Issuu on Google+

Daily

THE BROWN

vol. cxlviii, no. 24

INSIDE

Page 3

What’s app

The Common App altered essay length and topics

Major comeback Early cultures concentration resurges in popularity Page 7

Terminate TED Brundage ’15 promotes expertise over sampling today

tomorrow

43 / 37

48 / 34

since 1891

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

MyCampus results examine campus functionality An analysis of courses also found declining interdisciplinary study as students get older By SABRINA IMBLER SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Page 4

   Herald

Data from the MyCampus survey confirmed University hypotheses about how students and community members use and perceive the campus, said Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy and chair of the Committee on Reimagining the Campus and Community, at Tuesday’s Brown University Community Council meeting. The results confirmed that community members sense a physical divide between the humanities and sciences on campus, that upperclassmen perceive Brown to extend beyond College Hill and that students view Thayer Street as unsafe. The results will help guide the committee’s priorities when it submits its final recommendations to President Christina Paxson this May. Carey broke down the data into a 56-slide-long presentation of interactive

graphs, maps and word clouds that revealed the accessibility issues highlighted in the responses collected through MyCampus. “I’m not sure if we will see anything that dramatic, but (MyCampus) will inform planning decisions and inform our most immediate needs,” Carey said. “Some of the work I find the most interesting and enlightening has come through the Committee on Reimagining the Campus and Community,” Paxson said. The MyCampus survey received over 2,600 responses: 1,595 from students, 282 from faculty members and 726 from staff members. Brown’s participation rate was the highest seen by Sasaki, the planning company that conducted the survey, Carey said. Many maps highlighted Thayer Street as a hotspot for working, dining and socializing, as well as an area of concern for campus safety. The Blue Room received

rave reviews from students, notably as the fourth largest phrase in the word bubble for dining, after “food,” “eat” and “love.” Carey cited the Blue Room’s popularity as a model of intervention, noting the “investments made in the building to make it a better eatery for students and staff.” Another function of MyCampus asked participants to select the area of campus they thought to be the “campus core,” which older respondents perceived as geographically larger, the slides revealed. Sasaki also mapped undergraduate course enrollments, finding that the rate of interdepartmental enrollment decreases after freshman year, as most students declare concentrations and focus on fulfilling those requirements, Carey said. The thickly intertwined web “confirmed what we already knew: that the curriculum at the undergraduate level is completely connected and students are taking courses throughout departments,” Carey said. The divide between sciences and humanities manifested in the graphs

of all students but was particularly pronounced in those of upperclassmen. Carey presented a similarly divided web derived from the faculty survey released in December, which polled 80 percent of faculty members about the buildings in which they worked, their departments and the seven most important institutions with which they collaborate. “Exactly what we will conclude from this is something we continue to discuss,” Carey said, but he referenced the committee’s focus on moving departments out of former residences and into multiplexes of numerous, connected departments as a possible application of this segment of the MyCampus data. The council then discussed the importance of faculty, staff and postdoc access to childcare in response to a presentation from Andrea Simmons, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, about the Childcare Committee’s findings released Tuesday. The Childcare Committee was formed last summer after the Taft Avenue Day Care Cen/ / Survey page 5

Despite debate, U. will still require standardized tests U. refutes Students are split on whether colleges should consider standardized tests for admissions By MARK VALDEZ SENIOR STAFF WRITER

In 1986, Students Against Testing submitted a referendum to the Undergraduate Council of Students urging the University to stop requiring applicants to submit SAT scores. Mark Safire ’87, co-founder of Students Against Testing, raised issues that still echo among applicants and students today. “It’s not an aptitude or achievement test. I’d like to know exactly what it’s supposed to measure,” Safire said, The Herald reported at the time. Safire’s movement did not succeed in 1986, but today, many schools have

embraced the argument of Students Against Testing. Approximately 850 four-year colleges have become standardized test-optional in their admission processes, according to Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. These schools have instituted a new policy in which applicants are not required to submit SAT or ACT test scores in order to be admitted. But none of the Ivy League universities are test-optional, as all eight still require some combination of the SAT I, SAT II subject tests or the ACT with or without the writing component. Brown requires applicants to submit either the SAT I with two subject tests or the ACT with the writing component. “Test-optional is defined as not requiring SAT or ACT test scores to be / / Testing page 2 submitted be-

claims of ethnic quotas

The SAT scores of Asian Americans are not held to a higher standard, the dean of admission said By MARK VALDEZ SENIOR STAFF WRITER

ALEXANDRA HAY / HERALD

Statistics from the College Board suggest that as family income rises, so do the student’s standardized test scores.

