Making a Better World | Social Innovation
MIT aims to provide the infrastructure and economic opportunity to support a world population of nearly 10 billion by 2050. MIT's social science, arts, and humanities fields contribute to this goal in three primary ways: through the School's Education mission; in Works that enter the marketplace; and through research that leads to better policy and social innovations. This page presents a collection of stories about MIT's social innovations.
Research to Policy | Social Innovation
MIT's social science, arts, and humanities fields contribute to the Institute's innovation goal through vast research portfolio in social innovation — work on political, cultural, historical, and economic factors that inform and guide better public policy across a wide spectrum of issues.
MIT's renowned "research to policy" work is the companion of the "lab to market" work of the STEM fields. Social innovation research includes a focus in these areas: Work and Economic Equity; Global Poverty Alleviation; Governance; Restorative Justice; Civic Engagement; International Affairs; Public Engagement with Science/Technology; and Identity, Culture, and Inclusion.
Empowering every MIT student
MIT SHASS faculty also teach every MIT undergraduate. By empowering MIT students with political, economic, cultural, and historical perspectives — as well as skills in critical thinking, languages, and communication — the School increases the capacity of every MIT graduate to serve the world well, across the broad range of humanity's challenges.
Selected Stories on Social Innovation
Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future “is a magisterial blend of historical research, investigative journalism and poetic reportage.” — The Economist
"The story here is not just about whether people are legally allowed to vote, but about whether they are practically able to vote, whether they know they're allowed to vote, and whether they think they have any reason to do so."
New book by Richard Samuels examines the past and future of Japanese intelligence services in a rapidly shifting world.
Associate Professor Danny Hidalgo’s work reveals some difficult truths about money, elections, and political influence.
COMPUTING AND AI: HUMANISTIC PERSPECTIVES FROM MIT
"The Schwarzman College of Computing presents MIT with a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in addressing some of most pressing challenges that have emerged from the ubiquitous role computing technologies now play in our society — including how these technologies are reinforcing and even exacerbating social inequalities."
COMPUTING AND AI: HUMANISTIC PERSPECTIVES FROM MIT
"Given our research and practice focus, the CMS perspective can be a key one for understanding the implications of computation for knowledge and representation, as well as computation’s relationship to the critical process of how knowledge works in culture — the way it is formed, shared, and validated."
COMPUTING AND AI: HUMANISTIC PERSPECTIVES FROM MIT
"With a sense of promise and urgency, we are embarked at MIT on an accelerated effort to more fully integrate the humanistic and technical forms of discovery in our curriculum and research, in our institutional structure, and in our habits of mind and action. Together, the commentaries in this series offer a guidebook to myriad productive ways that humanistic, scientific, and technical fields can join forces at MIT and elsewhere."
The lab is dedicated to improving elections, using research, evidence, and analysis. Founded by Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, the Lab will address multiple audiences of academic researchers, election practitioners, and the general public. It will serve a unique and independent role as it applies scientific principles to empirical questions about the administration of American elections.
21ST CENTURY CITIZENSHIP
This non-partisan MIT initiative convenes research-informed lectures and discussions to explore the major, long-term social, political, and economic issues brought to light in the 2016 US presidential election. We are asking: What can MIT do to help address current challenges in the U.S., and bolster the health of our democracy? Join us as we frame the issues and generate ideas for making a positive impact.
SOCIAL INNOVATION: RESEARCH TO POLICY
With dual MIT degrees in engineering and humanities fields, and a social science minor, Samuel Rodarte '13 could have found a top job in almost any enterprise from startup to multinational corporation. Instead, he chose to join generations of alumni who have put their MIT skills to work shaping public policy in Washington, D.C.
Economist’s study of rickshaw drivers shows effects of alcohol consumption on financial decision-making.
Doctoral student Pierre-Luc Vautrey investigates how incorrect beliefs shape economic decision-making.
Understand and help solve the economic, social, and political dimensions of climate change. Explore climate-related courses from the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
In new book, political scientist Taylor Fravel uncovers the modern history of Chinese military strategy.
Nonprofit and industry leaders, researchers, and policymakers gather for a kick-off conference to discuss how to make work more equitable, efficient, and just.
In a new book, MIT professors say more public investment in science will create a better economy for all.
When responding to disputes with foreign powers, China does not speak with one voice, political science doctoral candidate Kacie Miura finds.
A celebration of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing
Tress aims to reduce hardships in developing countries using the lens of philosophy.
