truly unique and unforgettable opportunity," says electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) senior Ryan Sander. "I'm certain I learned just as much from the students as they learned from us. What really left an impression on me was observing not only how bright our students are, but also how passionate these people are about solving real-world problems with high impact."</p> <p>For MBA student Kenny Li, the opportunity to interact with the local students was broadening. “In today’s world, you need to be able to understand people’s cultures, how do they approach business, how they interact at work …GSL gave me a great learning opportunity to understand the global context of entrepreneurs.”</p> <p>When not teaching classes, the MIT students were able to visit various places around Montevideo, including the beautiful beaches of Punta del Este, the neighboring city of Buenos Aires, and relaxing getaways to Colonia. After classes, the teaching team was steps away from the beach and could wind each day down with a beautiful sunset, soaking up the warm summer weather in January.</p> <p>Rivera finds these cultural connections to be one of the major benefits of the program. “At MISTI, we are certain that international teaching activities contribute not only to the academic formation of the students but also give them valuable tools to interact in multicultural environments and confront new challenges in different locations. For future global leaders, this is a unique opportunity. We often hear from our students that MISTI experiences are life-changing, not only in professional life but also in their personal life.”</p> <p>"The weekends and weekday evenings were a great way for us to bond with each other and our students," says Victoria Pisini, a senior in the MIT Sloan School of Management. “We went to beaches together, traveled to different cities, and shared a lot of unforgettable moments."</p> <p>The MIT students participating in this year’s GSL were Amauche Emenari (EECS PhD student), Devin Zhang (MBA student), Evan Mu (EECS PhD student), Geeticka Chauhan (EECS PhD student), Hans Nowak (MBA student), Julian Alverio (EECS MEng student), Kenny Li (MBA student), Madhav Kumar (MIT Sloan PhD candidate), Maya Murad (Leaders for Global Operations master's and PhD student), Ryan Sander (EECS student), Taylor Elise Baum (EECS PhD student), Tiffany Fung (MBA student), and Victoria Pisini (MBA student).</p> <p>GSL programs are planned in multiple countries for summer 2020 and Independent Activities Period 2021, and there are still a small number of available opportunities for instructors this summer.</p> (Left to right:) MIT students Kenny Li, Maya Murad, Devin Zhang, Tiffany Fung, Eduardo Rivera, Evan Pu, Taylor Baum, Julian Alverio, and Madhav Kumar participated in this year's MISTI Global Startup Labs program.MISTI, Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), MITx, Machine learning, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Sloan School of Management, Independent Activities Period, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), International initiatives, Global, Center for International Studies, Latin America The trouble with round numbers Study shows people prefer monthly payments in multiples of $100, even when it may cost them money. Thu, 20 Feb 2020 18:04:50 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Do you have a monthly car payment, or a similar loan? Is each payment a nice round number, like $300? If so, you are hardly alone. But the appeal of that easy-to-remember payment figure may be costing you money.</p> <p>That’s one implication of a new study co-authored by an MIT economist, which shows how much consumers prefer monthly payment figures that are multiples of $100 — indeed, the number of monthly consumer payments at dollar figures just above such multiples drops by 16 percent. That likely makes monthly budgeting easier for people to calculate. But as the study also shows, people select potentially unfavorable loan terms as a result.</p> <p>“People budget with these round numbers and are trained to think in these monthly payment terms, going for the smallest monthly payment possible,” says MIT economist Christopher Palmer, co-author of a newly published paper detailing the results. “In particular, people really bunch around $200 or $300 or $400 a month in payments, which probably keeps them from overspending month-to-month, but it still might not be the best approach if it leads them to pay more interest over the length of the loan.”</p> <p>In fact, after digging into auto loans held by more than 2 million people, Palmer and his colleagues found that this is precisely the case: Given multiple financing options, many people smooth out the monthly figures, often at less money per payment, but with notably increased long-term costs.</p> <p>And while lower monthly payments are important for many, the study shows that borrowers often take such an approach when they can afford to pay more.</p> <p>“One thing we did [in this study] is look at data for people with a lot of debt capacity, a low debt-to-income ratio or high credit scores, and even those people seem to make decisions based on the monthly payment amount, while ignoring the total cost of the loan,” notes Palmer, the Albert and Jeanne Clear Career Development Professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>The paper, “Monthly Payment Targeting and the Demand for Maturity,” appears in advance online form in the <em>Review of Financial Studies</em>. In addition to Palmer, the authors are Bronson Argyle and Taylor Nadauld, finance professors at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business.</p> <p><strong>The natural experiment</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, Palmer, Argyle, and Nadauld studied auto loan contracts held by 2.4 million borrowers, using 319 different lenders. The anonymized information came from a data company that works with lending firms. About 70 percent of the loans originated during the period 2012-2015, though some date to 2005. The researchers also examined another 1.3 million loan applications to get a further sense of borrowers’ fiscal circumstances.</p> <p>A key feature of the study — giving the research a quasiexperimental form — involves its use of FICO scores, a basic credit rating. FICO scores range from 300 to 850, but at certain thresholds, some banks offer markedly different loans to customers. When you have a FICO score of 700, which is close to average, you may qualify for much better terms than if your score is slightly lower.</p> <p>“If you have a 701 FICO score, at some banks you can get a much lower interest rate than someone with a 699 FICO score, even though if you asked the company that makes FICO scores, you’re basically the same person,” Palmer says. “But if a bank is treating similar consumers very differently, it becomes this nice laboratory for a natural experiment.”</p> <p>That is, if borrowers offered a variety of loan terms have the same tendency — such as winding up with round-number monthly payments — it suggests how strongly that tendency is rooted in the behavior of consumers. The phenomenon of round-number monthly payments was quickly obvious to the researchers.</p> <p>“This just jumped out of the data,” Palmer says. “You plot the data and people are bunching at hundred-dollar multiples.”</p> <p><strong>So what’s the problem, exactly? </strong></p> <p>To see why this can be a bad personal-finance habit — and clearly is, for some people — note that loans with lower monthly payments will have a greater long-term total cost, given initial purchases of the same amount.</p> <p>That point applies to a second finding of the study: When consumers are offered loan terms, they respond more to changes in the maturity — the length of the loan — than changes in the interest rate.</p> <p>As Palmer, Argyle, and Nadauld found, a bank offer of a 10 percent increase in loan length raises the chances that a borrower will accept the terms by 8.3 percentage points. But a bank offer of a 10 percent decrease in the interest rate raises the chances that a borrower will accept the terms by only 1 percentage point.</p> <p>Why is this? As it happens, changing the maturity of the loan has a bigger impact on monthly payments, which lets more consumers bring those payments to the magic levels of $200, $300, and $400.</p> <p>However, changes in loan length also bring higher long-term costs for consumers. Consider a $20,000 loan with a five-year maturity and a 5 percent interest rate. Increasing the maturity of that loan by one year lowers monthly payments by $55 but raises total interest paid by $546.</p> <p>In short, by having a nose for round numbers, consumers in the new study really are paying more for their cars.</p> <p><strong>Lessons about loans</strong></p> <p>That said, Palmer acknowledges that for different people, there is not necessarily one clear answer about which approach is better: lower monthly payments or a lower long-term repayment.</p> <p>“There’s not great theory on what you should do,” Palmer says. “What we would say you should do is figure out if that tradeoff worth it for you. If having lower payments today is worth paying more interest over the life of the loan, great, and there could be many reasons for that. But for many people I’d expect it could be better to try to get that loan over with more quickly with a shorter maturity.”</p> <p>Palmer hopes that one practical implication of the study would be getting people to recognize that there is a tradeoff in the first place.</p> <p>“Many people think monthly payments are the responsible way to talk about how much a car costs,” Palmer says. “But if you tell me you’re only going to spend $300 a month on a car, I can sell you a Mercedes if I make the car loan long enough.”</p> <p>As the study shows, a significant number of people are gravitating toward a rule of thumb — round-number payments — when doing homework and comparison-shopping about loans is more useful. Still, perhaps it is the nature of auto purchasing that leads people to underinvest in shopping for loans.</p> <p>“I get to test-drive the car,” Palmer says. “I don’t get to test-drive the loan.”</p> A new study shows that even when people are given multiple financing options, many smooth out the monthly payments into multiples of $100, often at less money per payment, but with notably increased long-term costs, even if they can afford to pay more.Behavioral economics, Finance, Research, Economics, Sloan School of Management A road map for artificial intelligence policy In a Starr Forum talk, Luis Videgaray, director of MIT’s AI Policy for the World Project, outlines key facets of regulating new technologies. Thu, 20 Feb 2020 14:08:04 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>The rapid development of artificial intelligence technologies around the globe has led to increasing calls for robust AI policy: laws that let innovation flourish while protecting people from privacy violations, exploitive surveillance, biased algorithms, and more.</p> <p>But the drafting and passing of such laws has been anything but easy.</p> <p>“This is a very complex problem,” Luis Videgaray PhD ’98, director of MIT’s AI Policy for the World Project, said in a lecture on Wednesday afternoon. “This is not something that will be solved in a single report. This has got to be a collective conversation, and it will take a while. It will be years in the making.”</p> <p>Throughout his talk, Videgaray outlined an ambitious vision of AI policy around the globe, one that is sensitive to economic and political dynamics, and grounded in material fairness and democratic deliberation.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Trust is probably the most important problem we have,” Videgaray said.</p> <p>Videgaray’s talk, “From Principles to Implementation: The Challenge of AI Policy Around the World,” was part of the Starr Forum series of public discussions about topics of global concern. The Starr Forum is hosted by MIT’s Center for International Studies. Videgaray gave his remarks to a standing-room crowd of over 150 in MIT’s Building E25.</p> <p>Videgaray, who is also a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, previously served as the finance minister of Mexico from 2012 to 2016, and foreign minister of Mexico from 2017 to 2018. Videgaray has also worked extensively in investment banking.</p> <p><strong>Information lag and media hype</strong></p> <p>In his talk, Videgaray began by outlining several “themes” related to AI that he thinks policymakers should keep in mind. These include government uses of AI; the effects of AI on the economy, including the possibility it could help giant tech firms consolidate market power; social responsibility issues, such as privacy, fairness, and bias; and the implications of AI for democracy, at a time when bots can influence political discussion. Videgaray also noted a “geopolitics” of AI regulation — from China’s comprehensive efforts to control technology to the looser methods used in the U.S.</p> <p>Videgaray observed that it is difficult for AI regulators to stay current with technology.</p> <p>“There’s an information lag,” Videgaray said. “Things that concern computer scientists today might become the concerns of policymakers a few years in the future.”</p> <p>Moreover, he noted, media hype can distort perceptions of AI and its applications. Here Videgaray contrasted the <a href="">recent report</a> of MIT’s Task Force on the Future of Work, which finds uncertainty about how many jobs will be replaced with technology, with a recent television documentary presenting a picture of automated vehicles replacing all truck drivers.</p> <p>“Clearly the evidence is nowhere near [indicating] that all jobs in truck driving, in long-distance driving, are going to be lost,” he said. “That is not the case.”</p> <p>With these general issues in mind, what should policymakers do about AI now? Videgaray offered several concrete suggestions. For starters: Policymakers should no longer just outline general philosophical principles, something that has been done many times, with a general convergence of ideas occurring.</p> <p>“Working on principles has very, very small marginal returns,” Videgaray said. “We can go to the next phase … principles are a necessary but not sufficient condition for AI policy. Because policy is about making hard choices in uncertain conditions.”</p> <p>Indeed, he emphasized, more progress can be made by having many AI policy decisions be particular to specific industries. When it comes to, say, medical diagnostics, policymakers want technology “to be very accurate, but you also want it to be explainable, you want it to be fair, without bias, you want the information to be secure … there are many objectives that can conflict with each other. So, this is all about the tradeoffs.”&nbsp;</p> <p>In many cases, he said, algorithm-based AI tools could go through a rigorous testing process, as required in some other industries: “Pre-market testing makes sense,” Videgaray said. “We do that for drugs, clinical trials, we do that for cars, why shouldn’t we do pre-market testing for algorithms?”</p> <p>But while Videgaray sees value in industry-specific regulations, he is not as keen on having a patchwork of varying state-level AI laws being used to regulate technology in the U.S.</p> <p>“Is this a problem for Facebook, for Google? I don’t think so,” Videgaray said. “They have enough resources to navigate through this complexity. But what about startups? What about students from MIT or Cornell or Stanford that are trying to start something, and would have to go through, at the extreme, 55 [pieces of] legislation?”</p> <p><strong>A collaborative conversation</strong></p> <p>At the event, Videgaray was introduced by Kenneth Oye, a professor of political science at MIT who studies technological regulation, and who asked Videgaray questions after the lecture. Among other things, Oye suggested U.S. states could serve as a useful laboratory for regulatory innovation.</p> <p>“In an area characterized by significant uncertainty, complexity, and controversy, there can be benefits to experimentation, having different models being pursued in different areas to see which works best or worse,” Oye suggested.</p> <p>Videgaray did not necessarily disagree, but emphasized the value of an eventual convergence in regulation. The U.S. banking industry, he noted, also followed this trajectory, until “eventually the regulation we have for finance [became] federal,” rather than determined by states.</p> <p>Prior to his remarks, Videgaray acknowledged some audience members, including his PhD thesis adviser at MIT, James Poterba, the Mitsui Professor of Economics, whom Videgaray called “one of the best teachers, not only in economics but about a lot of things in life.” Mexico’s Consul General in Boston, Alberto Fierro, also attended the event.</p> <p>Ultimately, Videgaray emphasized to the audience, the future of AI policy will be collaborative.</p> <p>“You cannot just go to a computer lab and say, ‘Okay, get me some AI policy,’” he stressed. “This has got to be a collective conversation.”</p> Luis Videgaray, director of MIT’s AI Policy for the World Project, talking at his Starr Forum lecture, hosted by the Center for International Studies, on February 19, 2020.Images: courtesy of Laura Kerwin, Center for International StudiesArtificial intelligence, Law, Ethics, Computer science and technology, Political science, Economics, Special events and guest speakers, Global, Center for International Studies, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Sloan School of Management Esther Duflo PhD ’99 to speak at 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony MIT professor and alumna shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics, which recognized collaborators’ “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:10:09 -0500 Institute Events <p>Esther Duflo PhD ’99, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT, will be the guest speaker at the 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony on Thursday, May 28.</p> <p>“Professor Duflo is an impressive and inspiring leader — someone whose brilliant insight and relentless hard work have improved the lives of millions of people in poverty,” says Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, host of the ceremony. “I have no doubt that hearing about her research and journey to the Nobel Prize — a path that was marked by hands-on problem-solving, collaboration, and selflessness — will capture the imaginations of our doctoral graduates. Her story will remind them of the impact MIT community members can have when we apply our minds, hands, and hearts to solving society’s most pressing challenges.”</p> <p>Duflo, known for her leadership and innovation in development economics, is a faculty member in the MIT Department of Economics, as well as co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). She is the second woman and the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize in economic sciences.</p> <p>In her <a href="" target="_blank">Nobel speech</a>, given in December 2019 and titled “Field experiments and the practice of economics,” Duflo framed her own work to understand the economic lives of the poor in the context of a movement that leverages research in guiding social policy. She lauded the worldwide J-PAL network of antipoverty researchers, whose rigorous collection and evaluation of data has led to affecting policy in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Duflo — whose early ambitions included becoming a “changemaker” — said she hopes that J-PAL’s influence will foment a self-sustaining culture of learning within governments.</p> <p>The guest speaker is selected by a working group of doctoral students, from among nominees who hold a PhD or ScD from MIT. The group was unanimous and enthusiastic about Duflo’s nomination. Lily Bui, who will graduate in May with a PhD in urban studies and planning, participated in this year’s selection process. “Our committee is thrilled that Dr. Duflo will be our speaker,” she says. “We look forward to the wisdom that she will impart from both her extraordinary professional and personal experiences.”</p> <p>Following her study of history and economics at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Duflo came to MIT, earning a PhD in economics and joining the faculty in 1999. The extraordinary list of her academic honors and prizes include the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences (2015), the A.SK Social Science Award (2015), Infosys Prize (2014), the David N. Kershaw Award (2011), a John Bates Clark Medal (2010), and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship (2009).&nbsp;With Abhijit Banerjee, the Ford International Professor of Economics at MIT, she wrote&nbsp;“Good Economics for Hard Times” (2019) and “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” (2011), the latter of which won the <em>Financial Times</em> and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011 and has been translated into more than 17 languages. Duflo is the editor of the&nbsp;<em>American Economic Review</em>, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.</p> <p>Duflo’s passionate commitment to research toward the betterment of humankind led her to a momentous choice: She and co-laureates Banerjee and Professor Michael Kremer of Harvard University made news again in December 2019 for the decision to donate their combined Nobel prize money to support grants sponsored by the Weiss Fund for Research in Development Economics. The Associated Press <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a> that Duflo was inspired in this gift by Marie Curie, who used her Nobel money to buy a gram of radium for research. The three professors’ donation to the Weiss Fund will support development economics for years to come.</p> <p>Nancy Rose, head of the MIT Department of Economics and the Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics, praised Duflo’s teaching and her relationships with MIT students. She commented, “Esther is not only an extraordinary scholar and educator, but a much-loved mentor and advisor for generations of students.&nbsp;As MIT’s first alumna to be recognized with the Nobel Prize, I can think of no finer choice to acknowledge the promise of our current graduates and to inspire them on the launch of their careers.”</p> <p>The 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony will take place on Thursday, May 28 at 10:30 a.m. on Killian Court. The ceremony is open to family, friends, and mentors of doctoral candidates; no tickets are required.</p> Esther DufloImage: Peter Tenzer/Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action LabCommencement, Community, Special events and guest speakers, Administration, Chancellor, Economics, Nobel Prizes, Alumni/ae, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) Benjamin Chang: Might technology tip the global scales? MIT graduate student is assessing the impacts of artificial intelligence on military power, with a focus on the US and China. Wed, 19 Feb 2020 14:30:01 -0500 Leda Zimmerman | MIT Political Science <p>The United States and China seem locked in an ever-tightening embrace, superpowers entangled in a web of economic and military concerns. "Every issue critical to world order — whether climate change, terrorism, or trade — is clearly and closely intertwined with U.S.-China relations," says Benjamin Chang, a fourth-year PhD candidate in political science concentrating in international relations and security studies. "Competition between these nations will shape all outcomes anyone cares about in the next 50 years or more."</p> <p>Little surprise, then, that Chang is homing in on this relationship for his thesis, which broadly examines the impact of artificial intelligence on military power. As China and the United States circle each other as rivals and uneasy partners on the global stage, Chang hopes to learn what the integration of artificial intelligence in different domains might mean for the balance of power.</p> <p>"There is a set of questions related to how technology will be used in the world in general, where the U.S. and China are the two actors with the most influence," says Chang. "I want to know, for instance, how AI will affect strategic stability between them."</p> <p><strong>The nuclear balance</strong></p> <p>In the domain of military power, one question Chang has been pursuing is whether the use of AI in nuclear strategy offers a battlefield advantage. "For the U.S., the main issue involves locating China's elusive mobile missile launchers," Chang says. "The U.S. has satellite and other remote sensors that provide too much intelligence for human analysts, but AI, with its image classifiers based on deep learning, could sort through all this data to locate Chinese assets in a timely fashion."</p> <p>While Chang's data draws on publicly available information about each side's military capabilities, these sources can't provide specific numbers for China's nuclear arsenal. "We don't know if China has 250 or 300 nukes, so I design programs to run combat simulations with high and low numbers of weapons to try and isolate the effects of AI on combat outcomes." Chang credits J. Chappell Lawson, Vipin Narang, and Eric Heginbotham — his advisors in international relations and security studies — for helping shape his research methodology.</p> <p>If the United States develops the capacity to locate these mobile nuclear assets quickly, "that could change the battlefield outcome and hold China's arsenal at risk," says Chang. "And if China feels it isn't able to protect its nuclear arsenal, it might have an incentive to use it or lose it."</p> <p>In subsequent research, Chang will examine the impacts of AI on cybersecurity and on autonomous weaponry such as drones.</p> <p><strong>A start in policy debate</strong></p> <p>Pondering international and security issues began early for Chang. "I developed a big interest in these subjects through policy debate, which motivated me to read hundreds of pages and gave me a breadth and depth of knowledge on disparate topics," he says. "Debate exposed me to the study of military affairs and got me interested in America's role in the world generally."</p> <p>Chang's engagement with policy deepened at Princeton University, where he earned his BA summa cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. While he knew he wanted to focus on foreign policy of some kind, his special focus on China came fortuitously: He was assigned to a junior seminar where students developed a working paper on "Building the Rule of Law in China." He took a series of Mandarin language courses, and produced a thesis comparing 19th century American nationalist behavior with modern-day Chinese nationalism.</p> <p>By graduation, Chang knew he wanted to aim for a career in national security and policy by way of a graduate school education. But he sought real-world seasoning first: a two-year stint as an analyst at Long Term Strategy Group, a Washington defense research firm. At LTSG, Chang facilitated wargames simulating Asia-Pacific conflicts, and wrote monographs on Chinese foreign policy, nuclear signaling, and island warfare doctrine.</p> <p><strong>Bridging a divide</strong></p> <p>Today, he is applying this expertise. "I'm trying to use my computer science understanding to bridge the gap between people working at a highly technical level of AI, and folks in security studies who are perhaps less familiar with the technology," he says. Propelled by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a research fellowship with the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Chang continues with his simulations and is beginning to write up some of his analysis. He thinks some of his findings might prove surprising.</p> <p>"There is an assumption — based on China's vast collection of personal data and surveillance of citizens — that AI is the means by which China will leapfrog the U.S. in military power," says Chang. "But I think this is wrong." In fact, the United States "has much more military-relevant data than China does, because it collects on so many platforms — in the deep ocean, and from satellites — that are a holdover from fighting the Soviet Union."</p> <p>Among Chang's research challenges: the fact that AI is not a mature technology and hasn't been fully implemented in modern militaries. "There's not yet much literature or data to draw on when assessing its impact," he notes. Also, he would like to nail down a good definition of AI for his field. "With current definitions of AI, thinking about its influence is a bit like investigating the effect of explosives on international affairs: you could be talking about nuclear weapons or dynamite and gunpowder," he says. "In my dissertation I'm attempting a scoping of AI so that it's more amenable to good political science analysis."</p> <p>Getting these ideas down on paper will be Chang's job for at least the next year. The writing occasionally feels like a struggle. "Some days I'll sit there and it won't come out, and other days, after a long walk along the Charles, I can write all day, and it feels good."</p> MIT political science PhD candidate Benjamin ChangPhoto: Benjamin ChangPolitical science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Artificial intelligence, Security studies and military, China, Policy, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral, Computer science and technology Understanding law in everyday life Susan Silbey, a pioneer in studying popular attitudes toward the legal system, discussed her research while giving MIT’s annual Killian Lecture. Thu, 13 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Toward the end of her Killian Lecture at MIT on Tuesday afternoon, Susan Silbey showed the audience a photo of a lawn chair on a city street, being used to save a parking spot during a snowstorm.</p> <p>That’s a familiar image to Boston-area residents. But in this case, the picture had a particular symbolism. Silbey’s scholarship has helped establish a groundbreaking framework for thinking about the interaction of legal codes and civic attitudes. So when people use chairs to hold parking spots, which is illegal, it reflects one specific attitude toward the law, which Silbey helped codify: that the law is there to be negotiated, challenged, and defeated.</p> <p>That is not the only view people have of the law. Some people regard the law as impartial and just, and others believe the entire legal system is oppressive. But to endure, Silbey emphasized in her remarks, a legal system cannot simply be regarded as being “outside of everyday life. … It must be located as securely within, to be powerful, to be effective, to be a rule of law.”</p> <p>And, she added, “it must be experienced in property relations, in market exchanges, in contracts … and in chairs, holding parking spots in newly shoveled, snowy streets.”</p> <p>Thus even little legal evasions, as they play out over time, “are evidence of law’s endurance in everyday life,” noted Silbey, who is the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology, and Anthropology, and a professor of behavioral and policy sciences at the Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>Silbey outlined her influential ideas on Tuesday, discussing her scholarship while accepting MIT’s James R. Killian, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award, the highest such honor at the Institute. The award was established in 1971 to honor Killian, who served as MIT’s 10th president, from 1948 to 1959, and chair of the MIT Corporation, from 1959 to 1971.</p> <p>“I find it very difficult to find the exact words to express how deeply and truly honored I am by this award,” Silbey said, to an audience of about 250 people in MIT’s Room 10-250. “I thank you.”</p> <p><strong>Studying her father’s job</strong></p> <p>The roots of Silbey’s work, she recounted for the audience, go back to her childhood, when her father, a enforcement supervisor in New York State’s labor department, would take her to his office in lower Manhattan. He seemed to know the legal status of every nearby business — whether they had underpaid workers, committed other infractions, or complied with the law.</p> <p>“It only dawned on me a few years ago that I have spent my entire career studying my father’s work,” Silbey said, adding that the key question she sought to address has been, “How do we empirically observe the rule of law?”</p> <p>Indeed, Silbey added, “If we think about law as statues, constitutions, or even courtrooms and juries, it cannot tell us what the law means to most people.”</p> <p>For much of the lecture, Silbey discussed the influential three-part typology of attitudes toward the law that she developed with Patricia Ewick, a professor of sociology at Clark University. Silbey and Ewick introduced their concepts in the 1998 book, “The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life.”</p> <p>As Silbey and Ewick see it, people generally adopt one of three main postures vis-à-vis the legal system: They can be “before” the law, “with” the law, or “against” the law.</p> <p>Those who are “before” the law follow the rules closely and regard the legal system as a stable, impartial edifice.</p> <p>“Legality is imagined as an objective realm of disinterested action, removed and distant from the lives of individuals,” Silbey said. “This is also the law’s story about itself, of its own awesome grandeur.”</p> <p>By contrast, people who are “with” the law regard the legal system as a game, with victory possible through skill, experience, good lawyers, and other resources.</p> <p>In this view, Silbey remarks, “There is no [objective] justice — you either win, or you lose.”</p> <p>Finally, those who are “against” the law view the entire system as an expression of unequal power, and adopt a posture of resistance to it.</p> <p>For these people, Silbey said, “legality is understood to be arbitrary and capricious,” although, she noted, people who are “against” the law are “rarely cynical” about it. They believe in the possibility of justice, but think the system denies it to them.</p> <p>Significantly, Silbey added, “We need all three to explain law’s enduring force and organizing presence.” We cannot plausibly claim the law is always impartial, but it cannot sustain legitimacy if always regarded as a game.</p> <p>Silbey was introduced by MIT chair of the faculty Rick Danheiser, who formally presented the Killian Award to her, telling Silbey it had been granted for “your insatiable curiosity, your extraordinary record of professional accomplishment, your generous mentorship, and last but not least … your important leadership contributions at MIT.”</p> <p>Silbey earned her BA in political science from Brooklyn College and her MA and PhD in political science from the University of Chicago. She was a faculty member in Wellesley College’s Department of Sociology from 1974 through 2000, when she joined the MIT faculty.</p> <p>At MIT, Silbey has also extended her research into studies of gender roles in science and engineering, while also extensively evaluating issues of compliance with the law in laboratory settings.</p> <p>Silbey’s record of service at the Institute includes tenures as chair of the MIT faculty, from 2017 to 2019; secretary of the faculty; and head of the anthropology section, from 2006 to 2014. In 2017, she even received a “Rookie Advisor” award for excellence in advising first-year undergraduates.</p> <p>In her closing remarks, Silbey made a point of thanking her faculty and staff colleagues, co-authors, family members, and particularly “my beloved late husband, Robert Silbey, who’s always been there for my entire life, more than 50 years.” Robert Silbey was an MIT faculty member from 1966 to 2011. A professor of chemistry, he served as dean of the School of Science from 2000 to 2007.</p> <p>“He is the reason I have been at MIT,” Silbey added. “These years have been marvelous. I used to say to him daily … I have never been happier in my work than the years I have been at MIT, capped by this most auspicious award. And I thank you very much.”</p> Susan Silbey, the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology, and Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences at the Sloan School of Management, delivering the 48th Annual James R. Killian, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award Lecture at MIT on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. Image: Jake BelcherAwards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, Special events and guest speakers, Law, Anthropology, Sociology, Policy, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Sloan School of Management The complex effects of colonial rule in Indonesia Evidence links Dutch-era sugar production and greater economic activity today. Wed, 05 Feb 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>The areas of Indonesia where Dutch colonial rulers built a huge sugar-producing industry in the 1800s remain more economically productive today than other parts of the country, according to a study co-authored by an MIT economist.</p> <p>The research, focused on the Indonesian island of Java, introduces new data into the study of the economic effects of colonialism. The finding shows that around villages where the Dutch built sugar-processing factories from the 1830 through the 1870s, there is today greater economic activity, more extensive manufacturing, and even more schools, along with higher local education levels.</p> <p>“The places where the Dutch established [sugar factories] persisted as manufacturing centers,” says <a href="">Benjamin Olken</a>, a professor of economics at MIT and co-author of a <a href="">paper</a> detailing the results, which appears in the January issue of the <em>Review of Economic Studies</em>.</p> <p>The historical link between this “Dutch Cultivation System” and economic activity today has likely been transmitted “through a couple of forces,” Olken suggests. One of them, he says, is the building of “complementary infrastructure” such as railroads and roads, which remain in place in contemporary Indonesia.