Said and Done

November 2015 Edition
Published by the Office of the Dean
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences



“I feel compelled right now by questions about climate change ethics … the fact that decisions we’re making in the next generation will affect many billions of humans, or possibly even whether human life will exist in a few hundred years’ time. There are very challenging but unavoidable questions raised there."

— Kieran Setiya, Professor of Philosophy at MIT


MIT named No. 1 in the world for social science fields
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings has named MIT the No. 1 university worldwide for social sciences for 2015-2016.

MIT named among top 3 universities worldwide for humanities and arts fields
The Times Higher Education 2015 World University Rankings has named MIT one of the top three universities worldwide for arts and humanities education.

“The world’s problems are so complex they’re not only science and technological problems. They are as much human and moral problems.”

— Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences


MIT Political Science celebrates 50 years of rigor, relevance, and impact
The symposium drew more than 200 people to MIT’s Wong Auditorium for a daylong series of panel discussions that explored the department’s distinctive strengths and its influence on the nation and the world.

3 Questions: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf PhD '81
Alumnus sees key role for political science in solving global issues. "The search for the answers to society’s most pressing questions always involves a political science dimension. Politics is above all a very practical discipline. It’s 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."
Interview by SHASS Communications

Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf PhD '81



Contain ISIS
Analysis by MIT political scientist/security studies expert Barry Posen at The Atlantic.
"Containment is a tougher sell [than escalated military warfare] because it requires patience and resilience, and does not promise a quick and easy victory. But no strategy bears a likelier chance of long-term success than containment."
Story at The Atlantic

MIT responds to the earthquake in Nepal
On April 25, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, killing more than 9,000, injuring more than 23,000. Since then, MIT has supported recovery by identifying and helping to meet the greatest immediate needs through efforts led by Jeffrey Ravel, head of the History section, and Aaron Weinberger, Assistant Director for Institute Affairs. 

Facing the global refugee crisis
At a recent MIT-sponsored event, scholars and relief workers from across the globe describe current refugee conditions as “the tip of the iceberg.” The panelists contended that wealthier countries could be doing more to accommodate the current influx of refugees — and overestimate the extent to which refugees will stay in their borders.
Story by Peter Dizikes

Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan, photocredit: The UN Refugee Agency/Brian Sokol

"Arenas emphasized that in his experience, refugees almost always want to return home. While presenting a series of photographs from his fieldwork, Arenas showed the audience a picture of two young Syrian refugees in a Serbian camp, constructing a small makeshift object out of sticks. 'We are building the house we want to live in when we go home,' the boys told Arenas."


MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya analyzes the sources of moral action
“I feel compelled right now by questions about climate change ethics … the fact that decisions we’re making in the next generation will affect many billions of humans, or possibly even whether human life will exist in a few hundred years’ time. There are very challenging…but unavoidable questions raised there.”
Story by Peter Dizikes | Setiya website

Q&A: Chappell Lawson on the MIT International Policy Lab
The IPL faculty lead describes the project's origins and invites proposals for lab-funded policy research projects. "We are a service to the MIT faculty," says Lawson. "Our focus is faculty members who have an appetite for engaging with the policy community (broadly defined) and whose work has implications for policy, but who are not currently intimately involved in policy debates or who are already involved but want to have a greater impact."

Uncovering the painful truth about racism on campus | Craig Wilder
Understanding the current US campus protests over racial injustice requires looking back centuries, explains MIT historian Craig Steven Wilder, whose acclaimed 2013 book, Ebony and Ivy, explores the historical relationship of American universities to the Atlantic slave trade. In this interview, Wilder discuses how that history informs the Black Lives Matter movement.
Interview at Mother Jones | About Ebony and Ivy | Reviews: New York Times | WSJ

JPAL North America launches State and Local Innovation Initiative
A transformative new program from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT-SHASS will help state and local governments find solutions to key public policy issues across a wide range of social issues including crime, education, employment, health, and housing.

