Media Digest | May 2021

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Office of the Dean | 13 May 2021

Dear Friends,

When the pandemic started, President Reif told the MIT community we can “take strength in knowing that we will get through this historic challenge together." Our community strengths have proved extraorindary and it is heartening that the Institute is readying for a return to campus in the fall.

Even beyond the pandemic, the past year has delivered many other historic challenges, whose topics our faculty are addressing with their usual rigor. Professor Heather Paxson joins other anthropologists in editing a series on "American Fascism" for The Society for Cultural Anthropology. In election news, Bloomberg covered an important paper on diverging perceptions of the 2020 contest by Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, and Jesse Clark, a PhD candidate in Political Science.

In economics, Professor James Poterba’s work is noted in an Economist discussion of current tax proposals. Speaking on WGBH, Professor Jonathan Gruber, an expert in health and labor economics, shares his thoughts on the Amazon union defeat and its implications for the future of labor. In The New York Times, Professor Esther Dufo says that "People are looking for respect in the job that they are doing, and in the community they're living in, and that's much more dominant than the financial incentive."

Many in our community have ties to India, where heartbreaking stories about the Covid-19 virus overwhelming the health care system are unfolding daily. In a New York Times op-ed Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Nobel Laureates and J-PAL leaders, present a simple truth, stating “India’s problem is now the world’s problem," encouraging aid for India and for other countries as well to avoid similar tragedies.

In the past year, our Knight Science Journalism Program have included a focus on science reporting critique and pandemic inequality. Program head Deborah Blum’s April editorial in Science calls for journalists to “portray research accurately in both its rights and its wrongs and stand unflinchingly for the integrity of the story.” In an article for Nature, KSJ alum Amy Maxman studied coronavirus inequity in California’s San Joaquin Valley, a rich agricultural region with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

Joining others who have provided us with comfort and perspective in recent months, Sherry Turkle appeared on MSNBC to discuss our present position in liminal time. She notes that this time presents us an opportunity to revisit and “reset” some of our existing attitudes toward technology, our relationships, and the ways we work.  

As ever, I am buoyed by the research, the rigorous problem-solving, and the wisdom and kindness in our School and in the larger MIT community.  

With warm wishes for the month of May!


Melissa Nobles
Kenan Sahin Dean
Professor of Political Science
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences




Crowd in Washington, D.C., shortly before speeches on January 6, 2021; Photo by Gregory Starrett

“Every age has its own fascism. And we see the warning signs wherever the concentration of power denies citizens the possibility and the means of expressing and acting on their own free will."  

— Primo Levi, from "A Past We Thought Would Never Return," quoted in "American Fascism," a new series by MIT Professor of Anthropology Heather Paxson and colleagues

American Fascism | Heather Paxson, Christopher Nelson, Brad Weiss 
"If the January 6th attack on the Capitol represents a return of fascism, when was it here before? Where has it been? If we find fascism in the streets and in the media, should we also be looking elsewhere? The essays that we have assembled here are the first, urgent answers to these questions for 2021.
Series at The Society for Cultural Anthropology

The dangerous part of Georgia's voter suppression law that no one is talking about
Following the 2000 election, researchers at Caltech and MIT found that as many as 3 million voters across the country may have been disenfranchised due to voter registration mishaps. Yet provisional ballots were available in only one-third of states.
Story at Slate

Why Republicans are still skeptical that Trump lost. He did. | Stewart, Clark
A new paper by MIT political scientists Jesse T. Clark and Charles Stewart III drills down into data on the topic and turns up some remarkable findings about voter confidence in the wake of the 2020 election. In particular, although the gap between the two sides' belief that the contest was fair is by far the largest on record, the explanation may not be what one expects.
Story at Bloomberg

Does the new Georgia law 'eliminate hours of voting'? | Charles Stewart III
Stewart said: “I had also heard this generally reported as expanding early voting, so I'm surprised by the characterization.” He studied the precise language changes at our request and said it indicated an expansion of hours, especially in rural counties.
Story at The Washington Post


San Francisco Symphony musicians explore the intersection of American Indian and classical musical cultures

