DECEMBER/JANUARY 2023 DIGEST
MIT SCHOOL OF HUMANITIES, ARTS, AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
A SECTION OF SAID & DONE | SUBSCRIBE
HONORS & AWARDS
Four SHASS faculty awarded research funding
The SHASS Research Fund supports MIT research in the humanities, arts, or social sciences that shows promise of making an important contribution to the proposed area of activity.
Kieran Setiya's Life Is Hard among The Economist’s best books of 2022
The Economist staff writes, "A professor of philosophy at MIT argues that suffering need not diminish or spoil a good life. Living well and hardship can go together, he says; clear thinking is the key. A humane, consoling guide to this vale of tears, with a glimmer of hope."
List at The Economist
Leslie Tilley awarded the Emerging Scholar Award by the Society for Music Theory
Associate Professor of Music Leslie Tilley was honored for her book, Making it Up Together (University of Chicago), a study of how multiple musicians improvise as a group in Bali and throughout the world. The award is a rare case of a professor trained as an ethnomusicologist winning one of the top awards in a different field.
About the book
Photo via iStock
TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION
After torrid year, can edtech firms crack professional education? | Justin Reich
When massive open online courses (Moocs) burst on to the scene a decade ago, the online learning platforms that came with them had three big overarching aims, according to Reich, the director of MIT’s Teaching Systems Lab. ... “Essentially, none of those three things happened,” Dr. Reich said. Instead, he believed, higher education has “domesticated” the Mooc model and found places where it can work without being transformative while catering mostly to an already educated, affluent crowd.
Story at Times Higher Education
Can Just Stop Oil make the case for protest? | Devin Caughey
Caughey and Chris Warshaw, associate professors at MIT and George Washington University respectively, found that US state legislatures did reflect the average voter’s opinions. ... But there are caveats.
Story at The Financial Times
Philosophy for life | Kieran Setiya
The subtitle of Kieran Setiya’s exceptionally rich and subtle Life Is Hard is “How philosophy can help us find our way”. ... As well as teaching philosophy at MIT, Setiya also presents a podcast titled Five Questions, in which he asks working philosophers five questions about themselves.
Profile at The Financial Times
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Cheer up! The world is better off than you think | Esther Duflo
"The pandemic dip was not that bad on many outcomes,” said Duflo, the youngest person to have won a Nobel in economic science. “It was much less of a cataclysm for Africa than for us.” Indeed, World Bank researchers estimate that the number of people living in extreme poverty actually declined a hair in 2022.
Opinion at The New York Times
New TV series explores Our Quest For Meaning In The Age Of Science | Alan Lightman
A new, three-part series, “Searching, Our Quest for Meaning in the Age of Science,” now airing on public television, features MIT physicist and author Lightman, who explores timeless and deep questions about man and the universe with ethicists, philosophers, faith leaders and Nobel Prize-winning scientists. ... Lightman speaks with an advanced android, Bina48; ethicist Ruth Faden; Nobelist Rai Weiss and MIT dean of science Nergis Mavalvalaw.
Story at Forbes
ChatGPT is infiltrating higher education | Nick Montfort
All Things Considered host Arun Rath spoke with Montfort, a professor of digital media at MIT. After some instructors sounded alarm bells about the AI tool and how it might disrupt academia, he co-wrote a memo advising his peers to learn about the systems for themselves and adapt their courses to the technology.
Conversation at WGBH
Artist rendering of nuclear fusion; image via iStock
Scientists achieve a breakthrough in nuclear fusion | Michael Greshko SM'15
Greshko reports on a U.S. lab that has successfully sparked a fusion reaction that released more energy than went into it. "There’s still a long way to go toward fusion as a clean energy source."
Story at National Geographic
AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM PODCAST
Across the universe | Marcia Bartusiak
Bartusiak joins the Air and Space Museum's podcast to help tell the story of how the work of many astronomers contributed to a complete redesign of how big we know our universe to be and what we think it looks like.