</p> <p>The other mechanism, Olken says, is that “industries grew up around the sugar [industry], and those industries persisted. And once you have this manufacturing environment, that can lead to other changes: More infrastructure and more schools have persisted in these areas as well.”</p> <p>To be sure, Olken says, the empirical conclusions of the study do not represent validation of Dutch colonial rule, which lasted from the early 1600s until 1949 and significantly restricted the rights and self-constructed political institutions of Indonesians. Dutch rule had long-lasting effects in many areas of civic life, and the Dutch Cultivation System used forced labor, for one thing.</p> <p>“This paper is not trying to argue that the [Dutch] colonial enterprise was a net good for the people of the time,” Olken emphasizes. “I want to be very clear on that. That’s not what we’re saying.”</p> <p>Instead, the study was designed to evaluate the empirical effects of the Dutch Cultivation System, and the outcome of the research was not necessarily what Olken would have anticipated.</p> <p>“The results are striking,” Olken says. “They just jump out at you.”</p> <p>The paper, “The Development Effects of the Extractive Colonial Economy: The Dutch Cultivation System in Java,” is co-authored by Olken and <a href="">Melissa Dell</a> PhD ’12, a professor of economics at Harvard University.</p> <p><strong>On the ground</strong></p> <p>Historically in Java, the most populous of Indonesia’s many islands, the main crop had been rice. Starting in the 1830s, the Dutch instituted a sugar-growing system in some areas, building 94 sugar-processing factories, as well as roads and railroads to transport materials and products.</p> <p>Generally the Dutch would export high-quality sugar from Indonesia while keeping lower-quality sugar in the country. Overall, the system became massive; at one point in the mid-19th century, sugar production in Java accounted for one-third of the Dutch government’s revenues and 4 percent of Dutch GDP. By one estimate, a quarter of the population was involved in the industry.</p> <p>In developing their research, Olken and Dell used 19th century data from government archives in the Netherlands, as well as modern data from Indonesia. The Dutch built the processing plants next to rivers in places with enough flat land to sustain extensive sugar crops; to conduct the study, the researchers looked at economic activity near sugar-processing factories and compared it with economic activity in similar areas that lacked factories.</p> <p>“In the 1850s, the Dutch spent four years on the ground collecting detailed information for the over 10,000 villages that contributed land and labor to the Cultivation System,” Dell notes. The researchers digitized those records and, as she states, “painstakingly merged them” with economic and demograhic records from the same locations today</p> <p>As the results show, places close to factories are 25-30 percentage points less agricultural in economic composition than those away from factories, and they have more manufacturing, by 6-7 percentage points. They also have 9 percent more employment in retail.</p> <p>Areas within 1 kilometer of a sugar factory have a railroad density twice that of similar places 5 to 20 kilometers from factories; by 1980, they were also 45 percent more likely to have electricity and 4 percent more likely to have a high school. They also have local populations with a full year more of education, on average, than areas not situated near old sugar factories.</p> <p>The study shows there is also about 10 to 15 percent more public-land use in villages that were part of the Dutch Cultivation System, a data point that holds steady in both 1980 and 2003.</p> <p>“The key thing that underlies this paper, in multiple respects, is the linking of the historical data and the modern data,” Olken says. The researchers also observed that the disparity between industrialized places and their more rural counterparts has not arisen since 1980, further suggesting how much Java’s deep economic roots matter.</p> <p><strong>Net Effects?</strong></p> <p>The paper blends the expertise of Olken, who has spent years conducting antipoverty studies in Indonesia, and Dell, whose work at times examines the effects of political history on current-day economic outcomes.</p> <p>“I had never really done a historical project before,” Olken says. “But the opportunity to collaborate with Melissa on this was really exciting.”</p> <p>One of Dell’s best-known papers, published in 2010 while she was still a PhD student at MIT, shows that in areas of Peru where colonial Spanish rulers instituted a system of forced mining labor from the 1500s to the 1800s, there are significant and negative economic effects that persist today.</p> <p>However, somewhat to their surprise, the researchers did not observe similarly promounced effects from the Dutch Cultivation System.</p> <p>“One might have thought that could have had negative consequences on local social capital and local development in other respects,” says Olken, adding that he “wasn’t sure what to expect” before looking at the data.</p> <p>“The differences between the long-run effects of forced labor in Peru and Java suggest that for understanding persistent impacts on economic activity, we need to know more than just whether there was forced labor in a location,” Dell says. “We need to understand how the historical institutions influenced economic incentives and activities initially, and how these initial effects may or may not have persisted moving forward.”</p> <p>Olken adds that the study “can’t measure every possible thing,” and that “it’s possible there are other effects we didn’t see.”</p> <p>Moreover, Olken notes, the paper cannot determine the net effect of the Dutch Cultivation System on Indonesian economic growth. That is, in the absence of Dutch rule, Indonesia’s economy would have certainly grown on it own — but it is impossible to say whether it would have expanded at a rate faster, slower, or equivalent to the trajectory it had under the Dutch.</p> <p>“We can’t say what would have happened if the Dutch had never showed up in Indonesia,” Olken says. “And of course the Dutch [colonizing] Indonesia had all kinds of effects well beyond the scope of this paper, many of them negative for the contemporaneous population.”</p> Researchers find that Dutch sugar production in Indonesia in the 19th century entailed industrialization whose economic benefits are still evident today. Image collage: Christine Daniloff, MITEconomics, Asia, Europe, History, Research, Global, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences A college for the computing age With the initial organizational structure in place, the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing moves forward with implementation. Tue, 04 Feb 2020 12:30:01 -0500 Terri Park | MIT Schwarzman College of Computing <p>The mission of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing is to address the opportunities and challenges of the computing age — from hardware to software to algorithms to artificial intelligence (AI) — by transforming the capabilities of academia in three key areas: supporting the rapid evolution and growth of computer science and AI; facilitating collaborations between computing and other disciplines; and focusing on social and ethical responsibilities of computing through combining technological approaches and insights from social science and humanities, and through engagement beyond academia.</p> <p>Since starting his position in August 2019, Daniel Huttenlocher, the inaugural dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, has been working with many stakeholders in designing the initial organizational structure of the college. Beginning with the <a href="" target="_blank">College of Computing Task Force Working Group reports</a> and feedback from the MIT community, the structure has been developed through an iterative process of draft plans yielding a <a href="" target="_blank">26-page document</a> outlining the initial academic organization of the college that is designed to facilitate the college mission through improved coordination and evolution of existing computing programs at MIT, improved collaboration in computing across disciplines, and development of new cross-cutting activities and programs, notably in the social and ethical responsibilities of computing.</p> <p>“The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing is both bringing together existing MIT programs in computing and developing much-needed new cross-cutting educational and research programs,” says Huttenlocher. “For existing programs, the college helps facilitate coordination and manage the growth in areas such as computer science, artificial intelligence, data systems and society, and operations research, as well as helping strengthen interdisciplinary computing programs such as computational science and engineering. For new areas, the college is creating cross-cutting platforms for the study and practice of social and ethical responsibilities of computing, for multi-departmental computing education, and for incubating new interdisciplinary computing activities.”</p> <p>The following existing departments, institutes, labs, and centers are now part of the college:</p> <ul> <li>Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer (EECS), which has been <a href="" target="_self">reorganized</a> into three overlapping sub-units of electrical engineering (EE), computer science (CS), and artificial intelligence and decision-making (AI+D), and is jointly part of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and School of Engineering;</li> <li>Operations Research Center (ORC), which is jointly part of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and MIT Sloan School of Management;</li> <li>Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), which will be increasing its focus on the societal aspects of its mission while also continuing to support statistics across MIT, and including the Technology and Policy Program (TPP) and Sociotechnical Systems Research Center (SSRC);</li> <li>Center for Computational Science Engineering (CCSE), which is being renamed from the Center for Computational Engineering and broadening its focus in the sciences;</li> <li>Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL);</li> <li>Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS); and</li> <li>Quest for Intelligence.</li> </ul> <p>With the initial structure in place, Huttenlocher, the college leadership team, and the leaders of the academic units that are part of the college, in collaboration with departments in all five schools, are actively moving forward with curricular and programmatic development, including the launch of two new areas, the Common Ground for Computing Education and the Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC). Still in the early planning stages, these programs are the aspects of the college that are designed to cut across lines and involve a number of departments throughout MIT. Other programs are expected to be introduced as the college continues to take shape.</p> <p>“The college is an Institute-wide entity, working with and across all five schools,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who was part of the task force steering committee. “Its continued growth and focus depend greatly on the input of our MIT community, a process which began over a year ago. I’m delighted that Dean Huttenlocher and the college leadership team have engaged the community for collaboration and discussion around the plans for the college.”</p> <p>With these organizational changes, students, faculty, and staff in these units are members of the college, and in some cases, jointly with a school, as will be those who are engaged in the new cross-cutting activities in SERC and Common Ground. “A question we get frequently,” says Huttenlocher, “is how to apply to the college. As is the case throughout MIT, undergraduate admissions are handled centrally, and graduate admissions are handled by each individual department or graduate program.”<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>Advancing computing</strong></p> <p>Despite the unprecedented growth in computing, there remains substantial unmet demand for expertise. In academia, colleges and universities worldwide are faced with oversubscribed programs in computer science and the constant need to keep up with rapidly changing materials at both the graduate and undergraduate level.</p> <p>According to Huttenlocher, the computing fields are evolving at a pace today that is beyond the capabilities of current academic structures to handle. “As academics, we pride ourselves on being generators of new knowledge, but academic institutions themselves don’t change that quickly. The rise of AI is probably the biggest recent example of that, along with the fact that about 40 percent of MIT undergraduates are majoring in computer science, where we have 7 percent of the MIT faculty.”</p> <p>In order to help meet this demand, MIT is increasing its academic capacity in computing and AI with 50 new faculty positions — 25 will be core computing positions in CS, AI, and related areas, and 25 will be shared jointly with departments. Searches are now active to recruit core faculty in CS and AI+D, and for joint faculty with MIT Philosophy, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and several interdisciplinary institutes.</p> <p>The new shared faculty searches will largely be conducted around the concept of “clusters” to build capacity at MIT in important computing areas that cut across disciplines, departments, and schools. Huttenlocher, the provost, and the five school deans will work to identify themes based on input from departments so that recruiting can be undertaken during the next academic year.</p> <p><strong>Cross-cutting collaborations in computing</strong></p> <p>Building on the history of strong faculty participation in interdepartmental labs, centers, and initiatives, the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing provides several forms of membership in the college based on cross-cutting research, teaching, or external engagement activities. While computing is affecting intellectual inquiry in almost every discipline, Huttenlocher is quick to stress that “it’s bi-directional.” He notes that existing collaborations across various schools and departments, such as MIT Digital Humanities, as well as opportunities for new such collaborations, are key to the college mission because in the same way that “computing is changing thinking in the disciplines; the disciplines are changing the way people do computing.”</p> <p>Under the leadership of Asu Ozdaglar, the deputy dean of academics and department head of EECS, the college is developing the Common Ground for Computing Education, an interdepartmental teaching collaborative that will facilitate the offering of computing classes and coordination of computing-related curricula across academic units.</p> <p>The objectives of this collaborative are to provide opportunities for faculty across departments to work together, including co-teaching classes, creating new undergraduate majors or minors such as in AI+D, as well as facilitating undergraduate blended degrees such as 6-14 (Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science), 6-9 (Computation and Cognition), 11-6 (Urban Science and Planning with Computer Science), 18-C (Mathematics with Computer Science), and others.</p> <p>“It is exciting to bring together different areas of computing with methodological and substantive commonalities as well as differences around one table,” says Ozdaglar. “MIT faculty want to collaborate in topics around computing, but they are increasingly overwhelmed with teaching assignments and other obligations. I think the college will enable the types of interactions that are needed to foster new ideas.”</p> <p>Thinking about the impact on the student experience, Ozdaglar expects that the college will help students better navigate the computing landscape at MIT by creating clearer paths. She also notes that many students have passions beyond computer science, but realize the need to be adept in computing techniques and methodologies in order to pursue other interests, whether it be political science, economics, or urban science. “The idea for the college is to educate students who are fluent in computation, but at the same time, creatively apply computing with the methods and questions of the domain they are mostly interested in.”</p> <p>For Deputy Dean of Research Daniela Rus, who is also the director of CSAIL and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in EECS, developing research programs “that bring together MIT faculty and students from different units to advance computing and to make the world better through computing” is a top priority. She points to the recent launch of the <a href="" target="_self">MIT Air Force AI Innovation Accelerator</a>, a collaboration between the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and the U.S. Air Force focused on AI, as an example of the types of research projects the college can facilitate.</p> <p>“As humanity works to solve problems ranging from climate change to curing disease, removing inequality, ensuring sustainability, and eliminating poverty, computing opens the door to powerful new solutions,” says Rus. “And with the MIT Schwarzman College as our foundation, I believe MIT will be at the forefront of those solutions. Our scholars are laying theoretical foundations of computing and applying those foundations to big ideas in computing and across disciplines.”</p> <p><strong>Habits of mind and action</strong></p> <p>A critically important cross-cutting area is the Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing, which will facilitate the development of responsible “habits of mind and action” for those who create and deploy computing technologies, and the creation of technologies in the public interest.</p> <p>“The launch of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing offers an extraordinary new opportunity for the MIT community to respond to today’s most consequential questions in ways that serve the common good,” says Melissa Nobles, professor of political science, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and co-chair of the Task Force Working Group on Social Implications and Responsibilities of Computing.</p> <p>“As AI and other advanced technologies become ubiquitous in their influence and impact, touching nearly every aspect of life, we have increasingly seen the need to more consciously align powerful new technologies with core human values — integrating consideration of societal and ethical implications of new technologies into the earliest stages of their development. Asking, for example, of every new technology and tool: Who will benefit? What are the potential ecological and social costs? Will the new technology amplify or diminish human accomplishments in the realms of justice, democracy, and personal privacy?</p> <p>“As we shape the college, we are envisioning an MIT culture in which all of us are equipped and encouraged to think about such implications. In that endeavor, MIT’s humanistic disciplines will serve as deep resources for research, insight, and discernment. We also see an opportunity for advanced technologies to help solve political, economic, and social issues that trouble today’s world by integrating technology with a humanistic analysis of complex civilizational issues — among them climate change, the future of work, and poverty, issues that will yield only to collaborative problem-solving. It is not too much to say that human survival may rest on our ability to solve these problems via collective intelligence, designing approaches that call on the whole range of human knowledge.”</p> <p>Julie Shah, an associate professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and head of the Interactive Robotics Group at CSAIL, who co-chaired the working group with Nobles and is now a member of the college leadership, adds that “traditional technologists aren’t trained to pause and envision the possible futures of how technology can and will be used. This means that we need to develop new ways of training our students and ourselves in forming new habits of mind and action so that we include these possible futures into our design.”</p> <p>The associate deans of Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing, Shah and David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics, are designing a systemic framework for SERC that will not only effect change in computing education and research at MIT, but one that will also inform policy and practice in government and industry. Activities that are currently in development include multi-disciplinary curricula embedded in traditional computing and AI courses across all levels of instruction, the commission and curation of a series of case studies that will be modular and available to all via MIT’s open access channels, active learning projects, cross-disciplinary monthly convenings, public forums, and more.&nbsp;</p> <p>“A lot of how we’ve been thinking about SERC components is building capacity with what we already have at the Institute as a very important first step. And that means how do we get people interacting in ways that can be a little bit different than what has been familiar, because I think there are a lot of shared goals among the MIT community, but the gears aren’t quite meshing yet. We want to further support collaborations that might cut across lines that otherwise might not have had much traffic between them,” notes Kaiser.</p> <p><strong>Just the beginning</strong></p> <p>While he’s excited by the progress made so far, Huttenlocher points out there will continue to be revisions made to the organizational structure of the college. “We are at the very beginning of the college, with a tremendous amount of excellence at MIT to build on, and with some clear needs and opportunities, but the landscape is changing rapidly and the college is very much a work in progress.”</p> <p>The college has other initiatives in the planning stages, such as the Center for Advanced Studies of Computing that will host fellows from inside and outside of MIT on semester- or year-long project-oriented programs in focused topic areas that could seed new research, scholarly, educational, or policy work. In addition, Huttenlocher is planning to launch a search for an assistant or associate dean of equity and inclusion, once the Institute Community and Equity Officer is in place, to focus on improving and creating programs and activities that will help broaden participation in computing classes and degree programs, increase the&nbsp;diversity&nbsp;of top faculty candidates in computing fields, and ensure that faculty search and graduate admissions processes have diverse slates of candidates and interviews.</p> <p>“The typical academic approach would be to wait until it’s clear what to do, but that would be a mistake. The way we’re going to learn is by trying and by being more flexible. That may be a more general attribute of the new era we’re living in, he says. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like years from now, but it’s going to be pretty different, and MIT is going to be shaping it.”</p> <p>The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will be hosting a community forum on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. in Room 10-250. Members from the MIT community are welcome to attend to learn more about the initial organizational structure of the college.</p> MIT Schwarzman College of Computing leadership team (left to right) David Kaiser, Daniela Rus, Dan Huttenlocher, Julie Shah, and Asu Ozdaglar Photo: Sarah BastilleMIT Schwarzman College of Computing, School of Engineering, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS), Quest for Intelligence, Philosophy, Brain and cognitive sciences, Digital humanities, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Artificial intelligence, Operations research, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), IDSS, Ethics, Administration, Classes and programs MIT launches master’s in data, economics, and development policy, led by Nobel laureates The first cohort of 22 students from 14 countries share a common ambition: harnessing data to help others. Tue, 04 Feb 2020 09:00:00 -0500 Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) <p>This week, the first cohort of 22 students begin classes in MIT’s new master’s program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP). The graduate program was created jointly by MIT’s Department of Economics and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (<a href="">J-PAL</a>), a research center at MIT led by professors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Benjamin Olken. Banerjee and Duflo are co-recipients of the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.&nbsp;</p> <p>The 22 students beginning the master’s program this week hail from 14 countries around the world, including Brazil, India, Jordan, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, the United States, and Zimbabwe.&nbsp;</p> <p>The students are pioneers of a new approach to higher education: College degrees and standardized test scores are not required for admission. Instead, applicants prove their readiness through their performance in online <em>MITx </em><a href="">MicroMasters</a> courses, completing weekly assignments and taking proctored final exams.&nbsp;</p> <p>The program’s unique admissions process reflects Banerjee, Duflo, and Olken’s ambition to democratize higher education, leveling the playing field to enable students from all backgrounds to succeed.</p> <p>The makeup of the <a href="" target="_blank">cohort</a> reflects this nontraditional approach to admissions. Students joining the Data, Economics, and Development Policy program possess a range of professional backgrounds, with experience in finance, management consulting, and government; and with organizations like UNICEF, Google, and <em>The New York Times</em> — one incoming student is even joining <a href="" target="_blank">directly from high school</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Applying data for better public policy</strong></p> <p>The <a href="">master’s program</a> combines five challenging MicroMasters courses, one semester of on-campus learning, and a summer capstone experience to provide students with an accessible yet rigorous academic experience. The curriculum is designed to equip students with the tools to apply data for more effective decision-making in public policy, with a focus on social policies that target poverty alleviation.&nbsp;</p> <p>This includes coursework in microeconomics, econometrics, political economy, psychology, data science, and more — all designed to provide a practical, well-rounded graduate education. Many students hope to apply the knowledge they gain in the DEDP program to improve the lives of people in their home countries.</p> <p>Helena Lima, an incoming student from Brazil, plans to return to Brazil after graduation. “My goal [after completing this program] is to move the needle in Brazilian public education, contributing to increase access to high-quality schools for the most vulnerable people and communities,” says Helena.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lovemore Mawere, an incoming student from Zimbabwe, shares this sentiment. “I intend to return home to Africa after the master’s program. I believe the experience and the skills gained will embolden me to take action and lead the fight against poverty.”</p> <p><strong>Expanding access for all students</strong></p> <p>The blended online and in-person structure of the program means that students spend just one semester on campus at MIT, but program administrators recognize that costs of tuition and living expenses can still be prohibitive. Administrators say that they are working on bringing these costs down and providing scholarship funding.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve partnered with the Hewlett Foundation to provide scholarships for students from sub-Saharan Africa, and are actively seeking other funding partners who share our vision,” says Maya Duru, associate director of education at J-PAL. “The individuals who apply to this program are incredibly smart, motivated, and resourceful. We want to work with donors to establish a sustainable scholarship fund to ensure that finances are never a barrier to participation.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Esther Duflo, the MIT professor and Nobel laureate who helped create the program, emphasized the critical importance of the program’s mission.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is more important now than ever to ensure that the next generation of leaders understand how best to use data to inform decisions, especially when it comes to public policy,” says Duflo. “We are preparing our students to succeed in future leadership positions in government, NGOs, and the private sector — and, hopefully, to help shift their institutional cultures toward a more data-driven approach to policy.”</p> The first students to enroll in MIT’s new MicroMaster Program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy program arrived at MIT in January.Photo: Amanda Kohn/J-PALEconomics, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), MITx, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), EdX, Office of Digital Learning, International development, Policy, Poverty, Data, education, teaching, Education, teaching, academics, Social sciences, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Experts join J-PAL North America in advancing conversation on the work of the future Academic, government, and advocacy leaders gathered to promote collaborative research partnerships to identify strategies that help workers thrive in today’s labor market. Fri, 31 Jan 2020 15:30:01 -0500 J-PAL North America <p>On Jan. 14, J-PAL North America’s <a href="" target="_blank">Work of the Future Initiative</a> hosted an afternoon of conversation on how to address the changing nature of work while advancing equity and opportunity. The event, entitled <a href="" target="_blank">Building A Future That Works For All</a>, was attended by 35 leaders from nonprofits, academia, government, philanthropy, and advocacy organizations.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The assumption that we can solve these problems without workers in the conversation is one that we need to leave behind,” said Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, as she kicked off the first panel of the day. This theme was echoed throughout the day’s conversations, which were hosted by the Gerri and Rich Wong family at the Accel office in Palo Alto, California. Rich Wong is an alumnus of MIT engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management.&nbsp;</p> <p>The event sought to continue J-PAL North America and the Work of the Future Initiative’s efforts to shift the conversations surrounding the future of work to focus on working people and collaborative research partnerships. As J-PAL North America Executive Director Mary Ann Bates stated in her introductory remarks: “We’re here to talk about the work of the future, which is about many big ideas — automation, artificial intelligence, and more — but we care about this work because of the people.”&nbsp;</p> <p>J-PAL North America launched the Work of the Future Initiative in April 2019 to identify effective, evidence-based strategies to increase opportunities, reduce disparities, and help all workers navigate and thrive in the labor markets of the future.&nbsp;</p> <p>Research partnerships are vital to generating the rigorous evidence necessary to identify these effective strategies. The recent event’s conversations sought to provide attendees with a chance to forge new partnerships and discuss innovative ideas for new programs and evaluations.&nbsp;</p> <p>The first panel discussed the role of rigorous research to inform worker-centered policies. Ai-jen Poo focused her discussion on the care sector — a workforce that will grow at five times the rate of any other sector in the coming years. Specifically, Poo noted the creative and innovative measures that the National Domestic Workers Alliance is taking to ensure that care work is dignified and that domestic workers are protected, including turning to technology: “What we’re trying to do is deploy technology to solve for dignity and equity.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Harvard professor and J-PAL North America Co-Scientific Director Lawrence Katz followed Poo’s remarks by discussing the growing divergence between real wages and worker productivity. Katz cited rising inequality as a primary driver of the decline in upward mobility and the stagnation of wages; more so than slow economic growth.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lastly, Aneesh Raman, senior advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom, closed the conversation with a discussion on why collaboration across sectors and a willingness to innovate is crucial to progress: “We live in a world where politicians have very little opportunity to fail, which makes it very hard to innovate. We need to create a shared ownership of risk. Philanthropy, government, the private sector, and the nonprofit community need to come together to innovate and make a difference.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Other highlights of the day included a discussion of an ongoing research partnership between MIT Professor and Work of the Future Initiative Co-Chair David Autor, Rutgers University professor and J-PAL-affiliated researcher Amanda Agan, and Irene Liu and Jen Yeh of <a href="" target="_blank">Checkr</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Checkr is a selected partner through the Work of the Future Initiative’s <a href="" target="_blank">inaugural innovation competition</a>. The company partnered with Autor and Agan to evaluate whether their Positive Adjudication Matrix (PAM) can reduce bias in the background-check and hiring process. PAM allows employers to deem certain types of offenses irrelevant to the roles for which they’re hiring. Companies can then choose to either filter out or de-emphasize these criminal records.&nbsp;</p> <p>The candid conversation addressed the challenging aspects of partnering to design an evaluation and discussed what conditions must hold for more productive research partnerships to form in the future. Autor discussed the need for a champion within a partner organization, stating, “Data is threatening in the sense that it can produce results that you’re not looking for. You need a champion within your organization to move this forward.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The Checkr team expressed their hope that the evaluation of their product can inform policy decisions in the future: “There are states that have laws dictating who can and cannot apply to these companies. If we have evidence there, that can be really helpful.”</p> <p>Other panelists, such as Katy Hamilton of the <a href="" target="_blank">Center for Work Education and Employment</a> and Jukay Hsu of <a href="" target="_blank">Pursuit</a>, run organizations that provide direct support to workers seeking quality jobs. Hamilton and Hsu discussed the programs that they hope to evaluate and turned to the audience for advice and constructive questions to inform their evaluation design processes.&nbsp;</p> <p>To wrap up the day, representatives from academia, philanthropy, the private sector, and government offered a call to action to other leaders within their sectors. Themes included centering workers’ voices and collaborating across sectors.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Katy Knight of the Siegel Family Endowment discussed the steps that philanthropic organizations should take to promote people-centered practices: “We need to bring other people into the conversation and listen to their personal expertise to make sure we really understand the work we’re doing.” Mark Gorenberg of Zetta Venture Partners echoed these statements, stressing the private sector’s obligation to invest responsibly in programs that promote dignity.&nbsp;</p> <p>José Cisneros, elected treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco, discussed how collaboration is crucial for innovation: “The government is ready to be creative and work in partnership with philanthropy and the private sector to see if we can do things differently.” Columbia University professor and J-PAL-affiliated researcher Peter Bergman advocated for a similar type of collaboration within the academic community, calling for larger and more diverse research teams to conduct both quantitative and qualitative analyses of programs.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Work of the Future Initiative will continue to shape the dialogue surrounding the future of work by bringing together leaders and innovators across sectors to engage in conversations and research partnerships that center worker voices and concerns. By generating research on strategies to help workers thrive in today’s labor market, the initiative seeks to shape a more equitable future of work.</p> <div></div> Katy Knight (left) of the Siegel Family Endowment and José Cisneros (right), elected treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco, listen as MIT professor and Work of the Future Initiative co-chair David Autor provides feedback on how to design an effective evaluation of a labor force development program.Photo: J-PAL North AmericaAbdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Economics, Technology and society, Jobs, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Hospital rankings hold up 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 <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 At halfway point, SuperUROP scholars share their research results In a lively poster session, more than 100 undergraduates discuss their yearlong research projects on everything from machine learning to political geography. Wed, 29 Jan 2020 14:25:01 -0500 Kathryn O'Neill | Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science <p>MIT undergraduates are rolling up their sleeves to address major problems in the world, conducting research on topics ranging from nursing care to money laundering to the spread of misinformation about climate change — work highlighted at the most recent SuperUROP Showcase.