Native Sounds | Charles Shadle
MIT composer Shadle, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, offers commentary for this article on the increased presence of music by Native American composers music in U.S. concert halls. “What’s important to me is that if there’s attention on contemporary classical composers in this community, it creates possibilities for the younger generations. It makes for a tradition that looks not just backward, but forward...We need to move beyond stereotypical ideas of what Native American music sounds like."
PDF of story at Symphony | Related: Shadle releases new work to honors his heritage

Charles Shadle composition "Catkin" featured in Sound on Mystic
Sound on Mystic, an outdoor audio installation, is located along a two-mile stretch of the Mystic River in Medford and Arlington. The immersive experience includes fourteen commissioned works, including "Catkin." Shadle's composition for solo oboe was inspired by daily walks along the Mystic and is performed by Jennifer Montbach of the Radius Ensemble.
About Sound on Mystic




Michael Collins chose a life on Earth over walking on the Moon | David Mindell
In his eloquent, moving tribute to Michael Collins, Mindell, a historian and engineer, writes of Collins that his Apollo mission, leadership of the National Air & Space Museum, ready humor, and devoted family life embodied "soaring exploration and humble humanity."
In Memoriam at Forbes


image via iStock

Jonathan Gruber on the defeat of workers' efforts to unionize at Amazon
Gruber comments on how Amazon's actions against unionization will affect the future of labor.
Commentary at Boston Public Radio

Jobless benefits don’t make people “lazy,” says Nobel Laureate Esther Duflo
MIT Development economist Duflo discusses her views on GDP, financial incentives, and how to encourage women to pursue careers in economics. “One of the mistakes made by economists in general was to agree collectively that GDP, and perhaps the stock market, is how we acknowledge success in a country,” says Duflo. “Life is so much more than that.”
Story at The New York Times

In the wake of COVID, employers accelerate the use of robots | David Autor
That means less-skilled workers in this country “may suffer significant hardship as they seek new work, potentially in occupations where they have no experience or training,” scholars David Autor and Elisabeth Reynolds said. “Paradoxically, having too few low-wage, economically insecure jobs is actually worse than having too many.”
Story at the Los Angeles Times

Jonathan Gruber on President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan
Grubar was instrumental in creating both the Massachusetts health-care reform and the U.S. Affordable Care Act.
Commentary at Boston Public Radio

Will Biden's proposed taxes on capital make America an outlier? | James Poterba
Still, the uncertainty around these analyses is high—the second paper relies on an extrapolation from state-level taxes. And in any case the revenue-maximising rate is not necessarily the same as the most desirable rate for society, notes Poterba.
Story at The Economist


A pre-K classroom in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood, 2017. Photo: Craig F. Walker/Getty Images

The power of pre-K | MIT School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative
The school lottery winners were less likely to be suspended in high school and less likely to be sentenced to juvenile incarceration. Nearly 70 percent of lottery winners graduated from high school... The winners were also more likely to take the S.A.T., to enroll in college and — though the evidence is incomplete, because of the students’ age — to graduate from college.
Story at The New York Times

Covid-era ed tech narrowed college learning gap for poor, minorities | Justin Reich
"Flexibility from online learning is good, but it hasn't been nearly up to the task of addressing the terrible upheaval in our society," said Professor Reich. "Greater equality in education will come from social movements, from politics, from organizing that provides greater public support for building human capacity, especially among marginalized students."
Story at Newsweek

'Back to basics' to give children a solid foundation for learning | Abhijit Banerjee
Banerjee stresses that there have been considerable achievements since 1990...“Thirty five years ago, if you talked about education, people would shake their head and say poor parents don't want to send children to school because they don't believe in it, it's expensive and they want them for their labor."
Story at The Financial Times

Real Madrid | Margery Resnick
"Usually, I spend the month of January teaching an IAP class on Spanish literature in my favorite city in Spain. With travel off the table this year, I took up the challenge of creating an immersive cultural experience online."
Article in Technology Review