Air and Space Museum Podcast
Image via Getty
About one-third of the food Americans buy is wasted | Michael Kremer
Kremer has shown that when corporations of many types are confronted with such sequential tasks, they put their highest-skilled staff at the final stages of production. Otherwise, the companies risk losing all the value they have added to their raw materials through the production sequence.
Story at Slate
Will robots take your job — or bump you into a new one? | Daron Acemoglu
Acemoglu speaks to Politico on the effects of robots in the workplace. “Industrial robots may have reduced U.S. employment by half a percent, which is not trivial, but nothing on that scale [of a “jobless future”] has happened — but if you look at the inequality implications, it's been massive.”
Story at Politco
THE WASHINGTON POST
Best jobs for older workers | Daron Acemoglu, Nicolaj Mühlbach
Age-friendliness is hard to define and measure — after all, workers of all ages would like to set their own schedule and avoid backbreaking physical activity. So how did economists Acemoglu and Mühlbach pull it off?
Story at The Washington Post
When wage inflation is good for you | David Autor
Last month Autor presented the findings that he, together with Arindrajit Dube and Annie McGrew, have gleaned from US population survey data. First, wage growth has been much stronger for the lowest-paid since the start of the pandemic, sharply reversing decades of rising wage inequality.
Story at Financial Times
How U.S. workers and employers can co-design workplace tech | Daron Acemoglu
Studies from Partnership on AI and MIT professors Acemoglu and Katherine Kellogg have shown that when workers are given a say in how technologies are developed and deployed–they are more likely to use the technology and use it well. “The general idea of including worker voice when implementing new technologies is great, but there are a number of second order problems that come up when trying to do that in practice," Jenna E. Myers said.
Story at Forbes
Paycheck Protection Program went from good intentions to free-for-all | David Autor
If another financial crisis comes, will the government be better financially prepared? Autor has his doubts. He argues that even if Congress and the SBA had tried to administer the Paycheck Protection Program more efficiently, the antiquated state of many U.S. government technological systems would have made that difficult.
Story at NPR
Incomes are rising in America, especially for the poorest | Wilmers, Autor
In a paper published in October, Clem Aeppli of Harvard and Wilmers of MIT found that earnings inequality basically reached a plateau after 2012. The gap between top and middle-income workers persisted, but low-wage earners began to catch up to the middle. ... Autor of MIT and Arindrajit Dube and Annie McGrew, both of the University of Massachusetts, find that these gains have been driven almost exclusively by job switchers at the low end of the income ladder.
Story at The Economist
THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
Members of the Chinese armed forces; photo via iStock
Taiwan invasion by China would fail, but at huge cost | Eric Heginbotham
“We reached two conclusions,” said Heginbotham, a security expert at MIT. “First, under most circumstances, China is unlikely to succeed in its operational objectives, or to occupy Taipei,” he said. “Second, the cost of war would be high for all involved, certainly to include the United States.” The wargaming tested 24 different scenarios focused on China attempting to seize the island by invasion in 2026.
Story at The Guardian
War game predicts failed Chinese invasion of Taiwan | Eric Heginbotham
An American think tank has just held a war game simulation on the likely outcome of a Chinese invasion [of Taiwan]. It concluded that Beijing would likely fail to seize the island if the US helped in its defense, but the conflict could come at a very high cost to all sides. The war game was conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I’ve been speaking to one of the authors of the report, Heginbotham, a security expert at MIT.
Story at NPR
The U.S. Capitol Building at sundown; photo via iStock
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Why the ranks of populism are filled with ‘nasty’ characters | Charles Stewart III
In his paper “Public Opinion Roots of Election Denialism,” published on Jan. 6, the second anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, Stewart argues that “among Republicans, conspiracism has a potent effect on embracing election denialism, followed by racial resentment.”
Story at The New York Times
How the House elects its speaker | Charles Stewart III
“The Civil War established this norm — an institution, the partisan cartel — where the parties agreed to air their dirty laundry in caucus but then to coalesce around the party leader, whoever got a majority in caucus,” said Stewart.
Story at NBC News
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A neuroscientist faces death, and learns | Kieran Setiya
Setiya reviews the new book by Henry Marsh, And Finally, for the Times.
Review at The New York Times
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