April 1, 2004 – Vol. 23 No. 13

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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/.

    Jonathan Lear, the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, Philosophy and the College, was quoted in a New York Times Magazine story published Sunday, March 21. Lear commented on a fight being waged by City College of New York professor Lou Marinoff to promote and practice philosophical counseling, a new kind of talk therapy. Lear, who is a trained psychoanalyst and philosopher who has extensively studied Freud, is skeptical of any therapeutic approach that relies heavily on logic and reason without regard for hidden motive and unresolved feeling. “That’s a fantasy,” said Lear. “And you don’t have to be a Freudian to think so. One of the most looming problems for Plato about the human soul is that there’s a powerful unconscious dimension.”

    Melissa Roderick, Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, and Anthony Bryk, Director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University, were interviewed for two stories that reported on the effectiveness of student retention in urban schools, such as those in Chicago and New York City. Research by the consortium has shown that younger students, such as those in third grade, get limited benefits from being held back, said Roderick in a Wednesday, March 17 New York Times article. Bryk, who commented on retention in a Tuesday, March 23 Chicago Sun-Times report, said retention should only be used as “a last resort.” Commenting on a newly proposed plan by Chicago Public Schools officials to reduce and prevent retentions, Bryk said: “Nobody so far has figured out how to make the retention year work. This [new proposal] is trying to accelerate progress and avoid failure, rather than remediate kids after they have failed.”

    Steven Levitt, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the College, was interviewed and featured in the April issue of the magazine Wired about his research. Having looked at many issues involving cheating—teachers altering test scores of students; sumo wrestling matches that are rigged for particular outcomes; and Internet gambling on NFL games—Levitt is turning his focus to better understanding terrorists. “If you’re a terrorist, it’s very difficult to arrange your life in exactly the same way you would if you weren’t a terrorist. I’ll be looking for the hidden signs of behavioral anomalies. If you’re looking at Mohammed Atta, in retrospect it’s easy to figure out he was up to no good. But whether you could do it prospectively is a big question,” said Levitt.

    Chicago alumnus David Auburn (A.B.,’91) and his latest theatrical work, The Journals of Mihail Sebastian, were the subject of a Sunday, March 21 New York Times article. Auburn, whose play Proof won him a Tony Award for best play and a Pulitzer Prize in Drama, discussed in the article his playwriting that has followed his first, phenomenal success. “Whatever standards you have for yourself, they don’t change because your show is a hit or a flop. If anything, I felt less pressure. Proof gave me opportunities to try things I normally wouldn’t have been able to try.”

    Emily Teeter, Research Associate in the Oriental Institute and Curator of Egyptian & Nubian Antiquities, was quoted in a Tuesday, March 16 New York Times story reporting on new evidence that shows human sacrificial burials in Egypt that coincided with a pharaoh’s funeral did take place, confirming what archaeologists of ancient Egypt have always suspected. This ritual of Egyptians following their king into the afterlife has now been substantiated with dramatic evidence found at Abydos, a resting place for some of the earliest pharaohs known. The evidence suggests that these human sacrifices were a rare custom in Egypt and ceased before the end of the first dynasty, but that members of the court of the pharaoh Aha apparently regarded their king as divine and would not deny his command. “We are talking about real people, and we find it very difficult to understand how their devotion to the king could be so absolute,” said Teeter.

    Nobel laureates Robert Fogel, the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of American Institutions in the Graduate School of Business, and James Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and the College, as well as Nancy Stokey, the Frederick Henry Prince Professor in Economics and the College, will join an economics panel being organized by Denmark’s Environmental Assessment Institute and the periodical, The Economist. The panel is being assembled to ponder, debate and conclude which projects that are undertaken by governments to make the world a better place have the greatest net returns for their efforts. The panel, called the Copenhagen Consensus, will meet in Copenhagen in May to establish priorities for action on 10 issues. The Economist will publish the conclusions of the panel in an upcoming issue. The article about the Copenhagen Consensus appeared in the Tuesday, March 6 issue of The Economist.

    Chicago alumna Sarah Kagan (A.B.,’84) was featured in a Wednesday, March 17 Chicago Tribune article, regarding her recent MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Kagan, who studied behavioral science at the University, is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. “The attention the fellowship has drawn to aging, cancer, older adults and their families, and nursing is priceless,” said Kagan in the interview.