Speaker emphasizes attentiveness in art, neuroscience Using an interdisciplinary approach, a Georgia Tech prof explored ‘memory as a creative process’ By ISOBEL HECK STAFF WRITER

Displaying six photographs of video game players’ “game faces” to a crowd in Wilson 102 Tuesday night, Barbara Stafford, professor emerita at the University of Chicago and visiting professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, said, “This is not my topic.” People who play video games often look like they are deep in thought, but to really pay attention, people must “be aware of (their) awareness,” Stafford said, rather than just acting automatically. She

SCIENCE & RESEARCH

said she is interested in these deeper, more conscious attention processes, rather than more automatic actions. Stafford’s lecture, titled “The Long Conscious Look: Attention as a Burning Topic in the Humanities and Neurosciences,” was the first of three talks in the spring Science and Technology Studies lecture series “Beyond the Two Cultures: The Future of Science and Technology Studies.” An expert in vision and image perception, Stafford focused on the intersection between vision, images, attention and neuroscience. Through various examples, she explored attention in terms of art and visual perception. “Where is attention at any given moment? It’s kind of hard to say, isn’t it?” she asked. Stafford also spoke of “memory as a creative process” and showed a picture of a woman named Jana, the grandmother of Czech art- / / Attention page 4

CORRINE SZCZESNY / HERALD

Barbara Stafford’s lecture focused on conscious attention processes. She also explored attention and visual perception.

In response to claims that the Ivy League uses quotas when admitting Asian American students, Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 said the University does not use quotas or discriminate against any ethnic group in determining who is admitted to Brown. Several commentators alleged that the constancy of Asian American enrollment in Ivy League institutions — despite an increase in the number of college-age Asian Americans ­— is evidence of a quota system, according to an opinions spread published Dec. 20 in the New York Times. Since 2002, Asian American enrollment at Brown has had little variation. According to data from the Office of Institutional Research, the number of Asian American students enrolled has ranged between 773 and 913 since 2002. “The Asian American applicant pool has grown in concert with the pool generally. We can control who we admit,” Miller said. “What we can’t control is who shows up.” He noted the Admission Office has accepted between 380 and 530 Asian American applicants within each incoming class in the last decade, which is higher than the number of / / Asian page 2 Asian Ameri-


2 university news C ALENDAR TODAY

FEBRUARY 27

11 A.M.

TOMORROW

/ / Testing page 1 FEBRUARY 28

4 P.M.

Brown Astrophysics Seminar

Cybersecurity Colloquium

Barus and Holley, Room 168

Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum

6 P.M.

8 P.M.

Writing Your Six Word Memoir

Stephen Drury Solo Concert

Sciences Library 3rd Floor

Granoff Center

MENU SHARPE REFECTORY

VERNEY-WOOLLEY

LUNCH Vegan Potatoes Vinagrette, Chicken Artichoke Pasta Medley, Grilled Pepper Garlic and Herb Chicken

Meatballs with Sauce, Chicken Soup with Tortellini, Italian Marinated Chicken, Frosted Cupcakes

DINNER Southern Fried Chicken, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Cajun Chicken Pasta, Peach Cobbler and Bananas Foster

Red Pepper Marsala Cream Sauce, Chicken Broccoli Pasta Alfredo, Siena Vegan Roasted Couscous

SUDOKU

CROSSWORD

fore admission decisions are made for all or many applicants,” Schaeffer said. The shift to a test-optional policy among many schools comes from an increasing belief in universities and colleges that standardized test scores are an inadequate predictor of a student’s success at the college level. “There is research data that suggests the test adds little or nothing to select and predict who will be good students,” Schaeffer said. “Every school that goes test-optional sees an increase in academic talent of its applicants.” “The SAT predicts first-year grades not quite as well as high school grades do — despite differences in high schools,” Schaeffer said. For the first time, the number of students taking the ACT surpassed the number of students taking the SAT. According to data from ACT and College Board, 1,666,017 students took the ACT in 2012, compared to 1,664,479 students taking the SAT. Rob Franek, author of the Princeton Review’s “The Best 377 Colleges,” attributed the rising interest in the ACT compared to the SAT to students’ desire to submit scores from the test they find more conducive to their own abilities. Schaeffer noted that some colleges that have moved against mandatory standardized test submissions still require students to submit their GPA or class rank, such as the University of Texas, which automatically admits students in the top 8 percent of their graduating class. Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 said the use of standardized test scores varies by each institution’s individual needs. “While we get transcripts — which are the most critical things we get — and teacher recommendations and essays, one of the things standardized tests does is help give us a sense of comparing apples to apples,” Miller said. “It’s nowhere near the most important tool, but it does add to our understanding of a student’s credentials.” Current students and applicants gave mixed responses as to whether they found standardized test scores

/ / Asian page 1 cans who matriculated since 2007, according to data released by the admission office. President of 80-20 National Asian American Education Foundation S.B. Woo told The Herald he believes the Ivy League has treated Asian Americans unfairly in the admission process. “We are being discriminated,” he

