News Archive 2015

School news from 2015.


Ten MIT-SHASS Research Fund recipients announced for 2016

The SHASS Research Fund supports research in the areas of humanities, arts, and social sciences that shows promise of making an important contribution to the proposed area of activity. The School is pleased to announce ten recipients for 2016. 

So you want to reform democracy

Reforming democracy is not a technology problem, writes open government activist Joshua Tauberer. It’s not something that a slick website solves. Building power is a social, societal, institutional challenge.

Opinion from the Editors of Nature
Combine sci/tech and humanistic fields

"If you want science to deliver for society, through commerce, government or philanthropy, you need to support a capacity to understand that society that is as deep as your capacity to understand the science."


The importance of native languages in education

This video provides a short overview of the science and data that show why children's native languages are necessary for learning to read and write — and everything else.


MIT named among three top universities in the world for humanities, arts

The Times Higher Education 2015 World University Rankings has named MIT one of the top three universities worldwide for arts and humanities education. The three top ranked universities — Stanford University, Harvard University, and MIT — are closely aligned in the evaluation metrics.


Solve Talks at Google: Rebalancing Inequality

Is there anything we can actually do about growing inequality in the U.S? (Yes!) David Autor, Professor of Economics, and Ian Condry, cultural anthropologist and MIT Professor of Comparative Media Studies, along with Marybeth Campbell, of SkillWorks, explain the causes for U.S. inequality, and what real solutions might look like.


Study: Trade may not help a warming planet fight its farming failures

A new study co-authored by Arnaud Costinot, MIT professor of Economics and an expert on international trade issues 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. 


Q&A: Chappell Lawson on the MIT International Policy Lab

IPL faculty lead describes the project goals, and invites proposals. IPL will award up to $10K to faculty and PI research staff who wish to convey their research to policymakers.

3 Questions with social scientist Sherry Turkle
On “Reclaiming Conversation”

MIT professor makes the case that meaningful, face-to-face dialogue is necessary for human beings to develop self-knowledge, empathy, and cognitive skill.


MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya analyzes the sources of moral action

“I really feel compelled right now by questions about climate change ethics … the worry that nothing I do may make a difference, 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,” Setiya says. “I feel there are very challenging, often upsetting, but unavoidable questions raised there.”


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.


Report: Interactive documentaries represent a new form of innovation in digital journalism

Interactive and participatory documentaries provide immersive, visual, and mobile-friendly storytelling techniques; provoke creative collaborations across institutions, "desks" and with publics; and stimulate the use of often overlooked assets such as archives. By so doing, they offer an array of solutions for journalistic institutions that wish to reach a new generation of users and make use of today’s technological developments.


MIT Political Science celebrates 50th years of rigor, relevance, and impact

Founded in the midst of the Vietnam War with the vision to use political science to make a difference in the lives of people, MIT’s Department of Political Science remains true to that vision today, according to alumni, faculty, and other speakers featured at the department’s 50th anniversary symposium on November 6, 2015.


Voting Technology Project releases report: "Managing Polling Place Resources"

Just as the one-year count-down for the 2016 presidential election has begun, the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP) has released a new report — and a set of updated online tools — to help election officials better manage their polling place resources and provide a better experience for voters.  


MIT named No. 1 university worldwide for social sciences

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings has named MIT the No. 1 university worldwide for social sciences for 2015, 2016, 2018, 2020, and most recently 2021. The MIT SHASS subjects covered in the ranking include political science, comparative media studies, and anthropology, among others.


MIT-SHASS MOOC courses available on edX

Discover the MIT-SHASS courses available online at edX — free, for anyone, anywhere.


Designing virtual identities for empowerment and social change

Associate Professor D. Fox Harrell awarded $1.35M in grant funding to advance research on at the intersection of social science and digital technology.


Deborah Fitzgerald receives lifetime achievement award from Agricultural History Society

Fitzgerald, Professor of the History of Technology, and former Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT-SHASS, has been honored for her research, mentorship, and leadership. In its award citation, the society notes that Fitzgerald's research has articulated "important themes in twentieth century America," and that she has been a central force in furthering the society, cultivating next-generation scholars."