ETHICS, COMPUTING AND AI | PERSPECTIVES FROM MIT
"To someone who studies bureaucracy, the anxieties surrounding artificial intelligence have an eerily familiar ring. So too does the excitement. For much of the 20th century, bureaucracies were thought to be intelligent machines, with all the positive and negative connotations the term carries."
"Understanding others is crucial right now. Of course, understanding is not the same as forgiving or ignoring conflict. But you cannot write convincingly until you care about people who are different from you. That’s what being a playwright has taught me."
Less data-sharing among firms can actually lead to more collusion, economists find.
Economist Alexander Wolitzky uses game theory to model institutions, networks, and social dynamics.
In Bernardo Zacka's 17.01 class, MIT students explore human values and competing theories of the just society
The news and feature stories collected here refer to "The Trolley Problem," a moral philosophy thought experiment developed by MIT philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson. For context, we provide background information on her original work.
T.L. Taylor looks at how computer gaming and other forms of online broadcasting became big-time spectator sports.
Investigating the political and economic consequences of large-scale deadly conflict, Charnysh discovers that community-level interactions make a big impact.
"Globalization today is at a crossroad. It is confronted with major challenges, including rising inequality and global warming. At the same time there is a lot of skepticism about what governments can do to regulate global capitalism. Looking back at previous globalization episodes is critical, first to clarify the specificities of our time." — Thomas Piketty
In order to design effective policies and programs, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners must be able to accurately measure women’s and girls’ empowerment. A new research resource from the SHASS-based Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) addresses this challenge.
"This strikes me as exactly the moment when the work of economic historians is of greatest importance. We have something useful to say about what the disruptions of previous 'waves of globalization' have looked like and how social and political communities have resolved the disruptions of those episodes."
Graduate student Elena Sobrino looks beyond the headlines to study interactions between the city’s people and institutions.
Alberto Abadie refines the tools of economics — and gets some interesting results along the way.
MIT senior and Model UN leader William Rodriguez works to encourage the global exchange of ideas
21st C. CITIZENSHIP | LEGACY OF SLAVERY
MIT historians discuss the power of historical knowledge to help make a better world.
Profs. Olken and Banerjee describe how a simple card explaining a government aid program leads to more rice for poor villagers in Indonesia.
Donaldson's historical study details how railroads helped India trade and grow.
MENS ET MANUS AMERICA | 21st C. CITIZENSHIP
MIT’s Mens et Manus America (MMA) initiative shed light on two major issues on the political landscape — fake news and gender politics — during back-to-back events on April 17 and 18.
21st C. CITIZENSHIP | RESEARCH
“I believe the work of this class is important to the present — and to the future. Something I have always loved about the MIT community is that we seek, and we face, facts. What can history teach us now, as we work to invent the future? How can we make sure that the technologies we invent will contribute to making a better world for all?" — L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT
Assistant Professor Caley Horan is an historian of the U.S. interested in the cultural and intellectual transformations of the post-WWII era. SHASS Communications spoke with her about her book manuscript, Actuarial Age, which explores the cultural life of insurance and the role of risk-based thinking in shaping American institutions and daily life during the second half of the twentieth century.
The founder of a startup at the cutting edge of computer science, Ryan Robinson ’17 says that his MIT background in the humanities and engineering has helped him understand the human dimensions of the world’s greatest challenges.
Institute-wide effort will study the evolution of jobs in an age of technological advancement. Members represent fields from engineering and cognitive science to economics, management, political science, anthropology, education innovation, and the history of technology.
RESEARCH | 21st C. CITIZENSHIP
Students in an undergraduate research course bring the Institute into national conversation about universities and the legacy of slavery. “I believe the work of this class is important to the present — and to the future,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “What can history teach us now, as we work to invent the future? How can we make sure that the technologies we invent will indeed contribute to making a better world for all?"
Letter from President L. Rafael Reif on MIT and the legacy of slavery
SOCIAL INNOVATION | CITIZENSHIP
“Whether you’re an entrepreneur or in an established business, an activist, writer, or artist: How have people productively engaged the future?”
Economist John Van Reenen studies the creation and use of technology, from the R&D lab to the workplace.
"Economic history viewed on a very long timescale tells us that innovation and population size/density are highly correlated. A shorter time horizon tells us that population size alone is not enough. Rather, it is in populations where lots of people are both permitted and capable of 'having a go,' where innovation thrives best."
RESEARCH | 21st C. CITIZENSHIP
In his new book, political scientist Richard Nielsen proposes a “blocked ambition” hypothesis.
