April 15, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 14

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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/.

    Neil Shubin, Chairman and Professor of Organismal Biology & Anatomy, and Michael Coates, Associate Professor in Organismal Biology & Anatomy, were featured in numerous articles that reported on their discovery of a 365-million-year-old arm bone fossil, which answers questions about the evolutionary shift animals made from water to land. The researchers, which included paleontologist Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, published their find in Science magazine. Shubin commented on the discovery in a Friday, April 2 Chicago Tribune story regarding the evolution of the animal that had this type of arm bone. “This animal was there for just a brief moment in time,” said Shubin. “It was only later that we start seeing in the fossil record things that commonly walked on land. It could have evolved this [arm bone] for a variety of reasons, including pushing its head up out of the water to breathe or to walk around in shallow water. And we can’t exclude the possibility that it walked on land.” Other news outlets publishing and broadcasting stories on the discovery include the Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post, WGN-TV, WLS-TV and CNN.

    Eric Posner, Professor in the Law School, co-authored an op-ed that appeared in the Wednesday, April 7 Wall Street Journal. Posner and co-author John Yoo of the University of California, Berkeley, argued that the International Court of Justice’s recent order to the United States to halt the execution of all foreigners within its borders is an action that should indicate that “it may be time for the United States to turn its back on the World Court.” Posner and Yoo wrote that “the ICJ’s most recent decision insults American sovereignty by attempting to bypass the executive branch, which is constitutionally charged with conducting foreign policy for the nation, and attempting to directly command the federal courts to review the cases of aliens on death row.” They argued that “the problem with the ICJ is that it seeks to prove itself an independent force in world politics by opposing the interests of powerful nations.”

    Norman Golb, the Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the College, was quoted in a Friday, March 26 Chicago Tribune article that reported on the recognition he is receiving for having determined who authored a particular medieval music manuscript. Golb, who made the discovery in 1964, has been asked to be the honorary chairman of an international conference in Italy, where the music written by Obadiah the Proselyte will be performed. Obadiah converted from Christianity to Judaism during the time of the Crusades, when such conversions were risky. “When I examined the prayer book manuscript in 1964, I immediately recognized the handwriting as being the very same as I’d seen in Obadiah’s memoirs,” said Golb.

    Tanya Luhrmann, Professor in the Committee on Human Development and the History of Culture, wrote an article that was published in the Tuesday, March 30 New York Times. Luhrmann wrote about a recent claim that antidepressants may make patients taking the drugs suicidal in the first few weeks of use, arguing that these drugs’ benefits outweigh their potentially harmful effects on those who use them. She wrote that suicidal impulses are symptoms of depression and that it is estimated that one in every six people with severe depression will eventually commit suicide. “Patients who think about suicide or make suicidal gestures in those first weeks [of using antidepressants] may have done so because they were depressed, not because the medications caused the suicidal impulses.”

    Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music and the College, was recognized for his research on Italian opera in a story published Saturday, April 3, at the Newsday.com Web site. Gossett has edited what the writer described as “the monumental and critical editions of the works of Verdi and Rossini,” restoring several scores to their “pristine splendor under his stewardship,” including Verdi’s Nabucco and Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri and Il viaggio a Reims. The article’s author wrote of Gossett: “Some encomiasts claim that soprano Maria Callas did as much for Italian opera as Toscanini or Verdi. Musicologist Philip Gossett arguably has done as much for Italian opera as any of those giants.”

    W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and the College, was quoted in a Sunday, April 4 Chicago Tribune story that reported on the brutal killings of four Americans by guerrillas in Fallujah, Iraq. The brutality of the murders was furthered by graphic images of the mutilated and charred corpses, which found their way to the desks of TV producers and newspaper editors, who had to make judgments about using such powerful images. Mitchell, who wrote Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, commented on what made the images so incendiary, including the fact that viewers were aware that the images were of real events and not fiction. Adding to the knowledge of reality, viewers may identify with those shown in the images, he said. “They imagine the scenario. They think what it would have been like for them to have been there. That’s not just for the bodies of the Americans, but for the crowd in the foreground of the bridge picture as well. What would it be like to be swept up in such rage? That photo is like old photos of lynchings in the South. Part of the horror comes from the expressions of delight on the faces of the men, women and even children in the crowd.”