I'm at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square for the Harvard Graduate Council's 'One Harvard: Lectures that Last.' Top professors from each of Harvard's twelve schools have been rounded up to to give a talk:
Roland Baron | Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Davíd Carrasco | Harvard Divinity School
Nancy Elizabeth Oriol | Harvard Medical School
Ronald Ferguson | Harvard Kennedy School
David Hemenway | Harvard School Public Health
Rebecca Henderson | Harvard Business School
George Whitesides | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Fernando Reimers | Harvard Graduate School of Education
Daniel Schrag | Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
John Spengler | Harvard Extension School
Charles Waldheim | Harvard Graduate School of Design
6:20pm: After introductions, David Hemenway is first up. He's talking about data systems at the national level. GNP (gross national product) is a flawed measure because it doesn't measure changes to assets; the billions of dollars of damage from Hurricane Katrina, for example, don't register. Similarly, the assets that we use up when we decide to "drill, baby, drill" are not counted, and this kind of accounting influences our decisions.
[Wow. Sorry about my iPhone photography here.]
6:25: If you die before the age of 40, you're more likely to have died because of injury rather than disease, but we don't know enough about injury prevention. One exception to this is in motor vehicle fatalities, because data is collected here. Motor injury prevention has been a success story because of this data; since the 1950s, motor vehicle fatalities have fallen 90%.
6:26: What is the leading cause of injury death in New England? Not motor vehicles, suicide, or falls, but poisoning (overdoses). But we don't have a good system for collecting data on this; we need to do better. We are often taught how to analyze data, but much less often consider how to generate good data.
6:30: Next up, Roland Baron from the School of Dental Medicine. (We have a school of Dental Medicine?) His talk is called "From a few to many: Bones on earth and in space."
400 million years ago, the first bony fish was evolving. Its challenges were that there wasn't enough calcium and phosphate in its environment, and that it was a heavy fish, placing structural demands on the fish if it were to come out of the water. [might have gotten this wrong.]
Bone is alive! Bone regenerates itself; a set of cells come in and eat away at the bone, while a process of calcification follows and creates new bone in its wake. This allows bone to adapt. When this process breaks down, you have osteoporosis. The medical cost of osteoporosis in the USA is second only to cardiovascular disease.
Cures for this are starting to be found through studying rare conditions. Some people have very dense bones--seven standard deviations more dense than average. This condition is extremely rare, but is generally found when someone is in a car crash but doesn't break their bones; and then they comment to their physician that they can't float.
Baron has developed a method for treating astronauts with an antibody (sclerostin antibody) to reduce their bone loss in space.
6:42: Next up, Rebecca Henderson from the Business School, on "Business, the Envrionment & the Integrated Life."
She begins with a childhood memory, of lying on her back in a forest looking up at Beech trees. Then she learned that life is about power and money, so she studied at Harvard and MIT, learning engineering and business. "I think the free market system is one of the greatest inventions of the human race" which has led to great prosperity. But she also learned that "you don't talk about your private life in business. You talk about the numbers." "Business people are not priests." Priests are expected to lead an integrated life: they live the same way at home as they do at work. But business people are given a pass on this; at home, they have certain concerns, but at work, they care only about the bottom line. Henderson is concerned about this.
Firms that really do well, she found, talk about fuzzy concepts: "emotional commitment" and "shared purpose." Some firms exceed the productivity of others by a great deal: Toyota, Southwest airlines. Productivity can differ by as much as 300% between companies working under the same conditions, such as in airline conditions.
Relational contracts: what is this? It may have to do with trust.
Environmental crisis. The world population has tripled in Henderson's lifetime "and I'm not that old." Various examples of environmental catastrophes. Coral reefs, running out of water and food, etc.
Shouldn't government fix these problems? Yes, a price for carbon would be good, "but I wouldn't let business off the hook." Why not? Because contemporary business models don't value the future. The value of the world at a depreciation rate of 17% becomes zero in 30(?) years.
We have different ways (we have the technology) for creating business models that are in sync with the world. This will be hard. Henderson quotes Marshall Ganz: “Hope is belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable.”
To do this we need to remember trust, and shared purpose.
6:53: John Spengler from the School of Public Health. "This is not a talk about my research, it's about what I was thinking about over spring break." According to the Mayan calendar, after the "13th Bakun," we are running out of time: on December 21, 2012, there will be the "last winter solstice" and the universe will end.
But for the Mayans, this isn't just about apocalypse, but about cultural rebirth.
Thinking about climate change. Keeling's curves: measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the 1960s to now show an increasing rate of change. For every degree increase in global temperature, there is a 5% increase in the moisture the atmosphere holds: this fuels hurricanes, etc.
What are our choices? Do nothing (the US Congress approach), or we can reduce carbon, or we can adapt to the change.
Who is optimistic or pessimistic about climate change? The optimists tend to believe in technology: we'll do this and that, and it'll be fine. "Even in my own household, my family thinks I belong with the mountain-men in Montana, even in terms of what our own household has to do to prepare for climate change."
Why this disjunct?
What do people think? Increasing numbers of people think that global warming is exaggerated and that it won't affect them. Although the science is the same, where people come down on this issue depends on whether they are Republican or Democrat. It is because we don't see the change and the damage; an early spring in Cambridge seems nice.
Spengler takes us to Shishmaref in Alaska, and shows us images of the people there and their village. Their town and way of life is very vulnerable to the reduction of sea ice. Within one generation (30 years), their climate has increased by 15'F.
Personal Change Theory: We can move from fear to activity, to start working towards change. Fear --> Denial --> Guilt --> Activity.
7:06: Fernando Reimers from the School of Education.
He was recently in the Middle East working on an entrepreneurial workshop. He works on entrepreneurship and people's sense of agency. Over the course of a program a few months long, the number of students who believe they can be in a leadership position in the future or that they can effect change goes from around 65% to 90%. How can such a short program make such a big difference? Because schools aren't doing what they should.
"Schools as we know them are a brilliant invention." The idea of educating everyone. Horace Mann worked to create a publicly funded universal education system. A few years later, Article 26 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights names the importance of education.
Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) developed the idea of universal education; for those who would not engage, his idea was to put them in cages hung from the ceiling. We don't use literal cages, but we still have all kinds of ways of punishing students. It's an outdated system. We need to change schools to keep pace with our current and future contexts and challenges: how to manage risk and build resilience. How to face challenges and turn them into opportunities.
We have to do more to cultivate the agency of students: their capacity to transform the world. Have students learn from each other, have students teach teachers, and change communities of learning "where distance and time are bridged by technology."
With his graduate students, Reimers has been developing a curriculum that will do this: they're starting schools in Beijing and in Sao Paolo. But they also have to change curricula in existing schools. Derek Bok has said that changing the curriculum in a university is "like moving a cemetery."
Different ways of organizing work: example of Google Lunar X Prize, which builds spaceships with teams of thirty rather than with huge teams and resources. Many other examples of entrepreneurs developing programs to develop global citizenship.
7:19: Charles Waldheim from the Graduate School of Design! Talking about "Landscape as Urbanism."
Think about all that we've heard so far about climate change, and think at the same time about the fact that we're rapidly urbanizing.
A hundred years ago, if you had to design a city, you would have called an architect; fifty years ago, a city planner; but today, people increasingly are calling landscape architects.
The High Line: "at the boutique end," a great example of landscape urbanism. Taking a brownfield area that was slated for demolition and allowing it to be socially, economically, and ecologically productive.
Fresh Kills Park.
Michael van Valkenburgh's work on the Hudson river.
Toronto happens to be one of the most interesting venues for these experiments in North America. A range of design competitions in the last few years. West 8's waterfront. It's not a coincidence that Adrien Geuze, the only landscape architect in this competition, was the only one to recognize that the streetcars are the closest thing we have to a carbon-neutral form of mass transportation in North America. The architects proposed destination buildings.
When I moved to Toronto, I thought the banking system there was antiquated; I couldn't get a loan. But when the crash came, they looked like geniuses, and there never was a financial crash there. Toronto is undergoing a building boom.
7:27: Q+A session, also known as Lian's dinner time.
7:40: Daniel Schrag from the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
Let's not talk about climate change. Let's talk about the weather. Various statistics on how nice our spring has been: weather records for the temperatures two weeks ago. Statistically, the probability for the weather we had two weeks ago is near zero, and yet it happened.
We have to completely transform the world's energy system in the next 150 years. But the timescale of climate change is a bad fit for human actions:
1. The climate system responds to cumulative carbon emissions.
2. The timescale of climate change is at least 100 years. This is not the timescale of politics.
3. The goal must be net zero emissions. Annual emissions reduction is not a good measure.
Graphs. The decisions we make over the next century are committing the earth and every living thing on it not only for thousands of years, but tens of thousands of years and generations. That's the time scale I think about as a geologist.
What is a solution? Over the next 100 years, we must eliminate (globally) the emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. The world will still experience massive climate change, but we may avoid the most catastrophic consequences.
We're getting better and better at extracting hydrocarbons because of improvements in drilling; the price of oil may fall.
