As Homer tells us, when the Olympians come down from the heights to interfere with mere mortals, the consequences can be unpredictable at best and harmful at worst. Thus, I read Lincoln Caplan’s article about Cass Sunstein’s years in the crucible of the regulatory system and his years as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) with caution (“The Legal Olympian,” January-February).
Sunstein and many other adherents of cost-benefit analysis fail to acknowledge that such analysis is far from objective but is in fact value-driven in its definitions of both costs—which regulated entities generally exaggerate—and benefits—which protect broad populations and future generations and are difficult to articulate or measure. Attaching dollar values to lives as a proxy is particularly fraught with ethical pitfalls, leaving little room for equity considerations of education, race, income, (dis)ability, and intelligence. And some of us, like the readers of this magazine, are more able to be “nudged” than others.
In fact, the regulatory process is actually about power, not sweet reason, a process in which large corporations and their lobbyists often prevail. The recent successful pushback of strong regulation of coal ash and CO2 by Big Coal and Big Oil are recent examples. As Sunstein probably learned to his dismay, the White House makes the big decisions. Too bad he wasn’t able to nudge the powerful hard enough, as the admirers of his Olympian intellectual excellence might have wished.
Patricia Bauman ’63
Cass Sunstein, author of Why Nudge: The Politics of Liberal Paternalism, stated that his longtime aims for American governance were “to preserve individual freedom and strengthen the welfare of society.” If Sunstein had combined more history and more interaction within the people world and less within the world of theory, he would have recognized the glaring fallacies contained within his nudge approaches to bureaucratic governance.
First, by their nature politicians and government bureaucrats cannot “nudge”; they structurally and instinctively “coerce”—that is, they tax, fine, mandate, ban, or criminalize. Coercive federal nudges now already control everything from the light bulbs we use to how much and what crops we raise on our farms. As one of the most current examples, you must buy the overly expensive healthcare plans as defined by politically appointed experts like Kathleen Sebelius and Jonathan Gruber. If you fail to be nudged into buying their plans, you are assessed an ever increasing annual tax.
Second, the power of governmental coercion erodes the prerogatives of the people’s elected legislators, devolving those powers to the president and to unelected bureaucrats. The constitutional balance of power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches is upended. The people are left to the mercy of a fourth regulatory branch of government whose rules are murky and remedies are at best costly and unpredictable. Historically the tyranny of the State evolves.
According to the article, Sunstein is an avowed and devoted advocate of the modern regulatory state, yet he fails to realize that more regulations also create an environment for government-sanctioned or government-owned monopolies. The Sherman antitrust legislation has essentially been repealed by industry consolidations nudged and coerced by governmental action. Think banking, healthcare, public accounting, financial-rating services, housing, student loans, K-12 education…the list goes on and on. Only the few largest organizations will ultimately be able to manage their way through the reams of regulation in Sunstein’s highly regulated economy.
The regulatory state is in direct conflict with the individual freedom which Sunstein purports to advocate. A vibrant, growing economy is replaced with stagnant, European-style growth.
John W. Jenkins, M.B.A. ’63
While behavioral economists have been busy convincing their more orthodox peers that “we are not the rational self-interest maximizers that conventional economists have long assumed,” private enterprise has been busy exploiting such knowledge to manipulate our behavior for its own gain. Yes, we should be vigilant to ensure that when government nudging is used, it is both transparent and freedom preserving, and we should check to make sure that it achieves its intended societal objectives. We should also encourage continued debate on just what those objectives should be. I conjecture, however, that the greater part of the impassioned concerns expressed by Cass Sunstein’s detractors might be better directed toward the private sector, whose actors surreptitiously use nudging to further their own self-interests, rather than toward the government’s use of nudging to promote the welfare of its citizens.
Stephen Darrow, J.D. ’09
Did you intend the phrase “Defining democracy for the regulatory state” [on the cover] to be oxymoronic, or was it serendipity?
Scott G. Davis ’66, A.M. ’68
It is ironic that Cass Sunstein now seeks to push the frontiers of aligning democracy and regulation at the same time that he declines questions about his government service. At OIRA (Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs), Sunstein refused to act on numerous agency environmental rules and public-health proposals authorized by Congress and backed by years of scientific research, cost-benefit analysis, and peer review by expert panels; often instead he sat on such proposals without explanation or comment for months and even years beyond what administrative law and practice required. It is difficult to distinguish his role at OIRA, on behalf of the president of the United States and all Americans, from that of independent regulatory agency appointees famously captive of those they were charged to regulate. This record undermines Sunstein’s standing and suggests he should not be lionized as a pioneer on behalf of the public interest—in theory or in practice.
Andrew Maguire, Ph.D. ’66
Former member of Congress
O happy day! From the heights of Olympus the good Professor Sunstein has turned his gaze upon us here below and (in between bouts of squash) deigned to inform we error-prone, benighted plebs exactly how we should live our lives. What would we do without Big Brothers like Cass?
Martin Comack, A.L.M. ’94
I suppose it is the duty of a feature on a Harvard professor to glorify him or her. But Lincoln Caplan’s piece on Cass Sunstein was an homage to progressivism itself. While research has diminished the idea of Homo economicus, it is unclear how central bureaucrats have both the incentives and knowledge to improve over the free choices of individuals. Hayek and Mises made clear that calculation of cost-benefit on a grand scale was always impossible, but today’s extreme pace of change exacerbates the problem exponentially.
