Feb. 19, 2004 – Vol. 23 No. 10

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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/.

    Scientists tracing the genetic lineage of life are comparing human genes to those of our closest and most distant relatives to discover what makes humans so different from other creatures. The key seems to be intelligence—and, said Bruce Lahn, Assistant Professor in Human Genetics and Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, who studies genes involved in building brains, “It’s possible that, when the human brain achieved a critical size, intelligence became possible.” Lahn, Wen-Hsiung Li, the George Beadle Professor in Ecology & Evolution, and Chung-I Wu, Chairman of Ecology & Evolution, were interviewed for a Sunday, Feb. 1 Chicago Tribune story that described their current genetic research and the knowledge geneticists are adding to evolutionary studies. Li discussed gene family expansion: “As long as you have a good niche, the organism will continue to survive. Mice are still mice because they have a good niche. If you look at the same genes in humans, chimps and gorillas—we all came from the same origin—our genes have changed a lot. Gorillas have changed less because they have been able to survive in their niche.”

    Wu added a philosophical perspective on their studies: “I look at life as a piece of art. You put all the pieces together and you see how nature weaved a thing together and how it created from the same thing two very different looking species. And each one is elegant and beautiful in its own right.”

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Assistant Professor in Political Science, was quoted in a Thursday, Feb. 5 Chicago Sun-Times story, reporting on her research that explores the way public opinion and ideologies are formed in the black community. The research, which will be published in her book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET, examines the venues in which African Americans share their opinions on politics and culture—churches, barbershops, black colleges and black media. These venues are where many African Americans of all different classes exchange ideas and voice their opinions. “We’re making a claim that ordinary people matter politically and that black people are diverse politically,” said Harris-Lacewell. “So much of the field of political science is about elites.”

    Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School and the William B. Graham Professor in the Law School, was quoted in a Sunday, Feb. 8 New York Times article that reported on the practice of holding a group responsible by punishing that group for the actions of its individual members—what also is known as collective sanctions. Levmore endorses such sanctions, especially those regarding the article’s example—the Pakistani Army threatened to demolish homes near the Afghan border belonging to tribal elders who were thought to be sheltering terrorists of Al Qaeda. “I sort of like them as a utilitarian tool,” said Levmore. “The threat of destroying houses—while I don’t know if it’s a good policy—if it works then maybe we ought to be impressed by it. It’s kind of a tax.”

    Alumnus Michael Polsky (M.B.A.,’87) was featured in a Thursday, Jan. 29 Chicago Sun-Times column that described his early career in thermal engineering and his entrepreneurship as founder of Invenergy in 2001. Polsky is concentrating his newest company on developing wind power as an energy source. As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Polsky, who emigrated from the Soviet Union, endowed the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University’s Graduate School of Business “I endowed the center because I believe in education, and because I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur. There was a rebirth of entrepreneurship in this country, further fueled by the high-tech boom, and I thought the center would attract young people and really provide a benefit to the school.”

    Robert Pape, Associate Professor in Political Science and the College, was quoted in a Reuters news agency story published Monday, Feb. 2. The story described the controversy that is growing over the quality of intelligence cited before the March 2003 American invasion of Iraq. Pape commented on how the Bush administration’s doctrine to go to war was received by other countries around the world. “Historically, most countries that have launched such preventive wars have not succeeded,” said Pape. “They often go well initially, but the international community turns against the aggressor.”

    A new Chicago biotech firm, founded by Daphne Preuss, Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, was featured in the Chicago Tribune’s business section Tuesday, Feb. 3. The goal of the company, Chromatin, is to create plant strains with many desirable traits, such as a corn plant that grows well in dry soil, resists pests and produces high-protein kernels. Preuss’ successful genetic research over the past decade is fueling optimism for the project. “This is on everybody’s radar screen,” said Tony Cavalieri, a former biotech research director for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., the nation’s largest seed corn provider. “Daphne’s work is really well-known in the field.”

    Economists, including Lars Stole, the Eli B. and Harriet B. Williams Professor of Economics in the GSB, provided analysis of the controversial re-importation of pharmaceuticals from United States drug companies to Canada and back into the United States via American consumers’ mail-order purchases. The economists agree that “the controversy is a predictable exercise in so-called price discrimination almost certain to result in higher prices, or reduced supply, for Canadians, rather than long-term price relief for Americans,” the story said. “I find it surprising that the Canadian government hasn’t stepped in to stop re-importation,” said Stole. “The Canadians have much to lose.”

    While Canadian price controls keep the drugs at a low cost for Canadians, the U.S. drug companies would rather cut off supply to pharmacies in Canada, or raise prices there, than sacrifice profits in the lucrative U.S. market, the story reported. The story appeared in the Monday, Jan. 26 Crain’s Chicago Business.