D. Graham Burnett ’93, a professor of history, has used a “New Directions” grant from the Mellon Foundation to do research in the emerging field of neuroaesthetics — the science of how the brain processes sensory information it receives from art and music.
In one set of experiments, conducted with a neuroscientist and postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s medical school, subjects are blindfolded, given a small, irregularly shaped object, and asked to describe it based only on their sense of touch. MRI scans record which parts of the subject’s brain are activated in this process. The blindfold then is removed, and the MRI measures how the brain reacts when the subject sees the object. Does the brain process visual information differently than tactile information? Does it draw upon information learned through touch to help it understand an object that can now be seen?
Burnett also hopes to conduct experiments measuring eye movement as a subject observes a work of art. By studying how the brain engages different types of visual stimuli — If shown a picture of a crowd scene, what grabs the eye first? How does the brain move around the image? — Burnett could help shape our understanding of how art “works” and why we respond to one painting differently than another.BIAS
It’s common for people to think that we act for the most honorable of motives — but that others are hopelessly biased. And once we have decided that the other side is biased, compromise and negotiation become more difficult, leading to an endless cycle of tit-for-tat reprisals. Examples are everywhere, from the Arab-Israeli conflict to Republicans and Democrats during the health-care debate. Bias almost always becomes self-serving: Not only should I win because winning helps me, but because you need to be stopped.
Emily Pronin, an associate professor of psychology, explores bias in depth in two soon-to-be-published book chapters. In “Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict,” written with Kathleen Kennedy, a psychology graduate student, Pronin posits that the perception that an adversary is biased can initiate a conflict spiral and prevent its resolution, as the adversary perceives that bias and reciprocates it. In “Claims and Denials of Bias and their Implications for Policy,” written with her former research assistant, Kathleen Schmidt, Pronin writes that while people tend to underestimate their own biases, they overestimate the biases of others, particularly when the other person belongs to a less favored group. This occurs, she writes, because we tend to focus on our own private motives, rather than our actions, while judging others by their actions rather than their motives.
Bias serves useful purposes, Pronin believes, by supporting a sense of self-esteem and making it easier to reach decisions quickly. But it also can become a trap. One is often likely to be better off by recognizing that he or she does not have all the answers — possessing a quality known in a more poetic form as humility.
If, as most scientists believe, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is the driving cause of global warming, one solution to the problem could be taking those gases and pumping them into layers of sedimentary rock deep in the earth. Although it is an attractive idea, it has not yet been widely adopted because of cost and concerns about what would happen if the trapped gases escaped.
Catherine Peters, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and collaborators from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to determine what would happen if sequestered CO2 were to leak back into the atmosphere. They have designed a laboratory to simulate a storage area more than 4,000 feet below the surface in the abandoned Homestake gold mine in South Dakota, where they are studying whether the gas escapes and, if it does, how and where. If sequestration proves practical, greenhouse gases could be pumped directly from power plants into the ground, Peters says, or transported to sites in other parts of the country by pipeline.
In the spirit of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, a group of prominent Christian intellectuals, including Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, have issued a declaration of faith in a changing world. The statement, titled “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” was drafted by George, along with Timothy George of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and Charles Colson, the former White House aide and founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Lansdowne, Va.
The signatories unambiguously oppose abortion, gay marriage, “unilateral” divorce, and physician-assisted suicide — which they characterize as part of a “culture of death” first advanced in the 1920s by “intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe.” Hate the sin but love the sinner is part of their philosophy, as the signatories say that they “stand by” those promoting homosexual and polyamorous relationships, “even when they falter.” According to the Manhattan Declaration Web site (http://manhattandeclaration.org), more than 453,000 people had signed by early June.ENVIRONMENTAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Recycling glass can be expensive because much of it must be presorted by color. Jacob Hiller ’10 has devised a business plan to act as a middleman between recyclers and wineries by collecting used wine bottles, sterilizing and sorting them, and then selling them to eco-friendly vineyards. Hiller’s plan for ReVino Reclaimed Wine Bottles won third prize in the TigerLaunch 2010 competition sponsored by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club and second prize in the green business-plan competition sponsored by the Class of 1976.
