July 17, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 19

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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 University News Office Web site: http://news.uchicago.edu.

    Gestures cross language barrier

    The mind appears to have a consistent way of organizing an event that defies the order of subjects, verbs and objects typically in language, according to University researchers. Susan Goldin-Meadow, the Bearsdley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology, is the lead author of the paper, “The Natural Order of Events: How Speakers of Different Languages Represent Events Nonverbally,” which details her team’s study of 40 speakers (10 each) of English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Turkish. Subjects were shown video sequences and asked to describe the action—first in speech, then in only gestures. “Not surprisingly, speakers of different languages describe events using the word orders prescribed by their language,” Goldin-Meadow said. “The surprise is that when the same speakers are asked to ‘speak’ with their hands and not their mouths, they ignore these orders—they all use exactly the same order when they gesture. The research appeared in a number of international publications, including Science News, New Scientist and the Telegraph in Britain.

    WHPK named Chicago’s best

    The Chicago Reader named the University’s WHPK (88.5 FM) its best college radio station of 2008 in a “Best of Chicago” edition published Thursday, June 26. “On WHPK, microspeciality shows like Qwee! and Aarhythmia bump up against international samples like Rendezvous Afrika and Gateway to Brazil, DIY talk shows and the long-running live show pure hype.” The Reader said it gave WHPK the nod over independent giant WLUW because “it ‘broadcasts’ from the University of Chicago on 100 watts of sheer willpower.” To listen online, visit whpk.org/stream.

    Though primitive flatfish have many traits no longer found in modern species, a University doctoral student found that the partial displacement of one eye was evident, even in the earliest of fossils.

    He knew something was fishy …

    A University doctoral student’s discovery of an evolutionary link in flatfish may put to rest one of the questions that vexed Charles Darwin, according to the Thursday, July 10 Chicago Tribune. Matt Friedman, a doctoral candidate, provides insight into the development of the eye orientation of the strange bottom-feeder in his article, “The Evolutionary Origin of Flatfish Asymmetry.” Friedman found two extinct flatfish species in European museums. “I was looking through a strange, obscure book from Germany with photos of fossil fishes when I came on a photo that looked suspiciously like a flatfish but was misclassified,” Friedman said. Critics had long questioned Darwin’s evolutionary theory because it didn’t explain how a flatfish’s eyes moved to just one side of its head. The Los Angeles Times also reported on the findings.

    That doesn’t sound fair

    New research by a University professor claims that people whose voices were “distinctly identified as black by anonymous listeners earn about 10 percent less than whites with similar observable skills.” Jeffrey Grogger, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Urban Policy in the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, made his claims in a paper entitled “Speech Patterns and Racial Wage Inequality.” Grogger collected and analyzed data on speech patterns to understand their roles in explaining racial wage differences. He also found that “indistinctly identified blacks” earn about 2 percent less than comparable whites. The research was reported in the Wednesday, July 9 USA Today.

    South Pole home to icy shake

    University researchers are studying massive icebergs that have caused unusual harmonic tremors and may help in understanding earthquakes, according to a Wednesday, July 9 story in New Scientist. Doug MacAyeal, Professor in Geophysical Sciences and the College, and colleagues constructed seismographs on colliding icebergs in the Ross Sea and studied their minute movements. When the recordings are sped up, they produce sounds similar to the bark of a dog, the ping of a submarine or the laugh of a monkey. A seismometer at the South Pole recorded each of these “tremors,” which is akin to a 3.5-magnitude earthquake. “It turns out that these icebergs are perfect analogies of plate tectonics. They float on the ocean like surface plates float on magma,” MacAyeal said.

    Ancient Egyptian city unearthed

    University archaeologists have helped uncover a well-preserved mud brick settlement in southern Egypt that sheds light on the urban centers of ancient society. Nadine Moeller, Assistant Professor in the Oriental Institute, has led a team that excavated a large administration building and seven grain silos that are about 3,000 years old. “My colleagues deal with temples and monumental architecture, and settlements haven’t been something that has attracted that level of interest,” she said. “But they’re actually really important for understanding the ancient Egyptian civilization.” The New York Times, nationalgeographic.com and msnbc.com also reported on the story. Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, also was quoted.

    Divorce, economy link still strong

    A University professor’s studies linking divorce and income in the late 1970s again are becoming revealing, as the United States economy moves into a bear market. A Monday, July 7 Forbes story cited the 1977 studies by Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics and the Graduate School of Business, who wrote at the time that couples that experience sudden significant and unexpected change in income—positive or negative—are at risk for divorce. “Recession has always been a factor raising divorce rates,” said Becker. In Michigan, where an 8.5 percent unemployment rate is the highest in the country, some middle-aged clients have had to move in with their parents because the sagging real estate market has made splitting a couple’s home complicated.

    On the pursuit of civil liberties

    Geoffrey Stone, the Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School and the College, wrote an opinion piece on the need to protect Americans’ civil liberties, which was published Monday, June 30 in The New York Times. He writes that the United States is “set apart from the rest of the world because of unparalleled commitment to personal freedom and the dignity of the individual,” and to defend those civil liberties, the White House should create an executive branch position—a civil liberties adviser. It would help provide a check for politicians who “look the other way when the liberties of such people are denied.”

    Alumnus, centenarian  remembered

    Joel Sammet (M.D.,’33) was remembered in obituaries in the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune. The 100-year-old Chicago alumnus started working in radiology in the 1930s and became a master diagnostician in his private practice in Chicago. He retired in 1993, although he continued skiing, playing tennis and handball, and bowling well into is 80s.