Caplan dismisses those who have a presumption against so-called “reform” as conspiracy theorists and claims that our “objections are usually wrong.” But the liberal technocratic approach must be viewed as engineering within an ideology that is subject to debate. The specious notions that regulative expansion should change how one interprets the Constitution and that a purpose of such a founding document is to “subject longstanding practices to critical scrutiny” deny the essence of what a constitution is. FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights” that Sunstein so admires are not founded in freedom but in fear and constitute provisions to be obtained by coercion. That sounds nothing like the Declaration of Independence.
Andrew Sridhar, M.B.A. ’10
The Harvard faculty of every era represent the reactionary establishment, and no one embodies that principle better than Cass Sunstein. His America is a land of moral death with no virtue, no beauty, no charity, and no liberty. Harvard students of our era shouldn’t despair when they survey that landscape, however, because Sunstein has inadvertently given them a gift: a great cause that will summon forth their best talents and require them ever bravely to live. That great cause is the long generational struggle to consign Sunstein’s inhuman regulatory state to its rightful place on the ash heap of history.
Robert J. O’Hara, Ph.D. ’89
This article makes a pompous and fraudulent case that people need Government regulation to “nudge” them toward more beneficial actions. Like Professor Jonathan Gruber of MIT, Sunstein and Caplan have a low opinion of their fellow Americans. Is there something in the intellectual air in Cambridge that breeds such nonsense?
One of the more egregious flaws in this article is to cite Glenn Beck (at best an outlier) to assail conservative thinking. Any fair-minded person should know that Charles Krauthammer and George Will are more appropriate custodians of American conservatism.
My chagrin, however, is not about one or more intellectual charlatans at Harvard or MIT, my chagrin is for Harvard Magazine. It is embarrassing that you publish such a low quality and one-sided view on government regulation. Government regulation is an extremely important augmentation to our Constitutional democracy. But like most great concepts it has a dark side that needs to be curbed. This would make for a beneficial seminar.
Additionally I suggest that Harvard Magazine establish a peer review process, as science magazines do, to screen out unworthy articles.
Charles Block ’52
Professor Sunstein defines a regulated democracy with less protection for the freedom of speech and press than provided by our Constitution. He urges in his books that “government intervention” with control regulations should apply to news and political content, particularly on television.
The Federal Communications Commission applied such a regulation, called the Fairness Doctrine, to regulate balance. A three-vote commission majority ordered revisions in what and how news was reported.
Dick Salant, president of CBS News, said “FCC regulation of news content…limits robust journalism. It put “in the hands of government the coercive power, which history has shown government has sought to use, to manipulate and control.” Circuit Court Judge Bazelon found that the regulation “contributed to suppressing programming on controversial issues almost entirely.”
The FCC unanimously vacated its rule in 1987. Its hearings showed that, in practice, government intervention suppressed news and chilled speech, reduced diversity, caused the avoidance of programming on controversial issues, inhibited the expression of unpopular opinion, and could be partisan. The reviewing Court affirmed, holding that the regulation was not in the public interest. “Its chilling effect thwarts its intended purpose…”
Sunstein also argues that if the speech marketplace is “skewed” by too much speech for one point of view, it would be Constitutional for the government to intervene and “unskew” it.
Fellow professor Elena Kagan of the Chicago Law School (now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) wrote that the First Amendment would “require the reallocation of speech opportunities” for “the appropriate range and balance of viewpoint.” Government action might “unskew” an “overabundance” of an idea in public discourse.
Corydon B. Dunham, LL.B. ’51
Former NBC executive vice president and general counsel;
author, “Government Control of News, A Constitutional
Challenge,” iUniverse, Bloomington, 152-158 (2011)
Gentlemen (as I presume that’s really who’s in charge of printing this blithering propaganda). The take-home message from your 7-page paean to the patriarchy, the manarchy, the penarchy, or whatever you call it, sent me over the edge. “Libertarian paternalism”? Really?
Top-down management by guys for all the world? We’ve seen how well that works out.
Nowhere does Mr. Caplan or Mr. Sunstein (or anyone else) address the big fat 1000-lb stinky sweaty hairy bearded gorilla in the room: the fact that men are still in charge, and that they’re still blockading significant numbers (i.e. populational representation) of women from power and authority, everywhere we look.
Law, politics, business, commerce, finance, education, religion, health care (especially women’s health)—all run by men. The Middle East. Africa. Korea. Viet Nam. The NFL. Hooters.
Fair Harvard’s tenured faculty is still 80 percent male.
As Yoko and John said, in the pre-PC era: Woman is the nigger of the world.
Men have been, and still are, totally responsible for every major societal screw-up in the known universe. You’d think you’d want to share the glory. But no.
It’s the fraternity paradigm: Us first. Women and children last.
No mention of this pathology is ever admitted into the manarchy’s discourse. Introspection, self-awareness, cultural bias? Not in the vocabulary.
So study your own malignant history before pushing this faux-radical Man On Top agenda onto the rest of us.
We know radical. That isn’t it.
And—to the men we know and love, who think you merit the “good guy” exemption: In every group in which men outnumber women—especially gray-haired men outnumbering gray-haired women—there is something deeply, seriously, nastily—and deliberately—screwed up in the situation.
If you are not part of the solution, you know what you are.
Blather on about “nudging” and “humanizing”; women have been trying this since we nudged ourselves the right to vote in 1920—despite a program of antagonism, physical violence, and torture by men. The balance of power hasn’t changed. It’s appalling to see this blind spot—or gaping black hole of denial—among the self-proclaimed intelligentsia.
In Arts and Entertainment terms, this would be known as the “Jackass” model.