Youth-to-youth program founded by MIT economist Joshua Angrist teaches girls about the increased odds of contracting HIV from older men.
The lab bridges the digital gap to improve social welfare for underserved populations in rural and urban China.
Bridging science, technology, the arts, humanities, and the social sciences MIT Museum Director John Durant makes plans to engage the public with a new purpose-driven museum space.
Can an antipoverty program work in different settings? A new report presents a user’s guide to a tough issue.
RESEARCH TO POLICY | CITIZENSHIP
Selected cities and counties will receive funding and technical support from J-PAL to test innovative strategies in the fight against poverty.
RESEARCH TO POLICY | CITIZENSHIP
MIT Economics PhD student Aicha Ben Dhia studies France’s labor market from the perspective of local job-seekers.
HEALTH OF THE PLANET
Analysis shows the design and framing of renewable energy policies can strengthen public support — or opposition.
RESEARCH TO POLICY
Cities plagued with terrible traffic problems may be overlooking a simple, low-cost solution: High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) policies that encourage carpooling can reduce traffic drastically, according to a new study co-authored by MIT economists.
CSAIL PhD student Danielle Olson creates immersive media to help users understand each other’s backgrounds and feelings.
TEACHING AND LEARNING | SOCIAL INNOVATION
The MIT Prison Initiative provides an academic framework for undergraduates and local inmates to explore the human condition.
21ST CENTURY CITIZENSHIP
A Mens et Manus America conversation with Jason Jay. "We have to have conversations if we are going to effect change," said Jay, who outlined findings from his new book. "We change larger conversations by changing one conversation at a time."
21ST CENTURY CITIZENSHIP
Exploring current U.S. social, political, and economic challenges: Professor Adam J. Berinsky joined Professor Ezra Zuckerman Sivan to share political science and sociological research about the impact of rumors and falsehoods on America's political process. Agustín Rayo, associate dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences moderated.
“The new frontier is learning how to design the relationships between people, robots, and infrastructure...The new success of robots will depend on how well they situate into human environments; as in chess, the strongest players are often the combinations of human and machine. I increasingly see that the three critical elements are people, robots, and infrastructure — all interdependent."
"It is remarkable that we do not measure the costs of war in any meaningful way. The costs come in many shapes and sizes: mortality and disability, loss of livelihoods and homes, displacement, the destruction of clean water resources and sanitation facilities, the disruption of education for children, ecological devastation, and many others. All wars produce these results, yet no country, including the United States, has the will to understand and calculate these costs."
Christine Walley, Professor of Anthropology, and MIT-based filmmaker Chris Boebel have been awarded a $195,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the digitization of archives and the Exit Zero Project website.
SOCIAL INNOVATION: RESEARCH TO POLICY
MIT's Asian Security Studies faculty train the next generation of scholars and security policy analysts; counsel national security officials in the U.S. and abroad; and inform policy through publications and frequent contributions to public debates.
SOCIAL INNOVATION | HUMAN HEALTH | CITIZENSHIP
State and local policymakers joined with leading researchers to share experiences overcoming challenges to evaluating government programs.
SOCIAL INNOVATION | HUMAN HEALTH
New study maps U.S. regions where patients appear more ill than they are.
3 Questions with historian Malick Ghachen
On finding root causes: how history helps us solve today's issues
"One of the principal ways historians contribute to problem-solving work at MIT and elsewhere is by helping to identify what the real problem is in the first place. When we understand and articulate the roots and sources of a problem, we have a much better chance of actually solving it."
This "test of time" award from the National Communication Association recognizes work that has stimulated new conceptualizations of communication phenomena.
"Almost anyone engaged with global issues of human well-being, the distribution of resources, or the future of society is doing moral philosophy Even the most technocratic assessment of costs and benefits makes assumptions about the value of human life and the demands of justice....Making our ethics more explicit, being self-conscious about our principles and premises, improves our moral thinking. This is particularly true when the questions are ones of public policy."
HEALTH OF THE PLANET | CITIZENSHIP
Why is it so hard for human beings to address climate change? What can motivate effective action?
Richard Nielsen is an assistant professor of political science at MIT SHASS who writes on international law, the political economy of human rights, political violence, and political methodology. His current book project, Deadly Clerics, explores why some Muslim clerics adopt the ideology of militant Jihad while most do not.
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences has been awarded to MIT's Bengt Holmström and Harvard's Olvier Hart for their contributions to contract theory. Holmström is the Paul A. Samuelson Professor of Economics in the MIT SHASS Department of Economics, with a joint appointment in the Sloan School.
