Said and Done | In the Media + Awards | November 2018


A section of Said and Done
Full November 2018 edition





Recent rankings of MIT disciplines by Times Higher Education Worldwide Rankings

No.1 worldwide for Economics and Business
This ranking evaluates disciplines in the SHASS Department of Economics and also in the Sloan School of Management. 
Story: MIT tops the field

No.2 worldwide for the Arts and Humanities
This ranking evaluates disciplines in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. 
Story: A leader in the Arts and Humanities

Allan Detsky PhD’78 appointed to the Order of Canada

Detsky, an influential physician, professor, and economist has been appointed to the Order of Canada, one of Canada's highest civilian honors, for his lasting impact on the Canadian health system, including innovative research that has shaped health policy.
Story at University of Toronto




Is this the best approach for reducing poverty worldwide?Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
A massive randomized study published in 2015 by a murderer's row of prominent development economists — including Northwestern's Dean Karlan and MIT's Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, among others — found that a graduation program significantly increased income and savings, reduced hunger and missed meals, and improved mental health, on average.
Story at Vox

Sit in a circle. Talk to other pregnant women. Save your baby's life?
“We’ll find exciting results in some cases or we might find disappointing results,” says Mary Ann Bates, executive director of MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, one of the evaluators. “But the encouraging and rewarding thing is that governments are willing to ask hard questions about their investments. I think this is really where we need to be.”
Story at Vox


Research on gun violence: the common ground on gun safety | Tom Levenson
"Between the pro-gun side and those who want to get rid of guns there’s 'a little oval, where both sides agree. That’s the culture of safety.'" Levenson, a profesor of science writing and an "Ideas" columnist for the Boston Globe, describes the current research and efforts to increase gun safety in the U.S.
Commentary in The Boston Globe

On Reducing Gun Violence | John Tirman
"America’s gun culture is a resilient fact of political life," writes Tirman, the Executive Director and Principal Research Scientist, Center for International Studies. "Attempts to reverse the country’s appetite for firearms have largely failed, even as gun violence persists at an astonishing pace. Lately, however, a social movement to challenge gun culture has rocked politics for the first time in a generation."
Commentary for Election Insights 2018



Where people show up to vote and where they don't
To calculate county-level voter turnout, we relied on two data sets: total votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, compiled from official sources by the MIT Election Data & Science Lab, and total citizen voting-age population as calculated by the Census Bureau.
Story at Washington Post

Broken machines and user error are leading to hour-long lines at polling booths
It's unclear what kind of impact delays caused by broken machines have on actual turnout, says Charles Stewart, director at MIT's Election Lab, which collects and analyzes election data.
Story at Quartz

Early voting challenges in North Carolina
For voters, convenience trumps longer hours, said Charles Stewart III, an MIT political scientist who studies voting administration. "There's a lot of research that suggests that whenever a polling place moves further away from a voter, they are less likely to vote there," Stewart said.
Commentary at NPR

Voting machine meltdowns are normal that's the problem
Based on the social media deluge, it certainly felt like the entire election system was melting down at a rate the country has never seen before. But was it? Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at MIT and a member of the MIT Voting Project, says it's far too early to tell. "We’re going to have to wait for the data to come in," says Stewart.
Story at Wired

Stop GOP voter suppression or else! 
In North Carolina 158 polling places were permanently closed in the 40 counties with the most African American voters just before the 2016 election, leading to a 16 percent decline in African American early voting in that state.
Commentary at Salon

Republicans are casting doubt on normal election processes for the sake of winning
Charles Stewart, the director of the MIT Election Lab, noted that, in addition to trying to deal with mailed-in ballots, counties also had to tally their early votes. Florida law doesn't allow officials to count early votes until after the polls have closed. 
Huffington Post


Voter suppression in the U.S. Adam Berinsky
The silver lining: studies have found that new voting restrictions have only a small impact on voter turnout. What most matters in elections, MIT political science professor Adam Berinsky wrote in 2016, is “[p]olitical interest and engagement.”
Story at Vox

When Medicaid expands, more people vote | Andrea Campbell
“These are programs that have a major effect on people's lives,” said Andrea Campbell, a professor of political science at M.I.T., who wrote a book on the political legacy of Social Security. She suggested Medicaid could work similarly, by improving people's circumstances and making them more aware of the stakes of government action.
Story at The New York Times


On the sale of Athenahealth | Jon Gruber 
MIT economist Gruber spoke with WGBH "All Things Considered" host Barbara Howard about what the sale of Athenahealth means. 
Interview at WGBH

Q&A with Deborash Blum, author of The Poison Squad
Blum has spent a decade researching and writing about Wiley, who was chief chemist at the US Department of Agriculture at a time when the food system was almost completely unregulated.
Interview at The Boston Globe

Academics are being harassed over their research into transgender issues
"We maintain that it is not transphobic to investigate and analyse this area from a range of critical academic perspectives. We urge the government to take the lead in protecting research from ideologically-driven attack."
Letter at the Guardian


One big thing: The uprising for higher wages | David Autor
Autor, an MIT professor and one of the world's most respected labor economists, said low unemployment would have to continue for many years to reverse the decades of flat wages.
Story at Axios

Google employee protests as part of new tech resistance Sasha Constanza-Chock
“The Google walkout amplifies the wave of tech worker organizing that we see in #TechWontBuildIt and #NoTechforICE,” says Sasha Constanza-Chock, associate professor of civic media at MIT.
Story at CNBC



Trump may kill a US/Russia arms control deal. It might be a good idea.
Experts also point out that leaving the agreement will do little to make Russia want to abide by it. “Punching out isn't going to bring them into compliance, and now lets them justify a buildup even more while painting us as the bad guys,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at MIT.
Article at Vox

As the votes rolled in from the midterms, North Korea canceled another meeting with Trump officials
“I suspect they have figured they can get a summit without all of these preliminary meetings,” Narang said, adding that the North Koreans would see no point on logistics meetings if they can't get sanctions relief without US verification.
Story at BuzzFeed

North Korea keeping up work on missile sites, report says 
While progress on diplomacy and denuclearization has been slow, it would be unreasonable to expect Mr. Kim to halt progress on his missile program, especially the short-range missiles used to fend off a conventional-weapon attack, says Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert and associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Story at the Wall Street Journal

Trump insists things are going fine with North Korea. They're not.
Narang, a nuclear expert at MIT, told me. “These are ... mostly short-range operating bases which [Kim Jong Un] would be a fool to eliminate,” he added, “until and unless there is any deal.”
Story at Vox

North Korea maintaining more than a dozen missile launch sites, photos show
"Kim said he would mass produce ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads in his New Year's Day speech this year, and that is exactly what he is doing,” said Vipin Narang, an expert on the North Korean nuclear programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Story at The Guardian

Trump expects to meet Kim Jong-un next year as nuclear talks stall
“North Korea doesn't want to waste time haggling with Trump's ‘minions',” Vipin Narang, a politics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote on Twitter. “They want to hold out for the summit with him directly, where KJU has his best shot of getting major concessions directly.”
Article at The Guardian


How China plays into Trump's decision to pull of out INF treaty with Russia M. Taylor Fravel
But many analysts believe it's unlikely that China would be interested in joining either the INF or another treaty. “Given the size of China's conventional ballistic arsenal, this would be require some very creative diplomacy!” wrote M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science at MIT, on Twitter.
Article at the Washington Post

Shinzo Abe Says Japan Is China's 'Partner,' and No Longer Its Aid Donor
Yu Tiejun, vice president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University and a visiting scholar at MIT, said that many Chinese knew little about the aid the Japan provies to China. 
Story at The New York Times


Giants offer temp president job to Dodgers' GM Farhan Zaidi
The San Francisco Giants have offered Farhan Zaidi — the general manager of the rival Los Angeles Dodgers — their president of baseball operations job, MLB's Jon Paul Morosi reported Tuesday. Born in Canada, he was raised in the Philippines, and received his undergraduate degree at MIT, where he was an economics major. 
Story at Reuters

Farhan Zaidi ready to take a team effort leading Giants
"It's a convenient narrative to see this as kind of a clash of schools of thought. I just don't see it that way at all," the MIT-educated Zaidi said of his analytics expertise with the old-school practices of veteran executive Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy. 
Coverage by Associated Press



The following news and feature stories refer to "The Trolley Problem," a moral philosophy thought experiment developed by MIT philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson.  For background here is some information on her original work:

The Trolley Problem | Philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson

If a runaway trolley is destined to hit a group of five people but can be diverted onto a track where it will hit only one, is it right to divert it? What if it can only be stopped by throwing somebody in front of it? Developed by MIT philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, now emerita, the famous "trolley problem" has been debated for more than 40 years, as philosophers the world over struggle to understand what principle underlies the different responses elicited by the two scenarios.

In each case, one person is sacrificed to save five. Yet people overwhelmingly support diverting the train and object to throwing a person into its path. Why?

Moral Psychology
Today this question has crossed disciplines, taken up by researchers in the rapidly growing field of moral psychology, which aims to investigate moral responses empirically. Psychology professor Marc Hauser of Harvard, for example, is investigating the theory that some basic moral sense is hard-wired in the human brain — an idea analogous to MIT Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky's theory of universal grammar. Hauser has incorporated variations on the trolley problem into his "Moral Sense Test," an online survey that initially posed moral questions to 5,000 subjects in 120 countries (the test has since been taken by upwards of 150,000 people). Responses have proved remarkably consistent across gender, age, educational level, ethnicity, religion and national affiliation.

Professor Thomson nevertheless sees polls as irrelevant to the ethical question. In a recent paper re-examining the trolley problem, she writes that despite popular opinion, it is impermissible to kill one person by diverting the train to save five; the bystander may choose to do nothing. There is a major moral difference between killing five people and letting five die, Thomson says. Why remains a subject for debate. More


What can the Trolley Problem teach self-driving car engineers?
Researchers in the Scalable Cooperation group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab revived and revised the moral quandary. It was 2016, so the trolley was now a self-driving car, and the trolley “switch” the car's programming, designed by godlike engineers. MIT's “Moral Machine” asked users to decide whether to, say, kill an old woman walker or an old man, or five dogs, or five slightly tubby male pedestrians. 
Story at Wired

Self-driving cars will have to decide who should live and who should die. Here's who humans would kill.
“We don't suggest that [policymakers] should cater to the public's preferences. They just need to be aware of it, to expect a possible reaction when something happens. If, in an accident, a kid does not get special treatment, there might be some public reaction,” said Edmond Awad, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab who led the work.
Story at Washington Post

In a crash, should self-driving cars save passengers or pedestrians? 2 million people weigh in
Since 2016, scientists have posed this scenario to people around the world through the “Moral Machine,” an online platform hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that gauges how humans respond to ethical decisions made by artificial intelligence. On Wednesday, the team behind the Moral Machine released responses from more than two million people spanning 233 countries, dependencies and territories.
Coverage at PBS NewsHour

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Published 15 November 2018