THE BROWN DAILY HERALD WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

to be useful in the admission process. Mary McCreary, an applicant to the class of 2017 from John Paul II High School in Plano, Texas, said she supported the Admission Office’s use of the SAT because she felt her high score on the test helped her compensate for her lower GPA. Ashrat Patel, who attends Chapel Hill High School in Atlanta, Ga., said standardized test scores “don’t measure intelligence or how you do at a university.” Patel said he chose to take the ACT instead of the SAT because he felt he could better understand the test’s format and material. He said the SAT “takes a sort of mindset, which varies for each student.” Some students and applicants indicated they feel these tests merely measure students’ abilities to do well on the tests themselves. “Something about how the questions were set up showed me it wasn’t testing what you learned in high school,” said William Van Ullen, an applicant from Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, N.Y. “I felt all of the questions were trying to trick you.” Franek said he believed standardized tests are not predictors of a student’s success. “The SAT is an incredibly coachable test and no way predictive of a student’s aptitude,” he said. “The SAT ... only stands for the three letters.” But Franek said many admission offices still see standardized tests as useful. He added that 82 percent of 1,500 four-year colleges that have reported how they use various criteria indicated test scores were “very important or important” in their admission decisions, according to a recent Princeton Review survey. Socioeconomic differences are another thorny part of the debate over the value of standardized tests. According to statistics by the College Board, as a student’s family income increases, a student’s SAT scores increase. “Students who pay for courses to get higher scores are being resourceful,” Patel said. Franek noted there are many options for test preparation that vary in price, making preparation affordable

for everyone.“It just depends on what is the best platform that you learn on — from a book or a one-on-one tutor,” Franek said. Samuel Kortchmar ’16 participated in a Princeton Review camp to prepare for the SAT. He said he liked the SAT because it gave him a way to measure himself against a national standard. “It strengthened my application,” he said. But he said he found the writing section to be an area where tutoring classes could make a large difference in improving students’ scores. “My writing hadn’t improved,” Kortchmar said, adding he felt the tutoring course only gave him an edge in learning the test’s format. Some students indicated they felt their high schools left them at a disadvantage in performing on the SAT and ACT. Conor Wuertz ’16 said he came from an “experimental high school” that put less emphasis on exams and left many students unready for standardized tests. “Standardized tests don’t test creativity or the ability to work together with others,” he said. “It’s not a good indicator of college success.” Weurtz said he would like admission offices to either use a modified standardized test or other criteria that measure skills besides test-taking abilities. Some students said standardized test scores seem to only have relevance for the admission process but have little impact on life after college. Xander Tabloff ’12, who now attends Yale Law School, said the SAT “certainly wasn’t a huge predictor of where (students) went or what jobs they got after Brown.” Director of the Center for Careers and Life After Brown Andrew Simmons wrote in an email to The Herald that he is aware some employers request standardized test scores in the job application process. He added that banking and consulting firms are the primary users of test score data when hiring employees. “The practice is not widespread, and the reasons for it are unclear,” he wrote. But “the vast majority of employers ... do not require standardized test scores.”

said. “America’s core value is equal opportunity for all Americans … which is being violated by the current admission program.” Woo said he believes Asian Americans are judged on a higher standardized test curve compared to other ethnic groups and races. Asian Americans applying to elite universities must score higher on standardized tests than applicants

of other ethnicities, Woo said, citing the book “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal,” by Princeton sociology professor Thomas Espenshade. Miller said the University has never done an SAT differential study, but added that he does not see it as compelling evidence for discrimination. “SATs are part of an application,” Miller said. “The easiest thing to do would be to line up the top 1,500 SAT scores and take those 1,500 students, but that’s not what constitutes a community.” Miller said he believes every applicant is faced with “a ridiculously high bar” to be admitted, noting that the University’s acceptance rate ranges between 7 and 9 percent. “The number of spaces in a class hasn’t increased, and the number of applications has soared,” he said. Miller noted an applicant’s ethnic background is one piece of an application, but it is not the only thing considered. “People always want to know what weight does ethnicity have in the process, and the answer is it depends,” he said. “Your / / Asian page 3

www.browndailyherald.com 195 Angell St., Providence, R.I. Shefali Luthra, President Samuel Plotner, Treasurer Lucy Feldman, Vice President Julia Kuwahara, Secretary The Brown Daily Herald (USPS 067.740) is an independent newspaper serving the Brown University community daily since 1891. It is published Monday through Friday during the academic year, excluding vacations, once during Commencement and once during Orientation by The Brown Daily Herald, Inc. Single copy free for each member of the community. POSTMASTER please send corrections to P.O. Box 2538, Providence, RI 02906. Periodicals postage paid at Providence, R.I. Subscription prices: $280 one year daily, $140 one semester daily. Copyright 2013 by The Brown Daily Herald, Inc. All rights reserved. EDITORIAL

(401) 351-3372 herald@browndailyherald.com

BUSINESS

(401) 351-3260 gm@browndailyherald.com


university news 3

THE BROWN DAILY HERALD WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

THIS WEEK IN HIGHER ED

BY ELI OKUN UNIVERSIT Y NE WS EDITOR

Online education could harm disadvantaged students, study finds Online courses may exacerbate achievement gaps and further disadvantage demographic groups that often struggle academically, according to a new study released by Columbia researchers. Virtual classes — particularly massive open online courses, which are free, not for credit and available to anyone — have been widely hailed for expanding access to education. But the study from the Community College Research Center at Columbia’s Teachers College found all types of students fared worse in online courses than in face-to-face classes. Those effects were magnified for certain groups that generally perform worse in school, including black students, male students, younger students and students with poor grade point averages. The study found online course performance suffered most in social sciences and English classes. This was attributed in part to “negative peer effects,” meaning students’ grades dropped when their classmates were struggling. Researchers analyzed data from more than 40,000 students enrolled in technical or community colleges in Washington, who collectively took about 500,000 online and in-person courses. Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the center and an author of the paper, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that one primary solution would be better and more flexible instruction in online courses. “We need a lot more teacher training, showing them tactics to use to try and reach out,” she said. “I think it’s difficult for faculty to know how to do that online.”

