Making a Better World | Human Health
 




MIT aims to leverage research innovations to make health care affordable and universally available. MIT's social science, arts, and humanities fields contribute to this goal through a vast research portfolio on the political, cultural, historical, and economic dimensions of health and health care — as well as through work that informs and guides better public policy.

Removing barriers
This focus includes conducting research that reveals and suggests solutions to the barriers that prevent people from receiving proper heath care, including inequities in education, civil rights, and economic well-being.

MIT SHASS faculty also teach every MIT undergraduate. By empowering MIT students with political, economic, cultural, and historical perspectives — as well as skills in critical thinking, languages, and communication — the School increases the capacity of every MIT graduate to serve the world well, across the broad range of humanity's challenges.

 

Selected Stories

The MIT Campaign for a Better World


Announcing the new comprehensive campaign, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said, "Humanity faces urgent challenges — challenges whose solutions depend on marrying advanced technical and scientific capabilities with a deep understanding of the world's political, cultural, and economic complexities."

Discover the role of MIT's Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences fields in solving the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of global issues, and in problem-solving in collaboration with our STEM colleagues.  More

HUMAN HEALTH

Hospitals that spend more on emergency care yield better outcomes

A study co-authored by MIT economists finds that investing more in inpatient care relative to longer-term nursing facilities reduces mortality rates. More

HEALTH ECONOMICS

Testing their patients

MIT researchers have found that Medicaid recipients are 20 percent more likely to wait more than 20 minutes to begin a scheduled appointment, compared to privately insured patients. More

SOCIAL INNOVATION | HUMAN HEALTH | CITIZENSHIP

Government leaders gather at MIT to advance evidence-based policymaking

State and local policymakers joined with leading researchers to share experiences overcoming challenges to evaluating government programs. More

SOCIAL INNOVATION | HUMAN HEALTH 

Measuring "diagnostic intensity"

New study maps U.S. regions where patients appear more ill than they are. More

HEALTH ECONOMICS

Making a splash in health care economics

MIT economist Heidi Williams has developed a distinctive method of trying to answer the questions that intrigue her. For each new study, she essentially builds an all-new data set from the ground up, linking scientific records about medical research with economic and financial records. More

HEALTH ECONOMICS

Study: With Medicaid, ER visits remain high for two years

People enrolled in Medicaid significantly increase their emergency room visits for at least two years after they first sign up, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT economist. The finding will likely surprise those health care experts who have projected that people would make fewer ER visits after acquiring health insurance. More

HEALTH ECONOMICS | MIGRATION AND NUTRITION

Migrants pay more for their home region’s cuisine, even when on the edge of malnutrition
 

A new study from MIT economist David Atkin reveals that migrants who hang on to their old cuisines often pay more to eat. In turn, poor migrants on tight budgets must reduce the amount of calories they can consume, sometimes pushing them to the cusp of malnutrition. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH

Interview with Amy Finkelstein

Finkelstein's gift for combining data and theory has revealed subtleties of economic behavior that long eluded the profession. And she’s applied this talent to improve understanding and policy in health insurance—one of the most complex, expensive and contentious areas of public discourse. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY | HEALTH

How Medicaid affects adult health

Study: Having health insurance helps lower-income Americans avoid depression, diabetes, and catastrophic financial shocks related to health care.  More

HEALTH ECONOMICS

New study shows rich, poor have huge mortality gap in U.S.

Poverty in the U.S. is often associated with deprivation, in areas including housing, employment, and education. Now a study co-authored by two MIT researchers has shown, in unprecedented geographic detail, another stark reality: Poor people live shorter lives, too. More

GLOBAL HEALTH AND POVERTY ALLEVIATION

A Sampler of Health Sector projects
Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT

J-PAL’s Health sector aims to encourage health-promoting behaviors and improve the delivery of health care services, as well as to better understand the impact of health care on reducing poverty. More

THE HUMAN FACTOR | HEALTH AND INNOVATION

Heidi Williams on the economics of healthcare innovation

MIT economist, and 2015 MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, discusses how updated policies and tweaks to the R&D pipeline could create more drugs for prevention, and for treating cancers at earlier stages. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT + HEALTH

The high value of water

A study by MIT economist Esther Duflo finds evidence that people willing to pay more for running water report much higher levels of happiness when they have it. More

THE HUMAN FACTOR | HEALTH CARE, EQUITY AND INNOVATION

Political scientist Andrea Campbell highlights the impact of equity on health outcomes.

