Dec. 7, 2006
Vol. 26 No. 6

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    Chicago in the News

    The Chronicle’s biweekly column Chicago 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 Chicago In the News. News clips may be sent to ldavis@uchicago.edu.

    Final evolutionary stage

    Jonathan Pritchard, Professor in Human Genetics, was quoted in a Thursday, Nov. 16 Chicago Tribune article, that reported on a team of researchers who study Neanderthal fossil DNA to understand the evolutionary relationship between modern humans and their ancestors. Pritchard, who led the analysis of the sequencing data, noted that, “humans went through several key stages of evolution during the last 400,000 years. If we can compare human and Neanderthal genomes, then we can possibly identify what the key genetic changes were during that final stage of human evolution.”

    Google’s niche

    Lubos Pastor, Professor of Finance in the Graduate School of Business, commented in the Wednesday, Nov. 22 Chicago Tribune on Google Inc. and what the future holds for the company’s market performance, now that its share price has climbed above $500. The story pointed out that when share prices soared, speculations of success for some technology companies in past years proved to be overly optimistic. However, Pastor sees Google as a company whose outcome may be different because of its short history and innovative niche in the Internet industry. “If you’re uncertain about how quickly a company is going to grow going forward, that increases the fundamental value of the company. With Google, we’ve never seen such a powerful search engine. It’s new, there’s no track record. We are very uncertain about how the advertising revenue is going to grow. All this uncertainty could help the stock grow,” he said.

    Science vs. Religion?

    Richard Shweder, the William Claude Reavis Distinguished Service Professor in Comparative Human Development and the College, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Monday, Nov. 27 New York Times. Shweder argued that a more intense anxiety about religion has developed among secularists, and that the story of the Enlightenment in which religion gave way to science, “may be more illusory than real. Science has not replaced religion; group loyalties have intensified, not eroded,” he wrote. “The collapse of the Cold War’s balance of power has not resulted in the end of collective faiths or a rush to democracy and individualism.” Shweder added: “If religion is a delusion, it is a delusion with a future, which may be hazardous for us to deny. A shared conception of the soul, the sacred and transcendental values may be a prerequisite for any viable society.”

    Economics of AIDS

    Twenty-six-year-old Emily Oster, a Becker Fellow in Economics at the University, has taken on the AIDS epidemic in Africa to help explain the disparity between the number of infected adults in America (0.8 percent) and the number in Africa (6 percent). Her work has revealed that because a larger percentage of Africans are infected with other untreated, sexually transmitted diseases, transmission rates for HIV also are higher. Writing in the December issue of Esquire magazine, Oster pointed out that any efforts made by Africans to change sexual behavior to prevent the spread of HIV are influenced by lifestyle circumstances. “To put it bluntly, if income and life expectancy in Africa were the same as they are in the United States, we would see the same change in sexual behavior (as that of American gay men in the 1980s)—and the AIDS epidemic would begin to slow.” Although Oster noted that the United Nations’ estimates on HIV rates in Africa are about three times too high, she also concluded that, “in Africa, HIV is spreading as quickly as ever.”

    A model of the original Dunkleosteus Terrelli fossil was used in the recent study.

    Jaw-rassic ‘shark’

    Philip Anderson, a graduate student and the lead author of a new study published in Biology Letters, and Mark Westneat, Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology and Organismal Biology & Anatomy and Associate Curator in Zoology at the Field Museum, have calculated the biting power of an ancient fish named Dunkleosteus Terrelli. Stories about what they discovered in their study were published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and The Guardian. Experts in the field say only Tyrannosaurus rex and alligators have had more powerful bites. “These guys were probably the first marine predators to be able to bite food into pieces for swallowing. Other predators were swallowing their prey whole,” said Westneat.

    Power of the DPA

    Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Tuesday, Nov. 28 Wall Street Journal. Epstein argued that deferred prosecution agreements are giving state and federal government too much power over corporations that are defendants in criminal lawsuits. Using Bristol-Meyers Squibb as an example, Epstein pointed to its DPA that required it to endow a chair in business ethics at Seton Hall University School of Law, the alma mater of prosecutor Christopher Christie, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. This and other provisions “flunk the most elementary standards of business rationality—if the object of these DPAs is to restore the confidence of shareholders in the firm,” wrote Epstein.