All our “nudging” hasn’t cracked the glass ceiling in any “radical” way. Tokenism is not equity.
From a clinical viewpoint, this is a raging-hormone, testosterone-driven, Y-chromosome problem. Molecular genetics tells us it’s an aggressive, invasive takeover by sperm-shooting mutants.
It is now time for assertive maternalism.
So man up and get with the program. My prescription is Feminist Guerrilla Training Camp 101 for all of you. The class starts immediately. Register now.
Katharine Hikel ’74, M.D.
I would like to ask Professor Sunstein and all my fellow Harvard alumni one question about the fundamental issue of human rights.
Everyone from Justice Ginsburg to President Obama to Professor Sunstein have declared that our Constitution is seriously deficient for its silence on such human rights as the right of every human being to a “useful and remunerative job.”
So here is my question to such incredibly smart people: “Common sense tells me a job must be earned, but you tell me it’s a human right devoid of any individual responsibility. So how exactly does government guarantee and secure useful and remunerative jobs to every person?”
I don’t think these are new ideas that our Founding Fathers just didn’t know about or forgot. Instead they saw that turning individual responsibility into human entitlements leads to tyranny. As Jefferson said “I predict great future happiness for the American people SO LONG AS government does not waste their hard-earned money in the name of taking care of them.”
The Beatles phrased this question much better than I can: “You say you want a revolution? You want to change the constitution, let me see THE PLAN.”
Eldon Eric Johnson ’91
Hillary Clinton thinks life is too complex for Joe Sixpack; the government must help him make the correct life choices. Jonathan Gruber says ObamaCare never would have been enacted if the stupid American public had not been deceived. Cass Sunstein makes a similar point in “defining democracy for the regulatory state.” Personally, I think democracy and the regulatory state are mutually exclusive, but I am probably just another stupid American.
I was, however, intrigued by the last sentence in the article: “A central purpose of a constitution, and of a deliberative democracy, is to subject long-standing practices to critical scrutiny.”
The concept of “critical scrutiny” in the social sciences is probably premature, and would not stand up to Robert Trivers (The Folly of Fools); his thesis is that we deceive ourselves so as best to deceive others. As we move from the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, and biology) to the social sciences, the opportunities for deception abound. Also, the smarter the individual, the more elaborate is the deception.
And your own professor E. O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth) states that the sciences of physics (which is the foundation for chemistry), chemistry (which is the foundation for biology), and biology are self-correcting. This self-correcting rigor has not yet occurred in the social sciences. Perhaps when the principles of biology become the foundation for the social sciences, “critical scrutiny” may become a real possibility, rather than just another opportunity to deceive.
William Thompson ’64
Sunstein’s notion of a beneficent government nudging its free, but weak-willed, citizens into doing what they should be doing is attractive at first glance. It would be terrific if we all acted in our best interests, but behavioral economics has demonstrated that humans do not act that way. Hence the need for a nudge. The problem is that a genial nudge can easily morph into a paternalistic prod or worse.
Sunstein is a good enough historian to know that good ideas do not always translate into good practices—how many government programs actually accomplish their goals without creating unanticipated problems?—but even good practices can too easily become bad practices. One example of a sensible practice morphing into an awful process is our nation’s current plea-bargaining system. Plea bargaining is a good idea and makes sense in certain circumstances. There is nothing conceptually wrong with nudging a guilty party into pleading guilty, and, at one time, plea bargaining worked well. Today, plea bargaining does not seem nearly so attractive. Innocent parties are sometimes shoved into pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit or pleading guilty when they did something that may not even have been a crime. Plea bargaining also gives prosecutors the time and resources needed to pursue a host of victimless crimes that might better be dealt with outside the legal system. As a result, the U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and a citizen’s constitutional right to be judged by her peers has, for all practical purposes, been taken away. We should all beware of “freedom-preserving” governmental nudges.
Howard Landis, M.B.A. 78
New Canaan, Conn.
Speak Up, Please
Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by e-mail to email@example.com.
Craig Lambert’s proposal (“The ‘Wild West’ of Academic Publishing,” January-February) that the ever-increasing share of university library budgets consumed by expensive journals could be decreased by means of “Open Access” journals, with “Article Processing Charges” paid by the authors out of their research funds rather than subscriptions paid for by the libraries, does not differentiate between the natural (and medical) sciences and other areas of research. “Page charges” have long been required by many natural-science journals and have long been paid for from their research grants. But scholars in the humanities and in many areas of the social sciences rarely have research grants to pay for such charges; at least in the humanities, even the most successful scholars win only a few research fellowships during their careers (Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, etc.), which provide only salary replacement (at best) for research semesters but no funds for page charges or article-processing fees.
Then again, humanities journals are not the problem: they charge libraries only a few hundred dollars a year for subscriptions, not the thousands or tens of thousands that many scientific and medical journals charge. Perhaps part of the solution should rather be that a larger portion of the overhead charges paid to universities from natural-science or medical grants should be going to the university libraries to pay for the expensive journals that the scientists need.
Paul Guyer ’69, Ph.D. ’74
Nelson professor of humanities and philosophy, Brown University
One of your sources recommends that contributors to open-access journals pay a fee for the privilege. The sum of $1,000 per article is cited as being realistic and currently typical. It is further proposed that half of this fee be borne by “the funders of the research.”
All of my academic career was devoted to teaching classics at a college that could not be considered a funder of research. Since retiring in 2003, I have had three articles published in print journals and a fourth accepted. Retirees such as I are not usually supported by funders of research.
