December 11, 2008
Vol. 28 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 University News Office Web site: http://news.uchicago.edu.

    Austan Goolsbee

    Goolsbee joins advisory board
    Austan Goolsbee, the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth, was recently named to two key positions in President-elect Barack Obama’s economic staff. Goolsbee was named Staff Director and Chief Economist of the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers. The Economic Recovery Advisory Board is a newly created body designed to provide independent, nonpartisan information, analysis and advice to the president as he crafts plans for economic recovery. Goolsbee has been a key economic adviser to Obama since 2004. The announcement was covered in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the Associated Press, Reuters news wire service and Chicago Public Radio.

    To tell the truth …
    Alison Winter, Associate Professor in History and the College, weighed in on India’s rumored use of truth serum in its terror attack investigation in a Thursday, Dec. 4 Scientific American article. Also known as narcoanalysis, administering psychoactive drugs for interrogations has been around for a century. It’s long been criticized, though, and is banned in most democracies after first being used in the mid-1910s by obstetrician Robert House. “At the time, he wanted to use it to provide support for claims people made about their innocence—not their guilt,” Winter said. “It was only later when other people used these drugs that they got the reputation for having the power to force people to provide information against their will.”

    Acting the part of party-goer
    David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Humanities, provided some advice on making holiday party conversation in a Thursday, Dec. 4 Chicago Tribune article. The writer visited the Second City in Chicago to learn how acting and improvisation classes can help people overcome mild cases of social anxiety. Bevington said he has long considered acting comfortably and casually in such social situations to be an art. “There’s something gracious and self-effacing when a person knows how to fit in and enjoy what others are saying,” he said. “The best actors who do this do not just nod their heads. It’s the same at a party—you can’t shine if you’re self-absorbed.”

    Surgeon part of rare procedure
    Henry Finn, Professor in Clinical Surgery and Medical Director of the University’s Bone and Joint Replacement Center at Weiss Memorial Hospital, recently helped perform a rare orthopedic procedure that replaces bone with titanium. An 81-year-old man who had five hip surgeries underwent the OSS Orthopaedic Salvage System, which replaces the femur, hip and knee with titanium pieces. Finn said the pieces “can be picked off the shelf, the knee joint, the hip joint and then all the parts in between, and you can custom build it” with parts from the tool-and-die and aviation industries. Often a last resort after traditional leg surgeries fail, the procedure is performed less than 100 times annually in the United States, according to a Sunday, Nov. 30 article in Gatehouse News Service.

    Ex-Maroon quite a story
    A Tuesday, Dec. 2 article in The New York Times featured former Maroon running back Jay Berwanger, who won the Downtown Athletic Club award in 1935 (it was renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year). Unfortunately, his aunt Gussie used the trophy as a doorstop for years before Berwanger donated it to the University. Berwanger has the distinction of being the only Heisman winner to be tackled by a future United States president—Michigan’s Gerald Ford in 1934. Berwanger became the first pick of the 1936 NFL draft but was traded to Chicago, where coach George Halas balked at his two-year, $25,000 salary demands. Forced out of football, Berwanger became a foam rubber salesman. He also wrote a sports column for the Chicago Daily News and coached football at the University from 1936 to 1939. He died in 2002.

    Poor economy most hurts the poor
    Research by Scott Allard, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, shows that the nation’s recent economic struggles may hurt services for the poor at a time when demand for those services is rising. A Wednesday, Dec. 3 United Press International story states that most of the funding for the poor is not given out as cash assistance; for every dollar in cash assistance given out, $15 is spent on support service. Yet philanthropy and tax revenues decrease during hard times. “In Chicago, almost 80 percent of the high- and extremely high-poverty neighborhoods are in areas with low levels of service accessibility,” Allard said. “That means that in a poor neighborhood, there may be five or six people in line for every client slot,” compared to one or two in a better-off neighborhood.

    During sleep, mind is active
    Howard Nusbaum, Chairman of Psychology and Professor in Psychology and the College, co-authored a new study that found that sleep helps the mind remember things learned during the day. In the study, researchers recruited 200 college students, mostly women, to play first-person shooter games. Participants who learned to play in the morning or evening performed better after a night’s rest—scoring 10 points better the next morning. Nusbaum said the study shows that “sleep is not just a passive state when no information is coming in. It could be the case that people who are pulling all-nighters are not doing themselves a favor.” The article appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Health Day.

    Volunteer going strong at 91
    WLS-TV featured Catherine Washington, the oldest and longest-serving volunteer at the University Medical Center, in a Friday, Dec. 5 telecast. The 91-year-old, the first African American to work in a Cook County hospital operating room, has volunteered at medical center since 1993. “After I stopped nursing when I left the operating rooms of Mount Sinai,” Washington said, “I still wanted to be of service to someone because I felt this was a blessing and a gift given me. And so I’m still trying to use it.” Sherry Iversen, Manager of Internal Volunteerism, also was interviewed in the segment.

    Empathic impulse disrupted
    Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and the College, led a group of University researchers who found that aggressive youths appear to enjoy hurting others. The study compared brain scans of eight 16- to 18-year-old boys who were unusually aggressive to a control group. When aggressive youths were shown videos of pain inflicted intentionally, fMRI scans indicated a response in their brains associated with reward and pleasure. Non-aggressive youths did not show the same response, suggesting that the brain’s empathic impulse may be disrupted in bullies. “This work will help us better understand ways to work with juveniles inclined to aggression and violence,” Decety said. BBC, Reuters and U.S. News & World Report also reported on the study.