Q&A with anthropologist Susan Silbey
On the role of culture in solving environmental issues

"Transferring the models of physical matter or rational calculation to these massive global problems can do a great deal to help solve our current issues — but only when they are informed by a nuanced understanding of how humans and human organizations operate."


Making banking effective for the poor

In India, PhD student Natalia Rigol aims to tap into community knowledge to vet loan and grant applicants.


From screen to stage

MIT’s Jay Scheib and Keeril Makan turn the famous film “Persona” into a new opera.


Tom Levenson discusses his new book, The Hunt for Vulcan

Tom Levenson, Professor of Science Writing and director of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing will give a presentation about his new book The Hunt for Vulcan — the planet that was repeatedly discovered (although it did not exist). 


A Sampler of MIT research on Governance, Justice, and Civic Engagement

Research in the humanities, arts, and social science fields is the engine for the School's capacity to effect positive change around the globe. The research of MIT SHASS faculty informs policymaking in many areas, including governance, justice, and civic engagement. 

Q&A with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf PhD '81
On making good policy; 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."


Testing Student Learning

Numerous strategies to improve student learning have been evaluated by J-PAL, and found to have widely different impacts. These different strategies also incur drastically different costs, and some programs therefore achieve learning gains with much greater cost-effectiveness than others.


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.


Study: Climate policy focused on local impacts is most effective for Americans

In a recent talk at MIT based on his recent book, Clean and Cheap, political scientist David Konisky PhD '06 says citizen demand for climate policy is so soft in the U.S. that new tactics are needed to address global warming.


Studying school quality, to fight inequality

MIT economists Parag Pathak, Joshua Angrist, and David Autor founded the School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative (SEII), a new center at MIT giving a home to diverse studies of education and its effects on Americans throughout their working lives.


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. 


MIT economist Parag Pathak engineers practical solutions to complicated education problems

For students in New York and Boston, who have a range of options beyond their neighborhood school, choosing a high school used to be a maddeningly complicated guessing game. Just a decade ago, it seemed like an intractable problem. But that has changed, thanks in part to a graduate student — now an MIT professor — named Parag Pathak.


Haitian educators and MIT faculty develop Kreyòl-based teaching tools

Six veteran educators from Haiti — two biologists, two physicists, and two mathematicians — were on campus recently to work closely with MIT faculty to develop and hone Kreyòl-based, technology-enhanced pedagogical tools for STEM education.


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.


Linguist Michel DeGraff is revolutionizing education in Haitian Kreyòl and other local languages

With his MIT-Haiti Inititiave, MIT-SHASS Professor of Linguistics Michel DeGraff is creating a historic new model for reaching science-hungry students around the world who speak local languages. A revolution in education is underway that will touch populations across the globe. 


"Visualizing Japan" humanities MOOC nominated for the Japan Prize: Interview with Shigeru Miyagawa

“Visualizing Japan”—a massive open online course (MOOC) co-taught by Shigeru Miyagawa and others—has been nominated for the Japan Prize, a prestigious international prize awarded to educational broadcast and digital media programs selected from around the world.


Musical Institute of Technology: A book about music and the MIT mission

Published by the MIT-SHASS Office of the Dean, Musical Institute of Technology is a photo-rich portrait of MIT's Music program that explores the significance of music for the MIT mission: the intersection of music with technology, science, and linguistics; why music training correlates with success in other fields; the affinity between music and the STEM fields; how music teaches collaboration, imaginative risk-taking; and music as a lens on global culture.


Dissolve Unconference: A Summit on Inequality

How can we dissolve the structures of power that produce today’s inequalities?


Hundreds of MIT students take the TOUR de SHASS 2015

At MIT, every undergraduate receives a balanced STEM + SHASS education — with 25% of required classes in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. At the annual TOUR de SHASS academic expo, MIT students meet SHASS faculty, and discover the great diversity of classes in MIT's humanities, arts, and social sciences fields. Plus, free lunch!


Training MIT’s “Innovation Diplomats”

Each year, hundreds of MIT students travel abroad to conduct research through MISTI, the Global Entrepreneurship Lab, and other programs. The new iDiplomats program aims to transform the experience of students traveling abroad with advice on how to be unofficial “innovation diplomats” for MIT.


