January 19, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 8

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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/. If you are aware of news articles that feature the University or its faculty, students and/or alumni, feel free to bring them to the attention of the Chronicle editor to be considered for In the News. News clips may be sent to ldavis@uchicago.edu.

    Shannon Dawdy, Assistant Professor in Anthropology, was featured in a Tuesday, Jan. 3 New York Times article about her work in New Orleans as a liaison to Louisiana’s historic preservation office, as the city’s residents try to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Dawdy is treating Holt cemetery in New Orleans—where many of the city’s poorer residents have been buried—as an archaeological site, with the goal of restoring the gravesites and finding the decorative objects that once adorned them. The everyday items that decorated the graves ranged from plastic jack-o’-lanterns to teddy bears and other personal markers that connected the living to their dead. “It made me realize that it’s that ephemeral folk expression in New Orleans that is gone,” said Dawdy, “and that probably, rebuilding efforts may erase.” Jean Comaroff, Chair of Anthropology and the Bernard E. & Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor in Anthropology and the College, also commented in the article on the value of Dawdy’s work. “The threat is great that much that was unique about New Orleans as a social and cultural world—qualities that are at once creative, poignant and fragile—will be lost in its reconstruction. Those of us who value these qualities feel moved to do all we can to conserve them.”

    James Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Tuesday, Jan. 10 Wall Street Journal on research results that point to the success of early childhood development programs and how they benefit society and the economy. “The traditional argument for providing enriched environments for disadvantaged young children is based on considerations of fairness and social justice.” But another argument, he wrote, strengthens the first. “It is based on economic efficiency, and it is more compelling than the equity argument, in part because the gains from such investment can be quantified—and they are large.” Those gains include raising the quality of the workforce, reducing crime, teen-age pregnancy and welfare dependency, and enhancing the productivity of schools. Heckman’s work also was cited in several articles reporting on public policy, including a Wednesday, Jan. 11 New York Times story on the rapidly expanding early childhood programs in Britain. He also commented in a Toronto Star article on Canada’s prime minister election and how the candidates’ policies on children are relevant to the election results.

    Funmi Olopade, Professor in Medicine and Human Genetics and Director of the Cancer Risk Clinic at the University Hospitals, commented on breast cancer and the health threat it poses for women in Illinois over the next year, and especially African-American women who are at greater risk of having the disease and having it diagnosed at a later stage. “I don’t know of one disease where we need more research to understand how it affects black people,” Olopade told the Chicago Defender. The story, published Wednesday, Jan. 11, reported on a new lottery ticket being sold in Illinois that will help fund breast cancer research and mammograms for women who cannot afford the screenings.

    Behavioral economist Richard Thaler, the Robert P. Gwinn Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science & Economics in the Graduate School of Business, commented in a Thursday, Jan. 12 Wall Street Journal story on the newest game show that has some economists glued to their TV screens. The show, “Deal or No Deal,” which has been broadcast in 38 countries, is proving to be a rich research tool for behavioral economists who study why people make either safe or irrational, risky economic decisions. “There is no doubt that these are real people making real choices for high stakes, and we rarely get to observe such pure decisions,” said Thaler.

    Janet Rowley, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics, was quoted in a Friday, Dec. 30 front-page Chicago Tribune article, which described how scientists are reacting to the fraudulent claims by South Korean researcher Hwang Woo Suk. The dramatic advances in human stem cell cloning he reported were declared nothing more than fabrication when other scientists detected the fraud. While the scandal is a blow to the research community, it may also invigorate efforts of those doing honest research. “Some scientists here are going to try harder to do this cloning work because instead of being as far behind as they thought they might be, they may well be making good progress in this very difficult area of research,” said Rowley. Allan Leff, Professor in Medicine, also commented: “The Koreans really didn’t expect to get caught. There’s no reason why any of these things that they claim they did couldn’t be done. They figured that other scientists would actually do it without faking it, but that they would get the credit for being first.”

    Charles Lipson, Professor in Political Science, discussed Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon’s recent stroke and the consequences of his illness and hospitalization for the Middle East peace process. Lipson appeared on WBBM-TV, Channel 2’s 10 p.m. newscast.

    Tom Smith, Director of the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, at the University was quoted in articles that appeared in the press after the results of a survey that measured the percentage of Americans who, in 2004, suffered from at least one negative life event. On average, reported the Chicago Sun-Times in its Thursday, Dec. 29 issue, people experienced 4.3 negative events in 2004, up from 3.8 in 1991. “We’re somewhat more troubled,” said Smith. The overall troubles score, nicknamed the Misery Index, was 312 in 2004—a 15 percent increase over the 1991 Misery Index. Smith also appeared on NBC-TV’s Today show to discuss the results of the study on Americans’ misery. Stories also were published in the Thursday, Dec. 29 Hindustan Times, and the Monday, Jan. 9 Chicago Sun-Times and USA Today.

    Allen Sanderson, Senior Lecturer in Economics, discussed Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s plan to bring future Olympic games to Chicago and build a new stadium in the city in an interview that aired on WLS-TV, Channel 7 at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4.