AP scores surge to new highs The College Board announced that 2012 Advanced Placement test scores for public school students across the nation were among the best since it began publishing reports in 2001, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week. The latest College Board report found that even as the number of public school students taking AP tests soared to roughly 950,000 and reached new levels of racial and socioeconomic diversity, a recordhigh 14.2 percent of test-takers achieved the maximum score of 5. There were also new increases in the proportion of students passing the tests and the mean test score, the Chronicle reported. But Trevor Packer, senior vice president for the AP program, told the Chronicle achievement gaps persisted in the latest round of test results, with especially “distressing” numbers for black and Native American students. Maryland students performed best on one measure, with 29.6 percent of the class of 2012 scoring at least one 3, followed by New York, Massachusetts, Florida and Virginia. Nationally, 19.5 percent of students passed at least one test. New Jersey students had the highest percentage of tests scoring at least a 3.

/ / Asian page 2 ethnicity to some degree determines your experiences, but there’s not a common experience among all ethnic groups.” Thomas Mariadason, a staff attorney at the Educational Equity Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his organization has not found evidence of discrimination against Asian Americans in the Ivy League admission process. In fact, Mariadason said, programs like affirmative action benefit Asian Americans and universities. “Affirmative action programs are a good tool for helping to provide more access and opportunities to many Asian Americans that otherwise don’t fall into realms of privilege and for providing a tremendous amount of diversity for the student body,” he said. Charlotte Kim ’16 said she felt the admission process was fair to everyone who applied. “It is definitely true that being of a minority race doesn’t guarantee anything,” she said, adding that she had several minority high school friends who were just as qualified as she was but were not admitted to Brown. “Affirmative action does bolster some people’s chance of admission,” Kim said. But “in the end, everything works out pretty fairly.”

Common App to be restructured for fall Applicants will lose the option to choose their own essay topics in the 2013-14 admission cycle By MAGGIE LIVINGSTONE SENIOR STAFF WRITER

The Common Application essay will be extended from 500 to 650 words and will no longer allow applicants to choose their own essay topic starting in the 2013-14 application cycle, wrote Scott Anderson, director of outreach for the Common Application, in an email to The Herald. All the essay topics have been slightly altered, and a short response question asking applicants to elaborate on one of their activities will now be “moved to member supplements for colleges that wish to ask it,” Anderson wrote. The “topic of your choice” will be replaced by a question about “background or (a) story” that helps define the applicant. Jim Miller ’73, dean of admission, said he feels “neutral” toward the changes. Since the University switched to the Common App in 2008, applications have significantly increased, Miller said. But applications plateaued after 2011 because of what he described as the “baby boom echo,” when the number of high school seniors peaked. He added that he is unsure if and how the University will revise its application supplement. “We’ll take a look at the new Common App and then decide how and if we need to wiggle around a little bit on our supplement to get access to the information we want,” Miller said. “At this point, I couldn’t tell you that I see any big issues with the change in questions.” Julia Bengochea, director of admission, planning and administra-

tion, said she does not think these changes will affect the number of applicants the University receives. The Admission Office can change the Brown supplement every year, she said, adding, “once this admission cycle is complete, we’ll take a look at our supplement questions.” Steven Roy Goodman, an admission strategist at Top Colleges Advising, said the changes would force member universities to rely more heavily on their supplements to get usable information about applicants, creating more work for applicants. He said he felt the changes were made to help the universities rather than the students. “The Common Application is designed to help the institution,” Goodman said. “It’s kind of like going to the Department of Motor Vehicles. It should be designed to help the driver. But it’s really designed to help the people processing the paperwork.” Michele Hernandez, a private college consultant and former admission officer at Dartmouth, said she does not think essay word length will affect applicants but said she was unhappy with the elimination of the “topic of your choice” option. Hernandez said she felt the prompts were “boring” and that member universities are “bullied into accepting the Common Application and their changes.” “The Common App will become useless because more supplements will be added,” Hernandez said. “It was supposed to help students, but now it’s more clunky to do both the Common App and the supplement.” But Anderson wrote that he does not feel the topics are more rigid or that these changes will result in fewer creative essays. “What we have provided are prompts to spark thinking, not specific questions to be answered,” he wrote. Jeffrey Durso-Finley MA’91, a