</p> <p>The event, which took place on the Charles M. Vest Student Street in the Stata Center in December 2019, marked the halfway point in the Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (better known as “SuperUROP”). The yearlong program gives MIT students firsthand experience in conducting research with close faculty mentorship. Many participants receive scholar titles recognizing the program’s industry sponsors, individual donors, and other contributors.</p> <p>This year, 102 students participated in SuperUROP, with many of their projects focused on applying computer science technologies, such as machine learning, to challenges in fields ranging from robotics to health care. Almost all presented posters of their work at the December showcase, explaining research to fellow students, faculty members, alumni, sponsors, and other guests.</p> <p>“Every year, this program gets more and more impressive,” says Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “What’s especially noteworthy is the incredible breadth of projects and how articulate students are in talking about their work. Their presentation skills seem pretty remarkable.”</p> <p>SuperUROP, administered by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), includes a two-term course, 6.UAR (Undergraduate Advanced Research), designed to teach students research skills, including how to design an experiment and communicate results.</p> <p>“What’s different about SuperUROP [compared to other research opportunities offered to undergraduates] is the companion class that guides you through the necessary writing and speaking,” says Anis Ehsani, a senior majoring in EECS and mathematics, whose project centered on the geometry of drawing political districts. “If I want to pursue a research career, it’s nice to have those skills,” adds Ehsani, an MIT EECS/Nutanix SuperUROP scholar.</p> <p><strong>Beyond the lab and classroom</strong></p> <p>Participants present their work at showcases in the fall and spring, and they are expected to produce prototypes or publication-worthy results by the end of the year.</p> <p>“All these presentations help keep us on track with our projects,” says Weitung Chen, an EECS junior whose project focuses on automating excavation for mining applications. He explains that the inspiration for his SuperUROP work was a real-world problem he faced when trying to build a startup in automated food preparation. Scooping tofu, it turns out, is surprisingly difficult to automate. At the showcase, Chen — an MIT EECS/Angle SuperUROP scholar — explained that he is trying to create a simulation than can be used to train machines to scoop materials autonomously. “I feel really accomplished having this poster and presentation,” he said.</p> <p>Launched by EECS in 2012, SuperUROP has expanded across the Institute over the past several years.</p> <p>Adam Berinsky, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science, is working with SuperUROP students for the first time this year, an experience he’s enjoying. “What’s really cool is being able to give undergraduates firsthand experience in real research,” he says. He’s been able to tap students for the computer science skills he needs for his work, while providing them with a deep dive into the social sciences.</p> <p>Madeline Abrahams, an MIT/Tang Family FinTech SuperUROP scholar, says she especially appreciates the program’s flexibility: “I could explore my interdisciplinary interests,” she says. A computer science and engineering major who is also passionate about political science, Abrahams is working with Berinsky to investigate the spread of misinformation related to climate change via algorithmic aggregation platforms.</p> <p>Nicholas Bonaker also enjoyed the freedom of pursuing his SuperUROP project. “I’ve been able to take the research in the direction I want,” says Bonaker, a junior in EECS, who has developed a new algorithm he hopes will improve an assistive technology developed by his advisor, EECS Associate Professor Tamara Broderick.</p> <p><strong>Exploring new directions in health care</strong></p> <p>Bonaker said he particularly values the health-care focus of his project, which centers on creating better communications software for people living with severe motor impairments. “It feels like I’m doing something that can help people — using things I learned in class,” says Bonaker. He is among this year’s MIT EECS/CS+HASS SuperUROP scholars, whose projects combine computer science with the humanities, arts, or social sciences. &nbsp;</p> <p>Many of this year’s SuperUROP students are working on health-care applications. For example, Fatima Gunter-Rahman, a junior in EECS and biology, is examining Alzheimer’s data, and Sabrina Liu, an EECS junior and MIT EECS/Takeda SUperUROP scholar, is investigating noninvasive ways to monitor the heartrates of dental patients. Justin Lim, a senior math major, is using data analytics to try to determine the optimal treatment for chronic diseases like diabetes. “I like the feeling that my work would have real-world impact,” says Lim, an MIT EECS/Hewlett Foundation SuperUROP scholar. “It’s been very satisfying.”</p> <p>Dhamanpreet Kaur, a junior majoring in math and computer science and molecular biology, is using machine learning to determine the characteristics of patients who are readmitted to hospitals following their discharge to skilled nursing facilities. The work aims to predict who might benefit most from expensive telehealth systems that enable clinicians to monitor patients remotely. The project has given Kaur the chance to work with a multidisciplinary team of professors and doctors. “I find that aspect fascinating,” says Kaur, also an MIT EECS/Takeda SuperUROP scholar.</p> <p>As attendees bustled through the two-hour December showcase, some of the most enthusiastic visitors were industry sponsors, including Larry Bair ’84, SM ’86, a director at Advanced Micro Devices. “I’m always amazed at what undergraduates are doing,” he says, noting that his company has been sponsoring SuperUROPs for the last few years.</p> <p>“It’s always interesting to see what’s going on at MIT,” says Tom O’Dwyer, an MIT research affiliate and the former director of technology at Analog Devices, another industry sponsor. O’Dwyer notes that supporting SuperUROP can help companies with recruitment. “The whole high-tech business runs on smart people,” he says. “SuperUROPs can lead to internships and employment.”</p> <p>SuperUROP also exposes students to the work of academia, which can underscore a key difference between classwork and research: Research results are unpredictable.</p> <p>Junior math major Lior Hirschfeld, for example, compared the effectiveness of different machine learning methods used to test molecules for potential in drug development. “None of them performed exceptionally well,” he says.</p> <p>That might appear to be a poor result, but Hirschfeld notes that it’s important information for those who are using and trusting those tests today. “It shows you may not always know where you are going when you start a project,” says Hirschfeld, also an MIT EECS/Takeda SuperUROP scholar.</p> <p>EECS senior Kenneth Acquah had a similar experience with his SuperUROP project, which focuses on finding a technological way to combat money laundering with Bitcoin. “We’ve tried a bunch of things but mostly found out what doesn’t work,” he says.</p> <p>Still, Acquah says, he values the SuperUROP experience, including the chance to work in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). "I get a lot more supervision, more one-on-one time with my mentor," the MIT/EECS Tang Family FinTech SuperUROP scholar says. "And working in CSAIL has given me access to state-of-the-art materials."</p> Madeline Abrahams, an EECS senior and MIT/Tang Family FinTech SuperUROP scholar, presents her work investigating the spread of misinformation related to climate change via algorithmic aggregation platforms at the SuperUROP Showcase. Photo: Gretchen ErtlElectrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, SuperUROP, Political science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning, Students, Research, Undergraduate, Classes and programs, Special events and guest speakers Helping military veterans nail that interview Interview coaching startup Candorful helps veterans transitioning to civilian life prepare for job interviews. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The military is great at teaching soldiers to accomplish objectives under stressful conditions, work as part of a team, and lead groups of people. Those skills are useful in business as well as combat, but many veterans lack experience communicating their skills to recruiters or hiring managers in job interviews.</p> <p>As a result, many veterans struggle to land a good job after their service — a critical factor for a successful transition into civilian life. Now the startup Candorful is working to change that. The nonprofit facilitates video mock interviews for veterans with volunteer coaches to help them put their best foot forward with employers.</p> <p>“Veterans rapidly gain experience managing teams and projects, making an impact, working with minimal resources,” says Candorful co-founder and executive director Pat Hubbell SM ’91. When competing with civilians during the interview process, veterans “may be better prepared for a job, but civilians typically know how to talk about their experience and personal impact more effectively,” she adds. “In the military, it’s all about the team, so veterans are not comfortable talking about their individual impact. They often talk about what their team did instead.”</p> <p>Thinking about their accomplishments at the individual level is just one of the many mental pivots veterans must make as they learn to sell themselves to hiring managers. Candorful aids in that process through live interview simulations and feedback. Veterans accessing the company’s platform choose three coaches from Candorful’s pool of experienced interviewers. They then conduct three one-on-one mock interviews via a video conferencing platform, each lasting about 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of verbal feedback. After the session, veterans receive a full report on their performance from each coach.</p> <p>The company was started in 2017 by Hubbell and co-founder Peter Sukits, who served in the U.S. Army for five years. The founders celebrated their 1,000th training session in November and are planning to dramatically increase the number of veterans coming through their platform this year.</p> <p>“Our clients can be actively deployed or in a transition program,” Hubbell says, noting Candorful has even helped a soldier serving in a war zone. “They can be anywhere in the world.”</p> <p><strong>Giving back</strong></p> <p>As a captain in the Army, Sukits served as a platoon leader and head planning officer for a 400-soldier battalion in Afghanistan. He decided it was time to pursue a civilian career in 2011.</p> <p>At the time, Hubbell was working as a consultant and advisor at Cornell University, where she was running mock job interviews with students and alumni. That’s where she met Sukits.</p> <p>Sukits had attended Carnegie Mellon University as an undergraduate prior to commissioning as an Army officer, and Hubbell was impressed with his qualifications and charisma. But she also noticed his discomfort with elaborating on his personal experience.</p> <p>“Veterans have amazing skills, [such as] leadership skills, and rich experience, but the experience of selling yourself during a job interview doesn’t exist in the military.”</p> <p>Sukits was accepted into Cornell University’s MBA program and went on to land a great job at Procter and Gamble. But his desire to help others drove him to call Hubbell in 2016 to brainstorm business ideas around offering career services. It didn’t take long for them to focus on conducting mock job interviews for veterans transitioning back to civilian life.</p> <p>Hubbell had already measured the impact of mock interviews at Cornell. She found that students who participated in the interviews were twice as likely to land their desired job, and they did so sooner than students who hadn’t done the practice interviews.</p> <p>Although it had been 20 years since Hubbell was a student at MIT, she had kept in touch with fellow alumni and staff members. The founders received support from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service early on, which Hubbell says gave the business legitimacy and helped them hone their story. Three of Hubbell’s former classmates at the MIT Sloan School of Management began serving on Candorful’s board of directors, and when it came time for the newly formed board to meet, Rod Garcia, the assistant dean of admissions at MIT Sloan, set them up with a conference room on campus.</p> <p>The startup began as a for-profit venture, but it became clear that securing nonprofit status was essential to gain the trust of partners like Hiring Our Heroes and the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. Hubbel says being a nonprofit changed the founders’ approach to fundraising, and it took about 18 months to be granted nonprofit status, but the founders didn’t let the wait prevent them from helping veterans.</p> <p><strong>Easing the transition</strong></p> <p>In the summer of 2017, relying on volunteers, the founders began coaching a small number of veterans. By 2018, they had partnered with veteran transition assistance programs and had a steady stream of veterans using their service.</p> <p>Hubbell credits a few large companies for providing assistance early on, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Amazon, PWC, Keystone Strategy, East Boston Savings Bank, and Ernst and Young. Some of those companies put Candorful on their internal volunteer opportunities lists, which helped establish a pool of highly qualified coaches. Volunteers come from a variety of fields, the one unifying factor being that they have extensive experience conducting job interviews.</p> <p>“Our volunteers are people who want to give back to veterans,” Hubbell says. “And it’s easy for them; they’re able to do it from their desk at lunch or dining room table after dinner.”</p> <p>Following the interview and verbal feedback, each volunteer fills out a scorecard that provides the veterans with grades on everything from their physical appearance to their response structure. Veterans, in turn, rate their coaches.</p> <p>Of the people who have gone through the Candorful process and left the military, Hubbell says 98 percent had landed their desired job as of the third quarter of 2019.</p> <p>As the founders work to update their numbers, Hubbell can happily report that Candorful has helped almost 500 veterans prepare for and land jobs, some of whom have even returned to Candorful as volunteer coaches.</p> <p>“The vast majority of our clients have worked in the military for 10 to 20 years,” Hubbell says. “By the time civilians are reaching the 10-year point of their career, they’ve had experience with interviews, learned, and gotten feedback. The military community &nbsp;doesn’t have the same experience, so we want to close that gap. Not to mention, if they’re eight to 20 years out of high school, they probably have kids. There’s a lot on the line when it’s time to get a good job.”</p> Candorful uses video conferencing to facilitate mock job interviews between volunteer coaches and military personnel to help prepare them for civilian job interviews.Image: CandorfulInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Jobs, Venture Mentoring Service, Alumni/ae, Social entrepreneurship, Security studies and military, Startups, MIT Sloan School of Management Blood and politics in India New book explores the use of blood in political rhetoric, imagery, and activism, and even the politics of blood drives. Tue, 21 Jan 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolent resistance who helped lead India to independence by force of will and strength of mind, rather than physical power, might not seem like a person preoccupied with corporeal matters.</p> <p>In fact, Gandhi endlessly monitored his own blood pressure and had a “preoccupation with blood,” as MIT scholar Dwai Banerjee and co-author Jacob Copeman write in “Hematologies,” a new book about blood and politics in India.</p> <p>Gandhi believed the quality of his own blood indicated his body’s “capacity for self-purification,” the authors write, and he hoped that other dissidents would also possess “blood that could withstand the corruption and poison of colonial violence.” Ultimately, they add, Gandhi’s “single-minded focus on the substance was remarkable in its omission of other available foci of symbolization.”</p> <p>If India’s most famous ascetic and pacifist was actually busy thinking about politics in terms of blood, then almost anyone could have been doing the same. And many people have. Now Banerjee, an assistant professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and Copeman, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, look broadly at the links between blood and politics in “Hematologies,” recently published by Cornell University Press.</p> <p>The book encompasses topics as diverse as the rhetoric of blood in political discourse, the politics of blood drives, the uses of blood in protests, and the imagery used by leaders, including Gandhi. Ultimately, the scholars use the topic to explore the many — and seemingly unavoidable — divisions in Indian politics and society.</p> <p>For progressives wanting a pluralistic society, the rhetoric of blood has often been used to claim that people are essentially alike, no matter their religious or social differences. The notion is that “if you bleed and I bleed, we bleed the same color,” Banerjee says. “In the first few decades after India’s independence [in 1948], there was this idea that blood would unite all different kinds of Indians, and all these years of caste discrimination and colonial rule that had divided us and pitted us against each other would now be fixed.”</p> <p>But the idea that different groups in society are divided by blood is also a powerful one, as Banerjee and Copeman note, and as India has moved away from pluralism in recent years, a very different rhetoric of blood has regained popularity. In this vision, different ethnic or religious groups are separated by their blood — and bloodshed may be the price for disrupting this supposed order.</p> <p>“What’s become clear in the last five years is that this other valence of blood, that it divides us [and has] more violent connotations, is becoming much more inescapable now,” Banerjee says.</p> <p>That is not what many expected in an age of technocratic and globally integrated economics, but it is a reminder of the power of narrow forms of nationalism.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The whole idea of modern politics is supposed to be this transcending of blood [and] ethnic religious nationalisms, and that modern contractual politics is based on less biologically based forms of cohabitation,” Banerjee says. “That never seems to work out.”</p> <p>Focused on Northern India, where Banerjee and Copeman did their fieldwork over several years, “Hematologies” explores these issues in everyday life and with fine-grained detail. As they examine in the book, for instance, political protesters sometimes use their own blood as a medium of expression, to signal both their own commitment and the serious of the issues at hand.</p> <p>The authors look closely at an advocacy group for survivors of (and residents near) the site of 1984’s Bhopal chemical plant disaster, which wrote a letter in blood — collected from young adults — to the prime minister, asking for a meeting. Somewhat similarly, Indian women have gained attention using blood in the imagery they have created to accompany campaigns against sexual violence and gender discrimination. In so doing, “they deploy the substance as a medium of truth and a mechanism of exposure,” Banerjee and Copeman write.</p> <p>Even blood drives and blood donations have intricate political implications that the authors explore. While supposed to be separated from politics, some blood drives are de facto rallying points in campaigns and expressions of political solidarity. Blood drives also serve to highlight a tension between science and politics; some medical experts might prefer a more steady flow of donated blood, while a politically prompted donor drive can produce an unnecessary surge of blood.</p> <p>“Educational campaigns talk very strategically about this,” Banerjee says.</p> <p>While writing the book together, Banerjee and Copeman initially had slightly different research areas of interest, but before long both discovered they were fully engaged with a whole range of connections between blood and politics.</p> <p>“To me, it seemed we found this synergy in the way we worked and thought, and I can’t think of a moment where we ever significantly doubted the process we were going through,” says Banerjee. “Constantly bouncing ideas off another person keeps it interesting.”</p> <p>“Hematologies” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Emily Martin, an anthropologist at New York University, has called it “an extraordinary exploration of the multitudes of meanings and uses of blood in northern India.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Banerjee notes that India is hardly unique in the way the rhetoric of blood spills into politics. “There is a global similarity in which blood is always a political substance,” he notes, while adding that India’s own unique history gives the subject “its own flavor” in the country.</p> <p>Ultimately the story of blood being traced in “Hematologies” represents a distinctive way of examining divisions, conflicts, and tensions — the very stuff of contested politics and power.</p> <p>“Again and again we see that blood always gets caught up with division and divisive politics,” Banerjee says. “It never escapes politics in the way that reformist and secular imaginations hope it will.”</p> Dwai Banerjee is co-author of a new book titled “Hematologies: The Political Life of Blood in India.” Image: Jon Sachs, MIT SHASS CommunicationsTechnology and society, Social sciences, India, Program in STS, Books and authors, Faculty, Politics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Study uses physics to explain democratic elections U.S. elections have become more “unstable,” sometimes swinging in the opposite direction from the greater electorate’s preferences. Tue, 21 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>It may seem surprising, but theories and formulas derived from physics turn out to be useful tools for understanding the ways democratic elections work, including how these systems break down and how they could be improved.</p> <p>A new physics-based study finds that in the U.S., elections went through a transition in 1970, from a condition in which election results captured reasonably well the greater electorate’s political preferences, to a period of increasing instability, in which very small changes in voter preferences led to significant swings toward more extreme political outcomes in both directions.</p> <p>The analysis also shows this instability can be associated with an unexpected situation in which outcomes swing in the opposite direction of how people’s true preferences are shifting. That is, a small move in prevailing opinions toward the left can result in a more right-wing outcome, and vice versa — a situation the researchers refer to as “negative representation.”</p> <p>The findings appear in the journal <em>Nature Physics</em>, in a paper by Alexander Siegenfeld, a doctoral student in physics at MIT, and Yaneer Bar-Yam, the president of the New England Complex Systems Institute.</p> <p>“Our country seems more divided than ever, with election outcomes resembling a pendulum swinging with ever increasing force,” Siegenfeld says. In this regime of “unstable” elections, he says, “a small change in electorate opinion can dramatically swing the election outcome, just as the direction of a small push to a boulder perched on top of a hill can dramatically change its final location.”</p> <p>That’s partly a result of an increasingly polarized electorate, he explains. The researchers drew from a previous analysis that went through the Republican and Democratic party platforms in every presidential election year since 1944 and counted the number of polarizing words using a combination of machine learning and human analysis. The numbers show a relatively stable situation before 1970 but a dramatic increase in polarization since then.</p> <p>The team then found that the Ising model, which was developed to explain the behavior of ferromagnets and other physical systems, is mathematically equivalent to certain models of elections and accurately describes the onset of instability in electoral systems.</p> <p>“What happened in 1970 is a phase transition like the boiling of water. Elections went from stable to unstable,” explained Bar-Yam.</p> <p>The increasing instability also results in part from the structure of party primary systems, which have greatly increased their role in candidate selection since the ’70s. Because the voters in primaries tend to have more extreme partisan views than those of the general electorate, politicians are more inclined to take positions to appeal to those voters — positions that may be more extreme than those favored by more mainstream voters, and thus less likely to win in the general election.</p> <p>This long-term shift from a stable to unstable electoral situation closely resembles what happens to a ferromagnetic metal exposed to a magnetic field, Siegenfeld says, and can be described by the same mathematical formulas. But why should formulas derived for such unrelated subject matter be relevant to this field?</p> <p>Siegenfeld says that’s because in physics, it’s not always necessary to know the details of the underlying objects or mechanisms to be able to produce useful and meaningful results. He compares that to the way physicists were able to describe the behavior of sound waves — which are essentially the aggregate motions of atoms — with great precision, long before they knew about the existence of atoms.</p> <p>“When we apply physics to understanding the fundamental particles of our universe, we don’t actually know the underlying details of the theories,” he says. “Yet we can still make incredibly accurate predictions.”</p> <p>Similarly, he says, researchers don’t need to understand the motives and opinions of individual voters to be able to carry out a meaningful analysis of their collective behavior. As the paper states, “understanding the collective behavior of social systems can benefit from methods and concepts from physics, not because humans are similar to electrons, but because certain large-scale behaviors can be understood without an understanding of the small-scale details.”</p> <p>Another important finding from the study is the phenomenon of “negative representation.” This is when an overall shift to the left in voter opinions results in a rightward shift in the election outcome, or vice versa.</p> <p>This can happen, for example, if voters are faced with a choice between a center-left candidate and a far-right candidate. If the overall sentiments of the electorate move further to the left, that may result in more far-left voters deciding to stay home on election day because the centrist candidate’s views are too far removed from their own. As a result, the far-right candidate ends up winning. Or, if a rightward swing in the electorate leads to the nomination of an extreme far-right candidate, that may increase the odds of a more liberal candidate winning the general election. “This negative representation undermines the entire purpose of democratic elections,” Siegenfeld says.</p> <p>The study finds that in unstable electoral systems, there is always negative representation. But a number of measures that could help to counter the trend toward instability and thus also reduce the incidence of negative representation, the authors say.</p> <p>One such solution to reducing election instability would be a shift toward ranked-voting systems, such as those used in Australia, Maine, and the cities of San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Such systems reduce the need to select “lesser of two evils” candidates, and allow people to vote for their real preference without the disruptions caused by third-party candidates, they say.</p> <p>Another approach would be to increase voter turnout, either through incentives, publicity, or legislation (such as Australia’s required voting). The lower the percentage of voter turnout, the greater the potential for instability, the researchers found.</p> <p>“Most people say ‘go vote’ so your voice is heard,” Siegenfeld says. “What is less appreciated is that when candidates can count on people voting, it is more likely that future elections will become more stable. Our research scientifically demonstrates that high voter turnout helps democracy, since low voter turnout destabilizes elections and results in negative representation.”</p> <p>“I love this research,” says Soren Jordan, an assistant professor of political science at Auburn University in Alabama, who was not involved in this work and wrote a commentary piece in <em>Nature</em> about it. “The cross-over is exciting, and seeing physicists do mathematical heavy lifting that’s really outside of the traditional scope and training of political science really enhances both disciplines.”</p> <p>He adds, “This model is an excellent heuristic for understanding some critical phenomena, like how slow-moving concepts like partisanship can still yield large-scale effects in aggregate outcomes.”</p> <p>The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Hertz Foundation</p> A physics-based analysis of U.S. elections finds that the electorate has become more polarized over time, leading to an unstable situation in which very small chages in opinion can lead to wide swings in electoral outcomes.Image: Christine Daniloff, MITPhysics, Political science, Voting and elections, Research, Politics, Government, Social sciences, School of Science MindHandHeart announces a record 21 new Innovation Fund winners The 10th round of MindHandHeart Innovation Fund projects is bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion, wellness, and community-building programming to campus. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 10:30:01 -0500 Maisie O’Brien | MindHandHeart <p>A meditative nature retreat, healthy cooking projects, and several initiatives advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion are coming to MIT courtesy of the <a href="">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a>. Sponsored by the <a href="">Office of the Chancellor</a>, the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund offers grants of up to $10,000 to advance ideas that make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place.</p> <p>This cycle, MindHandHeart (MHH) awarded $51,534 to 21 projects selected from 45 applications. Seventy-six percent of awarded projects are spearheaded by students and 24 percent are driven by staff members.</p> <p>Applications were reviewed by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, MHH’s Faculty Chair Roz Picard, members of MindHandHeart’s volunteer coalition comprising MIT students, faculty, and staff members as well as representatives from Active Minds, the Undergraduate Association Wellness Committee, the Undergraduate Association Innovation Committee, and the Graduate Student Council.</p> <p>“It’s wonderful to see community members using their many talents to launch projects that bring more ‘heart’ to MIT,” says Barnhart. “From the development of proposals to the review process to the implementation of projects, the Innovation Fund is truly a community-building effort.”</p> <p>Nine projects aim to build community and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at MIT.</p> <p>The “Graduate Student Council Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (GSC-DEI) Fellows Program + gradCommunity Dialogues Series” seeks to make MIT a more equitable, inclusive, and engaging place through peer-to-peer dialogues.</p> <p>One of the project’s founders, graduate student Bianca Lepe, describes the project, saying “The GSC DEI Graduate Fellows and subsequent gradCommunity Dialogues will give students the space to have thoughtful conversations across social and cultural differences. Students will gain a better understanding of how to identify inequities, engage in challenging discussions about inequities, and lower the barrier to engage comfortably in these conversations in their classrooms and research groups. We hope that this will help transform MIT’s climate by giving individuals a space to learn and empathize.”</p> <p>Another graduate student-led project, “Spill the Tea” is a monthly program connecting graduate students of color and their allies around tea for open-ended conversation, connection to MIT resources, and a sense of belonging. The goal of the “Aunties and Uncles Freshman Mentorship Program” is to strengthen the support network for first-year students in the MIT African Students Association. “Noches de Cultura” is bringing a series of events showcasing Latin American arts and culture to campus to foster spaces of community and engagement.</p> <p>Organized by the Communications Forum, “Sexual Harassment Culture at MIT” is a moderated panel exploring how harassment affects the MIT community, the experiences of survivors, and what institutional change looks like. The student-driven “MIT Women in Econ Lunch” project is a series of lunches designed to support women in the Department of Economics.</p> <p>“Queer Film and Crafting Nights” is a monthly event series bringing together LGBTQ+ individuals and allies within the Department of Biology. The “VISTA Holiday Celebration” outlines a plan to bring international visiting students and graduate students together to mark the holiday season and reduce potential isolation.</p> <p>“There’s a SPXCE for Everyone” is a campaign to host events in areas that are traditionally not seen as being inclusive of certain marginalized identity groups. “There’s a SPXCE for Everyone” organizer and Assistant Director of Intercultural Engagement for LBGTQ+ Services Lauryn McNair describes the project, saying “The takeover campaign is to extend the inclusive environment for students to be their authentic selves while experiencing events off campus in spaces that are traditionally populated by dominant identities. The MHH Innovation Fund allows SPXCE to take students to see a classical music performance at Symphony Hall with other students in their communities, to 'take over' the space, and to learn more about how diversity and inclusion is shaping Symphony Hall performances.”</p> <p>A number of newly funded projects promote wellness and self-care.</p> <p>Spearheaded by Graduate Resident Advisor in MacGregor House Kaitlyn Gee, “Discovering and Personalizing Self-Care: A Series of Workshops for MIT Students” encourages undergraduate residents of MacGregor to develop self-care practices through events focused on painting, nature, and food. “Natural Inspiration,” led by Integrated Design and Management student Western Bonime, is a nature retreat where participants will meditate, take mindful walks, and admire the natural world.</p> <p>Spearheaded by Buddhist Chaplain Tenzin Priyadarshi, the “Gratitude Project” motivates MIT community members to pause, reflect, and cultivate gratitude. “Mindful MIT” is an initiative to distribute 120 mindfulness journals to Sloan students, along with materials advertising campus support resources. “IDSS Presents: Intelligence Demands Super Relaxation” is a student-led project to add de-stressing tools and furniture to Institute for Data, Systems, and Society common spaces.&nbsp;</p> <p>Led by Hindu Chaplain Sadananda Dasa, “Handling Negativity” consists of a series of workshops where participants will learn techniques from ancient Vedic texts to confront negativity and cultivate positive thoughts.</p> <p>Four projects are designed to build community and promote healthy eating. “EZhealth” is a student-led group hosting cooking classes in independent living groups. “ChopStirHack” is a student-led food magazine, building off the success of their <a href="">cookbook</a>. “Recipes from Home” is a cookbook project that seeks to share cultural and culinary traditions within the Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s 2020 Master in City Planning graduating class. Lastly, the “Cambridge Culinary Cooking Class” brings students and faculty members in the Department of Chemical Engineering together for an interactive cooking class.</p> <p>Other projects include the “Graduate Student Book Exchange,” an event where students can connect over their favorite books, and “Save TFP: Grand Care Package Event,” a large-scale event where undergraduates will make care packages for their friends during Random Acts of Kindness Week in March.</p> <p>MHH has supported <a href="">138 Innovation Fund projects</a> to date, 17 of which are now self-sustaining.</p> <p>The next <a href="" target="_blank">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a> cycle opens March 1-31. MIT staff, faculty, students, and students’ spouses with ideas to make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place are encouraged to apply.