Aug. 19, 2004
Vol. 23 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: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/.

    Richard Thistlethwaite, Professor of Transplantation in Surgery, and Susan Thistlethwaite, President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, co-wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Monday, Aug. 2 Chicago Tribune. The two propose that finding a moral middle ground on embryonic stem-cell research, “which has so much potential for treatment as well as finding cures for diseases,” requires separating the debate from the debate over abortion. The Thistlethwaites described these two issues as distinct and separate. “When embryonic stem-cell research is examined separately, the question can be rephrased from when does life specifically begin to when is life clearly not present, thus eliminating an unknown gray zone in between. There is a widely accepted legal and ethical precedent for defining the absence of life,” wrote the Thistlethwaites. “The absence of brain activity and its irreversibility constitute a medical definition of death accepted almost universally by all religions.” Leftover embryos from in-vitro fertilization procedures that have not been implanted into a womb would be a practical source for stem-cell research, if their status were ethically defined. They wrote that these leftover embryos fulfill the “absence of life” criteria.

    Sleep researcher Allan Rechtschaffen, Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry, Psychology and the College, was quoted in a Newsweek article published Monday, Aug. 9. The story described how neuroscientists are gleaning information about human learning processes by studying the physiology of dreaming in adults and children. This branch of science is helping to provide an understanding of how such disorders as depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and other problems might be treated. Rechtschaffen commented that dreaming could fulfill many unknown biological functions yet to be discovered. “We need to breathe to get oxygen. That’s a physiological must. That’s why the breathing apparatus evolved. But once it evolved, you can put it to other uses, like for speech or laughing or playing the saxophone,” said Rechtschaffen. He added that dreaming, like breathing, might have adapted to other uses. “There’s no reason dreams have to be any one thing. Is our waking consciousness any one thing?”

    Roger Myerson, the William C. Norby Professor in Economics and the College, who has analyzed the economics of political institutions in his research, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Wednesday, Aug. 4 Chicago Tribune. Myerson argued that thus far, the United States has failed to cultivate democracy in Iraq because it has followed a policy of appointing local councils led by Iraqi politicians who have not shown “any real evidence of popular support.” Myerson wrote that these local councils lack the democratic competition that is fundamental in any democracy. “Real democracy in Iraq should be introduced quickly, including holding free elections for local governments as soon as possible and devolving substantial power to these local councils,” he wrote. “Advocating democracy should be what America does best.”

    John Easton, Executive Director of the Consortium for Chicago School Research, was quoted in stories that appeared in the Thursday, Aug. 5 Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, which reported on a 74 percent rise in state test scores of students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools. The story reported that for the first time in the six years the Illinois Standards Achievement Test has been administered, most third- and fifth-grade students in Chicago met state standards in math. Students’ scores also showed overall improvement within the school district. “When I see a big jump like this, I want to wait until next year to see, because these scores do move around quite a bit,” said Easton in the Chicago Tribune story. “But the improvement in math, that’s real. It’s indisputable.”

    A study on religious affiliations that was published by the National Opinion Research Center at the University was the topic of numerous news articles carried by the Associated Press and Reuters news wire services, as well as published in the Washington Times, Time magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers across the country, including the San Francisco Chronicle. The NORC survey results show that between 1993 and 2002, the share of Americans who said they were Protestant dropped from 63 to 52 percent. At the same time, the number of Americans who said they had no religion rose from 9 to 14 percent, and many of them were former Protestants. “Since Colonial times, the United States has been a Protestant nation. But this year or next, the proportion of all Protestants will fall below 50 percent” of the total U.S. population for the first time, said Tom Smith, Director of NORC’s General Social Survey. Smith is co-author of the study titled “The Vanishing Protestant Majority.”

    Alumnus S. Jay Olshansky (A.M.,’82, Ph.D.,’84) was quoted in a Christian Science Monitor story that was published in the Thursday, Aug. 12 Chicago Sun-Times. The story described baby boomers’ fascination with anti-aging products—having spent $43 billion on such products in 2002—and their increasing interest in new technologies being developed for what is becoming known as the life-extension movement. Olshansky, who is co-author of the book The Quest for Immortality, said this current movement echoes the early 20th-century eugenics movement, which sought to perfect humans through genetic manipulation. “When we acquire the ability to modify something that kills us, we become giddy and begin to believe that if we can modify this, we can modify that. And that has always been the belief that we can modify aging,” said Olshansky, adding that today, “we’re getting giddy again.”

    Blue Balliett, who formerly taught at the University Laboratory Schools, was featured in the Friday, Aug. 6 Chicago Sun-Times. Balliett, the author of the successful new children’s novel, Chasing Vermeer, tapped her years of teaching at the Lab Schools as much as she tapped the community of Hyde Park when writing her book. “I couldn’t have written this book without that experience,” said Balliett, who described the two sixth-grade characters in Chasing Vermeer as amalgams of the hundreds of students she taught in the Lab Schools before leaving in 2003.