Unsplash by Anna Shvets; graphic via NBC

India's Covid crisis could happen anywhere | Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
The Nobel laureates write, "The world needs to look beyond India and avoid yet another mistake of timing. We cannot afford to repeat the experience of the first wave, when we didn't realize just how quickly a virus can travel. Neither should nations be lulled into a sense of false security by the progress of vaccination campaigns in the United States and Europe."
Commentary at The New York Times
Related story from Undark magazine: India's desperate fend for themselves amid Covid mismanagement

Inequality’s deadly toll | Amy Maxmen
A century of research has demonstrated how poverty and discrimination drive disease. Can Covid push science to finally address the issue? Maxmen, who reports on the pandemic for Nature, is a 2020 alumna of KSJ at MIT. 
Story at Nature | Maxman's Twitter Channel

At-A-Glance List of Pandemic-related Media Publications from MIT SHASS
An ongoing list of commentaries from our School community to inform policy and to increase public understanding of the pandemic. 



Deborah Blum, author and Director of the MIT Knight Science Journalism program

Science journalism grows up Deborah Blum 
In her recent article for Science, Blum, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and director of the MIT Knight Science Journalism program, writes, "The original, science-boosting mission of Science Service hasn't been lost....And there's still a place for journalistic stories about the wonders of science. But the past century has proved that this is not the most important contribution of science reporters. Rather, it is to portray research accurately in both its rights and its wrongs and stand unflinchingly for the integrity of the story."
Commentary at Science

Chinese Elites and U.S. Gatekeeping | Emma Teng
In 1905, Boston immigration officials detained four Chinese students of the King family, inciting protest...[and prompting] key reforms in the administration of Chinese exclusion. An examination of this incident...illuminates the conflicted position of Chinese elites—disempowered by race yet empowered by class status—under exclusion. It also provides insights into the agency of Chinese elites in mobilizing resources to combat immigration abuses.
Article via Cambridge University Press

Question 7
Take the Times of London Daily Quiz, which features, among others an MIT Professor of Science Writing. How did you do? 
Times of London Quiz for 26 April 2021 | And if you need a clue: About Money for Nothing

What are you really looking for on your phone? | Sherry Turkle
"The sense of possibility that we want to feel in our lives has shifted. Our sense of aspiration, our sense that something could happen. Whatever it is, it now exists on our phone," said Turkle. "There used to be all these places and spaces that held our imagination. ... Now more and more we are turning to our phones for those feelings."
Story at USA Today

Is re-entry into society going to be harder than we think?  | Sherry Turkle
Turkle explains why going back to normal after the pandemic will not be easy, arguing that we all must “collectively mourn” before we can fully move on.
Commentary at MSNBC


U.S. is misleading in its assessment of China's Taiwan threat | M. Taylor Fravel
Fravel, an expert on the PLA, points to the fact that party documents published since the emergence of the 2027 goal continue to mention the 2035 and 2049 goals, a sign that those two remain unchanged.
Story at the Financial Times

Biden's North Korea policy is an extended hand to Kim Jong Un | Vipin Narang
“It's the right formulation to use because both sides agreed to it,” said Narang
Story at Vox

Biden administration open to sharing vaccines with North Korea | Vipin Narang
"It would be a great offer but there is no way that Kim Jong Un would ever accept them.There would be paranoia about what would be delivered by the US and there is also the possibility that China could be providing vaccines quietly to North Korean elites."
Story at CNN



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to all the online channels, newsletters, and publications produced by the School's 20+ departments, sections, programs, and centers. Here you will find current research, news, and commentaries from each of the MIT SHASS fields.

Visit the Publications Directory



Stephen Morris, Peter A. Diamond Professor of Economics; photo by Allegra Boverman 


Economist Stephen Morris elected to National Academy of Sciences
Morris, the Peter A. Diamond Professor in Economics, is joined by Dan Freedman, Robert Griffin, Larry Guth, and Gigliola Staffilani in election to the NAS, which is among the highest honors a scientist can achieve. An economic theorist, Morris has made important contributions to the foundations of game theory and mechanism design, as well as applications in macroeconomics, international economics, and finance. Congratulations to all!