"Any initiative to address health and health care goals must wrestle with and address the enormous disparities that exist in health coverage, access, and outcomes across racial and income groups in the United States. It’s as if poor or black Americans are living in a different country, and in terms of poverty, health insurance, and health care access, effectively they are. This is a political and social problem as much as a technical one."  More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTHCARE

Caught in the social safety net

Andrea Campbell gives a firsthand perspective on the effects of means-tested social insurance programs. The single biggest flaw with means-testing, in Campbell’s view, is that the income limits and other restrictions can make it harder for people to break free of social insurance programs. More

HEALTH CARE | MEDICAL HUMANITIES

Anthropologist Erica Caple James broadens MIT's health portfolio with work in medical humanities

As a specialist in how culture and behavior influence illness, treatments, and health outcomes, James researches how to leverage innovations in health-care and medical research to make care affordable and universally available. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH

JPAL launches U.S. State and Local Innovation Initiative

A transformative new program from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT-SHASS will partner with U.S. state and local governments find solutions to public policy issues across a wide range of social issues including crime, education, employment, health, and housing. Selected governments will receive access to JPAL researchers to help them design and implement randomized evaluations and use the results to make evidence-based decisions for policy that really works. More

THE HUMAN FACTOR | MAKING GOOD POLICY

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf PhD '81 on the politics of global issues

"The search for the answers to society’s most pressing questions always involves a political science dimension. Politics is the art of figuring out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to convince others to go along with what you want to do." More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: INNOVATION ECONOMIST

Williams wins MacArthur "genius grant"

Economist who studies the economics of innovation wins $625,000 prize. Williams researches the causes and consequences of technological change in health care markets. Her broad goal is to shed light on the economics of innovation in a context — health care —that has important consequences for human health and welfare, one which is critical to national fiscal policy. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: CANCER RESEARCH

Study: Firms “underinvest” in long-term and preventative cancer research

MIT health and innovation economist Heidi Williams identifies the underinvestment, and the factors that contribute to it.  She also suggests three specific adjustments to policy and to the R&D pipeline that could catalyze more research for drugs to treat early-stage cancers, and to prevent cancer.  More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH ECONOMICS

Measuring health care

MIT economist Amy Finkelstein spotted an opportunity to bring the gold standard in scientific research to one of the most pressing questions of the day. More

HEALTH COMMUNICATION AND POLICY

Interview with Seth Mnookin about Vaccination and Public Health

Why are measles and the measles vaccine getting so much attention at the moment?  What do you see as the ideal situation for vaccination and public health, and what efforts do you think will be involved in getting closer to that condition? More

ADVANCING POLICY: PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH SCIENCE

The Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT

Meet the Knight Science Fellow for 2014-2015. This year MIT's Knight Science Journalism program welcomed 11 acclaimed journalists who investigate topics ranging from phenology and climate change, to medicine and human health, to quantum mechanics to hone their science reporting skills. In this article, the Fellows offer their insights on the challenges and rewards of their field.   More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH ECONOMICS

3 Questions: Amy Finkelstein on testing health care systems

MIT economist explains why randomized trials can improve medical care. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTHCARE

Study: More expensive emergency care does yield better results

Unique research method reveals significant return on additional health care spending. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH

Global Health & Medical Humanities Initiative launched

“We want to bring together scholars in different fields who don’t normally have a chance to talk to each other,” said Erica Caple James, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Global Health & Medical Humanities Initiative. “With this initiative, we hope to encourage more interdisciplinary collaboration on health matters — teaching together, researching together, and mobilizing the creativity of all five MIT schools, as the Institute continues to develop its future role in improving human health.” More

SOCIO-TECHNICAL COLLABORATION

MIT SHASS at SOLVE

An October 2015 conference on the MIT campus marked the launch of SOLVE — an MIT project dedicated to generating ongoing thinking, research, and collaboration to solve the world's toughest problems. Meet MIT SHASS participants in some of the initial events.   More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: PUBLIC HEALTH

3 Questions: Jonathan Gruber on the cost of smoking

Leading health care economist weighs in on a proposed cost-benefit analysis of smoking. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: AID ORGANIZATIONS

The anthropology of humanitarianism

Throughout Eric Caple James’ career as a medical anthropologist, she has specialized in studying people confronted with social, economic, and political uncertainty. James, now an associate professor of anthropology at MIT, has often sought to address a particular question about people placed in such difficulties: Are their psychological and civic needs being addressed by the social organizations that purport to help them? More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTHCARE

Gruber outlines key upcoming moments in Affordable Care Act rollout

MIT expert weighs in on health plan’s status as legislation becomes reality. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTHCARE

Study: In initial years, having Medicaid increases emergency room visits

Unique study on Oregon’s citizens sheds light on critical care in the U.S. More

INNOVATION + HEALTH

New medical operations

At MIT’s “Innovations in Health Care” conference, industry experts discuss how to maintain quality while reining in costs. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT + HEALTH

Innovative study estimates extent to which air pollution in China shortens human lives

A high level of air pollution, in the form of particulates produced by burning coal, significantly shortens the lives of people exposed to it, according to a unique new study of China co-authored by an MIT economist. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH ECONOMICS

New insight into how people choose insurance plans

Study: Consumers avoid high-deductible plans if they expect to reduce their use of medical care. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH

The health-insurance markets of the (very near) future

“Health insurance is a confusing and difficult choice,” says Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at MIT who specializes in health-care issues. “It’s important that people make decisions in an organized and effective market. In that way they can make the best choices, and we can ensure the best level of competition among insurers.” More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: INNOVATION

Silbey honored for lab safety research

Susan Silbey has received the 2012 Scott Award from ASA, a $25K Seed Grant from UCLA, and a grant from the MIT Simons Center for the Social Brain. More

Seth Mnookin, co-director, MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing

ARTS INNOVATION: WRITING, PUBLIC HEALTH POLICY

Seth Mnookin wins 2012 Science in Society Award for his book The Panic Virus

Seth Mnookin, Assistant Professor of Science Writing, and co-director of the MIT SHASS Graduate Program in Science Writing (GPSW), has been awarded the 2012 Science in Society Journalism Award for his book The Panic Virus. Of the award, given annually by the National Association of Science Writers, Tom Levenson, MIT Professor of Science Writing, notes, "This is one of the very top awards in our field. It reflects the judgment of the leading science writing association in the world and it is an honor that only comes to superlative work."     More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH INSURANCE

MIT economists Finkelstein and Gruber demonstrate the health and financial benefits of Medicaid

Landmark study shows the effects of health insurance program: much better health and more financial stability for the poor; more bills paid for hospitals and doctors. Professors of Economics Amy Finkelstein (a principal investigator) and Jonathan Gruber contributed to the study. More

Kresge Auditorium

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ECONOMICS

Economics Symposium launches MIT's 150th celebration | From Theory to Practice to Policy

This symposium, organized by the School's Department of Economics and the Sloan School of Management, celebrated the role of MIT’s faculty and students in advancing the fields of economics and finance, in putting the latest developments into practice, and in contributing to the design of public policy. Story + On Demand Videos

Girl drinking water

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT + HEALTH

Global water issues call on humanities and social science research  

"Rethinking Water" workshop shows significance of research in the humanities and social sciences for meeting global water needs.  More