                                                                                                  an urban farm, Ohio City

The JPAL US Local and State Initiative is a transformative program to help state and local governments find solutions to key public policy issues across a wide range of social issues. Through the initiative, selected state and local governments will receive access to J-PAL researchers to help them design and implement randomized evaluations and use the results to make evidence-based decisions for policy that really works.   


Illuminating urban planning | Jennifer Light
Looking at how Cold War military analysis and New Deal resource analysis were applied to city planning, Light reveals “the dangers of thinking by analogy in policymaking and the technocratic fantasy that policy choices can rise above political realities on the ground." She notes that "These are episodes in a long history of people trying to apply scientific and technical expertise to social and political problems ­— and how such efforts often fall short, although people have good intentions.”
Story by Peter Dizikes at MIT News

Grow your own way | Arnaud Costinot
A study co-authored by MIT economist Arnaud Costinot will help countries make better plans for dealing with the impacts of climate change; his research suggests that countries should not rely on international trade to alleviate climate-induced farming problems, but seek other approaches. The report indicates that countries will need to alter their own patterns of crop production to lessen farming problems.
Story at MIT News

Designing virtual identities for empowerment and social change
Professor Fox Harrell has received $1.35 million in grant funding to advance research at the intersection of social science and digital technology. “These new projects focus on how people’s personal identities and values are formed and changed by digital technologies such as video games." Whether choosing a type of character in a video game or selecting which photos and information to share on social media, Harrell says that human values are already embedded in the design of those technologies.
Story by SHASS Communications


D. Fox Harrell, Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies Program and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence


On the Legacy of Segregation | Melissa Nobles, Tracey Meares
Police shootings and the Black Lives Matter campaign are illuminating the differences that white Americans and Americans of color experience in their everyday lives. Melissa Nobles, Kenin Sahin Dean of SHASS and Professor of Political Science, speaks with Yale Professor of Law Tracey Meares about the historical and structural forces at work. Moderated by Seth Mnookin, Associate Professor and co-director, MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing.
Video + Summary

MIT Open Documentary Lab releases report on interactive documentaries
The OpenDocLab has released a report on "How Interactive Documentaries Represent a New Form of Innovation in Digital Journalism." The report includes six case studies: one focused on collaborations across disciplines, institutions, and the public; two focused on institutional change; and three focused on the process and people behind specific projects.
Read and download the report

VTP releases report: “Managing Polling Place Resources” | Charles Stewart III
Just as the one-year count-down for the 2016 presidential election begins, the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP) has released a new report — and a set of updated online tools — to help election officials provide a better experience for voters.
Story + Report | Voting Technology Project website

Election administrators face many challenges planning for and running elections. The Voting Technology Project website provides a toolkit that helps election administrators set the stage for better voter experiences at the polling place.

Robots and Us | David Mindell
Should cars be fully autonomous? MIT engineer and historian David Mindell says there is a better goal. Based on years of experience and research on robots in extreme conditions, Mindell proposes a “rich, human-centered automation,” a human/machine interface that gives human beings more precision, but maintains human control.


3 Questions: Thomas Levenson on the hunt for Vulcan, the missing planet
"There was absolutely every reason Vulcan should exist. These people weren’t crazy. They were doing science the way you expect science to be done. But the internal emotional logic, as well as mathematical logic led [some] astronomers to persuade themselves they’d seen something that wasn’t there. That’s just a straight-up cautionary tale."
Interview at MIT News

Keeril Makan and Jay Scheib create new opera based on the classic film “Persona”
MIT professor and composer Makan says it was the abundance of silence in Bergman’s “Persona” that led him to think an opera version of the story was possible. "Because of the silence, there’s a lot of room for music,” he said. Scheib, director and MIT theater professor, says he was "struck by the beauty of the film" and incorporated a strong visual element into the production, which is staged as a film set.
Interview at MIT News

Rehearsal for "Persona," a new opera by MIT Music and Theater faculty: Keeril Makan, composer; Jay Scheib, director; conductor Evan Ziporyn, conductor 

Fred Harris Jr. produces “Seeking the Infinite,” a film on Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
“Harris's documentary on the long and distinguished life of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is essential viewing, a fitting tribute to a consummate musician and conductor. He's pictured talking about music (‘it takes me out of this world, it is metaphysical to me’) and there are absorbing clips of him performing with a variety of orchestras.”