By my calculation, had my published work to date appeared in open-access journals of the sort recommended in your article, I would have reached into my own pocket for a total outlay of $17,000. This does not strike me as an equitable solution of a very real problem, especially for the underpaid junior faculty who, as your article attests, have the most at stake.
Cliff Weber ’65
Craig Lambert presents a clear and vivid account of the complex problems facing academic writers and publishers these days. I would like to present a somewhat different angle on academic publishing, from one who is not an academic but writes scholarly books.
When I received my Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard, I intended to become an academic, with some teaching stints at Brown and Penn. I like to write and almost immediately started doing so—but with the aspiration of doing scholarly books that were accessible to the serious reading public. In the meantime I also helped create a research organization, the Hastings Center, on ethics and medicine, thus moving out of the academic world. My publishing career, with such trade publishers as Macmillan, Scribner’s, and eventually Simon & Schuster, was most successful. The latter published four of my books, one of which sold 36,000 copies and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1987. Over the years, three of those books were reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. With the publisher’s vigorous publicity efforts I had 100 reviews of that book, and was on every major TV talk show.
Then came the late 1990s. My long-time S & S editor, the prominent Alice Mayhew, informed me that my fourth book with them, published in 1998, sold only 5,000 copies in its first year and that was no longer enough for them. The search for blockbusters, not serious books (save for politics) was in the saddle and has remained so. I was demoted to the academic presses, and have had since then a string of the best: Princeton, Oxford, and the University of California, and am now finishing a book for Columbia. Not one has come anywhere near selling 5,000 copies, and no more Times book reviews—and it’s not just me: I would estimate that no more than one in 50 of its reviews now is of an academic-press book. Three-quarters of the places I got my 100 reviews in 1987 no longer publish book reviews at all. Those serious books that do get noticed in their pages are trade books. My two recent academic books got no more than five to eight reviews each; it was hard to find places to send the books to.
Some of my books can be read on Kindle, and that’s where some people have discovered me of late. But I am a print book guy genetically and Kindle resonates in a dull way only in my soul.
Daniel Callahan, Ph.D. ’65
The article “The ‘Wild West’ of Academic Publishing” makes the point that institutional journal fees are draining university library budgets, since “the rates charged institutions…are generally much higher than those charged individual subscribers, a nearly extinct species.” I was amazed to learn that a subscription to the journal Science costs a university library $26,675 per year. However, I am a member of that “nearly extinct species” as an individual subscriber to Science, and the price for individuals is only $149 per year.
Edward Tabor ’69
Craig Lambert’s excellent article “The Wild West of Academic Publishing” rightly positions open-access publishing at the forefront of the new age of education.
My students are routinely asked to pay $100 and more for textbooks; they often then try to take the course without the textbook, and inevitably fail. No scholar wants his or her work cooped up. It is up to educators to provide an alternative to the commercial interests which now hold so much of our scholarship captive.
The work that Peter Suber, Stuart Shieber, OA, and DASH are doing will reap huge benefits for all schools well into the future. More power to them.
Tom Durwood ’75
The Journal of Empire Studies
King of Prussia, Pa.
This article provides an excellent overview of the tension between aspiring to wide dissemination of research findings and the prohibitive cost to journal access. I draw your attention to the public-spirited revolt by researchers in their January 2012 pledge to boycott the academic journal publisher Elsevier. The protest aimed to meaningfully register protest of profitably priced access to Elsevier journals. At the time, the price of advocacy for free access to research findings could be the prejudiced administrative handling and peer assessment of current and future manuscripts submitted to Elsevier journals by the Cost of Knowledge signatories. In agreeing to not submit to, review, or edit manuscripts from Elsevier, conscientious objectors risked not gaining academic promotion and peer recognition from a positive association with high-impact journals. Cost of Knowledge signatories sought to divert work to pay-to-publish open access journals that remain free to readers. However, delays and uncertainties in the dissemination of healthcare research in early 2012 could have impeded timely gains in patient care.
If researchers in the developed world can individually ill afford journal access except through institutional subscriptions, greater obstacles confront researchers who live and work in poor countries . These inequities are exacerbated by nonexistent reduced access to quality medical research among clinicians in these countries. This may be ameliorated by allowing duplicate publication in local journals or forums of difficult-to-access articles from prestigious journals with high local relevance, for a lesser cost or even for free. Let’s not forget that the public at large, especially in the underdeveloped world, stand to lose a great deal if we do not achieve equitable and fair access to new developments, particularly if publicly funded.
While applauding Rohini Pande’s Forum, “Keeping Women Safe” in some parts of South Asia (January-February), I’m requesting that you commission a companion article, “Keeping Women Safe in the United States of America in the 21st century.” With a lifetime risk of 1 in 3 for rape, and 1 in 4 for domestic violence, and with gun violence increasing, I’m interested to read a lot more about plans to keep women and girls safe in these United States.
Patricia Rose Falcao, M.P.H. ’90, M.D.
A very important, if not the most important step would be to bring about a sweeping change in the global societal attitude toward women. The world must understand that in many ways women are more than equal to men. Everyone needs to learn that it is the women who started civilization, domesticated wild plants and animals, wove protective clothing, built permanent shelters, and altogether provided surplus and reliable food, which inadvertently empowered man unequally. Women laid the path to men’s even becoming “god-kings.” In the animal kingdom, lack of such surplus food prevents such imbalance from happening.