guidance counselor at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J., and former Brown admission officer, said overall he does not think these changes will prevent his students from being creative or affect the quality of applicants to Brown. “I don’t think it will be a big deal because the topics left are broad enough that you can take whatever you want to write about and fit it into those prompts,” Durso-Finley said. Adam Horowitz ’16 said he opted for the open prompt essay in his college applications and wrote about hummus. He said the content and structure of the essay would not fit with the current choices. He added that the increased essay length “makes kids feel like they have to fill it,” possibly losing quality over quantity in applications. “Sometimes the best essay someone could write is not in any of the categories, so they can’t put their best foot forward,” said Tim Schlenger ’16, who chose the “topic of your choice” option during the application process. “I think the same number of students will apply (to Brown), but some of the best essays won’t get written because the options are limited.” Prospective students voiced similar sentiments. Owen Robison, a senior at Pelham Memorial High School in Pelham, N.Y., applied regular decision to Brown. He said he wrote an essay with the topic of his choice and added that he felt he “wouldn’t be able to convey” what he wanted to without the topic of his choice. Alternatively, James O’Shea, a high school junior at Devon Preparatory School in Devon, Pa., said he doesn’t think the changes will make a difference either way. “The new (essay) questions give a student an opportunity to express themselves,” O’Shea said. “I think them getting rid of the ‘topic of your choice’ isn’t really a big deal.”


4 feature

THE BROWN DAILY HERALD WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

Early cultures concentration draws four declared students After two years without concentrators, the Program in Early Cultures sparks interest again By GADI COHEN STAFF WRITER

As one of four students currently concentrating in the Program in Early Cultures, Sarah Tropp ’15 belongs to one of the University’s smallest academic communities. “No one’s heard of it,” Tropp said. “When you go to one of the advisers and tell them, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of concen-

trating in Early Cultures,’ the first thing they ask you is, ‘Are you sure?’” Since Professor E ­ meritus of Classics and History Kurt Raaflaub founded the concentration in the 1970s as the Program in Ancient Studies, Early Cultures concentrators have had the opportunity to delve into multiple fields and pre-industrial cultures from around the world. But few students at Brown pursue the program — no Early Cultures concentrator graduated in 2011 or 2012. An unconfined concentration Because the program is so small, students tailor their curriculums to

their own interests. In choosing classes, students focus on two or more ancient civilizations, which they compare and contrast throughout their coursework. They can also choose to focus on a specific overarching theme, like the languages or religions of ancient cultures. The only required class in the concentration is ANCT 1000: “Seminar for Concentrators.” “What we ask from students who want to concentrate is that they show that they can’t work within the confines of other comparative departments, like Classics or Egyptology,” said Professor of Classics John Bodel, one of the program’s three directors. “Particular programs are then worked for concentrators in particular areas that cut across and beyond a particular region.” Tropp said one of the most appealing aspects of the program is that it allows her to pursue her love for ancient civilizations from the perspective of different disciplines. The same holds true for the program’s three directors, who all come from different fields. Susan Alcock, professor of archaeology and classics, focuses on archeological excavations in areas of Greek and Roman control. Bodel studies Latin literature and epigraphy, and Stephen Houston, professor of anthropology, specializes in Mayan civilization. The small number of students in the Early Cultures program may “be something to do with advertising and word of mouth,” Houston said, though the pro-

gram is “intrinsically appealing.” “(The Program in Early Cultures) is consistent with the DNA of the college,” Houston said. “It encourages students to form a new understanding across disciplines, with the stamp of an individual concentration.”

/ / Attention page 1

memories into short-term memories, bringing them into her immediate attention once more. In her lecture, Stafford combined research and material from the humanities as well as research from neuroscience about the prefrontal cortex, consciousness and the perception of images. She focused both on attention itself and on the way the brain pays attention. Many of the issues she mentioned could form the basis of important projects for future interdisciplinary research, Stafford said.

ist Katerina Seda. Jana went into a depression after her husband died, and Seda asked Jana to draw objects from the hardware shop she managed years before, thinking it would be therapeutic. Jana could draw 650 items and label them with prices, a process in which she drew from long-term memory. For the art to come into existence, Seda had to dedicate attention to her grandmother, and Jana had to transform her long-term

Early beginnings As a child, Tropp surrounded herself with mythology books, a passion that in high school developed into a fascination with ancient history. She applied to Brown intending to concentrate in Egyptology, but she looked into the Early Cultures program after her Meiklejohn advised her to consider it. “It’s so tailored to my interests,” Tropp said. “The fact that before declaring I’ve completed almost all of the requirements says to me that it’s perfect for me.” Louisa Chafee ’14, a Herald contributing writer, said her decision to concentrate in Early Cultures was also based in her early interest in mythology. “I just love stories — there’s nothing more to it,” Chafee said. “We had little storybooks of Greek mythology and Norse mythology in our house growing up, and I really loved reading those.” Studying Early Cultures in college has allowed her to explore those stories in greater depth, she said. “As I got into the academic side, it just got more and more interesting, especially as we moved away from PG mythology and into the collegiate side,” she said. Both Tropp and Chafee came into

Brown interested in different departments but were pulled toward Early Cultures by the time they reached the spring of their sophomore years. Chafee said she initially wanted to create an independent concentration in folklore and mythology but realized she could pursue those fields within the Early Cultures program. “It’s kind of like an independent concentration already, since there are no required classes,” Chafee said. “I’m technically focusing on the ancient religions aspect, but when people ask me about my concentration, I just tell them folklore and mythology.” Looking forward Tropp said she plans to focus on Egypt and Greece during their Hellenic periods, though she said she prefers Hellenic Egypt because of its relative egalitarianism. She will likely pursue museum work or teaching after graduation, she added. “If being a professor doesn’t work out, I always joke with my family that I’ll write the next ‘Da Vinci Code,’” Tropp said. Chafee said she plans to write a senior thesis on the ubiquity of dragons in the mythologies of many early cultures. But that cross-cultural analysis is one of the most difficult aspects of the Early Cultures concentration, she said. “The hardest thing is there aren’t many classes that focus on one subject among multiple cultures,” Chafee said. “It’s something that you have to do on your own.” She also urged students to think about the way electronic devices control behavior, asking, “How much do they target your attention?” She looked at the distractive role of electronics and pointed out that while scientists used to believe people could focus on five or six activities at the same time, scientists now think it is difficult to focus on even just two. Stafford ended her lecture by reiterating the relationship between perception and art. Scientists and humanists have “lost sight that conscious vision dilates perception,” she said. For researchers in different fields, working together requires “learning about one another at a higher level,” Stafford said. Vanessa Ryan, an assistant professor of English who researches the relationship between cognition and literature, said she was impressed by the variety of people who attended the lecture. “What’s most impressive is to have people from neuroscience, the humanities and students all in the same room. … It’s a relatively rare success,” she said. Doug Nickel, professor of modern art, called the lecture a “great demonstration of what is likely to be the future of Science and Technology Studies.” Jasmyn Samaroo ’13, a student in ENGL1900Z: “Neuroaesthetics and Reading” this semester, said the class and the lecture both show the “bridge between humanities and sciences and what they offer each other.” Stafford said that when a student involved in a vision lab through the cognitive science concentration came up to her after the lecture, it was “music to (her) ears.” She added that for students interested in the intersection of the humanities and sciences, it is important to “ground yourself in both areas” and to find the right topic that will draw an audience from multiple disciplines.


university news 5

THE BROWN DAILY HERALD WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

/ / Survey page 1 ter, which exclusively served the Brown community, was shut down. Simmons presented various recommendations for both the short and the long term, including establishing a fund for childcare costs, appointing a childcare planning board and developing a website. Specific suggestions included shifting seminar times to end before 5:30 p.m., the time when all day cares close. Simmons described the obstacles the recommendations face to pass as “daunting” but added that the set of recommendations is “something that I believe needs to happen.” Simmons said inadequate childcare access affects all members of an institution, not just those with children. “Proper childcare facilities reduce absenteeism, improve worker productivity and reduce turnover,” she said. “Really, the issues of work and family life affect all of us.” Simmons cited the “maternal wall”

/ / Health page 8 8.1 percent in 2005 to 3.1 percent in 2011. But one demographic remains hard to convince, Turnbull said: young men. Men between the ages of 18 and 26 have remained one of the least affected groups since the law passed. Massachusetts adopted a number of strategies to get younger men to buy health insurance, including advertise-

/ / Polymer page 8 seeing the structure for the first time, “really seeing the beautiful density of the bound (protocatechuate),” she said. The interdisciplinary nature of the paper makes it especially relevant to science today, which approaches experiments with a more holistic view, Sello said. “We have genetics, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, structural biology all put together in one paper,” he said. “One of (the) things we are particularly proud of is

built between women and their advancement in terms of finding proper childcare and family-friendly policies as a major focus of the committee. The University is associated with three childcare centers: Brown/Fox Point, YMCA/Mount Hope Childcare Center and Bright Futures Early Childhood Center at Meeting Street School. At each of these centers, faculty members and postdoc students have access to childcare slots reserved for University families. But the number of slots reserved is not enough, nor is it competitive with other universities like the University of Pennsylvania or Johns Hopkins University, Simmons said. A survey issued through the committee revealed considerable dissatisfaction from 1,000 respondents with the current state of childcare affairs at the University. Rhode Island ranks between the sixth and 14th least affordable state in terms of childcare, which “is a ranking we do not want to brag about,” Simmons said. ments showing the cost of accidents for the uninsured — $3,000 for a broken arm, $11,000 for a broken leg — and gave out insurance information at Fenway Park in Boston. “Costs remain a problem,” Turnbull said, adding that even a percentage of those who were eligible for free health insurance did not take advantage of the program. “These are the people I lay awake at night worrying about.” that the results contained in the paper usually would be found in three or four papers.” “It’s good to see people with different expertise working on the same project, not only at the genetic level but also at the molecular level,” said Michael Thomas, an associate professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the study. Though it is too soon to define the broader implications of the researchers’ findings, they are an important advancement toward alternative fuels, Thomas said.

Initiative aimed to assist nonprofits Students receive academic credit for aiding local nonprofits with research By MAX SCHINDLER CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The Community Research Needs Database is part of a new independent studies initiative launched this semester, aimed to match students with local nonprofit organizations and help them with researchs, according to the Curricular Resource Center website. “A lot of local nonprofits are shortstaffed, and they would benefit from research to better inform their policies,” said Nikhil Kalyanpur ’13, who worked with fellow CRC coordinator Laura Ucik ’13 to create the database. At the same time, Ucik said, many Brown students are interested in contributing to the Providence community. Students are eligible o receive academic credit for the work they do with the nonprofits. The idea for establishing the database stemmed from a group meeting hosted by members of Brown Conversation in November, Kalyanpur said, adding that students embarked on the project in a subsequent discussion. “We decided to help fill that void which existed,” Kalyanpur said. The database’s organizers have contacted departmental listservs and seminars whose syllabi correspond to nonprofit research interests. On Tuesday, Kalyanpur and Ucik hosted an information session to provide independent concentrators details about the program, including ways to use the database as part of larger projects. The database logistics are fairly simple, Kalyanpur and Ucik said. Nonprofits state their research needs on a Google-hosted site, and students

scan blurbs describing projects on the database and handpick an organization. They can convert the project into a Departmental Independent Study Project, Group Independent Study Project, course term paper or longterm thesis, according to the CRC website. This semester, six students will receive course credit for participating in research with a Providence nonprofit organization based on information they found from the database, Kalyanpur said. To obtain academic credit, students must take a few logistical steps such as contacting an interested professor and community organizer, according to the CRC website. Ucik is conducting a Departmental Independent Study Project with Lundy Braun, professor of Africana studies and medical science, an arrangement she set up at the beginning of this semester, she said. “We met this semester and she agreed to work with me,” she said. “That’s all it took and a Banner override, which she submitted.” Ucik’s community research partner is local nonprofit Direct Action for Rights and Equality. Along with two other Brown students, Ucik researches prison-related activism and the state of mentally ill individuals at the Adult Correctional Institute in Providence. Ucik’s research benefits their organization, which is short on manpower, said Fred Ordonez, executive director of DARE. “There are so many issues and so many things that we’re juggling that we don’t have the time or capability to do good research that’s needed,” he said. Three Brown students are helping compile data for DARE’s campaigns, including substance abuse and mental health and foreclosure-related eviction prevention, he added. The students conduct legal research, visit correction

COMIC Ling-A-Ling | Ling Zhou

facilities and compile data on rates of recidivism and foreclosure. None of Brown’s Ivy League peers offer similar structures for independent study course credit for partnering with local nonprofits. Kalyanpur said there are only a handful of similar programs at Oxford University, Tulane University and Portland State University. “Most schools don’t allow you to take independent studies on a semester basis,” he said. “I would like to make clear how appropriate this is to Brown, how many opportunities there are for independent studies. I think it’s something we don’t take advantage of.” On campus, the Swearer Center for Public Service has helped coordinate communication between students and the organizations, but many nonprofits are directly contacting the database, said Roger Nozaki MAT’89, director of the Swearer Center and associate dean of the College for community and global engagement. “The whole database started with student interest and student initiative,” Nozaki said, as the Swearer Center “is trying to help students integrate community work with their curricular pursuits.” “We’re hoping that some students incorporate questions from the CRND into their seminar work,” Kalyanpur said. “This program has such high potential for students to change the way that Brown engages with the Providence community. It really fits an unmet need in a tangible way.” “If students want to get involved now, they should definitely check the website and contact the organizations that they’re interested in working with,” Ucik said. “It’s too late to get credit this semester but you can do summer work, do something in the fall or do something on (your) own because you want to be involved in the community this semester.”


6 editorial EDITORIAL

Don’t take our word for it As Zach Ingber ’15 argued in a Feb. 12 Herald opinions column, there is a deafening silence on Brown’s campus around the continued ravaging and slow dissolution of Syria. As of Feb. 13, over 70,000 had died in the conflict, according to estimates from the United Nations. Children are being whisked away into prisons and being tortured for information on troop movements. An Iranian journalist was killed by a sniper while reporting, live and on the air. Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and home to over 1.7 million people, is slowly being leveled month after month by guerrilla attacks and loyalist crackdowns. This is a vicious free-for-all shredding the fabric of Syrian history. It is also one the majority of our student populace seems content not discussing. But how can this be? Perhaps it is because people keep telling students we need to discuss Syria — we need to be offended, protest and get active. But Brown students seem unable “wake up” to the facts of what is happening in Syria without an incentive or avenue to do so. While we believe Brown students should be informed and care about the Syrian crisis, fulfilling this idea remains difficult. Merely demanding that students care about the issue is inefficient and impractical. People tend to care about issues when they have chosen to invest effort in learning about them. But we can encourage the community to further explore avenues of information to learn about the crisis — we can wage our own campaign against the reigning regime of ignorance. We cannot push students into actively taking up the Syrian cause, but we can make students aware of the violence and turbulence there, as well as the conflict’s potential ramifications regarding human rights, dignity and freedom. These avenues of information are varied and provide unique perspectives on the Syrian conflict. But not all avenues are efficient: For instance, having a campus event like a forum will not attract those who are not already passionate about the subject. Rather, we should channel this issue through more active and widereaching platforms — for instance, newspapers, blogs and magazines. This way, awareness of something like the Syrian conflict can be spread — not localized among only those who take a special interest to it. We have the power of social activism, and students should look at quality sources of media to extend their understanding of the issues like the Syrian conflict. Even if students are not interested in the geopolitical or journalistic ramifications of popular media coverage of events like the Syrian conflict, that coverage can be a truly enlightening lens to understanding a culture and context far removed from our own immediate lives. As informed and relatively free citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves, and from that education develop views and beliefs. We cannot demand that the student body be passionate about the Syrian conflict but can still present the avenues for them to learn about it, capitalizing on what students already do and read to offer them new, relevant information.