</p> Fall 2019 MindHandHeart Innovation Fund granteesPhoto: Maisie O'BrienMindHandHeart, Biology, Economics, Urban studies and planning, Chemical engineering, Community, Mental health, Student life, Chancellor, MIT Medical, Grants, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ), Campus services, Diversity and inclusion Zeroing in on decarbonization Wielding complex algorithms, nuclear science and engineering doctoral candidate Nestor Sepulveda spins out scenarios for combating climate change. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Leda Zimmerman | Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering <p>To avoid the most destructive consequences of climate change, the world’s electric energy systems must stop producing carbon by 2050. It seems like an overwhelming technological, political, and economic challenge — but not to Nestor Sepulveda.</p> <p>“My work has shown me that we&nbsp;do&nbsp;have the means to tackle the problem, and we can start now,” he says. “I am optimistic.”</p> <p>Sepulveda’s research, first as a master’s student and now as a doctoral candidate in the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE), involves complex simulations that describe potential pathways to decarbonization. In work published last year in the journal&nbsp;<em>Joule,&nbsp;</em>Sepulveda and his co-authors made a powerful case for using a mix of renewable and “firm” electricity sources, such as nuclear energy, as the least costly, and most likely, route to a low- or no-carbon grid.</p> <p>These insights, which flow from a unique computational framework blending optimization and data science, operations research, and policy methodologies, have attracted interest from&nbsp;<em>The New York Times&nbsp;</em>and&nbsp;<em>The Economist,&nbsp;</em>as well as from such notable players in the energy arena as Bill Gates. For Sepulveda, the attention could not come at a more vital moment.</p> <p>“Right now, people are at extremes: on the one hand worrying that steps to address climate change might weaken the economy, and on the other advocating a Green New Deal to transform the economy that depends solely on solar, wind, and battery storage,” he says. “I think my data-based work can help bridge the gap and enable people to find a middle point where they can have a conversation.”</p> <p><strong>An optimization tool</strong></p> <p>The computational model Sepulveda is developing to generate this data, the centerpiece of his dissertation research, was sparked by classroom experiences at the start of his NSE master’s degree.</p> <p>“In courses like Nuclear Technology and Society [22.16], which covered the benefits and risks of nuclear energy, I saw that some people believed the solution for climate change was definitely nuclear, while others said it was wind or solar,” he says. “I began wondering how to determine the value of different technologies.”</p> <p>Recognizing that “absolutes exist in people’s minds, but not in reality,” Sepulveda sought to develop a tool that might yield an optimal solution to the decarbonization question. His inaugural effort in modeling focused on weighing the advantages of utilizing advanced nuclear reactor designs against exclusive use of existing light-water reactor technology in the decarbonization effort.</p> <p>“I showed that in spite of their increased costs, advanced reactors proved more valuable to achieving the low-carbon transition than conventional reactor technology alone,” he says. This research formed the basis of Sepulveda’s master’s thesis in 2016, for a degree spanning NSE and the Technology and Policy Program. It also informed the MIT Energy Initiative’s report,&nbsp;“The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World.”</p> <p><strong>The right stuff</strong></p> <p>Sepulveda comes to the climate challenge armed with a lifelong commitment to service, an appetite for problem-solving, and grit. Born in Santiago, he enlisted in the Chilean navy, completing his high school and college education at the national naval academy.</p> <p>“Chile has natural disasters every year, and the defense forces are the ones that jump in to help people, which I found really attractive,” he says. He opted for the most difficult academic specialty, electrical engineering, over combat and weaponry. Early in his career, the climate change issue struck him, he says, and for his senior project, he designed a ship powered by hydrogen fuel cells.</p> <p>After he graduated, the Chilean navy rewarded his performance with major responsibilities in the fleet, including outfitting a $100 million amphibious ship intended for moving marines and for providing emergency relief services. But Sepulveda was anxious to focus fully on sustainable energy, and petitioned the navy to allow him to pursue a master’s at MIT in 2014.</p> <p>It was while conducting research for this degree that Sepulveda confronted a life-altering health crisis: a heart defect that led to open-heart surgery. “People told me to take time off and wait another year to finish my degree,” he recalls. Instead, he decided to press on: “I was deep into ideas about decarbonization, which I found really fulfilling.”</p> <p>After graduating in 2016, he returned to naval life in Chile, but “couldn’t stop thinking about the potential of informing energy policy around the world and making a long-lasting impact,” he says. “Every day, looking in the mirror, I saw the big scar on my chest that reminded me to do something bigger with my life, or at least try.”</p> <p>Convinced that he could play a significant role in addressing the critical carbon problem if he continued his MIT education, Sepulveda successfully petitioned naval superiors to sanction his return to Cambridge, Massachusetts.</p> <p><strong>Simulating the energy transition</strong></p> <p>Since resuming studies here in 2018, Sepulveda has wasted little time. He is focused on refining his modeling tool to play out the potential impacts and costs of increasingly complex energy technology scenarios on achieving deep decarbonization. This has meant rapidly acquiring knowledge in fields such as economics, math, and law.</p> <p>“The navy gave me discipline, and MIT gave me flexibility of mind — how to look at problems from different angles,” he says.</p> <p>With mentors and collaborators such as Associate Provost and Japan Steel Industry Professor Richard Lester and MIT Sloan School of Management professors Juan Pablo Vielma and Christopher Knittel, Sepulveda has been tweaking his models. His simulations, which can involve more than 1,000 scenarios, factor in existing and emerging technologies, uncertainties such as the possible emergence of fusion energy, and different regional constraints, to identify optimal investment strategies for low-carbon systems and to determine what pathways generate the most cost-effective solutions.</p> <p>“The idea isn’t to say we need this many solar farms or nuclear plants, but to look at the trends and value the future impact of technologies for climate change, so we can focus money on those with the highest impact, and generate policies that push harder on those,” he says.</p> <p>Sepulveda hopes his models won’t just lead the way to decarbonization, but do so in a way that minimizes social costs. “I come from a developing nation, where there are other problems like health care and education, so my goal is to achieve a pathway that leaves resources to address these other issues.”</p> <p>As he refines his computations with the help of MIT’s massive computing clusters, Sepulveda has been building a life in the United States. He has found a vibrant Chilean community at MIT&nbsp;and discovered local opportunities for venturing out on the water, such as summer sailing on the Charles.</p> <p>After graduation, he plans to leverage his modeling tool for the public benefit, through direct interactions with policy makers (U.S. congressional staffers have already begun to reach out to him), and with businesses looking to bend their strategies toward a zero-carbon future.</p> <p>It is a future that weighs even more heavily on him these days: Sepulveda is expecting his first child. “Right now, we’re buying stuff for the baby, but my mind keeps going into algorithmic mode,” he says. “I’m so immersed in decarbonization that I sometimes dream about it.”</p> “In courses like Nuclear Technology and Society, which covered the benefits and risks of nuclear energy, I saw that some people believed the solution for climate change was definitely nuclear, while others said it was wind or solar,” says doctoral student Nestor Sepulveda. “I began wondering how to determine the value of different technologies.”Photo: Gretchen ErtlNuclear science and engineering, MIT Energy Initiative, School of Engineering, Technology and policy, Students, Research, Alternative energy, Energy, Energy storage, Greenhouse gases, Climate change, Global Warming, Sustainability, Emissions, Renewable energy, Economics, Policy, Nuclear power and reactors, Profile, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral J-PAL North America seeks partners to research homelessness Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator will provide funding and technical assistance to help partners build evidence on strategies to reduce and prevent homelessness. Mon, 13 Jan 2020 12:50:01 -0500 J-PAL North America <p>J-PAL North America, a research center in the MIT Department of Economics, has announced a new <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=hsei_2019" target="_blank">Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator</a> to support organizations fighting homelessness in developing randomized evaluations that test the impacts of their policies, programs, and services.&nbsp;</p> <p>To many, rising rates of homelessness in some U.S. cities might seem like an intractable challenge. In the United States, more than 500,000 people experience homelessness on a given night, and 1.4 million people pass through emergency shelters in a given year. Many more individuals experience housing instability in other, often uncounted forms, whether living doubled-up with friends or family, living in temporary accommodations such as motels, or living under threat of eviction.</p> <p>However, the challenge of housing instability is not insurmountable. There is strong evidence on some strategies for ending homelessness and there are powerful tools for learning even more about how to support unhoused individuals and families in accessing and maintaining safe, affordable housing. For example, <a href="" target="_blank">several randomized evaluations</a> of Housing First programs helped demonstrate that providing permanent supportive housing with no preconditions was a more effective approach to housing unhoused individuals with severe mental illness when compared to conventional transitional housing programs.&nbsp;</p> <p>The results from these studies changed many peoples’ perceptions about how to best help house people experiencing homelessness. These results also led to dramatic reductions in chronic homelessness among communities that adopted a robust Housing First approach and expanded the number of permanent supportive housing units in their jurisdiction.</p> <p>However, many questions remain on how to best design, implement, and target services aimed at reducing and preventing homelessness. To answer these questions, J-PAL North America will support organizations fighting homelessness to evaluate their own programs and learn more about what works for promoting housing stability.&nbsp;</p> <p>Through the Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator, organizations can apply for technical assistance from J-PAL North America staff, connections with J-PAL’s network of leading researchers, and flexible proposal development funding to develop one or more high-quality randomized evaluations.</p> <p>Any organization interested in answering policy-relevant research questions on strategies to reduce homelessness is invited to apply. This may include nonprofit service providers, government agencies or offices, public housing authorities, Continuums of Care, and other organizations that operate programs or policies aimed at reducing homelessness, preventing eviction, or promoting housing stability.</p> <p>To guide the development of future research, J-PAL North America also released an <a href="" target="_blank">evidence review</a> summarizing results from 40 rigorous evaluations of 18 distinct programs related to homelessness prevention and reduction. The publication focuses mainly on questions that can be answered through rigorous impact-evaluation methods and outlines a research agenda for additional evaluation. The Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator is a next step toward supporting new evaluations to fill gaps in the evidence base.&nbsp;</p> <p>J-PAL-affiliated researchers are working on <a href="" target="_blank">five ongoing research projects related to homelessness</a> with local jurisdictions across the United States. For example, the County of Santa Clara’s Office of Supportive Housing and local nonprofit provider, HomeFirst, are working with J-PAL North America and researchers from the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities to develop a randomized <a href="" target="_blank">evaluation of a new rapid re-housing program for single adults</a>. The ongoing study in Santa Clara County, California, will inform decisions around expansion of the program in the county and can contribute new evidence to inform other governments facing similar challenges.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Partnering with researchers to improve evidence-based programs is critically important to reducing and preventing homelessness,” says Ky Le, director of the Office of Supportive Housing for the County of Santa Clara. “With J-PAL’s assistance, we are striving to optimize our impact and efficiency.”</p> <p>Interested organizations are encouraged to submit a letter of interest by April 6. Detailed instructions on how to apply to the Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator can be found on the <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=hsei_2019" target="_blank">initiative webpage</a>. Please contact Initiative Manager <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=hsei_2019">Rohit Naimpally</a> with questions.</p> <p>J-PAL North America will host a <a href="" target="_blank">webinar</a> on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. to provide an introduction to the evaluation incubator, review the application process, and respond to questions. To receive information about the webinar and other updates about the evaluation incubator, sign up for J-PAL North America’s <a href=";utm_medium=website%20link&amp;utm_campaign=JPALNA_newsletter" target="_blank">mailing list on reducing and preventing homelessness</a>.</p> The Santa Clara County’s Office of Supportive Housing in California is working with J-PAL North America and affiliated researchers to test the impact of rapid re-housing on homeless shelter entry, housing moves, and hospital visits for single adults.Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Economics, Poverty, Research, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Housing In health care, does “hotspotting” make patients better? Study shows no effect from program intended to reduce repeated hospitalizations by targeting high-cost patients. Wed, 08 Jan 2020 16:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>The new health care practice of “hotspotting” — in which providers identify very high-cost patients and attempt to reduce their medical spending while improving care — has virtually no impact on patient outcomes, according to a new study led by MIT economists.&nbsp;</p> <p>The finding underscores the challenge of reducing spending on “superutilizers” of health care, the roughly 5 percent of patients in the U.S. who account for half the nation’s health care costs. The concept of hotspotting, a little more than a decade old, consists of programs that give at-risk patients sustained contact with doctors, other caregivers, and social service providers, in an attempt to prevent rehospitalizations and other intensive, expensive forms of care.&nbsp;</p> <p>The MIT study was developed in cooperation with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which runs one of the nation’s best-known hotspotting programs. The researchers conducted a four-year analysis of the program and found that being enrolled in it makes no significant difference to patients’ health care use. &nbsp;</p> <p>“This intervention had no impact in reducing hospital readmissions,” says Amy Finkelstein, an MIT health care economist who led the study.</p> <p>Significantly, the new study was a randomized, controlled trial, in which two otherwise similar groups of patients in Camden were separated by one large factor: Some were randomly selected to be part of the hotspotting program, and an equal number of randomly selected patients were not. The two groups generated virtually the same results over time.</p> <p>“The reason it was so important we did a randomized, controlled trial,” Finkelstein says, “is that if you just look at the individuals in the intervention group, it would look like the program caused a huge reduction in readmissions. But when you look at the individuals in the control group — who were eligible for the program but were not randomly selected to get it — you see the exact same pattern.”</p> <p>The paper, “Health Care Hotspotting — A Randomized, Controlled Trial” is being published today in the&nbsp;<em>New England Journal of Medicine</em>. The co-authors are Finkelstein, the John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor Economics at MIT, who is the paper’s corresponding author; Joseph Doyle, an economist who is the Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management; Sarah Taubman, a research scientist at J-PAL North America, part of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab; and Annetta Zhou, a postdoc at the National Bureau of Economic Research.</p> <p><strong>Camden Coalition “fabulous partners” in seeking answers</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, the MIT-led research team evaluated 800 patients enrolled in the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers program from 2014 to 2017. The patients in the study had been hospitalized at least once in the six months prior to admission and had at least two chronic medical conditions, among other health care issues. The study was constructed after extensive consultation with the coalition.</p> <p>“They were fabulous partners,” Finkelstein says about the coalition. “Because they’re so data-driven, they had the data infrastructure in place, which made this possible.”</p> <p>Finkelstein particularly cites the founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, Jeffrey Brenner, who served as executive director of the organization from 2006 through 2017, and whose development of “hotspotting” concepts has received substantial public attention. In Camden, where 2 percent of patients represent 33 percent of medical expenses, preventing the need for acute care is a pressing concern.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dr. Brenner is a really extraordinary person, and he’s trying to solve a very hard problem,” Finkelstein says, crediting Brenner for actively seeking data about his organization’s results without knowing what those outcome would be.</p> <p>Half of the study’s 800 patients were placed in a group that used the program’s services, and half were in a control group that did not take part in the program. The Camden hotspotting program includes extensive home care visits, coordinated follow-up care, and medical monitoring — all designed to help stabilize the health of patients after hospitalization. It also helps patients apply for social services and behavioral health programs.</p> <p>Overall, the study found that the 180-day hospital readmission rate was 62.3 percent for people in the program and 61.7 percent for people not in the program.&nbsp;</p> <p>Additional measurements in the study — such as the number of hospital readmissions for patients, aggregate number of days spent in the hospital, and multiple financial statistics — also showed very similar outcomes between the two groups.</p> <p>The study shows that while the overall number of people in hotspotting programs who need rehospitalization declines over the course of the program, it does not decline by a larger amount than it would if those people were outside the program’s reach.</p> <p>In short, people in hotspotting programs require fewer rehospitalizations because any group of patients currently using a lot of health care resources will tend to have lower health care use in the future. Previous reports about hotspotting programs had focused on the roughly 40 percent decline in six-month hospital readmissions — while not comparing that to the rate for comparable patient groups outside such programs.</p> <p>“If you think about health care interventions, almost by definition they’re occurring at a time of unusually poor health or unusually high cost,” Finkelstein says. “That’s why you’re intervening. So they’re almost by construction going to be plagued by the issue of regression to[ward] the mean. I think that’s a really important lesson as we continue to try to figure out how to improve health care delivery, especially as so much of the work focuses on these high-cost patients.”</p> <p><strong>“We’re not going to give up” </strong></p> <p>To be sure, as Finkelstein notes, the new study is a local one, and hotspotting programs exist in many locations. It also examines the four-year results of the program, which underwent some evolution during the study period; if the program had made a breakthrough change in, say, 2016, that would only partially be reflected in the four-year data. As it happens, however, the study found no such large changes over time.&nbsp;</p> <p>Brenner’s perspective about studying the effectiveness of his own initiative, Finkelstein says, was that, by analogy, “if you have a new medication to try to cure cancer, and you run a clinical trial on it and it doesn’t work, you don’t just say, ‘I guess that’s it, we’re stuck with cancer.’ You keep trying other things. … We’re not going to give up on improving the efficiency of health care delivery and the well-being of this incredibly under-served population. We need to continue to develop potential solutions and rigorously evaluate them.”</p> <p>Finkelstein also notes that the current study is just one piece of research in the complicated area of improving health care and reducing costs for people in need of extensive treatment, and says she welcomes additional research in this area.</p> <p>“I hope it inspires more research and that more organizations will partner with us to study [these issues],” Finkelstein says.</p> <p>Finkelstein also serves as the scientific director of J-PAL North America at MIT, which backs randomized controlled trials on a variety of social issues.</p> <p>The data for the study came from the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers; Camden’s four hospitals; and the state of New Jersey.&nbsp;</p> <p>The research was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health; the Health Care Delivery Initiative of J-PAL North America; and the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> A new MIT-led study set in Camden, New Jersey (pictured here), finds that “hotspotting” healthcare programs have a very limited effect when it comes to improving care and reducing costs for high-risk patients.Health care, Research, Economics, Aging, Medicine, Health, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences “She” goes missing from presidential language Even when people believed Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election, they did not use “she” to refer to the next president. Wed, 08 Jan 2020 01:00:20 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>Throughout most of 2016, a significant percentage of the American public believed that the winner of the November 2016 presidential election would be a woman — Hillary Clinton.</p> <p>Strikingly, a new study from cognitive scientists and linguists at MIT, the University of Potsdam, and the University of California at San Diego shows that despite those beliefs, people rarely used the pronoun “she” when referring to the next U.S. president before the election. Furthermore, when reading about the future president, encountering the pronoun “she” caused a significant stumble in their reading.</p> <p>“There seemed to be a real bias against referring to the next president as ‘she.’ This was true even for people who most strongly expected and probably wanted the next president to be a female,” says Roger Levy, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and the senior author of the new study. “There’s a systematic underuse of ‘she’ pronouns for these kinds of contexts. It was quite eye-opening.”</p> <p>As part of their study, Levy and his colleagues also conducted similar experiments in the lead-up to the 2017 general election in the United Kingdom, which determined the next prime minister. In that case, people were more likely to use the pronoun “she” than “he” when referring to the next prime minister.</p> <p>Levy suggests that sociopolitical context may account for at least some of the differences seen between the U.S. and the U.K.: At the time, Theresa May was prime minister and very strongly expected to win, plus many Britons likely remember the long tenure of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.</p> <p>“The situation was very different there because there was an incumbent who was a woman, and there is a history of referring to the prime minister as ‘she’ and thinking about the prime minster as potentially a woman,” he says.</p> <p>The lead author of the study is Titus von der Malsburg, a research affiliate at MIT and a researcher in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany. Till Poppels, a graduate student at the University of California at San Diego, is also an author of the paper, which appears in the journal <em>Psychological Science</em>.</p> <p><strong>Implicit linguistic biases</strong></p> <p>Levy and his colleagues began their study in early 2016, planning to investigate how people’s expectations about world events, specifically, the prospect of a woman being elected president, would influence their use of language. They hypothesized that the strong possibility of a female president might override the implicit bias people have toward referring to the president as “he.”</p> <p>“We wanted to use the 2016 electoral campaign as a natural experiment, to look at what kind of language people would produce or expect to hear as their expectations about who was likely to win the race changed,” Levy says.</p> <p>Before beginning the study, he expected that people’s use of the pronoun “she” would go up or down based on their beliefs about who would win the election. He planned to explore how long would it take for changes in pronoun use to appear, and how much of a boost “she” usage would experience if a majority of people expected the next president to be a woman.</p> <p>However, such a boost never materialized, even though Clinton was expected to win the election.</p> <p>The researchers performed their experiment 12 times between June 2016 and January 2017, with a total of nearly 25,000 participants from the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform. The study included three tasks, and each participant was asked to perform one of them. The first task was to predict the likelihood of three candidates winning the election — Clinton, Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders. From those numbers, the researchers could estimate the percentage of people who believed the next president would be a woman. This number was higher than 50 percent during most of the period leading up to the election, and reached just over 60 percent right before the election.</p> <p>The next two tasks were based on common linguistics research methods — one to test people’s patterns of language production, and the other to test how the words they encounter affect their reading comprehension.</p> <p>To test language production, the researchers asked participants to complete a paragraph such as “The next U.S. president will be sworn into office in January 2017. After moving into the Oval Office, one of the first things that ….”</p> <p>In this task, about 40 percent of the participants ended up using a pronoun in their text. Early in the study period, more than 25 percent of those participants used “he,” fewer than 10 percent used “she,” and around 50 percent used “they.” As the election got closer, and Clinton’s victory seemed more likely, the percentage of “she” usage never went up, but usage of “they” climbed to about 60 percent. While these results indicate that the singular “they” has reached widespread acceptance as a de facto standard in contemporary English, they also suggest a strong persistent bias against using “she” in a context where the gender of the individual referred to is not yet known.</p> <p>“After Clinton won the primary, by late summer, most people thought that she would win. Certainly Democrats, and especially female Democrats, thought that Clinton would win. But even in these groups, people were very reluctant to use ‘she’ to refer to the next president. It was never the case that ‘she’ was preferred over ‘he,’” Levy says.</p> <p>For the third task, participants were asked to read a short passage about the next president. As the participants read the text on a screen, they had to press a button to reveal each word of the sentence. This setup allows the researchers to measure how quickly participants are reading. Surprise or difficulty in comprehension leads to longer reading times.</p> <p>In this case, the researchers found that when participants encountered the pronoun “she” in a sentence referring to the next president, it cost them about a third of a second in reading time — a seemingly short amount of time that is nevertheless known from sentence processing research to indicate a substantial disruption relative to ordinary reading — compared to sentences that used “he.” This did not change over the course of the study.</p> <p>“For months, we were in a situation where large segments of the population strongly expected that a woman would win, yet those segments of the population actually didn’t use the word ‘she’ to refer to the next president, and were surprised to encounter ‘she’ references to the next president,” Levy says.</p> <p><strong>Strong stereotypes</strong></p> <p>The findings suggest that gender biases regarding the presidency are so deeply ingrained that they are extremely difficult to overcome even when people strongly believe that the next president will be a woman, Levy says.</p> <p>“It was surprising that the stereotype that the U.S. president is always a man would so strongly influence language, even in this case, which offered the best possible circumstances for particularized knowledge about an upcoming event to override the stereotypes,” he says. “Perhaps it’s an association of different pronouns with positions of prestige and power, or it’s simply an overall reluctance to refer to people in a way that indicates they’re female if you’re not sure.”</p> <p>The U.K. component of the study was conducted in June 2017 (before the election) and July 2017 (after the election but before Theresa May had successfully formed a government). Before the election, the researchers found that “she” was used about 25 percent of the time, while “he” was used less than 5 percent of the time. However, reading times for sentences referring to the prime minister as “she” were no faster than than those for “he,” suggesting that there was still some bias against “she” in comprehension relative to usage preferences, even in a country that already has a woman prime minister.</p> <p>The type of gender bias seen in this study appears to extend beyond previously seen stereotypes that are based on demographic patterns, Levy says. For example, people usually refer to nurses as “she,” even if they don’t know the nurse’s gender, and more than 80 percent of nurses in the U.S. are female. In an ongoing study, von der Malsburg, Poppels, Levy, and recent MIT graduate Veronica Boyce have found that even for professions that have fairly equal representation of men and women, such as baker, “she” pronouns are underused.</p> <p>“If you ask people how likely a baker is to be male or female, it’s about 50/50. But if you ask people to complete text passages that are about bakers, people are twice as likely to use he as she,” Levy says. “Embedded within the way that we use pronouns to talk about individuals whose identities we don’t know yet, or whose identities may not be definitive, there seems to be this systematic underconveyance of expectations for female gender.”</p> <p>The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship.</p> A new study reveals that although a significant percentage of Americans believed Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election, people rarely used the pronoun “she” when referring to the next president.Image: MIT NewsResearch, Brain and cognitive sciences, Linguistics, School of Science, Women, Behavior, Language, Politics, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Jeanne Guillemin, biological warfare expert and senior advisor at MIT, dies at 76 A sought-after analyst on the use of biological weapons, she was a model of interdisciplinary excellence to all — especially women. Tue, 07 Jan 2020 14:55:01 -0500 Michelle English | Center for International Studies <p>Jeanne Guillemin, a medical anthropologist and biological warfare expert, died on Nov. 15, 2019, at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was 76.</p> <p>Guillemin received her bachelor’s degree in social psychology from Harvard University in 1968 and her doctorate in sociology and anthropology from Brandeis University in 1973. She was a professor of international relations and anthropology at Boston College, where she taught for 33 years.</p> <p>From 2006 until her death, she served as a senior advisor to the MIT Security Studies Program (SSP).</p> <p>“Jeanne was a great scholar, with a ferocious appetite for getting to the bottom of whatever history she chose to study.&nbsp;Beyond her scholarship, she enlivened the Security Studies Program with both her&nbsp;wit and her charm, while also serving as a role model for our community, especially women scholars. She will be missed,” says Taylor Fravel, Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and director of SSP.</p> <p>Guillemin was instrumental in launching a women’s international speakers series at the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS), which has been effective in reaching women graduate students, fellows, and faculty in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area.&nbsp;</p> <p>Shortly before her death, she <a href="" target="_self">established an endowed fund at CIS</a> to provide financial support to female PhD candidates studying international affairs.&nbsp;She described her gift as a resource to graduate students to help energize their sense of inquiry and search for knowledge. The first disbursements of this fund will be made in the spring for the next academic year.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Jeanne was a model of interdisciplinary excellence to all — and especially women. Her endowment was such a gracious and thoughtful gesture on her part. We will always remember Jeanne and the contributions she made to our community and beyond,” says Richard Samuels, the Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of CIS.</p> <p><em>The New York Times</em>&nbsp;described her as a “scientific sleuth” and <em>The Washington Post</em>&nbsp;as a “pioneering researcher” in obituaries that lauded her groundbreaking work in biological warfare — a field where men had long outnumbered their female colleagues.</p> <p>Indeed, she was a sought-after analyst on the use of biological weapons and published four books on the topic.</p> <p>Her first book, “Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak”&nbsp;(University of California Press, 1999), documents her epidemiological inquiry into the 1979 Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak in the Soviet Union.&nbsp;</p> <p>With a MacArthur Foundation writing award, she next wrote&nbsp;“Biological Weapons: The History of State-sponsored Programs and&nbsp;Contemporary Bioterrorism”&nbsp;(Columbia University Press, 2005), a valued course text.</p> <p>Her 2011 book,&nbsp;“American Anthrax: Fear, Crime, and the Investigation of the Nation's Deadliest Bioterrorist Attack”&nbsp;(Macmillan/Henry Holt, 2011), was praised by reviewers as the definitive version of the 2001 letter attacks that changed national policy regarding bioterrorism.&nbsp;It was awarded a 2012 Mass Center for the Book/Library of Congress Award in nonfiction.&nbsp;</p> <p>Her most recent book,&nbsp;“Hidden Atrocities: Japanese Germ Warfare and American Obstruction of Justice at the Tokyo Trial” (Columbia University Press, 2017) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It explains how Imperial Japan's use of biological weapons during World War II failed to be prosecuted at the Tokyo war crimes trial of 1946-48.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to consulting and lecturing, she was a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on WMD (2009-13), served on the board of Transaction Books, and was an associate of the Harvard-Sussex Program on chemical and biological weapons disarmament.&nbsp;</p> <p>Her family has requested that gifts in her memory be made to the <a href="" target="_blank">Jeanne&nbsp;E. Guillemin&nbsp;fund</a> at MIT.