Six SHASS faculty awarded the 2021 James and Ruth Levitan Teaching Prize
Recipients of the School's Levitan Teaching Award are among the finest teachers at the Institute. These great educators, who are nominated by students themselves, represent the very best academic leadership in the School. 2021 recipients are: Eric Lin-Greenberg; Kenda Mutongi; Sara Ellison; Masami Ikeda-Lamm, and Maria Khotimsky.
Gallery of 2021 Recipients

Robert Townsend named a Distinguished Fellow of the AEA
Of Townsend, the Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics, the AEA writes that he "has established himself as a preeminent development economist. His work in development economics is characterized by sensitivity to institutional detail, sophisticated use of appropriate economic theory, and careful empirical work."

Robin Wolfe Scheffler receives Sydney Brenner Fellowship
The award is for research and travels related to Scheffler's history of biotechnology in a Boston book project by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library and Archives. 

Fotini Christia named director of the Sociotechnical Systems Research Center
The political scientist will spearhead a center that studies high-impact, complex societal challenges.
| 3 Questions with Christia



Villa Aurelia, American Academy in Rome

Isaiah Andrews (PhD '14) named the 2021 John Bates Clark Medalist
The Clark Medal is awarded by the American Economic Association to "that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge." The award "is widely regarded as one of the field's most prestigious awards... second only to the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences." Andrews is now a Professor of Economics at Harvard. 

MIT Alumnae Composer Nina C. Young '07 wins 2021 Guggenheim Award
Young, a celebrated composer and assistant professor of composition at the USC Thornton School of Music is known for genre-defying work that draws on the classical canon, electronic music, minimalism, and other idioms. She plans to use the fellowship to pursue an ambitious new fleet of creative work. At MIT, Young was a double major in ocean engineering and music.
Story at USC

MIT Alumnae Composer Tina Tallon '11 wins the Rome Prize in Musical Composition
Tallon has been named the 2021-2022 winner of the Frederic A. Julliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize in Musical Composition from the American Academy in Rome for her opera, "Shrill," commissioned by Guerilla Opera. At MIT Tallon was a double major in bio engineering and music.
Story at American Academy in Rome



MIT's Hayden Library, located along the Charles River, is home to the Humanities and Science collections.

"It’s perhaps no surprise that a high percentage of the MIT students who receive Rhodes, Marshall, and other major scholarships and fellowships are former Burchard Scholars."

MIT SHASS names 38 extraordinary students as 2021 Burchard Scholars
The students enjoy a year-long seminar series over dinners with distinguished faculty.

Fiona Chen awarded a 2021 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
As an undergraduateat MIT, Fiona pursued degrees in economics and mathematics. Now, a senior, Fiona has worked on several significant economics policy research projects—examining global development and poverty, universal healthcare systems, and the role of technology in shaping the labor market.

Vaishnavi Phadis '23 wins Carol Gay Award for best essay on children's literature
The national prize, given annually to a college undergraduate for an outstanding paper on children's literature, is awarded by the Children’s Literature Association (ChLA). Of the award, Marah Gubar, MIT Associate Professor of Literature, writes, "It’s a huge big deal."
About the Carol Gay Award, Children's Literature Association

PhD student Ed Davenpot wins IHEA Award for best paper in health economics
Davenport shares the award with Professors Nava Ashraf and Oriana Bandiera (LSE), and Scott S. Lee (Vanderbilt).

Two undergraduates receive the 2021 Isabelle de Courtivron Writing prize
The prize is awarded annually to recognize high-quality undergraduate writing (creative or expository) on topics related to immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual, and/or mixed-race experiences. First prize to Eileen A. Liu, Class of 2024, Course 18; Second prize to: Laura Rosado, Class of 2022, Course 2A/21W; Honorable Mentions to: Leyna Duong, Class of 2022, and to Rona Wang, Class of 2022.

PhD student Sam Leiter wins the Student Foreign Policy Essay Contest
Leiter won the 2021 award, which is sponsored by The John Quincy Adams Society and The National Interest.


The Media + Awards Digest is a section
of Said and Done, the School's online digest.





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Published by SHASS Communications
Office of the Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Editor and Designer: Emily Hiestand
Publication Associate: Alison Lanier
Media Relations Manager: Stephen Oakes
Published 13 May 2021