There are three views (three things we have to do):
1. Develop new technology
2. Change our behavior (we don't understand this very well)
3. Change the relationship between money and power.
7:50: Davíd Carrasco from the Divinity School. "Ancestral Journeys to Now: A Lost History of Mexico."
Carrasco is of Aztec descent; thinking about Aztecs breaks down our polarized notions of race (black vs. white). Latino Americans "carry multiple cultural worlds within us." When Carrasco first saw Aztec artifacts in a museum, he felt a mixture of pride and shame: he had learned that civilization came from the Greeks.
His grandmother had beautiful skin, and when they would ask her how she did it, she said she had a secret ingredient: "prayer, prayer...and good cosmetics." This captures a balance between our impulse to seek human connections and to maintain traditions, and to capitalize on technology and science.
Carrasco is showing us artifacts that depict Aztec origin myths. In Aztlan, the place of ancestral origins, there was a woman with two tongues. She was bilingual; this myth had a bilingualism and biculturalism at its heart, and a powerful female figure.
The notion of migration is also embedded in early myths, and remains part of the Mexican experience today (in terms of migration into the USA). Migratory peoples re-imagine the world (as in our modern cities of Los Angeles, New York, and Boston).
An indigenous painting shows an indigeneous temple and Christian church side by side: they held a dual identity.
In recovering the lost history of these many Mexicos, we feel the paradox of pride and shame, the despair and hope of Guatemalans and Mexicans and other Latinos in this country.
Listen to your grandmothers: she may have the secret ingredient.
8:03: Ronald Ferguson, School of Education. "Conceiving a 21st Century Social Movement for Excellence with Equity."
We're at a very special moment in human history. We're at the peak of everything that came before, and we can either screw it up, or do well. We have to better inform the public and improve public discourse so we can make better choices about climate change and education.
Stagnant high school completion rates and lagging skills. The goal is equity between different racial groups, as well as sliding the entire bell curve towards excellence. This isn't happening, and the American population is shifting demographically towards the racial groups that are lower achieving--so this is a problem for all of us.
There are few if any group differences among one year olds, and racial IQ gaps are smaller than in the past: IQ is not biologically determined. Exemplary schools are doing well and showing the way.
Key roles: parents, teachers, employers, peers, and community. People don't want to talk about parenting, but this is the root of the achievement gap. There are group-level differences in parenting methods.
Fundamental Five for Early Parenting:
1. Narrate life beginning at birth (children learn language even while in the womb).
2. Use gestures to communicate with infants to accelerate comprehension and language development.
3. Use number games with toddlers to build foundations for numeracy.
4. Associate early counting with sets of objects to accelerate growth in math understanding.
5. Mix higher and lower order discussion in bedtime book reading for pre-schoolers.
They asked children: what could you do to fit in with your friends? The answers were entirely negative: bullying, being nasty in various ways. Then they asked: what would make people cool if you could rewrite the rules? The answers were entirely positive. Children want to do better and know what better is.
8:14: Nancy Elizabeth Oriol from the Medical School. Boundary Turbulance. The interface between public health and the street.
I grew up on the border between a poor black neighborhood and a poor white neighborhood. I'm (of mixed race) and am African American but look white, which was interesting as we went from the Civil Rights movement to the Black movement to the Politically Correct movement.
Oriol is an obstetric anaesthesiologist. In this context she found disparities in health outcomes. Example: a woman from a good neighborhood and a woman from a poor neighborhood who had the same problem. The woman from the poor neighborhood didn't do well; when Oriol asked her what happened, she said that she didn't want to bother her doctor with something "as insignificant as a headache" and didn't want to appear stupid.
The problems are in knowledge and self-confidence; they're not in medicine.
Oriol has developed a project called the Family Van. It's staffed by community health workers, nutritionists, and others. They see documented improvements in health outcomes, in some cases eliminating disparities in health outcomes between advantaged groups and the disadvantaged groups that they serve.
The common element in these mobile clinics is that they cross a boundary, into the patients' world, and in doing so, into a place of boundary turbulence.
"What happens on the van stays on the van." When people are on a van, both staff and patients tend to disclose personal information, and they're bound together in a more collegial and safe manner. The traditional patient and professional relationship is disrupted: boundary turbulence. In this, trust is born.
Anecdote of a woman with drug problems who came into the van repeatedly and asked about help for her drug problems. She'd always run away when they started to try to help, but finally she took a phone number with her. She came back, months later, with a healthy baby that she was able to keep safe because of drug treatment. They were able to help her because they didn't judge her and were patient.