Work and Economic Equity in the U.S.

A sampler of MIT research on work and economic equity

children in Mongolia and laptop

Ethan Zuckerman
On sociotechnical problem-solving

"[W]e should understand that when the problems we’re trying to solve with tech are social, we need sociotechnical solutions that look at the interaction between people and technology."

Lily Tsai


Lily Tsai receives 2015 Levitan Prize for research to empower citizens

Founder of MIT Governance Lab creates immersive opportunities for MIT students to research new forms of civic engagement around the world.


MIT report identifies keys to new American innovation

From “Main Street” firms to multinationals, improvements possible in funding of research, collaboration among manufacturers.


Iatridou and von Fintel named Fellows of the Linguistics Society of America

MIT Professors Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou have been named fellows of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) — the highest honor in the field — in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the discipline.


TOUR de SHASS 2015 on September 10

Event offers students the chance to meet professors and learn about MIT’s many options in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.


New Faculty, Fall 2015

The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is very pleased to present the newest members of the MIT-SHASS faculty. They come to us with diverse backgrounds and vast knowledge in their areas of research: ecology and globalization; trade reforms in India; post–Cold War Cuba; a humanistic account of the global diabetes crisis; and the political history of Mexico’s rural training schools for teachers. Please join us in welcoming these excellent scholars into the School community.


MIT chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society inducts 80 graduating seniors 

The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, held its MIT induction ceremony on Thursday, June 4, admitting 80 graduating seniors into the MIT chapter, Xi of Massachusetts.

Books for the 4th of July

Selections from the MIT SHASS Bookshelf

Music for the 4th of July

To celebrate, honor, and reflect

Kentaro Toyama
On the role of human institutions in social change

Toyama reached the conclusion that it is the social and cultural institutions surrounding a certain problem that prevent the technology from having the desired result. In order to achieve good outcomes, the institutions themselves need to be changed.


Marcus Thompson appointed Institute Professor

“Over his long career, Marcus has worked to give students access to a world-class music program that has changed MIT,” said Steven Hall, chair of the MIT faculty. “Many colleagues told us about his commitment to and generosity with students... Marcus is one of the great men and women of our faculty who inspire us every day.”


Andrea Louise Campbell named head of Political Science

Deborah Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, has announced that Andrea Louise Campbell will become the new head of the Department of Political Science, effective July 1.  


Five MIT students win MISTI Excellence Awards

MIT SHASS-based MISTI, the Institute’s groundbreaking program in applied international studies, presented its annual Excellence Awards to five students on Friday, June 5, in a ceremony in Kirsch Auditorium. MISTI prepares students to become informed, engaged participants in work and research opportunities in more than 20 countries. Training includes everything from workplace etiquette to the language, politics, and history of the country.


Jeffrey S. Ravel named head of MIT History

Deborah Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, has named Jeffrey S. Ravel head of the MIT SHASS History section, effective July 1, 2015.


MIT grad students organize summer institute to increase diversity in the philosophy field.

The academic pursuit of philosophy (like many other fields) has a serious diversity problem. To help remedy the issue, three MIT philosophy graduate students have organized an innovative program that brought a diverse cohort of undergraduates to the MIT campus this summer, where the students explored the full range of options for pursuing an academic career in philosophy.


Faculty Promotions - Spring 2015

The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is pleased to announce 14 faculty promotions, which are effective July 1, 2015.

Vivian Tran ’16 and Caleb Lin ’16 win the 2015 Isabelle de Courtivron Prize  

Two juniors with a strong commitment both to technical majors and to creative writing have been awarded the 2015 Isabelle de Courtivron Prize for Expository and Creative Writing.


How do we tell the story about climate change?

Meet five MIT Knight Science Journalism colleagues and one oak tree. By closely observing the phenology of trees and other plants — the seasonal changes in their physical characteristics — researchers are identifying a trend toward longer growing seasons. Winter is arriving later, and spring earlier.


MIT undergrads launch national competition

A national competition for high school students, founded and led by MIT undergraduates, held its inaugural conference in April 2015 at MIT. The competition was for research in the humanities, arts, and social science fields. 