Making banking effective for the poor | PhD student Natalia Rigol
“You shouldn’t have to be extremely fortunate, just to live a decent life," says Economics graduate student Natalia Rigol. Through field research in India, Rigol aims to devise alternative ways to deliver financing to poverty-stricken communities.
Story by Peter Dizikes

3 Questions: Sherry Turkle on “Reclaiming Conversation”
In her new book, Turkle makes the case that focused, in-person conversation is key for developing self-knowledge, empathy, and intellectual skills. “Turkle’s argument,” wrote Jonathan Franzen, in The New York Times, “derives its power from the breadth of her research and the acuity of her psychological insight.”
Story at MIT News


L to R: Exit Zero, a film by anthropologist Christine Walley; The Hunt for Vulcan, by Thomas Levenson (Penguin/Random House 2015); Recording of chamber works by MIT Institute Professor John Harbison (Camerata Pacifica on Harmonia Mundi USA, 2015)


Bringing “the greatest show in the universe” to the public
The promise of science communications was on full display in October 2015 as the Institute welcomed some 800 science writers, editors, and producers to ScienceWriters2015, the largest annual meeting of professional science communicators in the US.
Story by Maia Weinstock at MIT News

Reviews for "Deep River" by Mark Harvey and the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra
"Led by trumpeter-composer Mark Harvey, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is something of a miracle as well as a consistent joy. It has been performing brilliantly evocative, varied original music with a steady core of personnel for 43 years." Aardvark’s new disc, Deep River, a suite by the band’s longtime guitarist, Richard Nelson, re-imagines American roots themes.
Artsfuse | All About Jazz, Jack Bowers | All about Jazz, Budd Kopman




All Awards  | November 2015
To see more of the many recent awards for the SHASS community, visit the
Honors and Awards section

Fitzgerald receives lifetime achievement award from Agricultural History Society
Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Professor of the History of Technology and former Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT-SHASS (2007-2015), has been honored for her illuminating research, steady mentoring of younger scholars, and inspired leadership in the field. 

Vipin Narang wins 2016 Best Book Award from the ISA
Narang has received the award from the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association (ISA), for his recent book, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. The award will be presented at the ISA conference in Atlanta in 2016.
Vipin Narang website  | ISA Awards

Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Professor of the History of Technology and former Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT-SHASS (2007-2015); Vipin Narang, Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT


SHASS In the Media | November 2015
For more of the many recent media stories about SHASS research and faculty, visit the complete
In the Media section

The Myth of Welfare’s Corrupting Influence on the Poor | Abhijit Banerjee
The New York Times reports on new research co-authored by MIT economist Abhijit Banerjee, which finds “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.”
Story at The New York Times

Rattle your Assumptions | MIT Anthropology classes on OpenCourseWare
Via MIT OpenCourseWare News: "MIT Anthropology offers a full array of courses that push students to open their minds and expand their cultural horizons. Recent Anthropology publications cover a variety of concerning and thought-proving topics with curated reading lists. Most courses include links to films and videos as well. Here’s what we’re talking about."
Story at MITOCW | MIT Anthropology

Junot Díaz Celebrates Neil Gaiman
MIT professor of writing Junot Díaz hosted a recent event to celebrate multi-genre writer Neil Gaiman, “one of the most important fantasists and comics writers ever.”
Video conversation

Neil Gaiman and MIT Professor of Writing Junot Díaz in conversation


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Said and Done is published by the Office of the Dean,
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Editor and Designer: Emily Hiestand, Director, SHASS Communications
Publication Associate: Daniel Pritchard, SHASS Communications

Published November 2015