</p> Jeanne Guillemin was described by The New York Times as a “scientific sleuth” and the Washington Post as a “pioneering researcher” in obituaries that lauded her groundbreaking work in biological warfare — a field where men had long outnumbered their female colleagues.Photo: Jean-Baptiste GuilleminCenter for International Studies, Obituaries, Staff, Women, Anthropology, International relations, Security studies and military, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Tracking emissions in China Evaluating a 2014 policy change yields some good news and some concerns. Mon, 30 Dec 2019 11:10:01 -0500 Nancy W. Stauffer | MIT Energy Initiative <p>In January 2013, many people in Beijing experienced a multiweek period of severely degraded air, known colloquially as the “Airpocalypse,” which made them sick and kept them indoors. As part of its response, the central Chinese government accelerated implementation of tougher air pollution standards for power plants, with limits to take effect in July 2014. One key standard limited emissions of <span class="st">sulfur dioxide (</span>SO<sub>2</sub>), which contributes to the formation of airborne particulate pollution and can cause serious lung and heart problems. The limits were introduced nationwide, but varied by location. Restrictions were especially stringent in certain “key” regions, defined as highly polluted and populous areas in Greater Beijing, the Pearl River Delta, and the Yangtze River Delta.</p> <p>All power plants had to meet the new standards by July 2014. So how did they do? “In most developing countries, there are policies on the books that look very similar to policies elsewhere in the world,” says&nbsp;<a href="">Valerie J. Karplus</a>, an assistant professor of global economics and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “But there have been few attempts to look systematically at plants’ compliance with environmental regulation. We wanted to understand whether policy actually changes behavior.”</p> <p><strong>Focus on power plants</strong></p> <p>For China, focusing environmental policies on power plants makes sense. Fully 60 percent of the country’s primary energy use is coal, and about half of it is used to generate electricity. With that use comes a range of pollutant emissions. In 2007, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection required thousands of power plants to install continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) on their exhaust stacks and to upload hourly, pollutant-specific concentration data to a publicly available website.</p> <p>Among the pollutants tracked on the website was SO<sub>2</sub>. To Karplus and two colleagues — Shuang Zhang, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Douglas Almond, a professor in the School of International and Public Affairs and the Department of Economics at Columbia University — the CEMS data on SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions were an as-yet-untapped resource for exploring the on-the-ground impacts of the 2014 emissions standards, over time and plant-by-plant.</p> <p>To begin their study, Karplus, Zhang, and Almond examined changes in the CEMS data around July 2014, when the new regulations went into effect. Their study sample included 256 power plants in four provinces, among them 43 that they deemed “large,” with a generating capacity greater than 1,000 megawatts (MW). They examined the average monthly SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations reported by each plant starting in November 2013, eight months before the July 2014 policy deadline.</p> <p>Emissions levels from the 256 plants varied considerably. The researchers were interested in relative changes within individual facilities before and after the policy, so they determined changes relative to each plant’s average emissions — a calculation known as demeaning. For each plant, they calculated the average emissions level over the whole time period being considered. They then calculated how much that plant’s reading for each month was above or below that baseline. By taking the averages of those changes-from-baseline numbers at all plants in each month, they could see how much emissions from the group of plants changed over time.</p> <p>The demeaned CEMS concentrations are plotted in the first accompanying graph, labeled “SO<sub>2</sub> concentrations (demeaned).” At zero on the Y axis in Figure 1 in the slideshow above, levels at all plants — big emitters and small — are on average equal to their baseline. Accordingly, in January 2014 plants were well above their baseline, and by July 2016 they were well below it. So average plant-level SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations were declining slightly before the July 2014 compliance deadline, but they dropped far more dramatically after it.</p> <p><strong>Checking the reported data</strong></p> <p>Based on the CEMS data from all the plants, the researchers calculated that total SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions fell by 13.9 percent in response to the imposition of the policy in 2014. “That’s a substantial reduction,” notes Karplus. “But are those reported CEMS readings accurate?”</p> <p>To find out, she, Zhang, and Almond compared the measured CEMS concentrations with SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations detected in the atmosphere by NASA’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument. “We believed that the satellite data could provide a kind of independent check on the policy response as captured by the CEMS measurements,” she says.</p> <p>For the comparison, they limited the analysis to their 43 1,000-MW power plants — large plants that should generate the strongest signal in the satellite observations. Figure 2 in the slideshow above shows data from both the CEMS and the satellite sources. Patterns in the two measures are similar, with substantial declines in the months just before and after July 2014. That general agreement suggests that the CEMS measurements can serve as a good proxy for atmospheric concentrations of SO<sub>2</sub>.</p> <p>To double-check that outcome, the researchers selected 35 relatively isolated power plants whose capacity makes up at least half of the total capacity of all plants within a 35-kilometer radius. Using that restricted sample, they again compared the CEMS measurements and the satellite data. They found that the new emissions standards reduced both SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;measures. However, the SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations in the CEMS data fell by 36.8 percent after the policy, while concentrations in the satellite data fell by only 18.3 percent. So the CEMS measurements showed twice as great a reduction as the satellite data did. Further restricting the sample to isolated power plants with capacity larger than 1,000 MW produced similar results.</p> <p><strong>Key versus non-key regions</strong></p> <p>One possible explanation for the mismatch between the two datasets is that some firms overstated the reductions in their CEMS measurements. The researchers hypothesized that the difficulty of meeting targets would be higher in key regions, which faced the biggest cuts. In non-key regions, the limit fell from 400 to 200 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m<sup>3</sup>). But in key regions, the limit went from 400 to 50 mg/m<sup>3</sup>. Firms may have been unable to make such a dramatic reduction in so short a time, so the incentive to manipulate their CEMS readings may have increased. For example, they may have put monitors on only a few of all their exhaust stacks, or turned monitors off during periods of high emissions.</p> <p>Figure 3 in the slideshow above shows results from analyzing non-key and key regions separately. At large, isolated plants in non-key regions, the CEMS measurements show a 29.3 percent reduction in SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;and the satellite data a 22.7 percent reduction. The ratio of the estimated post-policy declines is 77 percent — not too far out of line.</p> <p>But a comparable analysis of large, isolated plants in key regions produced very different results. The CEMS measurements showed a 53.6 percent reduction in SO<sub>2</sub>, while the satellite data showed no statistically significant change at all.</p> <p>One possible explanation is that power plants actually did decrease their SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions after 2014, but at the same time nearby industrial facilities or other sources increased theirs, with the net effect being that the satellite data showed little or no change. However, the researchers examined emissions from neighboring high-emitting facilities during the same time period and found no contemporaneous jump in their SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions. With that possibility dismissed, they concluded that manipulation of the CEMS data in regions facing the toughest emissions standards was “plausible,” says Karplus.</p> <p><strong>Compliance with the new standards</strong></p> <p>Another interesting question was how often the reported CEMS emissions levels were within the regulated limits. The researchers calculated the compliance rate at individual plants — that is, the fraction of time their emissions were at or below their limits — in non-key and key regions, based on their reported CEMS measurements. The results appear in Figure 4 in the slideshow above. In non-key regions, the compliance rate at all plants was about 90 percent in early 2014. It dropped a little in July 2014, when plants had to meet their (somewhat) stricter limits, and then went back up to almost 100 percent. In contrast, the compliance rate in key regions was almost 100 percent in early 2014 and then plummeted to about 50 percent at and after July 2014.</p> <p>Karplus, Zhang, and Almond interpret that result as an indication of the toughness of complying with the stringent new standards. “If you think about it from the plant’s perspective, complying with tighter standards is a lot harder than complying with more lenient standards, especially if plants have recently made investments to comply with prior standards, but those changes are no longer adequate,” she says. “So in these key regions, many plants fell out of compliance.”</p> <p>She makes another interesting observation. Their analyses had already produced evidence that firms in key areas may have falsified their reported CEMS measurements. “So that means they could be both manipulating their data and complying less,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Encouraging results plus insights for policymaking</strong></p> <p>Karplus stresses the positive outcomes of their study. She’s encouraged that the CEMS and satellite data both show emission levels dropping at most plants. Compliance rates were down at some plants in key regions, but that’s not surprising when the required cuts were large. And she notes that even though firms may not have complied, they still reduced their emissions to some extent as a result of the new standard.</p> <p>She also observes that, for the most part, there’s close correlation between the CEMS and satellite data. So the quality of the CEMS data isn’t all bad. And where it’s bad — where firms may have manipulated their measurements — it may have been because they’d been set a seemingly impossible task and timeline. “At some point, plant managers might just throw up their hands,” says Karplus. The lesson for policymakers may be to set emissions-reduction goals that are deep but long-term so that firms have enough time to make the necessary investment and infrastructure adjustments.</p> <p>To Karplus, an important practical implication of the study is “demonstrating that you can look at the alignment between ground and remote data sources to evaluate the impact of specific policies.” A series of tests confirmed the validity of their method and the robustness of their results. For example, they performed a comparable analysis focusing on July 2015, when there was no change in emissions standards. There was no evidence of the same effects. They accounted for SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emitted by manufacturing facilities and other sources, and their results were unaffected. And they demonstrated that when clouds or other obstructions interfered with satellite observations, the resulting data gap had no impact on their results.</p> <p>The researchers note that their approach can be used for other short-lived industrial air pollutants and by any country seeking low-cost tools to improve data quality and policy compliance, especially when plants’ emissions are high to begin with. “Our work provides an illustration of how you can use satellite data to obtain an independent check on emissions from pretty much any high-emitting facility,” says Karplus. “And, over time, NASA will have instruments that can take measurements that are even more temporally and spatially resolved, which I think is quite exciting for environmental protection agencies and for those who would seek to improve the environmental performance of their energy assets.”</p> <p>This research was supported by a seed grant from the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Laboratory at MIT and by the U.S. National Science Foundation.</p> <div> <p><em>This article appears in the <a class="Hyperlink SCXW206095923 BCX0" href="" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Autumn 2019 issue</a> of&nbsp;</em>Energy Futures<em>, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.&nbsp;</em></p> </div> Assistant Professor Valerie Karplus and her collaborators have demonstrated that measurements of air pollutants taken by NASA satellites are often a good indicator of emissions on the ground. Their approach provides regulators with a low-cost tool to ensure that industrial firms are complying with emissions standards.Photo: Kelley TraversMIT Energy Initiative, Sloan School of Management, Energy, China, Emissions, Economics, Policy, Pollution, Research, Government, Business and management When machine learning packs an economic punch Study: After eBay improved its translation software, international commerce increased sharply. Fri, 20 Dec 2019 10:04:08 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>A new study co-authored by an MIT economist shows that improved translation software can significantly boost international trade online — a notable case of machine learning having a clear impact on economic activity.</p> <p>The research finds that after eBay improved its automatic translation program in 2014, commerce shot up by 10.9 percent among pairs of countries where people could use the new system.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“That’s a striking number. To have it be so clear in such a short amount of time really says a lot about the power of this technology,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT economist and co-author of a new paper detailing the results.</p> <p>To put the results in perspective, he adds, consider that physical distance is, by itself, also a significant barrier to global commerce. The 10.9 percent change generated by eBay’s new translation software increases trade by the same amount as “making the world 26 percent smaller, in terms of its impact on the goods that we studied,” he says.</p> <p>The paper, “Does Machine Translation Affect International Trade? Evidence from a Large Digital Platform,” appears in the December issue of <em>Management Science</em>. The authors are Brynjolfsson, who is the Schussel Family Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Xiang Hui and Meng Liu, who are both assistant professors in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.</p> <p><strong>Just cause</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, the scholars examined what happened after eBay, in 2014, introduced its new eBay Machine Translation (eMT) system — a proprietary machine-learning program that, by several objective measures, significantly improved translation quality on eBay’s site. The new system initially was focused on English-Spanish translations, to facilitate trade between the United States and Latin America</p> <p>Previously, eBay had used Bing Translator to render the titles of objects for sale. By one evaluation measure, called the Human Acceptance Rate (HAR), in which three experts accept or reject translations, the eMT system increased the number of acceptable Spanish-language item titles on eBay from 82 percent to 90 percent.</p> <p>Using administrative data from eBay, the researchers then examined the volume of trade on the platform, within countries, after the eMT system went into use. Other factors being equal, the study showed that the new translation system not only had an effect on sales, but that trade increased by 1.06 percent for each additional word in the titles of items on eBay.</p> <p>That is a substantial change for a commerce platform on which, as the paper notes, items for sale often have long, descriptive titles such as “Diamond-Cut Stackable Thin Wedding Ring New .925 Sterling Silver Band Sizes 4-12,” or “Alpine Swiss Keira Women’s Trench Coast Double Breasted Wool Jacket Belted.” In those cases, making the translation clearer helps potential buyers understand exactly what they might be purchasing.</p> <p>Given the study’s level of specificity, Brynjolfsson calls it “a really fortunate natural experiment, with a before-and-after that sharply distinguished what happened when you had machine translation and when you didn’t.”</p> <p>The structure of the study, he adds, has enabled the researchers to say with confidence that the new eBay program, and not outside factors, directly generated the change in trade volume among affected countries.</p> <p>“In economics, it’s often hard to do causal analyses and prove that A caused B, not just that A was associated with B,” says Brynjolfsson. “But in this case, I feel very comfortable using causal language and saying that improvement in machine translation caused the increase in international trade.”</p> <p><strong>Larger puzzle: The productivity issue</strong></p> <p>The genesis of the paper stems from an ongoing question about new technology and economic productivity. While many forms of artificial intelligence have been developed and expanded in the last couple of decades, the impact of AI, including things like machine-translation systems, has not been obvious in economics statistics.</p> <p>“There’s definitely some amazing progress in the core technologies, including in things like natural language processing and translation,” Brynjolfsson says. “But what’s been lacking has been evidence of an economic impact, or business impact. So that’s a bit of a puzzle.”</p> <p>When looking to see if an economic impact for various forms of AI could be measured, Brynjolfsson, Hui, and Liu thought machine translation “made sense, because it’s a relatively straightforward implementation,” Brynjolfsson adds. That is, better translations could influence economic activity, at least on eBay, without any other changes in technology occurring.</p> <p>In this vein, the findings fit with a larger postulation Brynjolfsson has developed in recent years — that the adoption of AI technologies produces a “J-curve” in productivity. As Brynjolfsson has previously written, broad-ranging AI technologies nonetheless “require significant complementary investments, including business process redesign, co-invention of new products and business models, and investments in human capital” to have a large economic impact.</p> <p>As a result, when AI technologies are introduced, productivity may appear to slow down, and when the complementary technologies are developed, productivity may appear to take off — in the “J-curve” shape.</p> <p>So while Brynjolfsson believes the results of this study are clear, he warns against generalizing too much on the basis of this finding about the impact of machine learning and other forms of AI on economic activity. Every case is different, and AI will not always produce such notable changes by itself.</p> <p>“This was a case where not a lot of other changes had to happen in order for the technology to benefit the company,” Brynjolfsson says. “But in many other cases, much more complicated, complementary changes are needed. That’s why, in most cases with machine learning, it takes longer for the benefits to be delivered.”</p> A study co-authored by an MIT economist shows that an improved, automated language-translation system significantly boosted commerce on eBay’s website.Sloan School of Management, Business and management, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence, Economics, Technology and society, Social sciences, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) MIT Press authors earn coveted “best of” book honors in 2019 The book publisher continues to produce intellectually daring, scholarly work. Wed, 18 Dec 2019 15:30:01 -0500 MIT Press <p>The MIT Press recently announced that six MIT Press authors were awarded “best of” recognition in 2019. From Bill Gates’ recommendation of “Growth,” by one of his “favorite authors,” to “2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics,” which was selected as the <em>ARTnews</em> No. 1 pick for “Best Art Books of the Decade,” the authors of the MIT Press continue to produce intellectually daring, scholarly work.</p> <p>“We are thrilled to have this recognition given to our forward-thinking authors,” says Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press. “Their work and expertise continue to drive our mission and foster the exchange of ideas, reinforcing the importance of intellectual conversations across the arts and sciences&nbsp;that advance our world.”</p> <p>Awards were given to the following books:</p> <p>“Gyorgy Kepes: Undreaming the Bauhaus,” by John R. Blakinger, was selected by <em>The New York Times</em> as a top art book of 2019 by critic Martha Schwendener.</p> <p>“An overdue treatment of the Hungarian-born artist and designer Gyorgy Kepes explores his career,” wrote Schwendener. “Technology and war are often common threads in Kepes’s work. Innovating forms of camouflage during World War II, his designs coincided with clashes around M.I.T.’s connections with the military during the Vietnam War. Mr. Blakinger argues that Kepes represents a new form of modern artist fluent in and influenced by technology: ‘the artist as technocrat.’”</p> <p>“2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics<strong><em>,</em></strong>”<strong><em> </em></strong>by Andrea Fraser, was the No. 1 pick on the “The Best Art Books of the Decade” by Alex Greenberger, senior editor for <em>ARTnews.</em></p> <p>“Where would we be without Andrea Fraser’s “2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics?” asked Greenberger. “This book has become a touchstone at a time when activists are calling out board members for their political leanings … seeing it all collected neatly in one tome is powerful — as a cool-headed study, an intelligent research-based artwork, and a clarion call for change all in one.”</p> <p>“Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-First Century,” edited by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter, was No. 4 on Greenberger’s “Best Art Books of the Decade.”</p> <p>He wrote, “The closest thing to a movement that emerged this decade was a new kind of digital art — one that was termed ‘post-internet’ by some for the way it moved the slick aesthetics of the web into the world at large. Mass Effect has become the go-to critical companion to this style and work made by the artists whose pioneering pieces inspired it.”</p> <p>“Growth,” by Vaclav Smil, was recommended by Bill Gates on <em>Gates Notes
.</em></p> <p>“When I first heard that one of my favorite authors was working on a new book about growth, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it,” said Gates. “(Two years ago, I wrote that I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. I stand by that statement.) His latest doesn’t disappoint. As always, I don’t agree with everything Smil says, but he remains one of the best thinkers out there at documenting the past and seeing the big picture.”</p> <p>“Fables and Futures,” by George Estreich, was featured on <em>NPR Science Friday</em> as among “The Best Science Books of 2019.”</p> <p>“As new prenatal screening tools enter the market and we begin to seriously grapple with the idea of human genome editing, we would do well to think deeply about the consequences of such technologies on the rights and welfare of individuals we consider disabled,” wrote Valerie Thompson, editor for <em>Science Friday.</em> “I recommend 'Fables and Futures' to anyone who wants to seriously engage in the human genome editing debate at the society and species levels.”</p> <p>“Find Your Path: Unconventional Lessons from 36 Leading Scientists and Engineers,” by Daniel Goodman, was featured as a “Selected New Book on Higher Education” by <em>The Chronicle of Higher Education.</em></p> Six MIT Press authors were awarded “best of” recognition in 2019.Image courtesy of The MIT Press.Awards, honors and fellowships, Books and authors, MIT Press, Science communication, Arts, Economics, Politics, History, Science writing MIT News Podcast: Build your own language (with transcript) Wed, 18 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0500 MIT News Office <p><em>The following podcast and transcript are part of a feature on MIT's course 24.917 (ConLangs: How to Construct a Language). <a href="" target="_self">Read the accompanying article.</a></em></p> <p><iframe allow="autoplay" frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src=";color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">FEMALE VOICE: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. We are endowed with reason and conscience to act. [Crosstalk] [Phrases in foreign languages]</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Language. We as human beings are surrounded by language all the time, whether we're reading, writing or speaking it. Language is embedded in our everyday. But what is language? What makes language a language, and not just a group of words, gestures, or sounds? By definition, language is the method of human communication, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Simply put, language is how we interact with our world and with one another. But how does it work? And how do we as humans learn it?</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: At the undergraduate level here at MIT, professor of linguistics Norvin Richards has asked his students to think about such questions and try to understand how human languages actually work by creating their own.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">ALYSSA WELLS-LEWIS: So my language is Dænikjə.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">SHILOH CURTIS: My language is called Xalate.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">JOSEPH NOSZEK:&nbsp;My language is Sowopuwuk.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;&gt;JOSEPH NOSZEK: My language is called Sowopuwuk&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p style=">STUDENT: It's called Ehtokh.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST:&nbsp; In his course, Constructed Languages, Professor Richards introduces students to the basics of linguistics such as phonetics (making sounds), morphology (forming words), and syntax (developing phrases) to assist them in their creations. But beyond that, they have free rein to develop a language of their choice and a story of the people who speak it.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">SHILOH CURTIS: For the first assignment we were supposed to make up like a back story for our languages, so mine is designed for the population of a generation starship, which is a spaceship that takes generations to reach another, like, habitable planet so you just have a society that will live on it for hundreds of years and just exist on the spaceship until they actually reach the planet. And I wanted my language to be sort of vaguely pronounceable by speakers of English, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese because I figure most people in the world especially that would be going on this starship would be able to speak one of these three languages.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">JOSEPH NOSZEK: My language is a language that's designed to be used as a torture device, to torture people by being insufferably, painfully, and inappropriately cute. The idea is basically there are only two vowels which are “oo” and “oh”, and using them a lot is maddening. [Laughs]</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">JOSEPH NOSZEK: “Oo, ook sowopuwuk,” which means, “I speak Sowopuwuk.” “Oo dwong jowoong,” which is, “I eat fish.” “O dowa pudo kuta oouton,” which is, “you will buy a battery.” And the last one here is, “Oo dwong ovo oo ovo do so,” which is, “I ate an egg that was good.”</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Professor Richards, who received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees here at MIT designed this course as a fun and creative way to get students interested in linguistics. A self-proclaimed linguist who enjoys learning languages, Richards can speak and understand a handful of languages and has been knows to rattle off words from languages purposely designed, like Klingon, created for the “Star Trek” series, to make a linguistic point.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: In linguistics, what we are trying to do is to, to describe and understand completely everything it is that you know when you know how to use language, when you know how to speak, when you know how to understand, when you know how to sign if you're signing. How is it that you are able to do all of the very complicated things that we do when we speak and understand each other? How do you learn to do those things? And, and what is it exactly that you're manipulating when you manipulate language?</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: So they spend the semester creating languages and at the end they have a mini grammar of a language that they've spent the semester creating. And they also have heard a lot of information about how the languages of the world work and how they don't work. Kinds of languages that exist and kinds of languages that as far as we know, don't exist. And whenever I say, "Here's a kind of thing that exists, and here, over here, these are kinds of languages that as far as we know don't exist," I get two kinds of students. There are students who say, "Okay, I will make a language that could be a normal human language," and you get other students who they hear me say, "No, no language ever does this." And they say, "That. That's what I want to do. I'll put that in my language."</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS:&nbsp; [crosstalk] Awesome, that sounds good, you need to have —</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">LULU RUSSELL: So my language is called Lɵʌ. It's bimodal, which means you speak and sign at the same time. There's currently no existing language that does this, but my language you just speak words and use sign language at the same time to convey your meaning. Some of the signs you can hear because there are snaps and slaps. For example, saying I am speaking my language, is, “Nah Lɵʌ." So you can hear two of the signs there because there's two hits. But it just means "I am speaking with my language." And the signs that I did that you couldn't see were me using this personal pronoun I, um, as the subject which is the hit, and then with my language is another hit using a preposition.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Throughout the semester, students get a unique opportunity to spend time in this intellectual space they may otherwise not tap into. But the languages have to work. They have to follow the rules. They have to make sense.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: So we do a lot of talking about ways in which languages are alike and ways in which languages are different and then what kinds of problems they have to solve in one way or another and different ways that languages solve them, different kinds of grammatical constructions that languages use. We talk about things that some languages do but others don't. Often during the course I say, "Okay, so here's a menu of things. You can choose one of these or you can make up your own. But you have to decide how your language, you know, does these things, which of these things it does."</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Students seem to pull inspiration for their languages from a variety of places. There is no shortage of individuality. Their languages are creative, complete, organized and extremely detailed.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">ALYSSA WELLS-LEWIS: I kind of really went in hard with the lore behind the language [laughs] but I'm a big fan of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" which is a, a TV show.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">AUDIO FROM AVATAR: Only the Avatar, master of all —</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">ALYSSA WELLS-LEWIS: And so I just picked like, one of the creatures from that show and I was like, "Okay, I'm going to write a language for them." So I picked the buzzard wasps which is a mix between a vulture and a wasp. And so they have like a bird beak and then like the body of a wasp. And so I was thinking, like, in terms of the sounds that they'd be able to make, assuming that they have teeth, they would probably be able to make all the sounds except for the ones that use your lips. So it's a language that has a lot of t’s and b’s and very open vowels.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">ALYSSA WELLS-LEWIS: The way that you say, "I speak dænikjə," is “nee ho unok dænikjə.” Another one is, "I have food;" that is, “mee zanok foosh.” And the way that I kind of came up with the words is I kind of play around with what feels right, I guess. It's a very creative class, which I really, really, enjoy.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: The class, which debuted last year, is already one of the most popular classes offered in linguistics. And according to Richards, typically none of the students who take the class are linguistic majors. Rather, the course is populated with business students, chemists, computer scientists, and engineers.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: We get students who take the class because they want to spend some time doing something fun and creative, and maybe they hadn't thought much about language before but, they're interested in trying it.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">SHILOH CURTIS: I was sort of casually interested in linguistics before I got to MIT. I didn't know a whole lot about it but I was like: This is a topic that I want to explore some more if I get a chance. In my freshman spring I took intro to linguistics which happened to be taught by the same professor, Professor Richards, and I was like: Linguistics is awesome, and I love this professor. And I found out he was teaching this conlang class and I was like: Well, obviously I need to take this.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: In the field that exists at the intersection of science and the humanities, linguists try to understand exactly what goes on in the mind when we communicate and understand each other. For students, their study and understanding of language and how it works can spread well beyond the constraints of this class and be applied to other areas of study such as their major.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">JOSEPH NOSZEK: Civil environment engineering is my major but I'm in the core of systems engineering within that. The systems engineering is when you're looking at something that's, you know, has a lot of pieces, very big, has lot of data, and you're just have to try to make sense of it somehow and often you have to improve it. And I feel like there's a similarity that when you have a language you know, that's a system. There are a lot of parts, a lot of rules, a lot of words. There's already this sort of, like, systems perspective you can have on it of, like, ah, here's the system, how do I make my own sentences out of that?</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Besides assisting students in the creation of languages, Professor Richards also takes a strong interest in preserving languages in danger of fading away. He has spent decades of his career working with the Wampanoag people of Eastern Massachusetts as they attempt to revive their native language.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: Most of the world's languages are in danger of vanishing. Not the languages that you've heard of; not, you know, English or Spanish or French. Those are not going anywhere but if you count the languages of the world, which is hard to do, there are something like six or seven thousand languages in the world, and at least half of them are in danger of vanishing. How do you know when a language is in danger of vanishing? It comes in various degrees. Maybe the most extreme is there are languages that are only spoken by a few elderly people and no one is in the process of learning them now.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: Many of the indigenous languages of this country for example, are in that shape. Lots of the indigenous languages of Australia, there are lots of languages in Africa and various places in the world where many languages they're in trouble. I have the honor of being involved in the Wampanoag project, which is a project that attempts to do this for the language that was spoken here by the people who taught the Pilgrims how to survive, so the people who live on Cape Cod, the traditional owners of the place where we are now. And that language went through about a century of not being spoken by anyone at all but the Wampanoag are now attempting to revive its use so there are many texts in Wampanoag including a complete translation of the Bible. It's the first Bible that was published in this hemisphere, it was published here in Boston in the 1600s and many other documents, mostly legal documents, deeds and things like that.