Can societal change happen and can it do the trick? It can. Take the example of two animals and how they fare globally purely because of different societal attitude—which incidentally is created, and not a part of innate human nature. In the United States, dogs are treated as integral members of a family and given enormous love and care, yet in many countries they are treated literally as dirt or dirty and in some they are even eaten. Conversely, cows are eaten in some countries and worshipped as sacred in others. It is thus possible to teach people, including women, to treat women for what they are: more than equal.
Can it be done soon enough? Yes, it can be. If humans can be taught to love dogs and cows, they can be taught to love, respect, and care for their moms and daughters, too, within a few years or a generation at the most.
A.N. “Shen” Sengupta, M.Arch. ’63
In the account of this year’s Harvard-Yale game (“Just Perfect,” January-February), the writer refers to one Harvard player as “a former walk-on.”
I first heard the term “walk-on” when I left graduate school at Harvard to teach at a large public university with more or less semi-professional football and basketball franchises. I was then told that a “walk-on” was just an ordinary student who tried out for and made the team, as opposed to players who had been relentlessly recruited, let in under a special admissions policy, given “athletic scholarships” to pay their expenses, and, by and large, dwelt in an entirely separate subculture at the school.
Some of my colleagues, who had themselves gone to large public universities, couldn’t understand why “walk-on” was a new term to me. I tried to explain to them that there were schools where the students on every team were “walk-ons”: that is, regular college students who joined a team on just the same terms as others of their classmates wrote for the newspaper or sang in the Glee Club or acted in The Pirates of Penzance for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. They weren’t recruited, they weren’t brought in on “athletic scholarships,” they were on the same academic and intellectual level as their classmates, and they’d made the team only by succeeding in an open try-out.
I’d been assuming all that was still true at Harvard. Does the writer of the Harvard-Yale piece know something I don’t?
W. C. Dowling, Ph.D. ’75
Professor of English, Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.
Dick Friedman amplifies: Not only are Harvard (and other Ivy) athletes recruited, but they also are courted as aggressively as players in the Big Ten. They have been so coveted since football emerged as a major campus activity at the turn of the twentieth century. The major difference is that the Ivies do not offer athletic scholarships, though of course Ivy student-athletes are eligible for the same financial aid that non-athletes can receive. (A book providing an insightful look into the Ivy recruiting process is Playing the Game, published in 2004 by Chris Lincoln.) For an unrecruited player to make the football team is a tribute to his pluck; for him to crack the starting lineup is exceedingly rare; for him to become All-Ivy, as Scott Peters has, is the longest of long shots.
I’ve been meaning to write, honest. Loved the carbon-tax piece [“Time to Tax Carbon,” September-October 2014] and the predictable letters from superannuated grads going all grumpy about climate change. Learned a ton about Orlando Patterson and current trends in historiography [both, November-December 2014]. Smiled to read that Harry Lewis had actually volunteered to re-enter the realms of deanhood [Brevia, January-February]. Thank you for all that and more.
But what I need to tell you is how much I’ve loved the football coverage. Dick Friedman is a great acquisition. His articles offer the best accounts on Crimson girdiron fortunes since Percy Haughton bent elbows with the regulars at Cronin’s. Detailed, witty, and discerning. And fair-minded: Yale’s “crashing, slashing, dashing” Mike Varga becomes a worthy Hector to Andrew Fischer’s Achilles.
That’s it. Check’s in the mail.
Conn Nugent ’68, J.D. ’73
The January-February issue of the magazine contains an informative article, entitled “Balanced Budget, Benefits Battle,” addressing selected topics from the University’s recently released annual financial report. The article notes that during the past fiscal year there had been “a decline in funding for sponsored research—down $13 million (about 2 percent) to $819.2 million,” and that “this category, long Harvard’s second-largest source of revenue…was eclipsed this year by tuition and related student income. As federal funding declines and foundation and corporate sponsorship rises…, the University recovers less ‘indirect’ support for buildings, libraries, and other overhead, posing worrisome problems of how to pay for the surrounding, expensive University infrastructure.” Further along, the article quotes from the financial report in noting some responses of the University and its Schools to this financial problem, which include: “and further ‘encouraging growth in corporate-sponsored research,’ of ‘particular importance’ given the problems in the public sector.” This narrative, albeit accurate, glosses over some deeply threatening issues of enormous consequence to Harvard and all other research-intensive American universities and academic medical centers.
At the end of World War II, following publication of Vannevar Bush’s celebrated report to the U.S. president entitled “Science: The Endless Frontier,” the federal government made the fateful decision to flow large amounts of public revenues to universities for the conduct of cutting-edge research conjoined with the training of future generations of scientists. This decision, often dubbed the Federal-Academic Partnership, was generally welcomed by academic leaders, but was opposed by some fearful of the consequences of universities’ becoming overly dependent on federal funding, and the “strings” that they argued would inevitably accompany the expenditure of federal monies. In the ensuing decades, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would become by far the largest single source of federally sponsored research and research-training grants, although the founders of the partnership expected that role to be played by the then-newly authorized National Science Foundation (NSF). In time, the NIH extramural research budget would become four to five times larger than that of the NSF. Other major federal agency funders of university research include the departments of defense, energy, and agriculture, and NASA. Federal funding of academic research differs in two critically important ways from [funding] from foundations, corporations, and wealthy donors. First, federal funding includes two components, direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are funds awarded through research institutions to their faculty investigators for the conduct of research, while indirect costs, also known as facilities and administrative (F&A) costs, are awarded to the institutions for their overhead costs incurred from providing and maintaining the ever more costly space and facilities required for the conduct of that research. During the past three decades, indirect costs have comprised about one-third of NIH’s total extramural research funding. Of interest is the fact that NIH provides about 70 percent or more of the total extramural research funding of major research universities (including Harvard), irrespective of whether they have medical schools, with the major exceptions being technology institutions like MIT or the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
No other external research sponsors begin to approach the federal level of overhead reimbursement. Some foundations, by policy, pay no indirect costs, others perhaps 5 percent to 10 percent. And corporate sponsors, suggested in the magazine’s article, and presumably in the University’s financial report, as potential saviors riding to the rescue of Harvard and its sister research institutions, only rarely if ever, in my decade-long experience as dean of Stanford Medical School, are willing to pay anywhere near the negotiated federal F&A rate in their contractual funding of university research. As the article points out, the sources of university revenue are limited: student tuition levels are under severe pressure from the public and ominously, the federal government, and wealthy donors, again from my experience, generally come to the table with very specific research objectives in mind.
