Feb. 5, 2004 – Vol. 23 No. 9

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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: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/.

    University alumnus James Watson’s recent visit to campus was featured on radio and television programs in Chicago and was reported on in the Tuesday, Jan. 20 Chicago Sun-Times as well. Watson, a Nobel laureate who co-discovered the double helix structure of DNA, visited the University for the opening of an exhibition chronicling his life as a Chicago student and an author. During his visit, he met 13-year-old Chicago first-year medical student Sho Yano, who, like Watson, began his higher education at a very young age. Watson enrolled in the University’s College at age 15, while Yano was just 12 when he began his studies at the University Hospitals. Watson gave Yano this advice: “The main thing is to have dreams. You should concentrate on something that no one has solved. Forget about being a prodigy and just try and find people you can learn from.” In addition to the article in the Chicago Sun-Times, from which this quote was taken, stories on the Watson-Yano meeting were aired on television stations WTTW, WBBM, WMAQ, WGN and Fox 32, and on radio stations WLUP-FM and WBBM-AM. All of the broadcast segments appeared Monday, Jan. 19, and Tuesday, Jan. 20.

    Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School and a faculty member in Political Science and the College, was a source for a New York Times story reporting on the trend of grassroots political activists mobilizing their messages on the Internet, specifically in support of those vying for the Democratic candidacy for President. Sunstein, who is author of Republic.com, has written that Internet use as an information source can alienate people from differing viewpoints because they can filter out information they do not want to consume. Social scientists have dubbed this practice of information tailoring and filtering “cyberbalkanization.” “The experience of the echo chamber is easier to create with a computer than with many of the forms of political interaction that preceded it,” said Sunstein. “The discussion will be about strategy, or horse race issues or how bad the other candidates are, and it will seem like debate. It’s not like this should be censored, but it can increase acrimony, increase extremism and make mutual understanding more difficult.”

    Paul Sereno, Professor in Organismal Biology & Anatomy, and the expedition he led in 2000 to the Ténéré Desert in Niger, were featured in an article that appeared in the Tuesday, Jan. 27 New York Times Sereno and his team, while digging for dinosaur fossils in the region, discovered 5,000-year-old human skeletons and stone tools at a burial and settlement site, which may be as important a discovery as some of the African dinosaur species he and his team have recovered. “I’m not afraid of any kind of dinosaur, the uglier the better,” said Sereno. “But here for the first time I got goose bumps because I was looking at my own skeleton, a modern human.”

    James Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, co-wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Friday, Jan. 23 Wall Street Journal. Heckman and his co-author Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School wrote that an explanation for a widening gender gap in higher education among African-Americans is traceable to early social influences within families. “The difficulties black men face can be traced to low achievement at the onset of elementary school,” they wrote, adding that better parenting is where reform must begin. “Young black children are exposed to much lower levels of cognitive and emotional stimulation than white children, even in families with comparable income, education and IQ. They watch more TV, read fewer books, and converse and go on educational outings with their families less often. They are more likely to be raised in homes without fathers, family mealtimes or fixed routines.” Heckman also was quoted in a Tuesday, Jan. 27 USA Today story about the benefits of mentoring programs for children, stating that such programs are worth the investment.

    Irving Spergel, the George Herbert Jones Professor Emeritus in the School of Social Service Administration and Sociology, was quoted in a New York Times article reporting on increasing street gang murders, which are prompting new anti-gang tactics in Los Angeles and Chicago. Many academic experts on gangs, including Spergel, do not believe these new tactics will make much difference. “This country has made very little progress against gangs in generations,” said Spergel. “We still don’t understand street gangs. They are institutionalized, but very disorganized, and their violence is usually not planned, like when a kid from one gang comes across a kid from another gang in his territory.”

    Donald Browning, Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School, was quoted in a Christian Science Monitor story that described how more members of the clergy are starting to say “no” to some couples asking to be married. “There’s quite a movement growing for churches to get on the ball and revisit the trend for marriages to happen as soon as the couple wants it,” said Browning. “Pastors are asking themselves, ‘Did we adapt too quickly to the culture around us? Did we do young people a favor by adapting to the consumer mind-set? Some are saying, ‘Maybe we should have maintained our heritage a little more strongly.’” The story was published Wednesday, Jan. 21.

    Bogdan Rakic, a Lecturer in Slavic Languages, was quoted in a Wednesday, Jan. 21 New York Times article about a forthcoming translation of Serbian writer Borislav Pekic’s novel, How to Quiet a Vampire. Rakic is co-translator of the novel, to be published by Northwestern University Press. “The whole of European intellectual tradition is shown as something oppressive and artificial, dissociated from the spontaneous vitality of life.” Rakic added that Pekic’s intention was not anti-intellectual, but to “show that totalitarian ideologies can reappear in altered circumstances.”

    An alumnus of the University’s Graduate School of Business, John Lee (M.B.A.,’99) and his business partner Lucas Roh were featured in a story published in the Chicago Sun-Times Monday, Jan. 26. The story highlighted the success of their company Hostway, which they report has grown as an Internet hosting company while other similar companies have not fared so well. “We’ve grown 100 percent every year since 1998, and have been profitable. There are not many Internet companies that can say that,” said Roh. They plan to expand their company to serve Japan and China.