Hiller says he got his idea after taking a course on environmental entrepreneurship taught by Gregory van der Vink, a visiting lecturer in the Department of Geosciences. Although ReVino is still in the planning stages, Hiller hopes to be able to open a sterilizing plant in the Portland area because of its proximity to the many vineyards in Oregon and Washington.FARAWAY PLANETS
Astronomers long have suspected that there are planets orbiting stars in other galaxies, including planets that conceivably could harbor life. Such planets have been impossible to see, even with the most powerful telescopes, because they are too faint, too distant, and too often lost in the glare from the stars around which they orbit.
Last year, however, a team of researchers including Michael McElwain, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, observed what may be such a planet, known unpoetically as GJ 758 B, located in the constellation Lyra, roughly 300 trillion miles away.
GJ 758 B, which also could be the remnants of a collapsed star known as a “brown dwarf,” was observed through the Subaru Telescope, located at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. McElwain estimates that the planetlike object is huge by the standards of our solar system, perhaps 10 to 40 times as large as Jupiter, and orbits its star about once every 165 years, about as often as Neptune circles the Sun. Its surface temperature is estimated to be about 600 degrees Kelvin (about 607 degrees Fahrenheit) — relatively cool by galactic standards. Although GJ 758 B is too massive (and hence would have crushing gravity) and too hot to support life as we know it, life could exist on one of the planet’s moons, if it has any.GLOBAL WARMING
During the last period of significant global warming, approximately 125,000 years ago, global sea levels were much higher and ice sheets smaller than previously believed, according to a statistical model devised by four Princeton researchers and a Harvard colleague that was published in Nature in December 2009. The model, based on data from 42 locations around the world, suggests that during that period of warming, known as the “last interglacial,” the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were substantially smaller than their present size. Surface temperatures were about 2 degrees Celsius warmer than they are today. The researchers calculated that there was a 95 percent likelihood that global sea levels during the last interglacial were more than 6.6 meters higher than they are today, and a 67 percent likelihood that they were more than 8 meters higher. This suggests that ice sheets are much more vulnerable even to relatively low levels of sustained global warming, says Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs. Oppenheimer’s Princeton co-authors were Robert Kopp, a postdoctoral research associate at the Woodrow Wilson School; and Frederik Simons and Adam Maloof, both assistant professors of geosciences. Jerry Mitrovica of Harvard also co-wrote the article.
Deaf recipients of cochlear implants, the tiny electronic devices inserted into the ear, can face months of therapy, both to recognize sounds they suddenly can hear and to translate those sounds into speech. While insurance coverage usually covers the implant surgery itself, it does not always cover the therapy, which can be extremely expensive.
Cocherapy, the brainchild of Caroline Clark ’11, will, for a small fee, provide free online speech videos for cochlear-implant recipients. Clark, who received a cochlear implant after losing her hearing in the sixth grade, organized a one-week camp at Stanford last summer to provide therapy to lower-income families. When the camp was over, she decided to offer such services year-round and, together with computer science major Julie King ’11, she submitted a business plan to the TigerLaunch 2010 competition. The two received a $3,000 award, winning in the social-entrepreneurship category.IMAGING AND PERSONHOOD
Since the iconic 1965 Life magazine cover provided the first widely circulated image of a fetus in utero, our conception of fetal personhood has undergone a fundamental change. That’s the subject of an upcoming book by Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong, an associate professor of sociology and public affairs.