8:26: Paul Farmer, University Professor and formerly of the Medical School. "Global Health Equity and the Challenge of Unequal Modernity."
I want to make an argument that would be especially pertinent to graduate students. Nancy said she was going from lofty to low; I'm going to stool. Diarrhea is my professional area of expertise. Our field is global health equity, whether you're working in the family van or Haiti.
This is a scene we've seen again and again since October 20, 2010 when a cholera epidemic began in the wake of an earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital. The earthquake brought down the entire federal infrastructure, and perhaps over 20% of Haitian civil servants died.
Natural disasters aren't natural. Modern Haiti has always been caught up in disparity, since Columbus landed there.
Secondary spikes in mortality. When the cholera outbreak started, one of my colleagues called me to say that there were lines of hundreds of people in front of the hospital, many with profuse, watery diarrhea. Haiti has the worst water insecurity in the Americas, perhaps in the world. The outbreak happened in the same place where Farmer had been working for 25 years to provide health care. But health care is not the same as water security and food security.
We have the talent at Harvard to prevent this kind of thing. Haiti has the talent too, but they don't have the resources. But imagine if we turned our attention to these kinds of problems. If we don't deploy tools equitably, we will continue to have these epidemics. One of the biggest human rights problems we will see in the future is ensuring there is equitable access to the fruits of science and technology.
8:37: George Whitesides, School of Arts and Sciences. Nominated for the Nobel Prize last year.
"Since I'm last, I should start with the answer: simplicity."
How does one go about building a revolutionary technology?
There has been a hope in many of the presentations this evening that some of our problems will be addressed by technology. Technological change marks our culture; perhaps technology is both the problem and the solution to the problem.
Quotes Potter Stewart:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." [Emphasis added.]
Think about a cup. It holds water, and hot water which has been sterilized. In doing this, it's one of the most important tools in public health. It's one of the most important tools in business, because business takes place over coffee. And it's one of the most important tools in courtship. It's a simple thing with complicated uses.
Think about the birth control pill. It's an important tool in fighting population growth, has dramatically changed the role of women in society and their ability to educate their children.
The tea kettle question. You look at the tea kettle, and think "why is it hot?" One is a scientific answer about particles escaping and changing state. Another is because you put the pot on the stove: the pragmatic answer. Another is because you wanted tea: the intentional answer. Another is because God wanted it that way: a theological answer.
Simplicity (to Complexity). The idea of stacking.
The most important revolution in the last fifty years: the internet. It's an example of stacking. It starts with the simplest arithmetic (binary). It turns out to be breathtakingly easy to check for errors and to recover a signal from noise; it has characteristics that only comes from this simplicity, because there are only two possible answers (1 or 0).
A transistor is like a wall switch, except extremely cheap and extremely fast. Farms of switches can build integrated circuits. Integrated circuits can then be built up to make a cell phone. With a cell phone, you can connect the world. Ending up with Google, for the sake of argument.
Simple things can stack up in a reliable way.
"This is where I serve as a backroom aide for Paul Farmer." Whitesides is developing a test kit for VD and HIV made out of paper, with hydrophilic paper and hydrophobic polymer. Paper is simple and we know how to make it. On the paper, you put a few spots of chemicals (urine or blood), and it serves as a test.
Question: How do we have this kind of boundary turbulence in hospitals? Answer from Nancy Elizabeth Oriol: Have a multi-layered health care system. Not everything should happen in a hospital.
Question: Attention is paid after emergencies; how do we develop capacity for prevention? Answer from Daniel Schrag: It's very difficult to get people to act in advance. There is a program at the Kennedy School called "Acting in Time" that deals with this question. There are few times when we do act in advance--one was Y2K. I'm teaching a course with Charles Waldheim about sea level rising; it's not about one day your house is under water, but about an increasing frequency of storms. The answer is in resilience, not in stopping the disaster. Not the sea wall but in building our houses and communities so that after the flood, we can pump out the water.
Paul Farmer: Prevention and care often get pitted against each other, but we need to integrate them.
Davíd Carrasco: With Y2K, this was seen as a religious threat; the end of the world. When these kinds of threats happen, prophecies come out. Reference to the Mayan prophecies and all the advertising and trips to Mexico that will happen this year, motivated by beliefs that the world will end later in 2012. When Martin Luther King made his prophecies, it also motivated change; prophecies can be powerful, even when they're not delivered in prophetic language.
End. It's late! (9pm)
Thanks for reading!
Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around Cambridge...and once in a while, some studio and course work. Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in most cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts. If you have concerns about how you are quoted, please contact me via Archinect's email.