Since shortly after completion of the highly publicized five-year doubling of the NIH budget in federal fiscal year (FY) 2003, the value of the NIH budget in constant dollars has steadily declined and is now about 25 percent below its peak. Yet the doubling generated a substantial increase in U.S. biomedical research capacity: the number of NIH research-grant applicants almost tripled in the years immediately following the doubling and still remains more than twice the pre-doubling level, creating a severe supply-demand imbalance that many fear is threatening the integrity of our nation’s biomedical research enterprise and is unsustainable.
A second very important point not mentioned in the magazine article is that federal sponsors of research, not only DHHS but DOE, DOD, NASA, and USDA, will, to varying degrees, support truly fundamental research, often dubbed “curiosity driven, investigator initiated research,” recognizing that it is such research that, years or even decades later, provides the breakthroughs that prove to be transformative and paradigm-shifting—think the transistor, or MRI, or the Web, or the foundational research into bacterial viruses that provided the underpinning of the biotechnology industry. Industry laboratories devoted to foundational research, like AT&T’s storied Bell Laboratories, or the RCA Laboratory, are distant memories. So, yes, corporate-sponsored research can generate cash flows into research universities, but those funds will not cover the full overhead costs of that research, nor will they, perhaps with rare exception, fund the fundamental research that will underpin the next great economic breakthroughs. It is a pity that the United States is decreasing its support of fundamental research in the life sciences at this time of extraordinary opportunity, and while other nations, European and especially Asiatic, are increasing their investments in what they see as the foundation of their future leadership and prosperity in the “Century of Biology.”
David Korn 54, M.D. ’59
Professor of Pathology, Massachusetts
General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
Formerly, Inaugural Vice-Provost for Research, Harvard
Stanford University Vice President and Dean of Medicine, and
Professor and Founding Chair of Pathology, emeritus
Editor’s note: A condensed version of this letter appears in the print issue.
Readers who enjoyed the Vita about John Muir, by Steven Pavlos Holmes (November-December 2014, page 50), might be interested in Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy, by Bonnie J. Gisel and Stephen Joseph—a sumptuous, oversize, but not overly expensive, appreciation of the great naturalist and conservationist, published in 2009 by Heyday, founded and led by Malcolm Margolin ’62. For the past 40 years, Heyday, in Berkeley, California, has been publishing extraordinarily beautiful books on California’s nature, history, and culture.
Marty Krasney, M.B.A. ’75
Architecture Students’ Safety
I was well informed by the article “Architecture as a Liberal Art” (January-February, page 22) but, being a student who spent countless hours in Harvard’s theater scene shops who now works as a freelance scenic carpenter, I was frightened by the lack of basic safety precautions I saw in one of the photos in the article.
While the young women pictured in the Graduate School of Design’s (GSD) wood shop both had hair tied up and eye protection, their loose fitting and draping clothing has no place where power tools are used. Smaller issues include lack of hearing protection, wearing of jewelry while working with power tools (especially rings and bracelets), standing in the line of possible projectiles, and a number of smaller, but no lesser, issues. I recommend we all, including the professors of the course, be reminded of the horrible accident that left a recent Yale grad dead on campus just four years ago and why following all shop safety standards is so important.
David Jewett ’08
Benjamin Prosky, assistant dean for communications at the GSD, responds: “The Harvard University Graduate School of Design takes the safety of our students very seriously. The School’s Fabrication Lab is supervised by skilled staff members who oversee the safe operation of all equipment. To gain access to the Lab and operate machinery, students must attend a mandatory safety orientation session and then pass an online quiz that includes information about appropriate (and inappropriate) attire and hearing protection.
The Lab goes through an annual safety audit by the Harvard Office of Environmental Health and Safety. In addition, as a response to the tragic incident at Yale, Harvard’s Risk Management Office conducted a University-wide audit, including a full review of the GSD’s safety operating procedures and documentation. This evaluation earned the School high praise; as a result, those developing safety policies and monitoring conditions at other labs on campus look to the GSD as a reference.
We regularly extend our communications regarding safety precautions in the Fabrication Lab to all students, faculty, and staff who use the facilities. The Lab has had an exemplary safety record, and we will continue to do everything we can to maintain this record while encouraging creativity, productivity, and safety throughout all GSD studios, workshops, and labs.”
Tribute to a Mentor
Farish Jenkins, professor of biology and Agassiz professor of zoology, passed away two years ago and since that time several of his former students have written about his outstanding lectures, research, and attitude as a professor. However I haven’t seen any that describe his commitment to the art of mentorship, and hope that [the attached essay will] reach all his former students and colleagues who may be interested in reading this tribute and discussion.