SOCIAL INNOVATION | 21st C. CITIZENSHIP
Professor Charles Stewart III explains why the U.S. electoral system is strong and how MIT research is making the voting process even more seamless. This fall Stewart is leading a nationwide research project: on Election Day 2016, some 800 students from more than 25 universities, including MIT, will be collecting data at polling places across the country, as part of the "Polling Place of the Future" project to help further improve the nation's electoral process.
SOCIAL INNOVATION | CITIZENSHIP
With their “D2P2: Data. Decisions. Public Policy.” lecture series, J-PAL and MIT Economics aim to increase awareness of their work on campus and in Greater Boston.
PhD student Elizabeth Setren brings data to bear on questions about charter schools and local education policy.
Bruno Perreau, Cynthia L. Reed Professor of French Studies, has been selected as a member of the prestigious French Academic Palms (l’Ordre des Palmes académiques), the highest distinction for French professors, given in recognition of exemplary academic contributions to French education and culture.
With the new Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), MIT researchers in the social sciences have an official research platform for collaborating with peers in engineering and the sciences. In this project, social scientist Fotini Christia and civil engineer Ali Jadbabaie join forces to study the evolution of cultural norms and the dynamics of sociopolitical change.
After the financial-sector crisis in 2007 and 2008, a large portion of investments people had considered safe were suddenly understood to be risky. And yet, the ensuing flight to safe assets, such as U.S. debt, has come with its own cost.
A commentary by Daniel Hastings, the Cecil and Ida Green Education Professor of Engineering Systems and Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. To meet today's complex challenges, we need scientists and engineers who have an understanding of social, economic, and political realities and proceses, and equally, planners and policy makers with a solid knowledge of science and technology. What kind of education is needed for such well-informed collaborators?
How can we design sociotechnical approaches for solving the social, economic, and political dimensions of global issues?
Professor Ethan Zuckerman asks, "Is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive and misguided?"
Study co-authored by Susan Silbey, Professor of Anthropology: Women who go to college intending to become engineers stay in the profession less often than men. Why is this? While multiple reasons have been offered in the past, a new study develops a novel explanation: The negative group dynamics women tend to experience during team-based work projects makes the profession less appealing.
“A big strand in my work has been to think about the important ways in which social identity, especially racial and ethnic identities, become really important in thinking about policies and justice in distributive issues,” MIT political scientist Evan Lieberman says.
TEACHING AND LEARNING
Michel DeGraff, MIT-SHASS Professor of Linguistics, is a founding member of Haiti's newly created Haitian Creole Academy (Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen) and Director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative.
Over the course of 26 years at MIT, political scientist Kenneth Oye has discovered that collaborating with technologists is a very effective way to inform good policy on the issues he cares most about — from climate change to synthetic biology.
SOCIAL INNOVATION | CITIZENSHIP
The Exit Zero Project, founded by Christine Walley and Chris Boebel, is a transmedia effort to tell the story of the traumatic effect of deindustrialization on Southeast Chicago. The three components of the project — book, documentary film, and in-progress interactive website — use family stories from the once-thriving steel mill communities of Southeast Chicago to consider the enduring impact of the loss of heavy industry and its role in widening class inequalities in the United States.
"Exit Zero, An Industrial Family Story," is a film by by Christine Walley, MIT Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Chris Boebel, Manager of Multimedia Development, in the MIT Office of Digital Learning. The screening takes place on Monday, April 25, in the Bartos Theater, E15-070. Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, will give an introduction. A reception and discussion with the filmmakers and David Autor, Professor of Economics, will follow.
MIT economist, and 2015 MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, discusses how updated policies and tweaks to the R&D pipeline could create more drugs for prevention, and for treating cancers at earlier stages.
Political science PhD student Marika Landau-Wells is using psychology and neuroscience to better understand political behavior.
3 Questions with political scientist Andrea Campbell
Healthcare is both a political and a technical issue
"Any initiative to address health and health care goals must wrestle with and address the enormous disparities that exist in health coverage, access, and outcomes across racial and income groups in the United States. It’s as if poor or black Americans are living in a different country, and in terms of poverty, health insurance, and health care access, effectively they are. This is a political and social problem as much as a technical one."
SOCIAL INNOVATION | BUSINESS ECOSYSTEMS
Whatever brings entrepreneurs back to Africa, plenty of challenges arise once they are there, from re-acclimating after time away, to breaking down gender stereotypes in business. And there often remains the hard work of building business networks, communities, and innovation ecosystems.