Melissa Nobles named SHASS dean

Nobles has been named the new dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, effective July 1. Nobles, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and former head of MIT’s Department of Political Science since 2013, is an accomplished scholar who has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1995.


Helen Elaine Lee and Emma Teng named to SHASS leadership roles

Dean Deborah Fitzgerald appointed two faculty members to new leadership roles within the school. Effective July 1, Professor Emma Teng will succeed Professor Ian Condry as head of Global Studies and Languages, and Professor Helen Elaine Lee will succeed Teng as director of Women’s and Gender Studies.


2015 SHASS Levitan Awards for Excellence in Teaching announced   

Dean Fitzgerald has announced the recipients of the 2015 James A. and Ruth Levitan Awards for Excellence in Teaching. Warmest congratulations to these nine educators and colleagues, who represent the very best academic leadership in the School. 

MIT List Visual Art Center


Artbot engineers the discovery of Art

Is it possible to engineer the discovery of art? In 2013, two SHASS graduate students set out to answer that question, and today, thanks to their work as research assistants in CMS/W, there’s an app for that!


Fotini Christia receives Carnegie Fellowship for research on conflict/cooperation

MIT’s Fotini Christia, associate professor of political science, is among the inaugural class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows announced by the The Carnegie Corporation of New York. Each fellow will receive up to $200,000 to support research in the social sciences or humanities. Of the project, Susan Hockfield, MIT President Emerita, said “Solutions to the complex issues of today and tomorrow will not emerge simply through technology and science, but require humanistic and social science scholarship to use lessons of the past to devise paths to future peace and progress.”


MIT Music recording Infinite Winds released on major jazz label

For the first time ever, a collection of recordings by two outstanding MIT student groups — the MIT Wind Ensemble (MITWE) and the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble (FJE) — has been released by major jazz label. The CD, Infinite Winds, features works by noted composers Guillermo Klein, Chick Corea, and Don Byron, as well as performances by renowned soloists Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone) and Evan Ziporyn (clarinet).


MIT Political Science graduate student awarded a NSF Fellowship

Rachel Odell, a first year graduate student, has won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for 2015. Each of fellow is awarded a three-year stipend for both the student and research institution.


3 Questions | Melissa Nobles on advancing racial and restorative justice

Melissa Nobles, Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and Professor of Political Science, researches historical injustices in democracies. MIT SHASS Communications spoke with Nobles in 2015 about the ongoing aftermath of shooting deaths in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland, and what her research suggests about the current efforts to advance civil rights in America.

Celebrating Einstein marks 100th anniversary of general theory of relativity

Wherever you may be on the space-time continuum, it’s time to celebrate. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and to honor the occasion faculty from SHASS and Physics have organized "Celebrating Einstein," a series of panel discussions, performances, and other events that will take place throughout Cambridge this April as a special feature of the 2015 Cambridge Science Festival.


Philosopher Robert Stalnaker solves problems the MIT way

Focus on real-world concerns underpins research in areas including game theory, linguistics, decision theory, and economics.

David Dolev and Daria Johnson receive 2015 MIT Excellence Awards

MISTI associate director David Dolev and literature staff member Daria Johnson were both recognized for their exemplary efforts to strengthen and enrich the MIT community when they each received an 2015 MIT Excellence Award.


Donca Steriade: Searching for the building blocks of language

The syllable has long been considered to be the basic building block of language in the area of rhythm. MIT's Donca Steriade now believes that that different element — known as the "interval" — may be the basic unit of rhythm in human language.


Literature Professor Arthur Bahr named a 2015 MacVicar Faculty Fellow

Arthur Bahr, the Alfred Henry and Jean Morrison Hayes Career Development Associate Professor of Literature, has been named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT's highest undergraduate teaching award.

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. 


Interview with Seth Mnookin about Vaccination and Public Health

MIT SHASS News: 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?