Casey Cazer ’12
Mentoring, with Gusto
In Memoriam ~ Farish A. Jenkins ~ 1940-2012
Education was once based on mentorship; it was about the relationship between teacher and pupil. Since Socrates and Plato, teachers and mentors were synonymous and students benefited from a combination of instruction and counseling. But as the number of people seeking secondary and higher education has increased, the mentoring relationship between teachers and students has been usurped by the need to disseminate as much knowledge as possible to as many students as possible. My favorite professor understood that mentorship is at the heart of teaching and the counseling and role-modeling that he gave to me were transformational to my career.
Farish A. Jenkins was an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist at Harvard University and was often assigned pre-vet advisees because there were no faculty veterinarians in the biology department. However I was not discouraged by having an advisor outside of my field of study because it quickly became evident that Farish had much more to offer than a letter of recommendation for veterinary-school applications.
Through sharing stories of his own work—expeditions to the Arctic, safaris in southern Africa, fitting together fossilized feet of dinosaurs—he opened my eyes to a world of discovery and inquiry. It was evident that innate curiosity was a driving factor in his work and contributed to his groundbreaking discoveries. The personal stories he shared made his work come alive, made it tangible such that I wanted to be a part of it.
An ex-Marine, Farish carried vodka and a rifle on Arctic expeditions, during which he and his collaborators would discover Tiktaalik roseae, the link between water and land vertebrates. But I knew him as a professor in an office with filing cabinets full of publications and fossils meticulously spread out on a table. For many months he had a dinosaur’s unarticulated foot on his desk. When I inquired about it, he explained that most museums were posturing the Plateosaurus incorrectly as a bipedal animal walking on its toes. Farish pointed out subtle contours of the metatarsal-phalangeal joint, demonstrating that the current posture resulted in a hyperextension of the joint. His observational finding contributed to a long-ranging debate among paleontologists and the plantigrade stance became more commonplace in museums. Over four years I heard many stories of discovery like that one, each challenging me to take on a larger role in the pursuit of new knowledge. Farish inspired me to strive to make a difference in the world, even if it is a small one.
Farish’s confidence in me surpassed my own self-assurance, which helped me to see how I could take my veterinary education above and beyond traditional veterinary careers. He always thought that I could do more, be more, than I did. With guidance and support he illuminated my full potential and it glittered at the end of a new road. Farish showed me that road and he would help me travel it.
He suggested summer research programs but also supported me in my quest for pre-veterinary experience at dairy farms and race tracks. When I wanted to study animal nutrition, Farish volunteered to help me with an independent study. But he actually knew nothing about animal nutrition, so once a week for a semester I taught him nutrition that I learned through a textbook and primary literature. I presented case studies on ketosis in dairy cows and Farish was fascinated. He said that he was thankful for my teaching and excited to have learned about a new topic, which he even used on an African safari that he led that year. His genuine enthusiasm was my reward.
This experience demonstrated to me that mentoring is a two-way relationship. The mentor cannot be expected to be the only party with something to give. A mentee’s contribution might be introducing an interest or hobby, teaching a unique topic, or sharing unique life experiences. Each mentoring relationship is unique but the mentee must contribute more than just gratitude for the mentor’s advice and help because lasting, meaningful relationships can only be built on reciprocity.
Farish wasn’t just a mentor, but also a sponsor. He connected me with opportunities both within and outside of Harvard. He used the full extent of his professional network to help me reach my goals. And he didn’t stop with my admission to vet school. After I was accepted at Cornell, he reached out to friends here and helped form my early connections with Cornell’s faculty.
I didn’t really know what a mentor was, or could be, until I spent time with Farish. He always went above and beyond his formal responsibilities as my academic advisor. He praised my work and initiatives and demonstrated a sincere interest in my career and personal life. It was that personal connection that made our mentoring relationship meaningful—not just a “checking in” about academic progress or writing recommendation letters. Farish’s belief in me and his unwavering support continues to guide me along the road to my full potential. It is because of his unchecked enthusiasm for discovery that I found my passion for research. He also helped cultivate my aptitude for teaching. I will continue to strive for impact in everything that I do because that is what Farish would expect from me and I’m not going to let him down.
Farish Jenkins, speaking to students on June 4, 2012, in his closing remarks at Harvard’s Great Transformations Symposium and Celebration:
“You will take joy in two things. These were the joys that have come in my life. Discovery. When discovery hits you, you’re looking at something and you don’t see it. Then all of the sudden you do see it…Those days will be days of your life’s highest elation…The other great happiness that is waiting for you as students is that you will become teachers….if you are good teachers you will convey your enthusiasm, your love, and your insight, so that all of the sudden you turn out classes of people who really appreciate the natural world of organisms….And this gives you great joy and gives them great joy and you suddenly realize that these students came to Harvard University for education and, by gosh, they didn’t get it from very many courses but they got it from you.”
Congratulations on the Harvard sustainability plan (see “Sustainability Steps,” January-February, page 24). It is wonderful to see the university assume a leadership role. But does the plan take growth and development into account fully? Construction of new buildings according to environmental standards is good, but all new construction has environmental costs. Can Harvard cap its space requirements? That would mean attention to maximizing the efficiency of current buildings, and where they cannot be made efficient, replacement. Lightly used offices, generous corridors, and multiple ceremonial spaces all have environmental costs. The goal should be a more environmentally efficient Harvard footprint, not a larger one.
Richard Brown, Ph.D. ’66
Editor’s note: The University’s sustainability plan does take growth into account. For further details, see harvardmag.com/sustainability-14.
I’m confused. One man writes that Global Average Temperature has been statistically constant for nearly 18 years. The other writes that 14 of the hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Who is correct?
Mike Clement, M.B.A. ’71
Editor’s note: One issue involved in this debate is the role of the unusually strong El Niño of 1998; using it as a baseline may distort evidence of actual warming. For background, see this recent article in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/science/earth/2014-was-hottest-year-on-record-surpassing-2010.html.
In regard to Dr. Keller’s letter about global warming, and Dr. McElroy’s reply, I prefer Dr. Keller’s position. Dr. McElroy seems a tad dogmatic on insisting that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere must in the long run trump increasing volcanic ash in that atmosphere as well as the cooling effect of replacing tropical rainforest with cropland. On the question as to whether it is warming or cooling that is now occurring, important recent developments include these:
“Robot Sub Finds Surprisingly Thick Antarctic Sea Ice”
By Becky Oskin November 24, 2014 11:17 AM
[Excerpts:]…Antarctica’s ice paradox has yet another puzzling layer. Not only is the amount of sea ice increasing each year, but an underwater robot now shows the ice is also much thicker than was previously thought, a new study reports.
…According to climate models, the region’s sea ice should be shrinking each year because of global warming. Instead, satellite observations show the ice is expanding, and the continent’s sea ice has set new records for the past three winters.
…The findings were published today (Nov. 24) in the journal Nature Geoscience.
…The robot sub surveys, which were spot-checked by drilling and shipboard tests, suggest Antarctica’s average ice thickness is considerably higher than previous estimates.
…The sea ice growth around Antarctica has averaged about 1.2 percent to 1.8 percent per decade between 1979 and 2012, according to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.//[End excerpts]
See also a press release from two months ago by ETH-Zurich [Swiss Tech University]:
[Quote:] The average temperature on Earth has barely risen over the past 16 years. ETH researchers have now found out why.[end quote]
Scientists should have an open mind on the question of whether or not humanly caused global warming could have the beneficial effect of delaying the onset of another ice age. Dr. Keller rightly suggests possibilities for triggers of ice ages and hot periods that are beyond human causation, such as variations in solar output.
James O. (“Ozzie”) Maland ’59, J.D. ’62
Walnut Creek, Calif.
I am writing because of your unfair treatment of Dr Wm. E. Keller. In his thought-provoking letter, he questioned President Faust’s climate-change “proclamation,” an article you printed by Jonathan Shaw, and a letter by Messrs. Longstreth and Wirth—all of whom had taken extreme positions on this issue. These were not rebutted. Why was it necessary to have Dr. Keller’s letter rebutted at all, let alone by someone other than one of those being challenged?
In his rebuttal Professor Michael McElroy made some excellent points, but was unsuccessful in refuting any of Dr. Keller’s. His referring to Dr. Keller’s use of a McCormick-Huber study, certainly relevant here, as “disingenuous,” seriously weakens his case.
The major difference between political and religious opinion is that the former thrives on discussion and expects disagreement; the latter does not. I hope climate-change is still on this side of religion.
Chas. W. Wilson, M.B.A. ’67
Red Lion, Pa.
As the only undergraduate concentrator in statistics from 1970-72, I feel I must bring to light data which shows the lack of diversity in letter-writers to Harvard Magazine. In the last three issues, there were 48 letters, with 36 from men, over half from the ancient decades of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, and only three from this century! Of course most graduates from old days were, like me, old white men, but I’m sure Harvard Magazine can do a better job of reflecting the well-publicized goals of diversity which the University espouses today.
Michael Sherman ’72
Mathematics teacher, Belmont Hill School
Editor’s note: The magazine publishes the mail we receive, and must rely on correspondence from its readers to change the level of diversity reflected in these columns. As the “Speak Up, Please” box notes in each issue’s Letters section: “Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to ‘Letters,’ Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, send comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, use our website, www.harvardmagazine.com, or fax us at 617-495-0324. Letters may be edited to fit the available space.”
In your January-February issue, on page 30, there is a graph showing time series of college concentrators with the adjoining note beginning: “Inflection Point.” I believe this was a faulty attempt to provide a mathematically sophisticated and now increasingly common label to a graphical phenomenon. It appears that the focus was simply on an “intersection” point (where SEAS concentrators now outnumber those in arts and humanities) instead. An inflection point occurs on one graph when, for example, the exponential increase in the number of cases in an epidemic looks like the right half of a smile, but then the epidemic is brought under control, it decelerates, and the graph begins to look like the left half of a frown. The moment the smile ends and the frown begins is an inflection point.
Michael Sherman ’72
Mathematics teacher, Belmont Hill School
Errors and Amplifications
A novice error appears at page 49 of the article on Cass Sunstein. The New Deal provided us with a Securities Act and an Exchange Act and a Securities and Exchange Commission. It did not provide us with a Securities and Exchange Act.
Dan Blatt, LL.B. ’62
Granite Bay, Calif.
Editor’s note: Geologist Thomas M. Cronin, Ph.D. ’77, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, alerted us to an error in the January-February issue letters section, in the response to a letter from W.E. Keller. Dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million, not 50 million, years ago (Ma); we regret this editing error and have corrected the text online.
Cronin continues: “One or several periods of Eocene warmth did occur roughly 56-50 Ma, when there were elevated atmospheric CO2 levels. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (about 55.5 Ma) in particular is an intensely studied period of elevated CO2 levels and warm climate.
“What is most important, however, is that the topics raised in these debates—paleoclimate records of past climate, warmth, and elevated CO2 levels—are extremely relevant to the issue of modern climate change.”