In India, industrial development and rapid urbanization have far outpaced efforts to protect the environment, resulting in levels of air and water pollution that pose major threats to human health. Working with the Tata Center, two MIT-SHASS economics doctoral students are addressing this challenge by generating incentives for polluters to change their ways.
Courses, books, classes, programs, interviews, projects
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.
"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 HUMAN FACTOR | NATIVE LANGUAGES
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.
THE HUMAN FACTOR | FAIRNESS
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.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ECONOMICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
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.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: SOCIAL INNOVATION
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.
MIT professor makes the case that meaningful, face-to-face dialogue is necessary for human beings to develop self-knowledge, empathy, and cognitive skill.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH
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.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: VOTING TECHNOLOGY
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.
INNOVATION + CORE
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings has named MIT the No. 1 university worldwide for social sciences for 2015-2016. The subjects covered in the ranking include economics, political science, anthropology, urban planning, communication, and business, among others.
BASIC RESEARCH: ARTS/TECH/SOCIAL INNOVATION
Associate Professor D. Fox Harrell awarded $1.35M in grant funding to advance research on at the intersection of social science and digital technology.
"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."
RESEARCH TO POLICY: POVERTY ALLEVIATION
In India, PhD student Natalia Rigol aims to tap into community knowledge to vet loan and grant applicants.
RESEARCH TO POLICY
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.
"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."
RESEARCH TO POLICY: INNOVATION ECONOMIST
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.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: EDUCATION
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.
SOCIAL INNOVATION: ADVANCING EQUALITY
How can we dissolve the structures of power that produce today’s inequalities?
RESEARCH TO POLICY: WORK & ECONOMIC EQUITY
A sampler of MIT research on work and economic equity
RESEARCH TO POLICY: GOVERNANCE
Founder of MIT Governance Lab creates immersive opportunities for MIT students to research new forms of civic engagement around the world.
"[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."
RESEARCH TO POLICY: INNOVATION IN MANUFACTURING
From “Main Street” firms to multinationals, improvements possible in funding of research, collaboration among manufacturers.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: REDUCING CONFLICT
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.”
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ADVANCING JUSTICE
Melissa Nobles, Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor, and Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, esearches historical injustices in democracies. MIT SHASS Communications spoke with Nobles recently 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.
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.
ADVANCING POLICY: PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH SCIENCE
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.
BASIC RESEARCH + SOCIAL INNOVATION
Economist’s new book teaches how to conduct cause-and-effect studies on complex social questions.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH
“We want to bring together scholars in different fields who don’t normally have a chance to talk to each other,” said Erica Caple James, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Global Health & Medical Humanities Initiative. “With this initiative, we hope to encourage more interdisciplinary collaboration on health matters — teaching together, researching together, and mobilizing the creativity of all five MIT schools, as the Institute continues to develop its future role in improving human health.”
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ECONOMIC EQUITY
Associate Professor of Anthropology Christine Walley has been awarded the CLR James Award for Best Book by the Working-Class Studies Association for Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago (University of Chicago Press 2013). Exit Zero explores the effects of deindustrialization on Chicago workers and their families.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: AID ORGANIZATIONS
Throughout Eric Caple James’ career as a medical anthropologist, she has specialized in studying people confronted with social, economic, and political uncertainty. James, now an associate professor of anthropology at MIT, has often sought to address a particular question about people placed in such difficulties: Are their psychological and civic needs being addressed by the social organizations that purport to help them?
RESEARCH TO POLICY: COMMON SENSE REGULATION
This research represents a new common sense about regulation that acknowledges the ubiquity of legal regulation, the global circulation of regulation that has transformed its scale, and the role of the organization as the locus of regulation.
SOCIAL INNOVATION: EDUCATION
Six years ago when MIT economist Glenn Ellison volunteered to coach his daughter Caroline’s middle-school math team, he hardly realized he would soon become a leading authority in the niche market of advanced mathematics textbooks for elementary- and middle-school students.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH
“Health insurance is a confusing and difficult choice,” says Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at MIT who specializes in health-care issues. “It’s important that people make decisions in an organized and effective market. In that way they can make the best choices, and we can ensure the best level of competition among insurers.”