 Gideon Gil, Knight Science Journalism Fellow ’14-15

Gideon Gil is health and science editor of The Boston Globe, where he has directed print and online coverage of health care, science, and the environment for 10 years. His reporters have won one Pulitzer Prize, for coverage of stem cells, and twice been named finalists. He previously was a medical reporter and editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he was part of a team awarded a Pulitzer for investigating the causes of a fatal bus crash that took 27 lives. He is a board member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and chairs its membership committee and Boston chapter.  

Giovana Girardi, Knight Science Journalism Fellow ’14-15

Giovana Girardi is a science and environmental reporter from O Estado de S. Paulo, one of the biggest newspapers in Brazil. She has been working on science issues for about 13 years. More recently, she has been focusing on climate change research, on the diplomatic negotiations surrounding a new global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, on biodiversity and humans interactions with it, and and also writing about environmental issues in cities.

Scott Huler, Knight Science Journalism Fellow ’14-15

Scott Huler, the Knight Project Fellow for 2014-2015, is the author of six books of nonfiction, including On the Grid, No-Man’s Lands, and Defining the Wind. He is taking a modern walking expedition through the Carolinas, following in the footsteps of John Lawson, an explorer who made the trek in 1700 in one of the earliest of the Lewis and Clark-type of scientific explorations in America. Scott is documenting his journey at and on the KSJ blog.

Kathleen McLaughlin, Knight Science Journalism Fellow ’14-15  

Kathleen McLaughlin is a journalist based in Beijing, China, who writes for The Economist, The Guardian, and numerous other media outlets. She has reported across Asia and East Africa on science and medical issues, including the legacy of China’s plasma industry and resulting AIDS epidemic, China’s influence on health care in Africa and counterfeit malaria drugs and the spread of drug-resistant malaria in Asia and Africa.

George Musser, KSJ Fellow

George Musser is a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine in New York. He was the magazine’s senior editor for space science from 1998 to 2012, when he left the full-time staff to focus on book-writing. He received the 2011 Science Writing Award from the American Institute of Physics in 2011 and Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award from the American Astronomical Society in 2010. His first book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory, was published by Alpha in 2008.

Bob Young, Knight Science Journalism Fellow ’14-15

Bob Young is a staff reporter at The Seattle Times, where he covers marijuana as Washington state creates history by legalizing production and sale of the drug. He has also reported on politics and urban affairs in his 12 years at the paper and been a staff writer for the Times’ Sunday magazine.

Ian CheneyKnight Science Journalism Fellow, ’14-15

Ian Cheney is an Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker. His films and collaborations include King Corn (2007), The Greening of Southie (2008), Truck Farm (2010), The City Dark (2011), The Melungeons (2013) and The Search for General Tso (2014).

Olga Dobrovidova, Knight Science Journalism Fellow ’14-15

Olga Dobrovidova is a news reporter and producer based in Moscow, Russia. She spent four years working at the Science and Environment desk with the country’s leading newswire service, RIA Novosti, and is also a columnist for Responding to Climate Change (UK), where she writes about Russian climate change policy and practice.

Rachael Buchanan, Knight Science Journalism Fellow, ’14-15

Rachael Buchanan is the Medical Producer for BBC News (watch a video on vaccinations in Laos produced by Buchanan). She has been a science and health journalist for the BBC for 14 years, producing pieces about science and medicine for TV, radio, and the web.


3 Questions: Amy Finkelstein on testing health care systems

MIT economist explains why randomized trials can improve medical care.


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.  


Study: More expensive emergency care does yield better results

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


SHASS Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship launches with three PhD students

MIT SHASS has welcomed three outstanding PhD students from other universities to the MIT campus this year through the new SHASS Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship. Meet the three inaugural fellows: Shermaine Jones, Rosa Martinez, and Theresa Rojas.


Political Science and EECS join forces for new "Elections and Voting Technology" course

Ensuring that elections are fair and equitable is fundamental to democracy—yet easier said than done, as MIT students discovered in a new class called "Elections and Voting Technology." The class is taught jointly by Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, and Ronald Rivest, Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.


Dean Fitzgerald announces new Cynthia L. Reed Chair in French Studies and Language

Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), has announced the establishment of the Cynthia L. Reed Chair in French Studies and Language, made possible by a gift from John S. Reed, former chairman of the MIT Corporation, and his wife, Cynthia.