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">NORVIN RICHARDS: In a world where, you know, Native Americans in the larger culture and a lot of the time they're sort of relegated to, you know, sports mascots and Halloween costumes, you know. So to be able to say no, you know, you can dress like me and you can pretend to look like me, but I'm the only one who's me. And this is the way that we talk. That's an especially important thing for them to be able to say to the outside world. No, you know, this thing, this is mine and I'm the expert on it, you know. Me and the other people like me, we're the people who understand this and we get to decide to what extent we're going to share it with the outside world, but it's ours.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Language. It unites us as a species because human communication is unique. Other animals communicate but as far as we know, it is uniquely human to create and use language. But different languages set people apart from each other. When we learn about the creation of specific languages, we learn about the people who made them and when we study what it takes to build any language, it helps us understand what it is to be human.</p> <p style="margin-left:1.5in;">HOST: Thanks for listening. You can find more audio content from MIT on Apple podcast, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.</p> Podcasts, Language, Linguistics, Classes and programs, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences How to build a language MIT students are inventing constructed languages — or “conlangs” — in a class that uses linguistics to supply the building blocks. Tue, 17 Dec 2019 23:59:59 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>Wouldn’t it be great if there were an exclamation designed specifically to use when your cellphone battery runs out of juice? Or a word that perfectly captures the idea of doing something for no reason?<br /> <br /> This semester, MIT students have been making up such words — but not for English or any other known language. They are constructing entirely new languages, or “conlangs,” in a class that uses linguistics, the science of language, to supply the necessary building blocks.<br /> <br /> One student, who took 24.917 (ConLangs: How to Construct a Language) this fall, created a language for underwater creatures who speak in shades of color. Another invented a language that combines speech with whistling. Senior Jessica Tang’s new language is for spaceships that speak. “It’s not a super logical premise,” she says, “but it's a lot of fun facing the constraints. And, I like a lot of the words in ‘spaceship-speak’ because they are just really weird.”<br /> <br /> Beyond imaginative premises, the challenge students take on in 24.917 is to create something that behaves in ways that are fundamentally different from the languages they already know. To achieve that, it’s useful to “understand something about how human languages actually work,” says Professor Norvin Richards, a linguistics scholar who teaches 24.917.<br /> <br /> Understanding how languages work is what the linguistics field is all about, and 24.917 provides a thorough introduction to the subject — including fundamental topics such as phonetics (making sounds), morphology (forming words), and syntax (developing phrases). The class, which debuted in 2018, has quickly become one of the most popular offered by MIT’s top-ranked linguistics program.</p> <p><iframe allow="autoplay" frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src=";color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>In the above audio short, hear more from students and MIT professor of linguistics Norvin Richards about their work and the purpose of course 24.917. View a full transcript <a href="">here</a>.</em></span></p> <p><strong>Language and the mind</strong><br /> <br /> “One of the things you discover when you begin to learn about language is that there are all sorts of things that we do effortlessly, without thinking about it, but that are quite complicated,” Richards says. For example, English has quite a strict rule for ordering adjectives — it's always “a big red car,” never “a red big car.” New English learners routinely have to memorize this far-from-universal rule, while native speakers may not even be aware of it.<br /> <br /> “One of the goals of 24.917 is to show students some of what we know about how languages work thanks to all the work that’s been done in linguistics, which is the study of what exactly it is you know when you know a language,” Richards says.<br /> <br /> When asked to elaborate, Richards explains, “There are certain kinds of linguistic tasks that people seem to invariably accomplish in the same ways, no matter what language they speak.” Linguists endeavor to explain why that is. “A working hypothesis is that part of being a human being is having the kind of mind that allows you to construct and use language in certain ways but not others,” Richards says. “We're trying to discover what those properties of the human mind are; what kinds of creatures are human beings?”</p> <p><strong>Surprises</strong><br /> <br /> 24.917, which introduces students to some of the major quests of linguistics, is drawing many MIT undergraduate to explore the field more completely. Surprises abound.<br /> <br /> Joseph Noszek, a senior majoring in civil and environmental engineering, says he has found it fascinating to learn phonetics — including the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a system for pronouncing unfamiliar words. “We started out talking about how you get sounds though points of articulation and how you can group consonants based on where your tongue is, what your lips are doing, and how much air you’re letting out,” Noszek says. With this information, plus some familiarity with the IPA, he has found it possible to produce sounds he wasn’t familiar with before. “I find it mind-blowing that there is a technique for this,” he says.<br /> <br /> Rebecca Sloan, a senior majoring in chemistry, echoed this sentiment, noting that students in 24.917 also watched speech videos recorded using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which enabled them to see how people used their speech organs to form sounds. “The most surprising thing for me in the class was being able to watch the MRIs of people saying words and realize that you can use that information to figure things out about different sounds,” she says.</p> <p><br /> <strong>From Swahili to Klingon</strong><br /> <br /> The class also provides a tour of world languages, as Richards demonstrates linguistic points using examples from Tagalog, Passamaquoddy, Thai, Korean, Swahili, Egyptian Arabic, O’odham, Dinka, and Welsh.<br /> <br /> Along the way, he even gives students some insight into the workings of two languages, Lardil and Wampanoag, in which Richards is a leading expert. For decades, Richards has worked with the Wampanoag people of Eastern Massachusetts as they have been successfully reviving their native language which, before the project began, had last been spoken in the 1800s. He has also spent years working to fight the obliteration of Lardil, an Aboriginal language once widely spoken on Mornington Island, Australia, but now nearly extinct.<br /> <br /> As Richards outlines various linguistic behaviors — such as the forming of plurals or systems of agreement — he often includes examples from these languages. But not surprisingly for a class on constructed languages, Richards also includes examples from languages that were purposely designed — notably Klingon, which was created for the “Star Trek” entertainment universe, and Quenya and Sindarin, two languages created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his “Lord of the Rings” novels. (Richards will easily rattle off a few words of Klingon to make a linguistic point, but claims he speaks the language only “very badly.”)<br /> <br /> “Klingon is useful in talking about morphology, which is the study of how we make words up out of pieces of words,” says Richards, noting that while English doesn’t have much morphology, Klingon does. It’s what is known as an “agglutinative” language, which means that it commonly forms new words by adding prefixes and even long strings of suffixes to root words. “It’s like a chemical reaction going on. You add these things, and words change from one thing to another.”</p> <p><strong>Tools for new languages </strong></p> <p>As students learn how various languages form tenses, plurals, and kinship terms, as well as how they borrow and shape words taken from other languages, they are gaining the tools to create entirely new languages. Richards says, “You present students with a little menu of the kinds of sounds you can make, and the students are picking and choosing and sometimes picking something that no language does.”<br /> <br /> Other new languages to emerge from the class include a language designed to sound like beatboxing; a language that combines speech with sign language, packing meaning into both sounds and gestures; and a language designed for alien beings who make sounds by tapping on their exoskeletons.<br /> <br /> “Our students get some idea of the kinds of things we work on in the linguistics field,” says Richards, "and then they come up with all kinds of wonderful stuff.”</p> <p><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Senior writer: Kathryn O’Neill</em></p> Junior Alex Cuellar with his constructed language. The chalkboard reads: "I can speak Oafal."Image: Allegra BovermanSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Linguistics, Language, Learning, Classes and programs, Students, Undergraduate, Education, teaching, academics Anoushka Bose: Targeting a career in security studies and diplomacy Nuclear science and engineering and physics met political science to illuminate a new path. Tue, 17 Dec 2019 15:25:01 -0500 Leda Zimmerman | MIT Political Science <div> <p>Anoushka Bose arrived at MIT in 2016 intent on pursuing problems related to climate change and energy. But two years later, she found herself discussing arms control and international security with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during a policy forum connecting American and Russian students.</p> <p>“It was eye-opening for me,” says Bose, a double major in political science and physics. “I thought it was fascinating to see how politics and diplomacy work between countries that don't share the same motivations.”</p> <p>In the wake of this experience and a set of equally transformative internships, Bose is now on a new trajectory, moving purposefully toward a public-service career in nuclear policy and diplomacy.</p> <p><strong>Passion for policy and science</strong></p> <p>Growing up in the San Diego, California, area, Bose gravitated toward physics and chemistry in her STEM-oriented high school. But the extracurricular project that completely captivated her was her community's yearlong research and writing competition that traditionally focused on a historical topic. Bose's subject: the Clean Air Act.</p> <p>“This project substantively shaped my interests,” she says. Bose found it “enlightening” to study both the science behind air pollution and the political movement that helped nail down the legislation. “I realized I had passions for both the social sciences and science.”</p> <p>Bose inclined initially toward nuclear science and engineering at MIT because she saw “nuclear energy as the pinnacle solution to climate problems.” She later migrated toward physics, where she hoped to gain more latitude to pursue clean-energy policy questions as well.</p> <p>But it was her engagement with political science that propelled Bose on her current academic path.</p> <p>Venturing into 17.581 (Riots, Rebellions and Revolutions), taught by Roger Petersen, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, Bose says “a gate opened for me into national security.” With its hybrid focus on American and international politics, the class “gave me both knowledge and respect for the entire security enterprise of the U.S.”</p> <p>This class, along with 17.482-3 (U.S. Military Power), taught by Barry R. Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science, “kicked off several semesters dedicated to security studies,” says Bose. “This area seemed like it might be really fulfilling as a career.” The summer after her sophomore year, she grabbed a chance to test her premise.</p> <p><strong>The Washington experience</strong></p> <p>With the help of the MIT Washington DC Summer Internship Program, and Ernest J. Moniz, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, Bose landed an internship at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Plunging into research about safeguarding nuclear materials in central Asia, protecting against radiological challenges, and the potential impacts of a nuclear winter after a small-scale nuclear exchange, Bose strongly felt, “This is the kind of place where I want to be.”</p> <p>The initiative's mission also made an impact on Bose: “I thought maybe I should be exploring global nuclear safety, proliferation, and security issues, rather than energy,” she says. With this in mind, she seized an opportunity to dive even deeper into this area, applying for one of 20 U.S. spots in the Stanford-U.S. Russia Forum.</p> <p>Running September 2018 through April 2019, this project brought Bose together with a small group of U.S. and Russian students to discuss the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which the Trump administration had decided to withdraw. Meeting virtually and then in person (in both Moscow and Washington) to present policy ideas, Bose and her partners tried to offer solutions that might prove mutually, politically beneficial.</p> <p>“From the policy-making side, I hadn't understood the power of individuals to shape what gets done,” she says. “It was really interesting working with the Russians, who often spoke bluntly, and who did not routinely view the U.S. as having pure motivations.”</p> <p>While laboring over the research and writing for this policy project, Bose continued to delve deeper into security studies at MIT. “I needed to gain knowledge and confidence in understanding international crises,” says Bose.</p> <p>Increasingly sure that she “wanted to do something involving diplomacy and international relations,” Bose secured another internship in Washington last summer, working on nuclear energy policy at the State Department. Even though she hoped to concentrate on weapons and proliferation, Bose was eager “to learn about the processes of government and bureaucracy.”</p> <p>The internship did not disappoint. Bose worked on bolstering U.S. nuclear energy business in countries around the world seeking nuclear power. “I had not internalized how the State Department on a daily basis uses nuclear energy as a policy thrust,” she says. She also helped develop U.S. nuclear cooperation accords with Argentina and Romania. “I was so excited to see something come out of my advocacy,” she says.</p> <p>These real-world experiences “sealed the deal" for Bose. “After last summer I knew I wanted to work in nuclear policy, focusing on security,” she says. Today, under the direction of political science Associate Professor Vipin Narang, she is delving into the issue of global noncompliance with nuclear materials — work for which she has been named a presidential fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.</p> <p>She hasn't abandoned energy, though. She serves as president of the MIT Energy Club, devoting considerable time to hosting events as she finishes coursework for her double major. She is applying both to law school, and for a full-time job next year in Washington in policy and/or diplomacy.</p> <p>In a world challenged by nationalism and conflict, Bose retains a sense of optimism and commitment to a larger goal — a safer world. “It's simple for me to believe in the power of cooperation and trust, especially after working alongside Russian students all year,” she says. “I learned that both sides deeply value nuclear security, and neither side wants a much more dangerous world where no one wins,” she says.</p> </div> Anoushka Bose is moving purposefully toward a public-service career in nuclear policy and diplomacy.Political science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Physics, Policy, Nuclear security and policy, Energy, International relations, Students, Undergraduate, School of Science, Government, Profile, Nuclear science and engineering, Global 3 Questions: Shola Lawal on human rights and social justice The Nigerian journalist is the recipient of a prestigious fellowship that provides residencies at MIT, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. Tue, 17 Dec 2019 14:55:01 -0500 Michelle English | Center for International Studies <p><em>It’s been a banner year for Nigerian journalist Shola Lawal. The young reporter, who focuses on human rights and social justice issues, was selected as the 2019&nbsp;<a href="">International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow</a>. The fellowship brought her to MIT this fall as a research associate at the Center for International Studies and provides further journalistic training at </em>The&nbsp;Boston Globe<em>&nbsp;and </em>The&nbsp;New York Times. <em>Last month, she got news from back home that she received&nbsp;<a href="">The Future Awards Africa Prize for Journalism</a>&nbsp;for making significant contributions toward that continent’s future. Finally, she is set to release her first long-form documentary. The film, “<a href="">Where Powers Live</a>,” chronicles the lives of marginalized indigenous religious worshippers in Nigeria and will be screened on campus next month.</em></p> <p><em>Lawal began her career as a freelance correspondent upon graduating from the University of Lagos. She has covered such topics as women’s rights movements in Nigeria, migrants in Libya, forest reserves in Ghana, and political upheaval in Togo. During this fellowship, she is focusing on&nbsp;issues of injustice&nbsp;that sit at the intersection of certain U.S. policies.</em></p> <p><em>She sat down to discuss what it is like to work as a journalist in Nigeria, her reportage last spring on Boko Haram, and her recent trip to Mexico to investigate the migrant crisis.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>The Nigerian government is notorious for putting limits on press freedom, including detaining journalists and activists. How does this impact your work?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Compared to dictatorships on the continent, Nigeria has been fairly navigable for me as a journalist. There have always been stumbling blocks with institutional corruption, secrecy, and insecurity, but journalists have been able to pull through. This is not to say journalists are not killed or targeted. We’ve always been. However, it has been a particularly hard time for us under President Muhammadu Buhari. He was a former military dictator who got recently re-elected. Fears that dictatorial tendencies would emerge even as a democratically elected official are being realized now. This year alone, there have been raids on newsrooms by the military and persistent persecution of journalists. Critics of the government have disappeared without a trace and, as we speak, a media entrepreneur is in detention indefinitely for protesting against the government.</p> <p>Worse, parliament is pushing a social media bill that will criminalize insulting government officials with a jail term. The presidency seemed ready to sign off on it, with First Lady Aisha Buhari publicly citing China as an example of a country that "successfully controls" social media. Public outrage forced parliament to drop it temporarily, but it is still disheartening to know that this is being seriously discussed in the first place. Policies like these negatively impact on journalists and citizens in an age where digital and social media have become crucial tools for bearing witness and exposing injustice.</p> <p>There is a grand strategy of fear at play here, and to be frank, it is, for the most part, effective. It’s hard not to self-censor when you know you can be kidnapped or detained and that you’ll only become another statistic. It’s hard not to be scared when you see educated parliamentarians pushing such a regressive policy. I’m scared of what this means for myself and my colleagues, truly. But I’m undaunted. I continue to work even with that stomach-churning fear, and so do my colleagues. That gives me hope.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>The founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police detention 10 years ago this past October. His death led to the radicalization of the sect and it becoming a jihadist terrorist organiziation. You reported from the heart of the crisis just last spring. Is there any end in sight?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>The end is not nearly in sight, I’m afraid. While things have been quiet on the international front regarding Boko Haram coverage, the reality on the ground is that the group continues to control pockets of territory in northeast Nigeria. A different faction, backed by ISIS, has emerged and calls itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, ISWAP. Although ISIS was defeated in Syria and Iraq, it seems to have settled in Africa. The group supports networks of militia groups now operating in West Africa.&nbsp;</p> <p>Across the region, we’ve seen an uptick in insurgency movements. They have similar strategies of guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings, and they kidnap people for funds. These groups operate in the West African Sahel region, a zone that is vulnerable to climatic changes, causing even more pressure on communities there. Several countries, including Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, have been especially affected.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s influence has shrunk, but we will reckon with the consequences of the group’s terror for generations. Millions are displaced, languishing in camps where resources are inadequate. Many are missing. In Borno, where the insurgency started, I spoke to mothers who have not seen their sons in 10 years. The military has rounded up hundreds of young men that are suspected of terrorism without trial. Their families don’t know if they are alive or dead. Trust has been destroyed: trust in government, but even trust within communities. For a society that is big on social connections, that says a lot. For example, teenagers rescued from Boko Haram enclaves are finding it difficult to re-integrate in their communities because community members see them as insurgents, too. I know we will heal as a nation, but it will take a long time.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>You recently wrote an&nbsp;<a href="">opinion piece</a>&nbsp;for <em>The Boston Globe</em> on the Trump administration’s asylum ban. You described it as targeting Central American migration and that it will have a devastating impact on people who are fleeing conflict in African countries. You recently returned from a reporting trip to Mexico’s southern border. What did you learn?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>It’s very easy to focus on the U.S.-Mexico border with the administration’s emphasis on ‘the wall’, but a lot is happening on Mexico’s southern border. I was surprised to see not just Africans, but also Asians and migrants from the Caribbean in their thousands. They are all trapped by U.S. restrictions in Tapachula, a border city with Guatemala. Mexico is cracking down on transiting migrants, containing them in its poorest region to avoid trade sanctions from the U.S. There’s no aid provided to these people, so many are living in tents. Locals are nervous about the burden of housing all these people on already-inadequate infrastructure. I think it’s only a matter of time before they lash out.</p> <p>For context, thousands of Africans have traveled from countries like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both countries in conflict. They fly to South America and walk or bus north to get to the U.S.-Mexico border. People from Haiti have done the same. It’s a difficult journey. They must pass through the Darien Gap, a jungle between Columbia and Panama where wild animals, flash floods, and armed men have taken souls that we cannot account for.</p> <p>Now, they are caught between a wall and a hard place. Living conditions in shelters are miserly. People are sleeping in tents on the streets and surviving on donations. Women are presenting with reproductive diseases and children with skin infections. I saw a woman cradle a 5-day-old baby who had not received proper medical attention. She looked so desolate, so helpless. It’s an emergency, to put it plainly. And we must all work, in any capacity we can, to call attention to it so that these policies are reversed and these people can be free.</p> “There is a grand strategy of fear at play here, and to be frank, it is, for the most part, effective,” says Nigerian journalist Shola Lawal. “It’s hard not to self-censor when you know you can be kidnapped or detained and that you’ll only become another statistic.” Photo: Laura Kerwin/Center for International StudiesCenter for International Studies, Social justice, Africa, Mexico, Political science, 3 Questions, History, Government, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Journalism, Latin America A closer look at the diabetes disaster In a new book, Amy Moran-Thomas examines how diabetes is reaching epidemic levels in countries across the world. Tue, 17 Dec 2019 00:00:01 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>In Belize, where diabetes is rampant, patients need insulin every day to maintain proper blood sugar levels. But if people lack electricity or a refrigerator, they cannot store insulin at home. Medical advice pamphlets encourage such patients to keep their insulin in the refrigerators at small corner grocery stores instead. And so, in some cases, there the insulin sits — right next to soft drinks which, in good measure, have helped cause the growing diabetes epidemic in the first place.</p> <p>“That one image, of soda bottles and the insulin side by side, has stuck with me,” says Amy Moran-Thomas, an MIT professor and cultural anthropologist who has spent over 10 years researching and writing about the global diabetes epidemic. “It’s emblematic of the larger problem, a robust infrastructure even in rural areas to deliver foods that are contributing to diabetes, and the huge gaps in global infrastructure for treating the same conditions.”</p> <p>The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that 425 million people currently have diabetes, and that number is expected to increase to more than 600 million within a generation. (By the foundation’s count, annual diabetes deaths now outnumber those from HIV/AIDS and breast cancer, combined.) U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called chronic illnesses such as diabetes a “public health emergency in slow motion.”</p> <p>Now Moran-Thomas has chronicled that emergency in a new book, “Traveling with Sugar: Chronicles of a Global Epidemic,” published this month by the University of California Press. In it, Moran-Thomas examines the havoc diabetes has caused in Belize, a Central American country with resource limitations — annual per capita income is under $5,000 — and one that is heavily reliant on cheap, high-glucose foods made with white rice, white flour, and white sugar.</p> <p>“Before I started getting to know people, I had this idea that infectious diseases were the primary health crisis in a lot of Central America,” says Moran-Thomas, who as a graduate student initially considered studying the problems of parasitic infections. Instead, she discovered, “Everyone was talking about diabetes.”</p> <p>Looking at the scope of the problem as well as its causes, Moran-Thomas says she came to regard the situation in Belize as a case study in how lives are rearranged by the spread of diabetes globally: “I felt this was part of something bigger that was happening in the world.”</p> <p><strong>Vanishing from the photo album</strong></p> <p>Diabetes is a disease with many possible consequences. Patients often feel excessively thirsty or hungry, although those are just early symptoms; complications and effects over time can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation of limbs, among other things. Diabetes is so strongly associated with managing blood sugar levels that the word “sugar” has become a virtual synonym for the illness in many places; in Belize “traveling with sugar” is a common expression for living with diabetes.</p> <p>Moran-Thomas conducted her ethnographic research in collaboration with people in Belize, getting to know many families and community caregivers. &nbsp;She also conducted years of archival research about the social context, reconstructing the history of colonialism and commerce that has left Belize largely impoverished and dependent on outside sources for food and income.</p> <p>Grappling with matters that resonate across the Caribbean, Latin America, and beyond, “Traveling with Sugar” closely examines how sugar-heavy diets became so common. This includes issues such as the legacy of plantation landscapes on contemporary agriculture, and the ways diabetes risks are compounded by toxic pollution, climate change, stressful social environments, and interruptions of therapy.</p> <p>The human consequences are stark. Among the stories Moran-Thomas chronicles in the book, one involves an older man lovingly paging through a family photo album showing how his late wife, a teacher, had endured multiple amputations — first a foot, then both legs below the knees — which became woven into the family’s larger story of caring for each other. In the family photo album, Moran-Thomas writes, “we watched her disappear a piece at a time from the pictures, until she was absent altogether.”&nbsp;</p> <p>As people’s bodies have changed, Moran-Thomas observes, the local landscape has too. The first place where she conducted an interview in Belize is now under water, due to coastal erosion and sea-level rise. Such cases will become more common in Belize and around the world, Moran-Thomas thinks, if the global economy promoting the growth of “carbohydrates and hydrocarbons” continues unaltered.</p> <p>“There is so much profit being made from the products that contribute to the condition, and there is also money to be made for treating its harmful effects,” she notes. “So it’s difficult to think about interrupting this engine, when money’s being made on both sides, of causing and treating a problem.”</p> <p>Belize’s status as a resort area also leads to some incongruous scenes in the book. Oxygen-rich hyperbaric chambers can help prevent diabetic amputations, and do exist in Belize — but primarily for tourists, such as divers with the bends. Many Belizean citizens have barely heard of such devices, let alone used them for diabetes care.</p> <p>“There is a segregation of infrastructures,” Moran-Thomas says. “The hyperbaric chambers exemplify that — Caribbean residents dying from amputations without being able to access the chambers in their own countries.”</p> <p><strong>Grassroots initiatives and equitable design </strong></p> <p>The research behind “Traveling with Sugar” has already been the basis of interdisciplinary work at MIT, where Moran-Thomas has collaborated with Jose Gomez-Marquez and other members of the Little Devices Lab to create a new MIT course, 21A.311 (Social Lives of Medical Objects). One focal point of the class involves bringing together readings with lab exercises to examine what the sociologist Ruha Benjamin has called “discriminatory design” — the outcome of which is that objects and devices can be impossible for many people to use effectively.</p> <p>“Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional in order to produce a pattern of exclusion that really impacts people,” Moran-Thomas says.</p> <p>For instance, she adds, “Glucose meters can’t really be repaired by the people who need them most to thrive. This makes life so much harder for people who need those meters to safely manage drugs like insulin. I think that’s an additional entry point for thinking about the delivery of health care — the assumptions built into objects has a huge impact on delivery working. At places like MIT, co-created design ideas can be put into practice. [The students] did some amazing final projects for that class, trying to reimagine what equitable objects could look like.”</p> <p>Beyond medical technologies, and alongside large-scale national or international action, Moran-Thomas suggests, the ongoing work many communities are doing to reverse the diabetes epidemic from the ground up deserves more recognition and resources.</p> <p>“The grassroots level is where I saw the most committed work for real change,” says Moran-Thomas, citing projects like a diabetic foot care group working to prevent amputations and a local farming cooperative building a healthy-cereal program.</p> <p>“I don’t know how to reorganize a global trade system — though more policies trying to address those things are absolutely crucial,” she adds. “But there are so many tiny, vital steps that people are already working on at the level of their own neighborhoods and communities. I focused on those stories in the book to show how a future approach to diabetes response can build from that grassroots scale.”</p> Jose Gomez-Marquez holding an open glucometer prototype at MIT Little Devices Lab Image courtesy of Amy Moran-ThomasSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, Latin America, Health, Medicine, Health science and technology, Books and authors, Research, Developing countries The uncertain role of natural gas in the transition to clean energy MIT study finds that challenges in measuring and mitigating leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, prove pivotal. Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:43:54 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>A new MIT study examines the opposing roles of natural gas in the battle against climate change — as a bridge toward a lower-emissions future, but also a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.</p> <p>Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is viewed as a significant “bridge fuel” to help the world move away from the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels, since burning natural gas for electricity produces about half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal. But methane is itself a potent greenhouse gas, and it currently leaks from production wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and urban distribution pipes for natural gas. Increasing its usage, as a strategy for decarbonizing the electricity supply, will also increase the potential for such “fugitive” methane emissions, although there is great uncertainty about how much to expect. Recent studies have documented the difficulty in even measuring today’s emissions levels.</p> <p>This uncertainty adds to the difficulty of assessing natural gas’ role as a bridge to a net-zero-carbon energy system, and in knowing when to transition away from it. But strategic choices must be made now about whether to invest in natural gas infrastructure. This inspired MIT researchers to quantify timelines for cleaning up natural gas infrastructure in the United States or accelerating a shift away from it, while recognizing the uncertainty about fugitive methane emissions.</p> <p>The study shows that in order for natural gas to be a major component of the nation’s effort to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets over the coming decade, present methods of controlling methane leakage would have to improve by anywhere from 30 to 90 percent. Given current difficulties in monitoring methane, achieving those levels of reduction may be a challenge. Methane is a valuable commodity, and therefore companies producing, storing, and distributing it already have some incentive to minimize its losses. However, despite this, even intentional natural gas venting and flaring (emitting carbon dioxide) continues.</p> <p>The study also finds policies that favor moving directly to carbon-free power sources, such as wind, solar, and nuclear, could meet the emissions targets without requiring such improvements in leakage mitigation, even though natural gas use would still be a significant part of the energy mix.</p> <p>The researchers compared several different scenarios for curbing methane from the electric generation system in order to meet a target for 2030 of a 32 percent cut in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions relative to 2005 levels, which is consistent with past U.S. commitments to mitigate climate change. The findings appear today in the journal <em>Environmental Research Letters</em>, in a paper by MIT postdoc Magdalena Klemun and Associate Professor Jessika Trancik.</p> <p>Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although how much more depends on the timeframe you choose to look at. Although methane traps heat much more, it doesn’t last as long once it’s in the atmosphere — for decades, not centuries. &nbsp;When averaged over a 100-year timeline, which is the comparison most widely used, methane is approximately 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. But averaged over a 20-year period, it is 86 times stronger.</p> <p>The actual leakage rates associated with the use of methane are widely distributed, highly variable, and very hard to pin down. Using figures from a variety of sources, the researchers found the overall range to be somewhere between 1.5 percent and 4.9 percent of the amount of gas produced and distributed. Some of this happens right at the wells, some occurs during processing and from storage tanks, and some is from the distribution system. Thus, a variety of different kinds of monitoring systems and mitigation measures may be needed to address the different conditions.