RESEARCH TO POLICY: EDUCATION
Michel DeGraff, Associate Professor of Linguistics, is the Principal Investigator for a five-year project that will help develop classroom tools to teach science and math in Haitian Creole for the first time.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: SMARTER REGULATORY SYSTEMS
Associate professor in MIT’s Department of Political Science and the Engineering Systems Division, Kenneth Oye is an expert in the way governments assess the potential risks posed by new technologies. His work makes the case that for regulatory systems that are designed to incorporate advances in knowledge.
BASIC RESEARCH: ORIGINS OF POWER, PROSPERITY, AND POVERTY
A collection of the significant reviews, interviews, videos, broadcasts about the thesis on the origins of power, prosperity, and poverty
BASIC RESEARCH: HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
An historian who finds evidence and insight in literature, Rosalind Williams, Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology, recently completed a book examining the critical juncture when human endeavors began to dominate the planet as never before. Forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press (2013), The Triumph of Human Empire, explores this turning point in history and technology through the works of three writers from the late 1800s.
SOCIAL INNOVATION + EDUCATION
How are new technologies transforming public discourse? Are traditional news outlets still influential in framing the news we get online? What are the legal dangers for publishing secrets in the crowd-sourced era? Founded in 1978 by pioneering media scholar Ithiel de Sola Pool of MIT’s Political Science Department, the forum engages leading scholars, journalists, media producers, and citizens in discussions on emerging media in a changing world.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENDING GLOBAL POVERTY
Armed with data, an MIT lab offers fresh insight on some of the world’s most vexing problems. For nearly a decade, MIT economics professors Esther Duflo, and Abhijit Banerjee, have worked with a global network of researchers to conduct experiments in the world’s poorest places - where families live on less than $1 day - and reached conclusions that are changing the way economists and policy makers think about development in impoverished areas.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: INFRASTRUCTURE FOR DEMOCRACY
Eleven years after the disputed 2000 presidential election thrust the subject of electoral integrity into the spotlight, many of the challenges that jeopardized that election remain unresolved, voting experts said at an MIT-hosted conference. “Election Integrity: Past, Present, and Future,” was convened by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP), and brought together election administrators, academics and technology professionals from around the country. A central theme of the conference was election integrity: assuring that votes are both recorded and counted as they were cast.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: HEALTH INSURANCE
Landmark study shows the effects of health insurance program: much better health and more financial stability for the poor; more bills paid for hospitals and doctors. Professors of Economics Amy Finkelstein (a principal investigator) and Jonathan Gruber contributed to the study.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: CIVILIANS IN WARFARE
Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle — 100,000 dead in World War I; 300,000 in World War II; 33,000 in the Korean War; 58,000 in Vietnam; 4,500 in Iraq; more than 1,000 in Afghanistan — and rightly so. But why are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for? This is the compelling, largely unasked question that John Tirman, a principal research scientist and executive director at the MIT Center for International Studies, answers in The Deaths of Others.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: TRANSFORMING HAITIAN EDUCATION
Linguist Michel DeGraff is on a quest to give Haitian Creole its due as a respected language — and to help Haitian schoolchildren learn in their native tongue.
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ECONOMICS
This symposium, organized by the School's Department of Economics and the Sloan School of Management, celebrated the role of MIT’s faculty and students in advancing the fields of economics and finance, in putting the latest developments into practice, and in contributing to the design of public policy.
BASIC RESEARCH: AMERICAN HISTORY
Maier's Ratification delivers new knowledge about the adoption of the US Constitution, the most consequential debate in American history
"A stunning examination of... 'the beginning of American national politics' — the debate that explains the way we Americans govern ourselves, resolve disputes, conduct diplomacy, choose leaders and protect our freedoms."
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ALLEVIATING GLOBAL POVERTY
Discussing the intense, contemporary debate about "how best to help poor people around the world," Nicolas Kristoff writes: "...recently there has been a revolution in evaluation, led by economists at the Poverty Action Lab at MIT."
RESEARCH TO POLICY: CHARTER SCHOOLS
MIT economists researching why some Boston charter schools have been able to produce stunning results. What they discover could serve as a lesson for America’s struggling public schools.
CORE + SOCIAL INNOVATION
Duflo, whose research has helped change the way governments and aid organizations address global poverty, has received a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship Grant. Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, and director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). More
RESEARCH TO POLICY: ADDICTION
Natasha Schull, Assistant Professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, observed that gamblers become transfixed for hours at video poker and slot machines. What, she wondered, kept them glued to machines until they lost all they had to lose? Schull is publishing her conclusions that proprietary mathematical algorithms and immersive technology are used to keep people gambling until they—in the industry jargon—"play to extinction."