Armstrong argues that our ability to see a fetus in utero makes us more likely to view the fetus as an independent being. Many pregnant women, even those who would consider themselves pro-choice, choose to learn the sex of their babies and name them before they are born, providing them with fundamental attributes of personhood. This has occurred, Armstrong believes, while divorcing the fetus from the mother. Most fetal images in mass media, including that famous Life cover, do not show the fetus as a part of the mother’s body, but as a being apart. Thus the Oklahoma legislature recently passed a law requiring that a woman seeking an abortion first be shown her ultrasound as a way of deterring her from going through with the abortion. And across the country prospective parents routinely return from the obstetrician’s office and proudly show off a sonogram as “baby’s first picture.”
JAZZ RIFFS AND GREGORIAN CHANTS
The link between, say, a Gregorian chant and a Miles Davis jazz riff might not seem obvious, but both are part of a theoretical continuum that is explained in a forthcoming book by Dmitri Tymoczko, an associate professor of music.
In A Geometry of Music, Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice, Tymoczko argues that five basic musical features define our sense of tonality: Melodies move by short distances on the scale; harmonies sound alike; chords intrinsically sound good; over short stretches of time most music limits itself to a range of only five to eight notes; and some notes feel more stable as a point of rest. These features, Tymoczko argues, recur throughout the history of western music, from the late Middle Ages to the present. Thus, according to Tymoczko, Bach lies on the same continuum as Bill Evans, the jazz pianist, or Coldplay, the English pop band. Furthermore, he illustrates the relationship among chords and scales using simple geometric models. The new book represents the culmination of many years of work. In 2006, Tymoczko’s preliminary study of this subject, “The Geometry of Musical Chords,” became the first article on music theory ever published in Science magazine.KAZAKHSTAN, KENYA, AND OTHER TROUBLED STATES
As much as Americans complain about their government, they generally take a functioning state for granted. In many other parts of the world, nations lack money, basic infrastructure, and functioning bureaucracies — and in such places, even things as basic as paychecks to civil servants become a challenge: There may be no mail services to deliver checks and no banks at which to cash them.
Institutions for Fragile States, a consortium of the Woodrow Wilson School, the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, and other organizations, suggests solutions for some of the problems these states face. Jennifer Widner, a professor of politics and international affairs and director of the Bobst Center, says that in many cases, the most pressing problem faced by these states is not a lack of money, but a lack of trust. Widner notes that a period of civil war often is followed by a power-sharing agreement. Former enemies may be brought into a new coalition government, but keeping them there, and directing their efforts toward providing services to their countrymen rather than looting them for private gain, are major challenges. The group brings together policymakers from around the world to discuss ways to avoid these so-called governance traps.LIVES YOU CAN SAVE
UNICEF estimates that 27,000 children die every day from preventable illnesses — deaths that might have been avoided with only a small amount of help from those who are better off.
The Life You Can Save, a new book by Peter Singer, the Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values, seeks, in Singer’s words, to “change the culture of giving.” It does so by challenging readers to pledge a portion of their income to support organizations dedicated to fighting poverty. Singer attempts to establish a standard of how much people should give, ranging from 1 percent of income for those earning less than $105,000 a year to as much as one-third of income for those earning more than $8 million.
The book is paired with a Web site, www.thelifeyoucansave.com. Singer is not starting his own charitable organization here, so the site does not accept or process donations. But it does provide a list of worthy organizations, a tool to calculate the appropriate pledge, and a list of people who already have pledged (more than 5,500 so far). The Web site can be translated into 17 languages, from Swedish to Portuguese to Mandarin, with three more soon to come. So far, most of the donors have come from the United States, but pledges have been made from as far away as Bosnia and Australia.
“Giving,” Singer says, “is a social activity.” In other words, people are more willing to give if they know that others also are giving. The goal, according to the Web site, is to help the poor and “change the public standard of what is involved in living an ethical life in a world that contains both great affluence and extreme poverty.”MODERN MARKETPLACE
Suppose you arrive at the Princeton Junction train station late at night, after the last Dinky has departed, and need to get back to campus. You could call a taxi, but there are several local companies and no way to tell which would get to the station quickly. Or you could send a text to NowINeed.com, a new site started by Ryan Shea ’12 and Joseph Perla ’11. Your message, saying where you are, what you need, and how much you are willing to pay, would be posted immediately and sent simultaneously to all the local cab companies. Whoever could get to the Junction fastest would call and arrange to come get you. (You then would post a follow-up to let everyone else know you had gotten your ride.)