</p> <p>“Fugitive emissions can be escaping all the way from where natural gas is being extracted and produced, all the way along to the end user,” Trancik says. “It’s difficult and expensive to monitor it along the way.”</p> <p>That in itself poses a challenge. “An important thing to keep in mind when thinking about greenhouse gases,” she says, “is that the difficulty in tracking and measuring methane is itself a risk.” If researchers are unsure how much there is and where it is, it’s hard for policymakers to formulate effective strategies to mitigate it. This study’s approach is to embrace the uncertainty instead of being hamstrung by it, Trancik says: The uncertainty itself should inform current strategies, the authors say, by motivating investments in leak detection to reduce uncertainty, or a faster transition away from natural gas.</p> <p>“Emissions rates for the same type of equipment, in the same year, can vary significantly,” adds Klemun. “It can vary depending on which time of day you measure it, or which time of year. There are a lot of factors.”</p> <p>Much attention has focused on so-called “super-emitters,” but even these can be difficult to track down. “In many data sets, a small fraction of point sources contributes disproportionately to overall emissions,” Klemun says. “If it were easy to predict where these occur, and if we better understood why, detection and repair programs could become more targeted.” But achieving this will require additional data with high spatial resolution, covering wide areas and many segments of the supply chain, she says.</p> <p>The researchers looked at the whole range of uncertainties, from how much methane is escaping to how to characterize its climate impacts, under a variety of different scenarios. One approach places strong emphasis on replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas, for example; others increase investment in zero-carbon sources while still maintaining a role for natural gas.</p> <p>In the first approach, methane&nbsp;emissions from the U.S. power sector would need to be reduced by 30 to 90 percent from today’s levels by 2030,&nbsp;along with&nbsp;a 20 percent reduction in&nbsp;carbon dioxide.&nbsp;Alternatively,&nbsp;that target could be met through even greater carbon dioxide&nbsp;reductions, such as through faster expansion of low-carbon electricity, without&nbsp;requiring any&nbsp;reductions in natural&nbsp;gas leakage&nbsp;rates. The higher end of the published ranges reflects greater emphasis on methane’s short-term warming contribution.</p> <p>One question raised by the study is how much to invest in developing technologies and infrastructure for safely expanding natural gas use, given the difficulties in measuring and mitigating methane emissions, and given that virtually all scenarios for meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets call for ultimately phasing out natural gas that doesn’t include carbon capture and storage by mid-century. “A certain amount of investment probably makes sense to improve and make use of current infrastructure, but if you’re interested in really deep reduction targets, our results make it harder to make a case for that expansion right now,” Trancik says.</p> <p>The detailed analysis in this study should provide guidance for local and regional regulators as well as policymakers all the way to federal agencies, they say. The insights also apply to other economies relying on natural gas. The best choices and exact timelines are likely to vary depending on local circumstances, but the study frames the issue by examining a variety of possibilities that include the extremes in both directions — that is, toward investing mostly in improving the natural gas infrastructure while expanding its use, or accelerating a move away from it.</p> <p>The research was supported by the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. The researchers also received support from MIT’s Policy Lab at the Center for International Studies.</p> Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and it currently leaks from production wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and urban distribution pipes for natural gas.IDSS, Research, Solar, Energy, Renewable energy, Alternative energy, Climate change, Technology and society, Oil and gas, Economics, Policy, MIT Energy Initiative, Emissions, Sustainability, ESI, Greenhouse gases New health insurance insights Economists analyze how patients and health care providers value Medicaid. Sun, 15 Dec 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>A new analysis of a randomized health insurance program in Oregon sheds light on the value the program has for enrollees and providers alike.</p> <p>The study, by MIT economist Amy Finkelstein and two co-authors, suggests that adults with low incomes value Medicaid at only about 20 cents to 50 cents per dollar of medical spending paid on their behalf.</p> <p>“The value of Medicaid for most low-income adults is much lower than the medical expenditures paid by the insurance,” says Finkelstein, the John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor at MIT and a leading health care economist.</p> <p>That finding reinforces the results of another, separate study that Finkelstein and multiple co-authors conducted in Massachusetts. In that case, across 70 percent of people in the Massachusetts state health insurance program for low-income adults, their valuation of the program was equal to less than 50 percent of their expected insurance costs.&nbsp;</p> <p>While it might seem puzzling that recipients value health insurance at less than the covered medical expenditures, the study also offers an explanation for this: Low-income individuals who do not have insurance still only pay a fraction of their medical costs. In the Oregon data, this figure was roughly 20 percent of medical costs; prior studies have found similar results nationwide. The remainder of the spending on the low-income uninsured comes from a variety of sources, including charity care from nonprofit hospitals, publicly funded health clinics that offer free care, state funding to hospitals for uncompensated care, and unpaid medical debt.</p> <p>“The nominally uninsured have a fair amount of implicit insurance,” Finkelstein says. “Once you put it in that light, it becomes a lot less surprising that Medicaid spending is valued by them at a lot less than dollar for dollar.”</p> <p>One further implication of the findings is that a significant portion of public spending on health insurance for low-income individuals effectively acts as a subsidy for health care providers and state programs that cover the costs of uninsured patients.</p> <p>The new paper, “The Value of Medicaid: Interpreting Results from the Oregon Health Experiment,” appears in the December issue of the <em>Journal of Political Economy</em>. Its co-authors are Finkelstein; Nathan Hendren PhD ’12, a professor of economics at Harvard University; and Erzo F.P. Luttmer, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College.</p> <p>The <a href=";within%5Bauthor%5D=on&amp;journal=1&amp;q=finkelstein&amp;from=j" target="_blank">previous paper</a>, “Subsidizing Health Insurance for Low-Income Adults: Evidence from Massachusetts,” was published last spring in the <em>American Economic Review</em>. Its co-authors are Finkelstein; Hendren; and Mark Shepard, an assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.</p> <p><strong>A random walk in Oregon</strong></p> <p>The latest paper examines a distinctive Medicaid policy that Oregon implemented in 2008. With funding to cover only about 10,000 of eligible adults, Oregon conducted a lottery to decide who would be eligible to apply for Medicaid.</p> <p>That random assigment of slots using a lottery allowed the researchers to develop a study comparing two otherwise similar groups of Oregon residents: those who had obtained Medicaid coverage via lottery and those who entered the lottery but did not gain coverage. In effect, Oregon had developed a randomized controlled trial, which the scholars used for their research.</p> <p>Medicaid eligibility regulations and administrative practices can vary by state. In Oregon, adults and children generally qualify for Medicaid when they live in a household with income no greater than 133 percent of the poverty level defined by the U.S. federal government; in 2016, in the 48 contiguous states, that was $11,800 for a single person and $24,300 for a family of four.</p> <p>Previous studies of the Oregon experiment that Finkelstein has led have shown that, among other things, emergency room use increases among Medicaid recipients, contrary to expectations of many experts.</p> <p>Being covered by Medicaid also increases patient visits to doctors, prescription drug use, and hospital admissions, while reducing out-of-pocket medical expenses and lowering unpaid medical debt for recipients. Medicaid coverage also appears to lower the incidence of depression, although it does not seem to change the available measures of physical health.</p> <p>The current study uses data from the prior Oregon studies, as well as state Medicaid records, and survey data from individuals who applied for Oregon’s lottery. The survey data show how much people used health care, including prescription drugs, outpatient visits, emergency-room visits, and hospital visits.</p> <p>In line with previous studies, the current paper shows that having Medicaid increases total spending on health care — about $3,600 reimbursed to providers annually on behalf of each Medicaid enrollee, compared to $2,721 annually for each low-income uninsured individual. Of that $2,721, the low-income uninsured paid about $569 in annual out-of-pocket costs — the source of the paper’s estimate that uninsured individuals pay about 20 percent of charged costs.</p> <p>Using this data, the researchers also estimated an annual <em>net</em> cost of Medicaid in Oregon of $1,448 per recipient. This is the average annual increase in health care spending by Medicaid recipients, plus their average annual decrease in out-of-pocket spending. Thus moving a low-income uninsured individual in Oregon onto Medicaid results in a $1,448 increase in insured health care spending on behalf of that person.</p> <p>Because the Oregon Medicaid program’s reimbursements to health care providers are an average of $3,600 annually per recipient, the researchers estimate that about 40 percent of Medicaid spending underwrites costs incurred by enrollees. The other 60 percent is, as they write in the paper, “best conceived of as … a monetary transfer to external parties who would otherwise subsidize the medical care for the low-income uninsured.”</p> <p>Simultaneously, the researchers refined their “willingness to pay” metric by using multiple methods to estimate how much having health insurance affects consumer spending generally. These methods yielded three estimates ranging from $793 to $1,675 in annual health care spending for low-income individuals. This is the source of the paper’s conclusion that people value Medicaid at 20 percent to 50 percent of charged costs.</p> <p><strong>Two approaches, similar results</strong></p> <p>Significantly, the two studies use different methodological approaches to study different programs in different states, and arrive at similar conclusions. In Massachusetts, the scholars used data from the state’s health insurance program — a forerunner of the federal Affordable Care Act — to see how the share of eligible individuals who signed up for insurance changed as their subsidy level changed.</p> <p>“Despite a different design and different setting, even though it’s Massachusetts and not Oregon, and different method, we got pretty much the same result,” Finkelstein observes.</p> <p>Overall, Finkelstein says, it will be valuable to keep learning about the care obtained by uninsured people, as well as the ultimate destination of Medicaid funding, including the 60 percent that is routed to other parties that subsidize care for the low-income uninsured. Understanding who ultimately gets those transfers, she notes, could help illuminate how redistributive Medicaid actually is, as a program intended to benefit lower-income Americans.</p> <p>Moreover, Finkelstein says, more research will be needed to study how best to provide health care for lower-income Americans.</p> <p>“Right now we have an implicit, informal insurance system that likely reduces demand for formal insurance but provides a sort of patchwork of care that may not be very good,” Finkelstein says.</p> <p>Funding for the two studies was provided by the National Institute of Aging, the National Science Foundation, and the Harvard University Lab for Economic Applications and Policy.</p> A new analysis of a randomized health insurance program in Oregon sheds light on the value Medicaid has for enrollees and providers alike.School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economics, Health, Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Health care, Research Taking the carbon out of construction with engineered wood Substituting lumber for materials such as cement and steel could cut building emissions and costs. Wed, 11 Dec 2019 12:55:01 -0500 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change <p>To meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change — keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally capping it at 1.5 C — humanity will ultimately need to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. To date, emissions reduction efforts have largely focused on decarbonizing the two economic sectors responsible for the most emissions, electric power and transportation. Other approaches aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it through carbon capture technology, biofuel cultivation, and massive tree planting. &nbsp;</p> <p>As it turns out, planting trees is not the only way forestry can help in climate mitigation; how we use wood harvested from trees may also make a difference. Recent studies have shown that engineered wood products — composed of wood and various types of adhesive to enhance physical strength — involve far fewer carbon dioxide emissions than mineral-based building materials, and at lower cost. Now <a href="" target="_blank">new research</a> in the journal <em>Energy Economics</em> explores the potential environmental and economic impact in the United States of substituting lumber for energy-intensive building materials such as cement and steel, which account for <a href="" target="_blank">nearly 10 percent</a> of human-made GHG emissions and are among the hardest to reduce.</p> <p>“To our knowledge, this study is the first economy-wide analysis to evaluate the economic and emissions impacts of substituting lumber products for more CO<sub>2</sub>-intensive materials in the construction sector,” says the study’s lead author <a href="">Niven Winchester</a>, a research scientist at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and Motu Economic and Public Policy Research. “There is no silver bullet to reduce GHGs, so exploiting a suite of emission-abatement options is required to mitigate climate change.”</p> <p>Comparing the economic and emissions impacts of replacing CO<sub>2</sub>-intensive building materials (e.g., steel and concrete) with lumber products in the United States under an economy-wide cap-and-trade policy consistent with the nation’s Paris Agreement GHG emissions-reduction pledge, the study found that the CO<sub>2</sub> intensity (tons of CO<sub>2</sub> emissions per dollar of output) of lumber production is about 20 percent less than that of fabricated metal products, under 50 percent that of iron and steel, and under 25 percent that of cement. In addition, shifting construction toward lumber products lowers the GDP cost of meeting the emissions cap by approximately $500 million and reduces the carbon price.</p> <p>The authors caution that these results only take into account emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels in harvesting, transporting, fabricating, and milling lumber products, and neglect potential increases in atmospheric CO<sub>2</sub> associated with tree harvesting or beneficial long-term carbon sequestration provided by wood-based building materials.</p> <p>“The source of lumber, and the conditions under which it is grown and harvested, and the fate of wood products deserve further attention to develop a full accounting of the carbon implications of expanded use of wood in building construction,” they write. “Setting aside those issues, lumber products appear to be advantageous compared with many other building materials, and offer one potential option for reducing emissions from sectors like cement, iron and steel, and fabricated metal products — by reducing the demand for these products themselves.”</p> <p>Funded, in part, by Weyerhaeuser and the Softwood Lumber Board, the study develops and utilizes a customized economy-wide model that includes a detailed representation of energy production and use and represents production of construction, forestry, lumber, and mineral-based construction materials.</p> A 70-unit British Columbia lakeside resort hotel was built with local engineered wood products, including cross-laminated timber. New research explores the potential environmental and economic impact in the United States of substituting lumber for energy-intensive building products such as cement and steel.Photo: Province of British Columbia/FlickrResearch, Climate change, Greenhouse gases, Emissions, Climate, Environment, Energy, Economics, Policy, Carbon dioxide, Building, Sustainability, Materials Science and Engineering, Cement, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change Uncovering the role of technology and medicine in deaf and signing worlds Timothy Loh, a HASTS program doctoral student studying deafness, sign language, and technology, is a sociocultural and medical anthropologist-in-training. Thu, 05 Dec 2019 15:00:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>If the joy and excitement of following your own path could be personified, it would look like Timothy Loh. A love of languages led him nearly around the world to study, and then to MIT, where he is a sociocultural and medical anthropologist-in-training.<br /> <br /> Now in his second year in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences doctoral program in History/Anthropology/Science, Technology and Society — HASTS for short — Loh marvels at what he has already learned and at the “happy confluence” that led him to MIT.<br /> <br /> Growing up in Singapore, Loh was already fascinated with languages. In school there, he studied French and started learning sign language. Add his native languages — English and Mandarin Chinese — and Loh was a polyglot before he arrived at Georgetown University in 2012. There, he studied in the School of Foreign Service where, to satisfy a language requirement, he opted for Arabic, a language he had never before encountered.&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> “Structurally, I found it very compelling,” says Loh. “There’s a tri-consonantal root in Arabic, so every word has three letters that form the root of a word, and they can be manipulated into different ways to create new words. I was really blown away.”<br /> <br /> “But I also remember very distinctly in Arabic class when my classmates were talking about the Syrian crisis and I couldn’t understand their conversation. Not because I didn’t understand the words, but because I didn’t know anything about Syria. That marked a turning point for me. I started taking classes in the history, politics, and economics of the Middle East. I realized that you can’t really understand a language without knowing the culture and history behind it.”</p> <p><strong>Sign language, identity, and assistive technology</strong><br /> <br /> For an undergraduate research project, Loh merged these two interests — sign language and the Middle East — and received a grant to study the pedagogical structure of a school for the deaf in Jordan, picking up some Jordanian Sign Language in the process to carry out the research.<br /> <br /> “Sign languages are different in every country,” Loh explains, “because they emerge naturally within communities. They develop individually and become different languages, just as spoken languages do. American Sign Language and British Sign Language, for example, are different sign languages even though these signers are all surrounded by English speakers.”<br /> <br /> Soon, however, Loh began to explore assistive technology and, in particular, cochlear implants. These devices are surgically implanted and bypass the normal acoustic hearing process with electronic signals; these stimulate the auditory nerve to provide a sense of sound to the user.<br /> <br /> “Implants were controversial within the deaf community in the United States at first,” says Loh, “and still are, to some extent. There was a fear of what they would mean for the future of the deaf community. There were scholars who described cochlear implants for the deaf as a form of cultural or linguistic genocide. That sounds like an extreme description, but it really does index the depth of attachment that people have to a sense of themselves as deaf. So, I started thinking about the implications that technology has in the world of the deaf and for their ability to navigate the world.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Teaching and learning in the Middle East</strong><br /> <br /> Returning from Jordan to Georgetown, Loh completed a master’s degree in Arab Studies, considered starting a PhD in anthropology, then decided to spent two years first working in the Middle East: the first year with a refugee program for Syrian, Iraqi, and Sudanese families in urban areas in Amman; and the second at a boarding school in Madaba, teaching Chinese and Middle East history.<br /> <br /> By then, Loh knew his next step was a doctoral program in anthropology, in which he could explore deafness, sign language, and the role of technology and medicine. “MIT is the best place to be an anthropologist studying issues of science and technology,” he says. “We’re right beside colleagues who are inventing the very technologies and devices whose ethical and social implications we’re trying to understand. It’s a place where we’re able to think deeply and critically about how scientific knowledge and authority is constructed.<br /> <br /> Loh is now framing his doctoral thesis and taking advantage of features available to HASTS students, such as auditing MIT classes in technical fields and also taking Harvard classes. “It’s such a privilege to be able to draw on the intellectual resources of two universities in one city,” says Loh.<br /> <br /> “I’ve also found that as a program and a cohort of students, MIT HASTS is very collegial and welcoming,” he says. “As doctoral students, we benefit from a level of focused attention from professors across all three HASTS departments that’s really rare and generative for interdisciplinary work.”</p> <p><strong>Speaking truth to power</strong></p> <p>Reflecting on his first year at MIT, Loh says it was humbling for several reasons: realizing how much he didn’t yet know; doing research in languages in which he’s not a native speaker; and the politics of writing about the deaf community, particularly as a person who is not deaf.</p> <p>“The history of anthropology is full of foreigners, often ones with privilege and social capital, coming in and speaking for a group that, for some reason, might not be able to speak for itself. With that history in mind, we as anthropologists are constantly thinking, ‘How do we represent social life responsibly?’</p> <p>“Last summer, when I was doing fieldwork, one of my deaf friends asked me straight up, ‘How does your work benefit the deaf community in Jordan?’ That’s a fair question. I told him I am still thinking about this. It’s an important question to answer well. How do anthropologists give back to the community that we’re learning from?</p> <p>“I think for many anthropologists, we hope that our work can ‘speak truth to power,’ to resist and complicate simplistic and hegemonic narratives, like the idea that technology can provide technical solutions for political problems. I do hope that my research can eventually inform policymaking for people in the Middle East whose voices need to be heard.”<br /> &nbsp;</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Writer, Photographer: Maria Iacobo</em></h5> “MIT is the best place to be an anthropologist studying issues of science and technology," says Timothy Loh, a sophomore in the HASTS PhD program. "It’s a place where we’re able to think deeply and critically about how scientific knowledge and authority is constructed."Photo:Maria IacoboSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, History, Technology and society, Assistive technology, Middle East, Students, Gradaute, Graduate, postdoctoral, Profile, Program in STS Technology and Policy Program launches Research to Policy Engagement Initiative Initiative will support efforts to inform policy with scientific research. Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:25:01 -0500 Scott Murray | Institute for Data, Systems, and Society <p>The MIT <a href="" target="_blank">Technology and Policy Program</a> (TPP) has launched a new Research to Policy Engagement Initiative aimed at bridging knowledge to action on major societal challenges, and connecting policymakers, stakeholders, and researchers from diverse disciplines.</p> <p>“TPP’s Research to Policy Engagement Initiative has two complementary goals,” says TPP Director Noelle Eckley Selin, an associate professor of both <a href="">Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences</a> and the <a href="">Institute for Data, Systems, and Society</a> (IDSS). “First, it aims to help bring scientific and technical knowledge to bear to inform solutions to complex policy problems, bridging the design and conduct of research at MIT with communities of practice. Second, it will create an intellectual community of researchers who can learn, apply, and contribute to developing best practices in bridging knowledge to action on societal challenges, across experiences in different research domains.”</p> <p>In addition to building community and holding events, the initiative supports the work of students and postdocs working at the intersection of technology and policy through fellowships and research assistantships. “Especially in cases like climate change, where technology already exists to solve the problem, I think the MIT community should be equipping its graduates with the rhetorical and political skills necessary to make a positive impact,” says Brandon Leshchinskiy, a TPP student supported by the initiative who is developing nonpartisan climate outreach materials for high schools.</p> <p>The initiative launched with a kickoff discussion, organized by IDSS postdoc Poushali Maji and Media Lab research scientist Katlyn Turner, called “Technology, Design and Policy for Equity.” The event focused on the societal implications of the design of technology, exploring the intersections of design, policy, and social equity, and drawing examples from domains like energy technology and artificial intelligence.</p> <p>“It’s exciting to be part of an initiative that can create a space for cross-disciplinary collaborations,” says Maji. “One of the aims of the initiative is to help us think through problem-solution systems more holistically, and go beyond a techno-centric approach.”</p> <p>The inaugural Research to Policy Engagement Initiative event was a robust discussion with researchers from different disciplines, covering topics including the disparity between the intent and impact of technologies and associated policies, and the ways in which inequities can often drive technology adoption patterns. “One key takeaway that surfaced,” says Maji, “is that societal challenges often need simple technological solutions, but involve complex challenges in other dimensions — logistical, institutional, and cultural.”</p> <p>“This first discussion drove home the importance of considering policy at the inception of research, rather than being forced to shape some kind of narrative retroactively,” says Nina Peluso, a TPP student who attended the event. “The event served as a great reminder of the many groups that confront policy issues at MIT every day.”</p> <p>The discussion included a presentation from Sidhant Pai, co-founder of Protoprint, an MIT IDEAS challenge-winning social enterprise that aims to empower waste pickers in India by making 3D printer filament out of collected waste plastic.</p> <p>The next Research to Policy Engagement Initiative discussion is planned for Friday, Dec. 6. Details on the initiative can be found on the <a href="">TPP website</a>.</p> TPP student Nina Peluso shares discussion takeaways at the inaugural event for the Technology and Policy Program’s new Research to Policy Engagement Initiative.Photo: Barbara DeLaBarreIDSS, EAPS, Policy, Technology and society, Social sciences, Special events and guest speakers, Government, Data, School of Science, School of Engineering Six MIT faculty elected 2019 AAAS Fellows Baggeroer, Flynn, Harris, Klopfer, Lauffenburger, and Leonard are recognized for their efforts to advance science. Tue, 26 Nov 2019 11:00:00 -0500 MIT News Office <p>Six MIT faculty members have been elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)<em>.</em></p> <p>The new fellows are among a group of 443 AAAS members elected by their peers in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science. This year’s fellows will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 15, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle.</p> <p><a href="">Arthur B. Baggeroer</a> is a professor of mechanical, ocean and electrical engineering, the Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, and an international authority on underwater acoustics. Throughout his career he made significant advances to geophysical signal processing and sonar technology, in addition to serving as a long-time intellectual resource to the U.S. Navy.</p> <p><a href="">Suzanne Flynn</a> is a professor of linguistics and language acquisition, and a leading researcher on the acquisition of various aspects of syntax by children and adults in bilingual, second- and third-language contexts. She also works on the neural representation of the multilingual brain and issues related to language impairment, autism, and aging.&nbsp;Flynn is currently editor-in-chief and a co-founding editor of&nbsp;<em>Syntax: A Journal of Theoretical, Experimental and Interdisciplinary Research</em>. &nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">Wesley L. Harris&nbsp;</a>is the Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and has served as MIT associate provost and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. His academic research program includes unsteady aerodynamics, aeroacoustics, rarefied gas dynamics, sustainment of capital assets, and chaos in sickle cell disease. Prior to coming to MIT, he was a NASA associate administrator, responsible for all programs, facilities, and personnel in aeronautics.</p> <p><a href="">Eric Klopfer</a> is a professor and head of the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program and the director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and The Education Arcade at MIT. His interests range from the design and development of new technologies for learning to professional development and implementation in schools.&nbsp;Much of Klopfer’s research has focused on computer games and simulations for building understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.</p> <p><a href="">Douglas Lauffenburger</a>, is the Ford Professor of Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Biology. He and his research group investigate the interface of bioengineering, quantitative cell biology, and systems biology. The lab’s main focus has been on fundamental aspects of cell dysregulation, complemented by translational efforts in identifying and testing new therapeutic ideas.</p> <p><a href="">John J. Leonard</a> is the&nbsp;Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering and a leading expert in navigation and mapping for autonomous mobile robots. His research focuses on long-term visual simultaneous localization and mapping in dynamic environments. In addition to underwater vehicles, Leonard has applied his pursuit of persistent autonomy to the development of self-driving cars.</p> <p>This year’s fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News and Notes section of <em>Science</em> on Nov. 28.</p> From left to right, top to bottom: Suzanne Flynn, Wesley L. Harris, Eric Klopfer, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, John J. Leonard, Arthur B. BaggeroerFaculty, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Mechanical engineering, Linguistics, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Biological engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships MIT conference focuses on preparing workers for the era of artificial intelligence As automation rises in the workplace, speakers explore ways to train students and reskill workers. Fri, 22 Nov 2019 16:35:55 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>In opening yesterday’s AI and the Work of the Future Congress, MIT Professor Daniela Rus presented diverging views of how artificial intelligence will impact jobs worldwide.</p> <p>By automating certain menial tasks, experts think AI is poised to improve human quality of life, boost profits, and create jobs, said Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.</p> <p>Rus then quoted a World Economic Forum study estimating AI could help create 133 million new jobs worldwide over the next five years. Juxtaposing this optimistic view, however, she noted a recent survey that found about two-thirds of Americans believe machines will soon rob humans of their careers. “So, who is right? The economists, who predict greater productivity and new jobs? The technologists, who dream of creating better lives? Or the factory line workers who worry about unemployment?” Rus asked. “The answer is, probably all of them.”</p> <p>Her remarks kicked off an all-day conference in Kresge Auditorium that convened experts from industry and academia for panel discussions and informal talks about preparing humans of all ages and backgrounds for a future of AI automation in the workplace. The event was co-sponsored by CSAIL, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force, an Institute-wide effort launched in 2018 that aims to understand and shape the evolution of jobs during an age of innovation.</p> <p>Presenters were billed as “leaders and visionaries” rigorously measuring technological impact on enterprise, government, and society, and generating solutions. Apart from Rus, who also moderated a panel on dispelling AI myths, speakers included Chief Technology Officer of the United States Michael Kratsios; executives from Amazon, Nissan, Liberty Mutual, IBM, Ford, and Adobe; venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs; representatives of nonprofits and colleges; journalists who cover AI issues; and several MIT professors and researchers.</p> <p>Rus, a self-described “technology optimist,” drove home a point that echoed throughout all discussions of the day: AI doesn’t automate jobs<em>,&nbsp;</em>it automates tasks. Rus quoted a recent McKinsey Global Institute study that estimated 45 percent of tasks that humans are paid to do can now be automated. But, she said, humans can adapt to work in concert with AI —&nbsp;meaning job tasks may change dramatically, but jobs may not disappear entirely. “If we make the right choices and the right investments, we can ensure that those benefits get distributed widely across our workforce and our planet,” Rus said.</p> <p><strong>Avoiding the “job-pocalypse”</strong></p> <p>Common topics throughout the day included reskilling veteran employees to use AI technologies; investing heavily in training young students in AI through tech apprenticeships, vocational programs, and other education initiatives; ensuring workers can make livable incomes; and promoting greater inclusivity in tech-based careers. The hope is to avoid, as one speaker put it, a “job-pocalypse,” where most humans will lose their jobs to machines.</p> <p>A panel moderated by David Mindell, the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, focused on how AI technologies are changing workflow and skills, especially within sectors resistant to change. Mindell asked panelists for specific examples of implementing AI technologies into their companies.</p> <p>In response, David Johnson, vice president of production and engineering at Nissan, shared an anecdote about pairing an MIT student with a 20-year employee in developing AI methods to autonomously predict car-part quality. In the end, the veteran employee became immersed in the technology and is now using his seasoned expertise to deploy it in other areas, while the student learned more about the technology’s real-world applications. “Only through this synergy, when you purposely pair these people with a common goal, can you really drive the skills forward … for mass new technology adoption and deployment,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a panel about shaping public policies to ensure technology benefits society — which included U.S. CTO Kratsios — moderator Erik Brynjolfsson, director of IDE and a professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, got straight to the point: “People have been dancing around this question: Will AI destroy jobs?”</p> <p>“Yes, it will — but not to the extent that people presume,” replied MIT Institute Professor Daron Acemoglu. AI, he said, will mostly automate mundane operations in white-collar jobs, which will free up humans to refine their creative, interpersonal, and other high-level skills for new roles. Humans, he noted, also won’t be stuck doing low-paying jobs, such as labeling data for machine-learning algorithms.