Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Grossman Argues Truth Was Lost in the Election

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman tells his students that getting closer to the truth is what economic research is all about. That’s why he was so dismayed when “my devotion to, and belief in, the truth was battered by the presidential election,” he writes in an op-ed on The Hill.

He writes:

It turns out that polling data and analysis contained very little truth. The news were no better. The mainstream media got many things wrong. And there was no shortage of fake news. Although peddled as the real thing, it really wasn’t even trying to provide truth, only to shape opinion.

But by far the biggest letdown in the truth department was Donald Trump, who proved that telling lie upon lie upon lie need not prevent someone from being elected president.

“What should the truth-loving public do going forward?” Grossman asks.

First, pay attention to sources. It is relatively easy to construct a realistic website that has the look and feel of a real news organization or reputable think tank. Do not be fooled. If someone tells you something about the state of employment in the United States, double check facts at Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website. The U.S. government is the best, most reliable source for factual data about the nation’s economy. Obama didn’t fudge the numbers, and Trump is unlikely to be able to do so.

Second, even relatively trusted new sources have their less trustworthy bits. In print media, the division between truth and opinion is usually clear. You can generally trust what you read in the Wall Street Journal, until you get to the opinion pages. Television networks are less clear about separating fact from fiction. CNN’s hiring of Trump campaign employee Corey Lewandowski—while he was on the Trump payroll and still subject to a non-disclosure agreement—should have set off alarm bells among CNN viewers, not to mention the better journalistic instincts of CNN’s management.

Third, be demanding. I encourage my students to challenge the authors that they read in class, including me. Ask questions, check sources and verify the truth for yourself. Just because something has been shared on Facebook a million times does not mean it is true. We should challenge the assertions of politicians of all stripes just as vigorously.

Finally, we need to care more about the truth. One of the most troubling aspects of the election was that so many people voted for Trump despite being fully aware of his many lies because “he shouldn’t be taken literally.” At the risk of sounding naive again, approaching national elections with the attitude that outright lies don’t matter does not bode well for the future of our democracy.

Four Students Awarded NASA Connecticut Space Grants

Grant recipient Rami Hamati '19, left, at a workshop sponsored last summer by the CT Space Grant on helicopters and other small aircraft.

Grant recipient Rami Hamati ’19, left, is pictured at a workshop sponsored last summer by the Connecticut Space Grant on helicopters and other small aircraft.

Four Wesleyan undergraduate students have received grants from NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

Astronomy major Hannah Fritze ’18 was awarded $5,000 for an Undergraduate Research Fellowship Grant titled, “Searching for Intermediate Mass Black Holes in Ultraluminous X-ray Binaries.” This grant will support her research this coming semester on black holes with Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy.

Avi Stein ’17, who is majoring in astronomy, was awarded $1,000 for a Student Travel Grant. He will be presenting his research on Venus—conducted with Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences—at the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in March.

Rami Hamati ’19 and David Machado ’18 each received a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship. According to Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, these scholarships are awarded to students who show promise as a major in a STEM field related to NASA’s mission.

Read about past recipients of Connecticut Space Grants here and here.

Center for the Arts Announces New Director

Sarah Curran (Photo courtesy of ToniBird Photography).

Sarah Curran (Photo courtesy of ToniBird Photography).

Sarah Curran, who is currently associate director of the Stanford Arts Institute, has been selected to lead Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts beginning on Feb. 20, 2017.

Curran succeeds Pamela Tatge, who left the university after 16 years to serve as executive director of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Laura Paul has served as Interim Director of the Center for the Arts since February.

“We are excited to welcome Sarah Curran to Wesleyan,” said President Michael Roth. “Sarah is a collaborative leader, and I know that our faculty and students look forward to working with her to curate programming that elevates and integrates the arts across the campus and enhances their teaching and learning.”