Shea analogized NowINeed, a semifinalist in the TigerLaunch competition, to a local version of Craigslist, the popular Internet swap meet where anyone can offer services or goods. NowINeed users can offer anything from rides to piano lessons to dorm furniture for sale. Shea and Perla hope to make money from referrals — cab companies, for example — which would pay them a small fee for each customer the site referred to them.NATIONAL SECURITY
“Politics stops at the water’s edge,” said Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenberg in 1947, framing the broad Cold War consensus on American international involvement and a containment strategy to check Soviet expansion. But as history professor Julian Zelizer sets out in his new book, Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security — From World War II to the War on Terrorism, American foreign policy always has influenced, and been influenced by, domestic political considerations. If politics stopped at the water’s edge, in other words, there often was a lot of political blood in that water.
Zelizer traces the postwar foreign-policy debate in each election cycle from 1946 through 2008. Although the leadership of both parties supported containment during the Cold War, just as both today support taking action to combat al Qaeda, that consensus masked some deep divisions. When former Vice President Dick Cheney recently scolded the Obama administration for being soft on terrorism, and Democrats responded by criticizing excesses during Cheney’s term in office, Zelizer heard an echo of the debate between Democrat Adlai Stevenson ’21 and Republican Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential campaign over whether the Truman administration had “lost” China to the Communists and was weak-kneed in fighting the Korean War. Foreign affairs can dominate midterms as well as presidential elections, Zelizer says, citing the 1962 midterms, which were held days after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Foreign and domestic policy considerations play against each other, Zelizer argues, citing Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam as another example. Johnson escalated the war, in part, because he was afraid of being painted as soft on Communist aggression, but public unhappiness with Vietnam in turn destroyed Johnson’s presidency and forced the government to seek ways to end the war.
What does Zelizer forecast for 2010? He says he finds it ironic that the Democrats may suffer at the polls despite President Obama’s willingness to continue many of the Bush administration’s policies in the war on terror, but thinks that Obama’s emphasis on non-proliferation and cutting the size of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals may resonate with voters.OBESITY
As parents deal with the problem of childhood obesity and some cities consider imposing a sugar tax to deter consumption of sweetened drinks, research conducted by Bart Hoebel seems especially timely. Hoebel, a professor of psychology, has reported that laboratory rats that consumed water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (an ingredient in many foods, including most soda and sweetened drinks) gained more weight than rats that ate plain table sugar, even when their total caloric intake was the same.
These findings complement earlier research in which Hoebel discovered that sucrose has addictive properties, as anyone who has ever eaten a Krispy Kreme doughnut will attest. Rats given a 10 percent sucrose solution would binge on it, and then exhibit withdrawal symptoms when the solution was taken away. “This has clearly opened people’s eyes to the idea that something doesn’t have to be a drug to be addictive,” Hoebel says. “It could be a food.” He is consulting with governmental agencies in China and Japan and believes that his findings may influence food choices around the world.
PSYCHOLOGY OF SCARCITY
Imagine two people walking down the street, each carrying a suitcase. One is wealthy, the other is poor. The wealthy person’s suitcase is relatively empty. If she sees a pair of shoes or a set of new clothes, she has plenty of room in this suitcase to put it in. The poor person’s suitcase is stuffed. If he wants to get a pair of shoes, something has to come out.
These mythical suitcases illustrate the idea of trade-offs — who makes them and how they are made — questions being explored by Eldar Shafir, the William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. In psychology parlance, it is known as a packing problem. The more one has, the more one can take on. But for those with less, adding anything to the family budget means facing a trade-off. Buying shoes may mean cutting back on food or medical care.