</p> <p>“That’s not the future of work,” he said. “The hope is we use our amazing creativity and all these wonderful and technological platforms to create meaningful jobs in which humans can use their flexibility, creativity, and all the things … machines won’t be able to do — at least in the next 100 years.”</p> <p>Kratsios emphasized a need for public and private sectors to collaborate to reskill workers. Specifically, he pointed to the Pledge to the America’s Worker, the federal initiative that now has 370 U.S. companies committed to retraining roughly 4 million American workers for tech-based jobs over the next five years.</p> <p>Responding to an audience question about potential public policy changes, Kratsios echoed sentiments of many panelists, saying education policy should focus on all levels of education, not just college degrees. “A vast majority of our policies, and most of our departments and agencies, are targeted toward coaxing people toward a four-year degree,” Kratsios said. “There are incredible opportunities for Americans to live and work and do fantastic jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. So, [a change is] thinking about using the same pool of resources to reskill, or retrain, or [help students] go to vocational schools.”</p> <p><strong>Inclusivity and underserved populations</strong></p> <p>Entrepreneurs at the event explained how AI can help create diverse workforces. For instance, a panel about creating economically and geographically diverse workforces, moderated by Devin Cook, executive producer of IDE’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge, included Radha Basu, who founded Hewlett Packard’s operations in India in the 1970s. In 2012, Basu founded iMerit, which hires employees — half are young women and more than 80 percent come from underserved populations —&nbsp;to provide AI services for computer vision, machine learning, and other applications.</p> <p>A panel hosted by Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research and an MIT Sloan professor, explored how labor markets are changing in the face of technological innovations. Panelist Jacob Hsu is CEO of Catalyte, which uses an AI-powered assessment test to predict a candidate’s ability to succeed as a software engineer, and hires and trains those who are most successful. Many of their employees don’t have four-year degrees, and their ages range from anywhere from 17 to 72.</p> <p>A “media spotlight” session, in which journalists discussed their reporting on the impact of AI on the workplace and the world, included David Fanning, founder and producer of the investigative documentary series FRONTLINE, which recently ran a documentary titled “In the Era of AI.” Fanning briefly discussed how, during his investigations, he learned about the profound effect AI is having on workplaces in the developing world, which rely heavily on manual labor, such as manufacturing lines.</p> <p>“What happens as automation expands, the manufacturing ladder that was opened to people in developing countries to work their way out of rural poverty — all that manufacturing gets replaced by machines,” Fanning said. “Will we end up across the world with people who have nowhere to go? Will they become the new economic migrants we have to deal with in the age of AI?”</p> <p><strong>Education: The great counterbalance</strong></p> <p>Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director for the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future and of the MIT Industrial Performance Center, and Andrew McAfee, co-director of IDE and a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, closed out the conference and discussed next steps.</p> <p>Reynolds said the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, over the next year, will further study how AI is being adopted, diffused, and implemented across the U.S., as well as issues of race and gender bias in AI. In closing, she charged the audience with helping tackle the issues: “I would challenge everybody here to say, ‘What on Monday morning is [our] organization doing in respect to this agenda?’”&nbsp;</p> <p>In paraphrasing economist Robert Gordon, McAfee reemphasized the shifting nature of jobs in the era of AI: “We don’t have a job quantity problem, we have a job quality problem.”</p> <p>AI may generate more jobs and company profits, but it may also have numerous negative effects on employees. Proper education and training are keys to ensuring the future workforce is paid well and enjoys a high quality of life, he said: “Tech progress, we’ve known for a long time, is an engine of inequality. The great counterbalancing force is education.”</p> Daniela Rus (far right), director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), moderated a panel on dispelling the myths of AI technologies in the workplace. The AI and the Work of the Future Congress was co-organized by CSAIL, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force.Image: Andrew KubicaResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Sloan School of Management, Technology and society, Jobs, Economics, Policy, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Business and management, Manufacturing, Careers, Special events and guest speakers New MIT fellowship program aims to improve student access to quality schools Program to provide leaders of America’s largest school districts, state agencies, and education nonprofits with tools to improve school performance and enrollment. Thu, 21 Nov 2019 13:50:01 -0500 Stefanie Koperniak | Office of Open Learning <p>School districts nationwide are striving to offer more school options and to increase the overall quality of education for students, yet families everywhere struggle to enroll their children in a school that is the right fit.</p> <p>In an effort to help state and local education leaders improve enrollment systems and address some of education’s most substantial challenges, MIT has launched the MIT School Access and Quality Fellowship Program. This yearlong program, designed by the MIT School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (SEII) and the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) and supported by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Arnold Ventures, will engage the leaders of America’s largest school districts, state agencies, and education nonprofits, equipping them with the latest tools to improve school performance and enrollment policies.&nbsp;</p> <p>SEII, a research lab based in MIT’s Department of Economics and supported by MITili, conducts research to inform policy with school districts, state agencies, nonprofits, and higher education institutions throughout the United States. Locally, SEII’s scholars have worked with Boston Public Schools for almost 15 years to study student assignment and school choice processes. The lab helps BPS and other large urban districts develop fair and efficient enrollment systems.</p> <p>Now MIT professors and SEII co-directors Joshua Angrist and Parag Pathak hope to extend this work to school districts nationwide through the fellowship.&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is a lot of potential to use data to facilitate data-driven policy-making,” says Pathak. “It became apparent that it would be a missed opportunity not to equip district leaders with the latest thinking and tools.”</p> <p>In addition to exploring the latest evidence on enrollment practices, fellowship discussions also center on the close ties between school quality and school choice. “Every city measures and shares information about school quality — but this information can sometimes be deceiving,” says Angrist. For example, a highly selective school with successful alumni may not necessarily be “better” than other schools when considering the available data. Rather, it may be that the school admits students who are already on track to have good outcomes.</p> <p>The fellowship officially launched at the MIT School Access and Quality Summit Nov. 11-12. At the event, the first cohort of 14 fellows met with researchers and other education leaders to learn and share enrollment best practices. The program is intended to be a “two-way conversation” between fellows and researchers — with the fellows providing valuable perspectives about the specific policy challenges they face, and the researchers sharing approaches to interpreting data. The interaction between the fellows and MIT researchers will continue beyond the summit, with fellows participating in activities throughout the year.</p> <p>The collaborative nature of the program, bringing together practitioners and researchers, is an innovative approach to tackling some of the ongoing challenges that education leaders face. Dana Peterson, assistant state superintendent and CEO of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone, explains that this program provides an opportunity to expand the infrastructure around school choice in light of the growing charter school sector in his region. He says that families in the area that have had very few schooling choices 10-15 years ago may now have 20 options.</p> <p>“With charter schools, magnet schools, and also some scholarship opportunities, parents now have an abundance of choice,” says Peterson, “but that just creates more challenges for parents.”</p> <p>He looks forward to continuing to streamline Baton Rouge’s enrollment process and to empower parents to make well-informed school decisions.</p> <p>An abundance of choice is also a challenge in the New York City school system, the largest in the United States, which serves more than 1 million students in over 1,500 schools. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Many families learn about schools through word-of-mouth, or look at the schools closest to home,” says Nadiya Chadha, senior director of enrollment research and policy at the New York City Department of Education. “Given that reality, how can we highlight schools that may not have a strong reputation based on the usual metrics — such as graduation rate, or state exam performance — but are showing strong signs of growth and success on less-traditional measures?”</p> <p>Jorge Robles, chief operating officer of Tulsa Public Schools, identifies some of the district’s key challenges as not having easily accessible information about all schools, as well as an overall lack of awareness of the enrollment system.</p> <p>“Tulsa Public Schools is perceived to have a ‘dual system’ where magnet schools provide quality seats, and traditional neighborhood schools and charters do not,” says Robles. “Access to the perceived quality seats is limited and seen as not equitable. Consequently, in several of the traditional schools, enrollment is so low that it can be difficult to provide quality programming.”</p> <p>Robles says that he hopes to learn how to leverage unified enrollment system data to advance his work to improve quality school options in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition, he sees the program as a critical opportunity to learn directly from researchers and other K-12 leaders about enrollment policies that can further improve equitable access to first-rate educational experiences for all students.</p> <p>“I hope this will spark new ideas regarding the intersection of admissions and school quality, through examples from other districts and collective problem-solving,” says Chadha. “I’m excited to harness the brainpower of the group and create connections that we can continue beyond the conference to continually improve our work in NYC and across the country.”&nbsp;</p> MIT SEII and MITili Co-Director Parag Pathak (center) speaks with unified enrollment experts Gabriela Fighetti of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Catherine Peretti of Washington, D.C. Photo: Christopher McIntoshOffice of Open Learning, Economics, K-12 education, Education, teaching, academics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Students push to speed up artificial intelligence adoption in Latin America To help the region catch up, students organize summit to bring Latin policymakers and researchers to MIT. Tue, 19 Nov 2019 16:30:01 -0500 Kim Martineau | MIT Quest for Intelligence <p>Omar Costilla Reyes reels off all the ways that artificial intelligence might benefit his native Mexico. It could raise living standards, he says, lower health care costs, improve literacy and promote greater transparency and accountability in government.</p> <p>But Mexico, like many of its Latin American neighbors, has failed to invest as heavily in AI as other developing countries. That worries <a href="">Costilla Reyes</a>, a postdoc at MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.</p> <p>To give the region a nudge, Costilla Reyes and three other MIT graduate students — <a href="" target="_blank">Guillermo Bernal</a>, <a href="">Emilia Simison</a> and <a href="">Pedro Colon-Hernandez</a> — have spent the last six months putting together a three-day event that will &nbsp;bring together policymakers and AI researchers in Latin America with AI researchers in the United States. The <a href="">AI Latin American sumMIT</a> will take place in January at the <a href="">MIT Media Lab</a>.</p> <p>“Africa is getting lots of support — Africa will eventually catch up,” Costilla Reyes says. “You don’t see anything like that in Latin America, despite the potential for AI to move the region forward socially and economically.”</p> <p><strong>Four paths to MIT and research inspired by AI</strong></p> <p>Each of the four students took a different route to MIT, where AI plays a central role in their work — on the brain, voice assistants, augmented creativity and politics. Costilla Reyes got his first computer in high school, and though it had only dial-up internet access, it exposed him to a world far beyond his home city of Toluca. He studied for a PhD &nbsp;at the University of Manchester, where he developed an <a href="">AI system</a> with applications in security and health to identify individuals by their gait. At MIT, Costilla Reyes is building computational models of how firing neurons in the brain produce memory and cognition, information he hopes can also advance AI.</p> <p>After graduating from a vocational high school in El Salvador, Bernal moved in with relatives in New Jersey and studied English at a nearby community college. He continued on to Pratt Institute, where he learned to incorporate Python into his design work. Now at the MIT Media Lab, he’s developing interactive storytelling tools like <a href="">PaperDreams</a> that uses AI to help people unlock their creativity. His work recently won a <a href="">Schnitzer Prize</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Simison came to MIT to study for a PhD in political science after her professors at Argentina’s University Torcuato Di Tella encouraged her to continue her studies in the United States. She is currently using text analysis tools to mine archival records in Brazil and Argentina to understand the role that political parties and unions played under the last dictatorships in both countries.</p> <p>Colon-Hernandez grew up in Puerto Rico fascinated with video games. A robotics class in high school inspired him to build a computer to play video games of his own, which led to a degree in computer engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.&nbsp;After helping a friend with a project at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Colon-Hernandez applied to a summer research program at MIT, and later, the MIT Media Lab’s graduate program. He’s currently working on intelligent voice assistants.</p> <p>It’s hard to generalize about a region as culturally diverse and geographically vast as Latin America, stretching from Mexico and the Caribbean to the tip of South America. But protests, violence and reports of entrenched corruption have dominated the news for years, and the average income per person has been <a href="">falling</a> with respect to the United States since the 1950s. All four students see AI as a means to bring stability and greater opportunity to their home countries.</p> <p><strong>AI with a humanitarian agenda</strong></p> <p>The idea to bring Latin American policymakers to MIT was hatched last December, at the world’s premier conference for AI research, <a href="">NeurIPS</a>. The organizers of NeurIPS had launched several new workshops to promote diversity in response to growing criticism of the exclusion of women and minorities in tech. At <a href="">Latinx,</a> a workshop for Latin American students, Costilla Reyes met Colon-Hernandez, who was giving a talk on voice-activated wearables. A few hours later they began drafting a plan to bring a Latinx-style event to MIT.</p> <p>Back in Cambridge, they found support from <a href="">Armando Solar-Lezama</a>, a <a href="">native of Mexico</a> and a professor at MIT’s <a href="">Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science</a>. They also began knocking on doors for funding, securing an initial $25,000 grant from MIT’s <a href="">Institute Community and Equity Office</a>. Other graduate students joined the cause, including, and together they set out to recruit speakers, reserve space at the MIT Media Lab and design a website. RIMAC, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, X Development, and Facebook have all since offered support for the event.</p> <p>Unlike other AI conferences, this one has a practical bent, with themes that echo many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: to end extreme poverty, develop quality education, create fair and transparent institutions, address climate change and provide good health.</p> <p>The students have set similarly concrete goals for the conference, from mapping the current state of AI-adoption across Latin America to outlining steps policymakers can take to coordinate efforts. U.S. researchers will offer tutorials on open-source AI platforms like TensorFlow and scikit-learn for Python, and the students are continuing to raise money to fly 10 of their counterparts from Latin America to attend the poster session.</p> <p>“We reinvent the wheel so much of the time,” says Simison. “If we can motivate countries to integrate their efforts, progress could move much faster.”</p> <p>The potential rewards are high. A <a href="">2017 report</a> by Accenture estimated that if AI were integrated into South America’s top five economies — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru — which generate about 85 percent of the continent’s economic output, they could each add up to 1 percent to their annual growth rate.</p> <p>In developed countries like the U.S. and in Europe, AI is sometimes viewed apprehensively for its potential to eliminate jobs, spread misinformation and perpetuate bias and inequality. But the risk of not embracing AI, especially in countries that are already lagging behind economically, is potentially far greater, says Solar-Lezama. “There’s an urgency to make sure these countries have a seat at the table and can benefit from what will be one of the big engines for economic development in the future,” he says.</p> <p>Post-conference deliverables include a set of recommendations for policymakers to move forward. “People are protesting across the entire continent due to the marginal living conditions that most face,” says Costilla Reyes. “We believe that AI plays a key role now, and in the future development of the region, if it’s used in the right way.”</p> “We believe that AI plays a key role now, and in the future development of the region, if it’s used in the right way,” says Omar Costilla Reyes, one of four MIT graduate students working to help Latin America adopt artificial intelligence technologies. Pictured here (left to right) are Costilla Reyes, Emilia Simison, Pedro Antonio Colon-Hernandez, and Guillermo Bernal.Photo: Kim MartineauQuest for Intelligence, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Media Lab, Brain and cognitive sciences, Lincoln Laboratory, MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, School of Engineering, School of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Artificial intelligence, Computer science and technology, Technology and society, Machine learning, Software, Algorithms, Political science, Latin America Lamborghini and MIT pave the way for the electric supercar of the future MIT-Italy helps build supercharged partnerships on campus and across the globe. Tue, 19 Nov 2019 13:10:01 -0500 MISTI <p>“He was here to dream, and I said 'OK, let's dream together,'” recalls Professor Mircea Dincă of his first encounter with Automobili Lamborghini Head of Development Riccardo Parenti in February 2017. Two years later, the team is celebrating its first major collaborative victory by filing a joint patent.</p> <p>The new patented material was synthesized by Dincă’s lab in the Department of Chemistry, with the support of Automobili Lamborghini’s Concept Development Department, and will serve as the technological base for a new generation of supercapacitors. By increasing the surface area exposed to electric charge in relation to mass and volume, the patent promises to increase energy density by up to 100 percent when compared to existing technology. This is a big leap, even when compared to Lamborghini’s cutting-edge supercapacitors, and, more broadly, a game-changer in high-performance motor sport.</p> <p>A second collaboration, with Professor A. John Hart’s team in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, pursues new design principles for high-performance battery materials that can be integrated into the vehicle structure, and is on schedule to deliver its first prototypes in the next year. Together, these collaborations are key in meeting the performance targets Lamborghini set for its Terzo Millennio car.</p> <p>As Stefano Domenicali, chair and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, puts it, “The joint research with MIT fully embodies our values and our vocation for anticipating the future: a future in which hybridization is increasingly desirable and inevitably necessary.”</p> <p>Federica Sereni, consul general of Italy in Boston, Massachusetts, comments: "Italian companies, in particular those in the automotive industry, know how to combine passion, tradition, research, and innovation in a way that is unique in the world. Therefore, the match between Lamborghini and MIT is a perfect one, leading to an ideal combination between vision and a level of technological innovation that is among the most advanced in the world".</p> <p>Serenella Sferza, MIT-Italy Program co-director, concurs, praising the MIT-Italy-Lamborghini partnership as a perfect example of how, by acting as a bridge between MIT and Italy’s centers of excellence, the MIT-Italy Program opens avenues for research and innovation that include meaningful student experiences. In this case, after connecting Lamborghini to professors Dincă and Hart, Sferza also recruited mechanical engineering student Patricia Das ’17 and chemical engineering and chemistry student Angela Cai ’19, whose research at Santa Agata Bolognese cemented and advanced the Lamborghini-MIT collaboration.</p> <p>“The Lamborghini-MIT Italy partnership exemplifies the range of MISTI activities and the symbiotic ways in which they feed on each other,” says Sferza. “I initially met Patricia and Angela when they applied to the MIT-Italy Global Teaching Labs program, and, based on their MIT academic background and their strong performance teaching STEM subjects at Italian high schools, later recruited them for the Lamborghini collaboration. Both earned high marks from Lamborghini, and learned a lot from the experience.”</p> <p>“MIT-Italy has given me an invaluable chance to immerse myself in a research topic I am very passionate about in a professional setting with real, global applications,” shares Cai. “I have presented my findings and suggested future research direction to representatives from several departments at my host organization. When I finish my current work assignment, I plan on using the experience and connections gained here to pursue graduate study in this field.”</p> <p>MIT-Italy and Lamborghini, the cornerstone partnership that paved the way for these initiatives, have extended their collaboration and plan to create additional student and research opportunities both on and off campus. In parallel with laboratory work, a campuswide motor sport hackathon is being considered.</p> <p>“This has been such a fruitful partnership for us,” says Sferza. “There are few companies that exemplify the Italian talent for combining beautiful design with high-end technology in such a cool way. It is a joy to connect Lamborghini with MIT’s innovation community.”</p> <p>The faculty, for their part, agree. “This collaboration presented us with the kind of challenges that we love at MIT. We like to understand that the work we’re doing in the lab can contribute to real, new, important technology and also have that work involve good science and engineering,” says Hart. “Our motto is 'mind and hand,' and this gets our minds to focus on a challenge and our hands to do something new and practical in the lab.”</p> <p>“We were dreaming two years ago,” says Dincă. "Now, we really think this could be happening."</p> MIT and Lamborghini recently filed a joint patent for a material that will serve as the technological base for a new generation of supercapacitors. Here, Patricia Das ’17, who interned at Automobili Lamborghini through MIT-Italy, is seen at work at Lamborghini Santa Agata Bolognese Labs. MISTI, Chemistry, Mechanical engineering, Collaboration, Transportation, Automobiles, Materials Science and Engineering, Center for International Studies, School of Engineering, School of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Patents New research partnership evaluates innovation in family engagement Randomized evaluation of the TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform will assess the intervention&#039;s impact on student achievement. Tue, 19 Nov 2019 10:40:01 -0500 J-PAL North America <p>This fall, <a href="">J-PAL North America</a> partnered with <a href="">TalkingPoints</a>, an education technology non-profit, and the<a href="" style="text-decoration-line: none;"> </a><a href="">Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab</a> (BIP Lab) at the University of Chicago, to evaluate the TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform. The platform will be assessed through a year-long randomized evaluation that will be conducted in more than 50 third-grade classrooms across the country. This evaluation will produce insights on whether the TalkingPoints platform increases parental engagement, and if so, whether there is a resulting increase in children’s executive function — a precursor to improved academic outcomes across all education levels such as literacy, numeracy, and high school graduation rates.</p> <p>Beginning in 2015, local and federal law began requiring schools to provide programming intended to promote parental engagement in their children’s education. TalkingPoints was founded that year to drive student success — especially in underserved, diverse communities — by using accessible technology to unlock the potential of families to support their children's education. TalkingPoints developed a multilingual family engagement platform that allows educators to communicate directly with English and non-English speaking parents. Currently, it supports two-way messaging in more than 100 languages and provides tips for communicating with teachers and other information about their children’s education.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are excited for this opportunity to rigorously test our family engagement platform to understand its true impact on parental engagement and, ultimately, student achievement,” says Heejae Lim, founder and CEO of TalkingPoints.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We also hope that this evaluation can raise awareness of the value that rigorous evaluations like this can contribute to the field of using technology in education and leveraging parents and families as key partners to schools,” says Nancy Bromberger, vice president of partnerships at TalkingPoints.</p> <p>The evaluation will be led by the BIP Lab at the University of Chicago, which conducts rigorous research on the science of parental decision-making. The BIP Lab specializes in research to identify light-touch behavioral interventions for parents that work to change child outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children.&nbsp;</p> <p>“This research partnership highlights the BIP Lab&nbsp;and TalkingPoints’ mutual interest in identifying effective behavioral tools and our shared focus on low cost, accessible interventions,” says Professor Ariel Kalil, BIP Lab co-founder.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Working to improve the quality and quantity of parent engagement to positively affect child outcomes is central to the mission of both of our organizations,” says Susan Mayer, BIP Lab co-founder.&nbsp; “We are excited to be launching this rigorous evaluation to contribute to the evidence base.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The evaluation is funded through the <a href="">J-PAL North America Education, Technology, and Opportunity Initiative</a>, which supports education leaders in using randomized evaluations to generate evidence on how and to what extent uses of technology and innovation work to improve student learning.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are thrilled to be catalyzing this rigorous evaluation of a promising education technology platform,” says Kim Dadisman, J-PAL North America Education, Technology and Opportunity Initiative manager. “We are inspired by committed researchers and implementing partners like the BIP Lab and TalkingPoints that we connect to identify policy-relevant research questions and translate research into action.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The Education, Technology and Opportunity Initiative,&nbsp;supported by Arnold Ventures and the Overdeck Family Foundation, has funded seven evaluations to date on educational technology programs, ranging from computer-assisted learning to technology-enabled behavioral interventions. The TalkingPoints evaluation will be piloted in spring 2020, followed by full implementation beginning in fall 2020. J-PAL North America, TalkingPoints, and the BIP Lab are committed to sharing study results and identifying relevant policy lessons to inform the broader field of family engagement.</p> <div></div> The TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform allows educators to communicate directly with English and non-English speaking parents through two-way messaging. J-PAL North America, TalkingPoints, and the BIP Lab are partnering to rigorously evaluate whether the innovative intervention increases parental engagement and children’s executive function.Photo: TalkingPointsAbdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economics, Learning, K-12 education, Technology and society, Education, teaching, academics PhD student Marc Aidinoff explores how technology impacts public policy Historian&#039;s research focuses on understanding how visions for social and economic policy are tied to changing ideas about technology. Mon, 18 Nov 2019 14:50:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>“Computers have encapsulated so many collective hopes and fears for the future,” says Marc Aidinoff, a PhD candidate in History/Anthropology/Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), a doctoral program that draws on the expertise of three fields in MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).</p> <p>“In the 1990s, you have Vice President Gore, President Clinton, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson saying that closing the digital divide was a fundamental civil rights issue of our times. What does it mean when civil rights become about access to computers and the internet? When lack of internet access is considered a form of poverty? These are really big questions and I haven’t been able to get them out of my system.”</p> <p><strong>How is social policy tied to ideas about technology?</strong></p> <p>Aidinoff has become dedicated to understanding how policymakers have thought about technology. It makes sense. After graduating from Harvard University, Aidinoff worked for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and subsequently joined the administration working as a policy advisor for three years — including a two-year stint as the assistant policy director for Vice President Joe Biden.</p> <p>“But these questions were getting under my skin,” Aidinoff explains. “I wanted to know how visions for social and economic policy were tied to changing ideas about technology. So I became a card-carrying historian who pokes around archives from Mississippi to D.C., trying to get answers.”</p> <p><strong>Restructuring the citizen’s relationship to the state</strong></p> <p>The story in Aidinoff’s dissertation project begins in 1984, with the breakup of the Bell System and the launch of the Macintosh computer. That was also the year the U.S. federal government began measuring citizens’ access to computers. The dissertation traces policies designed to democratize information and the implementation of massive systems built to digitize the U.S. government.</p> <p>“Networked computing,” Aidinoff argues, “has been part of a larger restructuring of the citizen’s relationship to the state in U.S. history. For example, when you see a welfare caseworker, and there is a computer on their desk — does it matter who wrote that software?”</p> <p>The Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy presented Aidinoff with its John Stanley Award for History and Ethics earlier this year to support his efforts and fund his research trips.</p> <p>Aidinoff’s research has sent him searching for some of the same types of information he reviewed and generated as a policy advisor. He lights up when talking about a visit to the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, to examine a hodgepodge of materials from policy memos to computer manuals. These archives help him understand how information moved around the executive branch and how policymakers would have understood technological systems.</p> <p><strong>The archive you need</strong></p> <p>Reading through the documents he locates can be difficult, however; Aidinoff credits the HASTS program for sharpening his research skills so he can home in on what is essential.</p> <p>“The HASTS faculty are really good at teaching you how to be unsatisfied until you’ve figured out how to construct the archive that you think is right for the question you’re asking. For me, that has meant a lot of newspapers and computer manuals. There’s a real belief among historians of science and technology that you need to go out and construct the archive you need. Archives aren’t just things that are waiting for you to discover. You’re going to need to go out and be creative.”</p> <p>“HASTS pushed me harder than I expected. I knew MIT would be challenging, but my colleagues encouraged me to spend time in places where I was less comfortable, including rural Mississippi.”</p> <p><strong>The humanistic/technical synergy at MIT</strong></p> <p>In fact, Aidinoff spent a semester at the University of Mississippi and the most recent summers teaching college-bridge courses to high school students in the Mississippi Delta with the Freedom Summer Collegiate program — an organization that continues the work of the 1964 Freedom Summer.</p> <p>For Aidinoff, there is no question that SHASS is the best place to continue his studies. The combination of rich humanities research programs and surrounding science and technology expertise was exactly what he wanted.</p> <p>“You’ve got such amazing people, world-class historians and historians of science and technology. The people I get to work with in a small, loving, interdisciplinary department is pretty extraordinary. My friends are technical, and being technical is really valued. I hang out with computer scientists all the time, which is great. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have people pushing back on me from a social science perspective and from a technical engineering perspective.”</p> <p>Aidinoff’s position with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s Internet Policy Research Initiative has complemented the perspective of his home department in SHASS.</p> <p><strong>Knowledge is social</strong><br /> <br /> “A key lesson from the history of science and technology is that knowledge is social. Some knowledge comes from sitting and thinking, and that’s important. But over and over again we learn it’s sitting and thinking and then going and having lunch or a coffee with people in your discipline and across disciplines.</p> <p>“I don’t think I’ll ever again be in a community with this many historians of science per square mile. It’s just an incredibly exciting community. And it’s social. We think these questions really matter, so it’s worth looking up from the book, too, and having the discussion where you fight about them because these are real live questions with political consequences.”</p> <p><br /> <span style="font-size:12px;"><em>Story prepared by SHASS Communications<br /> Writer, photographer: Maria Iacobo </em></span></p> "What does it mean," Aidinoff asks "when civil rights become about access to computers and the internet? When lack of internet access is considered a form of poverty? These questions were getting under my skin," he says. "I wanted to know how social and economic policy were tied to changing ideas about technology."Photo: Maria IacoboSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Students, Anthropology, History, History of science, Policy, Civil rights, Program in STS, Computer science and technology, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral