Aug. 14, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 20

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    In the News

    The Chronicle's biweekly column In the News offers a digest of commentary and quotations by a few of the University faculty members, students and alumni who have been headlining the news in recent weeks. Chicago faculty members are some of the most frequently quoted experts, so space allows publishing references to only selected examples. To read many of the full newspaper articles mentioned in this column, visit the In the News column at the University News Office Web site.

    A feature story that profiled Steven Levitt, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the College, and his research, was published in the Sunday, Aug. 3 New York Times Magazine. The in-depth story covered the curious questions to which Levitt applies his particular science. “Levitt is a demigod, one of the most creative people in economics and maybe in all social science,” said Colin Camerer, an economist at the California Institute of Technology. “He represents something that everyone thinks they will be when they go to grad school in econ, but usually they have the creative spark bored out to them by endless math—namely, a kind of intellectual detective trying to figure out stuff.” Chicago colleague Austan Goolsbee, Professor of Economics in the Graduate School of Business, who was a classmate of Levitt’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “Steve isn’t really a behavioral economist, but they’d be happy to have him. He’s not really an old price-theory guy, but these Chicago guys are happy to claim him. He’s not really a Cambridge guy,”—although Levitt went to Harvard and then M.I.T.—“but they’d love him to come back.”


    The University of Chicago Press, which has published The Chicago Manual of Style since 1906, will release the 15th edition of the guide—dubbed the bible of style, grammar and punctuation. Stories regarding the upcoming new edition were published in the Friday, July 25 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Thursday, Aug. 7 issue of The New York Times. Anita Samen, Managing Editor of the Books section for the University Press, was quoted in both stories. As with each new edition that has been published, some rules have been updated in the 15th edition, which also addresses issues related to electronic publishing. Others have been retained, though only after considerable debate. For example, the new manual has retained the hyphen, the en dash and the em dash for usage. Samen said in the New York Times article that she had suggested removing the middle-size en dash but was met with much resistance from colleagues. She relented and agreed with other editors involved in compiling the guide to retain it. “I surrender!” she wrote to another editor. “I’m the only managing editor on the planet who does not loooooove the en dash!”


    A recent study on Americans’ altruism and empathy toward others, which the National Opinion Research Center at the University conducted, was the subject of several news stories published recently in the Dallas Morning News, the National Post, the Chicago Sun-Times and The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). In Cathleen Falsani’s religion column in the Chicago Sun-Times, Tom Smith, Director of the NORC General Social Survey, commented on the study results, which found that people who are religious do more good deeds than those who are not religious (those who do not attend religious services or who do not pray). “Among the central teachings of all the major religions are basically altruistic values,” said Smith. “Giving alms to the poor is one of the five pillars of Islam. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ and other Christian precepts. The admonition to do good deeds is central to Judaism. It’s apparent that those who are active in those faiths have heard the message,” he added.


    Behavioral economist Richard Thaler, the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Behavioral Science & Economics in the Graduate School of Business, was interviewed for a story that appeared in the Wednesday, July 30 New York Times. Thaler and a colleague from Indiana University, Steven Sherman, created a conference for economists and psychologists to study decision-making in professional sports events. The conference and the application of economics to sports were covered in the story, which said scholars concluded that sports team managers, coaches and players are often far too cautious at critical moments in games. If a basketball team is behind by 2 points at the end of a game, the odds, said Thaler and other scholars, are better for winning if a player takes a three-point shot as opposed to shooting a two-pointer at the buzzer and hoping to win in overtime. “My justification for doing this is that it’s the one really high-stakes activity where you get to watch all of the decisions,” said Thaler. “If Bill Gates invited me to watch all of his decisions, I’d talk more about that.”


    Graeme Bell, the Louis Block Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Medicine, was interviewed and photographed for a Monday, Aug. 4 Chicago Tribune story that reported on a major new study to identify any possible links between diseases and environmental exposures that occur as early as conception and continue during fetal development and early childhood. Bell, who is searching for genes that predispose people to diabetes, hopes to uncover information that would help develop strategies to prevent the disease for those at risk. Prevention also is the focus of the new study being undertaken by the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies. Bell described his own research and the results he seeks. “We will be able to tell one individual with certain genetic risk factors for diabetes that he should avoid a high-fat diet and another, who has a different genetic risk, that he should exercise a little more,” said Bell.