“Trade-off thinking is at the core of what it means to live under great scarcity,” Shafir explains. “You and I, when we want to buy another book, or a CD, we don’t think about what we will have to give up if we make that purchase. But the poor have to make that kind of decision every time they buy a muffin.”
Scarcity does not have to be in the form of money, Shafir adds. The model of trade-off thinking also applies to time: If a busy person wants to add another commitment, something else must be skipped. The person with leisure, on the other hand, has room to add more commitments and does not face the trade-off. There are differences, of course. It is hard to bank extra time, the way one can save money. Shafir is conducting further research to see if the model can be applied to other aspects of life — consuming calories, perhaps, or loneliness and attention. His findings will be included in a forthcoming book, The Packing Problem: Time, Money, and the Science of Scarcity, written with Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard.QUANTIFYING FINANCIAL RISK
Financial regulators focus on the risk posed by individual banks in isolation. It is a paradox that actions taken to rescue individual financial institutions can increase volatility throughout the rest of the system, thus making further intervention even more likely. The bailout of one big bank can affect the behavior of others.
What role does each bank’s individual risk play in the broader risk to the banking system as a whole? Markus Brunnermeier, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Economics, has addressed this question by using a new methodology known as CoVaR (Co Value at Risk), which he devised in collaboration with Tobias Adrian, an assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Two financial institutions, A and B, might appear to be equally risky, and thus be regulated in the same way. But according to Brunnermeier’s metric, institution B might pose a greater threat to the system because of its size, portfolio, or relations with other institutions. CoVaR suggests that institution B be placed under tighter regulatory scrutiny than institution A, which would, in theory, curb some of that broader risk. Although Brunnermeier says that he and Adrian began working on this issue before the financial meltdown of 2007–09, watching events unfold has been an interesting real-life application of their research.
Brunnermeier argues that CoVaR also would address Washington’s tendency to try to shut the regulatory barn door after the horses have gotten out. During a boom, risk seems remote and everyone lets down his guard, only to snap to attention at the outbreak of a crisis. Regulatory requirements that are based on individual risk tend to be stringent during crises and lax during booms. Brunnermeier argues the opposite course would be more effective. By accounting for each institution’s risk, Brunnermeier believes regulators could predict future systemic risk and devise regulations to prevent it, making the system more self-correcting.RISKY IDEAS
Thomas Edison once said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. In other words, having a brilliant idea is only the first step toward a successful innovation. Those ideas also need hard work and a lot of outside support — and by support, we usually mean money.
A $25 million endowment established by Google CEO Eric Schmidt ’76 and his wife, Wendy, will help the next generation of great ideas at Princeton to get off the drawing board by supporting the creation and development of technologies that will advance existing research or open new fields altogether. The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund will enable investigators “to explore unresolved questions with new tools, or to ask previously unapproachable questions,” said President Tilghman when the fund was announced last fall. The Schmidt fund will underwrite the development of technology that might be considered too risky to be supported by venture capital and traditional funding sources.
Applications for the first round of Schmidt grants were submitted last winter to an internal peer review board chaired by Dean of Research A.J. Stewart Smith *66. The board received 45 proposals for the first round of funding, and Smith says that their quality “set me back on my heels.” Grants could be announced later this year.SPECTROSCOPY
New imaging techniques developed by Haw Yang, an associate professor of chemistry, are making it possible to observe the movements of individual molecules within a protein cell for the first time. Previously, molecular changes within a cell were something like a black box: Scientists could see aggregate changes to the cell and from that try to deduce the individual molecular changes that caused it. Thanks to improvements in optical spectroscopy developed in Yang’s lab, however, it is now possible to watch a molecule as it moves within a cell and interacts with other molecules. As Yang explains in a recent issue of the journal Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, this new 3D, real-time, single-particle tracking spectroscopy “will generate a new level of contextual insight, empowering scientists to begin elucidating the intricate interactions woven by the myriads of protein machines.” Understanding how individual molecules move and interact within a much larger structure also could yield practical insights in other fields of biology and in materials science.
It took mathematicians centuries to prove something that most grocers understand intuitively: that the most efficient way to pack spheres (think grapefruit or oranges) is in an ordered pyramid. The best way to pack other shapes still is being studied. Now Salvatore Torquato, a chemistry professor and faculty fellow at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science, has begun to explore the most efficient way to pack tetrahedra, those pyramidal shapes comprising four equilateral triangles known by the ancient Greeks. In a letter to the journal Nature last August, written with Yang Jiao, a graduate student, Torquato reported that they had used mathematical models to pack tetrahedra in such a way as to fill 78.2021 percent of a particular space. That announcement set off a competition within the scientific community as other researchers tried to top Torquato’s mark. Torquato improved his model and recently managed to pack tetrahedra to fill 85.55 percent of a space, but that has been beaten with a new record of 85.63 percent.
These exercises have important real-world applications as well, helping scientists design digital communications systems and understand the molecular structure of matter. One possibility: unbreakable ceramic plates.UNICYCLE POLE VAULTING
This idea — which comes from the minds of students — falls squarely into the category of ideas your mother would call crazy. The concept is simple: A contestant gets on a unicycle, pedals toward the bar with pole in hand, and then vaults off the unicycle and over the bar. The “sport” was invented by two bored track athletes, brothers Steve ’09 and Dave Slovenski ’12, who are also recreational unicyclists. Track coach Fred Samara saw the pair cycling while carrying their poles and asked if they planned to try vaulting that way. They saw it as a challenge.
The pair have staged exhibitions at Princeton and Bowdoin College, where their father coaches track. Although pole vaulting on a unicycle is a diversion, Steve Slovenski was a top decathlete as an undergraduate, and Dave is one of the most accomplished pole vaulters (the real kind) in Princeton history, a two-time Heptagonal champion who in 2009 cleared 17 feet 3.5 inches. In unicycle vaulting, he has cleared 10 feet — which, until anyone can prove otherwise, is a world record.
VALUES AND REASON
Michael Smith, the McCosh Professor of Philosophy, will spend the coming academic year at the Humboldt University of Berlin as a recipient of the Humboldt Research Prize. He hopes to spend the time studying the relationship between the values that each of us holds and the reasons we give for our actions. There is no difference between talking about an ideally rational being, Smith believes, and talking about God. While many people conclude that the existence of a supreme being is therefore essential to the existence of values, Smith hopes to prove that most idealized accounts of rationality are actually secular in nature — and that, therefore, the existence of God is not necessary for the existence of values.WATERFRONT DESIGNS
Some scientists believe that it is already too late to prevent rising sea levels caused by global warming from threatening coastal areas. If that is so, then in one of the great examples of making lemonade out of life’s lemons, a group of Princeton architects, led by architecture professor Guy Nordenson, are imagining ways to deal with the effects of rising sea levels in and around Manhattan.
Nordenson began working on this project several years ago, as part of a study funded in part by a $100,000 prize from the AIA College of Fellows. It culminated in a report, written in collaboration with his wife, Catherine Seavitt-Nordenson, a lecturer in the School of Architecture, and Adam Yarinsky *87, a visiting lecturer in architectural design, which in turn led to a commission from the Museum of Modern Art to explore architectural solutions to rising sea levels. That exhibition, called “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront,” runs through Oct. 11, and marks the first time since 1967 that MoMA has commissioned architects to design work for an exhibition.
Using Nordenson’s survey as a departure point, four teams focused on designing strategies to deal with rising sea levels along different parts of New York’s vast waterfront. One team, led by assistant professor Paul Lewis ’92, Marc Tsurumaki ’91, and David J. Lewis ’95, founders of LTL Architects, looked at the Northwest Palisade Bay and Hudson River area, which includes Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The groups eschewed so-called “hard” solutions such as seawalls and dikes in favor of “soft” solutions to reduce water damage caused by flooding and storm surges. These include creating barriers made of surplus building materials, turning old subway cars into submerged reefs, and building oyster beds to minimize storm surges, ideas that Lewis says not only are more eco-friendly but also are less
susceptible to catastrophic failure than were the levees surrounding New Orleans.
Why let data get in the way of a perfectly good argument? That seems to be the attitude of groups ranging from the so-called Cyber Minute Men, who demand completion of a nine-foot fence along the Mexican border, to supporters of Arizona’s tough new immigration law. They might want to spend some time with Douglas Massey, the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and director and founder of the Mexican Migration Project.
Since 1982, the MMP, a multidisciplinary research project between the University of Guadalajara and the Office of Population Research at Princeton, has gathered information about Mexican migration to and from the United States. The information, much of which comes from confidential surveys of the migrants themselves, is compiled, sorted, organized, and made available though the project’s Web site, http://mmp. opr.princeton.edu, providing the only long-term picture of what has been happening along the almost 2,000-mile-long southern border. The data contradict several popular assumptions about border issues.
For example, contrary to public belief, Massey argues that recent efforts to beef up border patrols have had the effect of increasing illegal immigration by cutting off a cycle in which poor Mexicans came to this country seasonally and then returned home. By making the border crossing more risky, many of those migrants have decided to remain in this country instead. If the United States had done nothing to secure the border, Massey asserts, it would have half the number of illegal Mexican immigrants that it does today.
Since World War II, the number of Mexicans crossing the border has not increased, but has largely remained stable, Massey says. In fact, while border security has emerged as a national issue over the last two years, the number of Mexicans illegally entering the United States has almost stopped during that period, Massey says — not because of the fence or patrols, but because the weak American economy has not been producing jobs. (Massey expects migration to resume as the economy improves.)
Massey says he has tried to put the data to use in shaping our understanding of migration issues, “but I can’t compete with people like Lou Dobbs and the anti-immigration rhetoric that has been unleashed.”YOUTH-FRIENDLY MITTENS
Some anthropologists say that what distinguishes primates from other mammals is that we possess opposable thumbs. Modern social anthropologists might say that what distinguishes the younger generation from its elders is the ability to use those thumbs to make constant use of BlackBerries, iPhones, and other interactive devices. Young people tap tap tap away anywhere — in the car, the doctor’s waiting room, the theater, the restaurant — and now even outside in the coldest weather, thanks to Mittenberry, a mitten designed by Edward Weng ’10 and his sister, Vivian Weng ’05. The mitten features detachable thumbs.
The idea for the Mittenberry (its slogan is “toasty texting”) came when Vivian was standing outside during a blizzard and noticed the frustration of people who could not type on their handheld devices without freezing their digits off. From that eureka moment, she and Edward sketched out a design for the Mittenberry, commissioned a prototype from a firm in China, and then placed an order with another Chinese firm for 5,000 pairs. They have sold about 1,500 pairs of the all-wool mittens through their Web site (www.mittenberry.com) and campus representatives at Princeton and the University of Michigan. Target customers, Edward says, are “recent college graduates who are concerned with fashion and familiar with technology.”
Cancer patients facing chemotherapy sometimes find that the treatment is nearly as arduous as the disease. Chemotherapy is a blunt therapeutic instrument, attacking fast-dividing healthy cells, such as hair and nail cells, as well as mutating cancer cells.
A team of Princeton researchers, including Saeed Tavazoie, a professor of molecular biology; graduate student Hani Goodarzi; and postdoctoral researcher Olivier Elemento, have developed a computer program that can analyze changes in the behavior of each of the 20,000 genes in a tumor cell and, by doing so, determine which genes control which pathways of tumor growth. Their findings were published last December in the journal Molecular Cell. “This sets a new stage for knowing what went wrong” in a particular incidence of cancer, Tavazoie says. The goal is to develop the unique genetic code for each type of cancer, which could lead to new drugs and more targeted cancer treatments.
Mark F. Bernstein ’83 is PAW’s senior writer.