Curran brings to the job more than ten years of experience in arts programming, a creative interdisciplinary curatorial practice, wide knowledge of contemporary performance, and a deep understanding of academia. At the Stanford Arts Institute, where she was previously director of programming and partnerships, Curran designed a sustainable mobile art studio built by students; built a research residency program to allow artists to spend their time doing academic research to inform new projects; expanded an arts immersion program, taking students to different cultural capitals across the U.S.; and created the 72 Hour Musical Project, in which teams of students wrote the basis for a new musical over the course of a weekend. Prior to coming to Stanford, she worked with the Tribeca Film Festival, Martha Graham Dance, and the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Curran is a graduate of Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP). She earned a master’s degree in performance studies from New York University, and a bachelor’s degree in religion, theater, and dance from Princeton University.

“I am thrilled to join the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan, a school I have long admired for its integration of the arts into the fabric of campus life,” said Curran. “I look forward to building on the great work already taking place at the Center.”

Naegele Teaches Neuroscience to Tibetan Buddhist Monks

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In June, Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, traveled to Mundgod, India to teach Tibetan monks through the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI), a program promoting “the convergence of science and spirituality as two complementary systems of knowledge,” according to the Emory Tibetan Partnership. ETSI was founded as a pilot in 2006 by Emory University at the bequest of the 14th Dalai Lama. Naegele’s journey, which she took together with her husband, Dr. Paul Lombroso, was described in the Winter 2016 issue of Rutland Magazine, in an article featuring many photographs provided by Naegele.

Sumarsam, PhD Students, Alumni Present at Symposium

University Professor of Music Sumarsam demonstrated puppet movements at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA), in Penang, Malaysia.

University Professor of Music Sumarsam demonstrated puppet movements at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA), in Penang, Malaysia.

University Professor of Music Sumarsam and several PhD students and alumni recently presented papers at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA). The symposium was hosted by Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia, from July 31 to Aug. 6.

Sumarsam presented a paper titled, “Religiosity in Javanese Wayang Puppet Play,” and demonstrated puppet movements.

Wesleyan Mathematics Faculty Train Area School Teachers

Wesleyan’s Associate Professor of Mathematics Christopher Rasmussen teaches an Intel Math class Aug. 11 at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center. Wesleyan’s Assistant Professor of Mathematics Christopher Rasmussen teaches an Intel Math class Aug. 11 at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.

Wesleyan’s Associate Professor of Mathematics Christopher Rasmussen teaches a math class Aug. 11 at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

This month, the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center is once again hosting its K-8 Math Institute for 29 school teachers from Vernon and Hamden, Conn. The 80-hour program aims to increase teachers’ mastery of math concepts as well as their confidence with math.

Sharon Heyman, a mathematics education specialist from the University of Connecticut, works with teachers at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.

Sharon Heyman, a mathematics education specialist from the University of Connecticut, works with teachers at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.

Wesleyan Associate Professor of Mathematics Christopher Rasmussen is teaching the institute along with Sharon Heyman, a mathematics education specialist from the University of Connecticut. This is the fifth time the pair has taught the course together. The institute includes the content-intensive, 80-hour Intel Math course over the summer as a foundation for teachers, several follow-up workshops during the school year for advancing teaching practices and arts integration strategies, and two professional learning community sessions a year in the form of Math Potlucks.

Green Street Director Sara MacSorley said this year’s course is going very well.

“As a group, the participating teachers are strong in math and really engaged in the material,” she said. On this particular day, a Friday afternoon with temperatures soaring into the 90s, “there are lively discussions about fractions at each table.”

Rasmussen ’87 Manages Expectations About the Military Defeat of ISIS

Nicholas Rasmussen ’87, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, spoke on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about progress made in the fight against the Islamic State. He said the tactical gains the U.S. military and its partners are making in Iraq and Syria are a “necessary” part of quashing the danger it poses—but not “sufficient.”

Rasmussen told NPR that government agencies—ranging from federal to local—are working well together, and counterterrorism leaders are confident they can detect, disrupt or stop big, complicated attacks on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the danger remains from smaller-scale attacks directed or inspired by ISIS, and these may linger a long time.

The Islamic State can be defeated both as a self-styled “caliphate” and as a terror network, Rasmussen said — but he stressed that the West can’t declare victory whenever allied forces recapture Mosul, in northern Iraq, and the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, in Syria.

Even the death or capture of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, while it would be “significant,” might not create a dramatic difference, Rasmussen said. “The payoff from that … does not come quickly.”

Rutland Speaks on BYUradio about the Olympics, Nationalism

Peter Rutland

Peter Rutland

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, was interviewed on BYUradio about the Olympics and nationalism.

“The Olympics are practically built for indulging in what you might call ‘good nationalism,’ as opposed to the xenophobic kind,” said host Julie Rose in the introduction. Yet this year’s Olympic Games come at a time of fear of outsiders, both in the U.S. and abroad.

They begin by discussing the difference between patriotism—which has more positive connotations—and nationalism, which implies dislike of foreigners. The key distinction, says Rutland, is about having respect for people from all countries.

“In practice, the Olympics is a competition, it’s about winners and losers,” he said. “The Olympics is very contradictory. On the one hand, it claims to be transcending nationalism in a kind of fellowship of international athletes. But at the same time, in practice, it reinforces nationalism by encouraging people to cheer for their team and take pride in their team’s victories, and correspondingly, the defeat of other nations’ teams.”

Rutland also commented on the mass appeal of such competitions.

“It does tap into a desire to express our belonging to a bigger community—not just our family and neighborhood, but our country. And, at least when it’s going through the media—when it’s watching the Olympics or watching the World Cup for soccer, it seems to be pretty benign. It’s not like going to war. Sport, as George Orwell said, is a kind of substitute for war. Nobody is getting killed, nobody is getting hurt, and we’re all kind of on the same side, in that everybody is enjoying the competition, and you win some, you lose some.”

Rutland also is professor of government, professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies, and tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Gross Writes About a ‘Tipping Point’ in Relations Between Police, African Americans

Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross

Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross

Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, writes in The Huffington Post about the case of Korryn Gaines, the latest death of an African American at the hand of police. Gaines was fatally shot after a five-hour standoff with police and SWAT officers in Maryland, and had prophesied her own demise during an earlier traffic stop, in which she had also been defiant.

While Gaines’ behavior may once have appeared irrational, and possibly a sign of mental illness, Gross writes, “after these and so many other deaths of black women and men killed during minor traffic stops, killed for selling loose cigarettes, or found dead in jail after failing to signal a lane change, Gaines’ defiance may gesture toward a desperate tipping point: that the system is so corrupt there is little distinction between notions of legal and illegal. It may also mark the mounting fear that for black people there is little chance of survival during even the most routine police encounters.”

Whedon ’87, Hon. ’13 Talks with Basinger on WNPR

Joss Whedon '87 presented Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, with an honorary degree from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2006. This photograph is on display in the "Buffy to Bard" exhibit.

Joss Whedon ’87 presented Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, with an honorary degree from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2006. This photograph is on display in the “Buffy to Bard” exhibit.

WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show featured a conversation between Joss Whedon ’87, Hon. ’13; Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives; and David Lavery, author of Joss Whedon, A Creative Portrait: From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Avengers and co-founder of the Whedon Studies Association.

Basinger described her experience with Whedon while he was a student at Wesleyan.

“When I encountered Joss at Wesleyan, he was my superhero because he was a really fabulous student, an original thinker and somebody who you just knew was born to be a storyteller. Those things were very, very clearly in place already with him at college,” she said.

Basinger is also asked about influences apparent in Whedon’s work.

“Joss is an original. Whatever he learned or saw from past movies, or got in my class—or in Richard Slotkin’s class—has been totally filtered through his own sensibility…

“For me, I definitely perceive it as work by Joss because I hear his voice, I feel his concerns. People sometimes ask me, ‘Who is Buffy?’ and I say ‘Buffy is Joss.’ There isn’t any other answer. He’s made things so much his own, and the kinds of conventions that come out of genre that he understands and uses, the whole reason they’re in our culture is to be tempered and redesigned and reconstituted and brought forth through the creative force of a new generation. And that’s what Joss has done with them.”

 

Wesleyan Students Recognized for Scientific Images

This summer, Stephen Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, launched the inaugural Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest. The contest, which recognizes student-submitted images from experiments or simulations done with a Wesleyan faculty member that are scientifically intriguing as well as aesthetically pleasing, drew 35 submissions from the fields of physics, biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, psychology, earth and environmental science, chemistry and astronomy.

Participants submitted an image along with a brief description written for a broad, scientifically literate audience. The entries were judged based on the quality of the image and the explanation of the underlying science. The first-place prize went to Eliza Carter ’18 from the Earth and Environmental Science Department. Aidan Stone ’17 and Jeremy Auerbach ’17 tied for second places, while Riordan Abrams ’17 won third place. The images were judged by a panel of four faculty members: Devoto; Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences; Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences; and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

The first-place winner receives a $200 prize; the second-place winner receives $100; and the third-place winner receives $50. Prizes were funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

Devoto was inspired by a similar contest that his daughter won at Haverford College.

“Students at Wesleyan produce extraordinary scientific images, ranging from graphs and computer simulations to microscope and telescope images,” he said. “I wanted students to have fun, to think of their scientific images in an artistic sense. And I thought that the artistic presentations of student scientific images would be a striking testament to the quality and fun of student research here. I hope these will be displayed on campus to highlight the science and the creativity, which thrive at Wesleyan.”

The four winning images are shown below, along with scientific descriptions:

Eliza Carter '18 submitted a scanning electron microscope image of the shell of a radiolarian (a protozoa) found near the top of an Antarctic sediment core from ODP site 697. The radiolarian shell is around 2.7 million years old and is made from silica that was produced by the radiolarian. Studying the percent biogenic silica in a sediment sample is a proxy for primary productivity: the more biosilica you have, the more productive it was.

Eliza Carter ’18 submitted a scanning electron microscope image of the shell of a radiolarian (a protozoa) found near the top of an Antarctic sediment core from ODP site 697. The radiolarian shell is around 2.7 million years old and is made from silica that was produced by the radiolarian. Studying the percent biogenic silica in a sediment sample is a proxy for primary productivity: the more biosilica you have, the more productive it was.

Forbes Ranks Wesleyan in the Top 10 Colleges in America

Forbes magazine has featured Wesleyan among the top 10 in its list of America’s Top Colleges 2016. Ranked at number 9, it shares the highest echelon with major research universities including Stanford, Princeton and Harvard, and liberal arts colleges like Williams, Pomona and Swarthmore.

The Forbes ranking is based on a weighted three-year moving average of each school’s total score. Critical factors include student satisfaction (measured by faculty ratings and freshman-to-sophomore retention rates), post-graduate success (alumni salaries and alumni on American Leaders List), academic success (alumni receiving PhDs and student nationally competitive awards), student debt, and four-year graduation rates.

President Michael Roth blogged about this honor in July, writing, “Despite knowing that ranking schools is more magazine public relations than science, and despite the tendency to reward the wealthiest schools with the highest rankings (all the schools in the Forbes’ top 10 except Wesleyan have endowments way over a billion dollars), I have to admit I was tickled to see alma mater get this recognition. This magazine (unlike U.S. News) paid more attention to outputs (how our alumni and faculty are doing) than inputs (how much do we spend per student, how many applicants do we reject), and I couldn’t help but think that we did well here because of the impact our grads are having beyond the university.”

He added, “I still think that all college rankings are pretty artificial, and that prospective students should find the right fit with a school rather than choose a place on which a magazine has conferred prestige. […] But it’s gratifying to see Wesleyan faculty and alumni recognized for the great work they do every year—whatever the rankings.”