THE BROWN DAILY HERALD WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

EDITORIAL CARTOON b y i va n a lc a n ta r a

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“If being a professor doesn’t work out, I always joke with my family that I’ll write the next ‘Da Vinci Code.’” — Sarah Tropp ’15 See concentrations on page 4.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Dan Jeon, and its members, Mintaka Angell, Samuel Choi, Nicholas Morley and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

t h e b row n da i ly h e r a l d Editors-in-Chief Lucy Feldman Shefali Luthra

Managing Editors Elizabeth Carr Jordan Hendricks

EDITORIAL Greg Jordan-Detamore Strategic Director Sections Hannah Abelow Arts & Culture Editor Maddie Berg Arts & Culture Editor Sona Mkrttchian City & State Editor Adam Toobin City & State Editor Elizabeth Koh Features Editor Alison Silver Features Editor Sahil Luthra Science & Research Editor Kate Nussenbaum Science & Research Editor James Blum Sports Editor Connor Grealy Sports Editor Mathias Heller University News Editor Alexandra Macfarlane University News Editor Eli Okun University News Editor Dan Jeon Editorial Page Editor Matt Brundage Opinions Editor Lucas Husted Opinions Editor Maggie Tennis Opinions Editor Multimedia Emily Gilbert Head Photo Editor Sam Kase Photo Editor Sydney Mondry Photo Editor Tom Sullivan Photo Editor Danny Garfield Video Editor Angelia Wang Ilustrations Editor Production Copy Desk Chief Sara Palasits Design Editor Brisa Bodell Design Editor Einat Brenner Design Editor Kyle McNamara Assistant Design Editor Sandra Yan Web Producer Joseph Stein Assistant Web Producer Neal Poole

Senior Editors Aparna Bansal Alexa Pugh

BUSINESS General Managers Office Manager Julia Kuwahara Shawn Reilly Samuel Plotner Directors Sales Eliza Coogan Finance Luka Ursic Emily Chu Alumni Relations Business Strategy Angel Lee Justin Lee Business Development Managers Jacqueline Chang Regional Sales Leslie Chen Regional Sales Anisa Holmes Regional Sales Wenli Shao Regional Sales Carolyn Stichnoth Regional Sales Chae Suh Regional Sales William Barkeley Collections Nicole Shimer Collections Josh Ezickson Operations Alison Pruzan Alumni Engagement Melody Cao Human Resources Owen Millard Research & Development POST- MAGAZINE Editor-in-Chief Zoë Hoffman Editor-in-Chief Claire Luchette BLOG DAILY HERALD Meredith Bilski Editor-in-Chief William Janover Managing Editor Connor McGuigan Deputy Managing Editor Cara Newlon Deputy Managing Editor Georgia Tollin Deputy Managing Editor Jason Hu Creative Director

facebook.com/browndailyherald

@the_herald

browndailyherald.com

CORRECTIONS POLICY The Brown Daily Herald is committed to providing the Brown University community with the most accurate information possible. Corrections may be submitted up to seven calendar days after publication. C O M M E N TA R Y P O L I C Y The editorial is the majority opinion of the editorial page board of The Brown Daily Herald. The editorial viewpoint does not necessarily reflect the views of The Brown Daily Herald, Inc. Columns, letters and comics reflect the opinions of their authors only. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR POLICY Send letters to letters@browndailyherald.com. Include a telephone number with all letters. The Herald reserves the right to edit all letters for length and clarity and cannot assure the publication of any letter. Please limit letters to 250 words. Under special circumstances writers may request anonymity, but no letter will be printed if the author’s identity is unknown to the editors. Announcements of events will not be printed. ADVERTISING POLICY The Brown Daily Herald, Inc. reserves the right to accept or decline any advertisement at its discretion.


opinions 7

THE BROWN DAILY HERALD WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

Stop watching so many TED Talks MATT BRUNDAGE Opinions Editor Our generation has both the collective attention span and the curiosity of a caffeinated squirrel. Though many students have the intellectual curiosity to explore beyond the syllabi of their courseloads, many lack the focus span or extrinsic incentives to move far beyond the surface level of multiple fields. This is not a problem for which I can offer any real solution on a societal level. But on the individual level, anyone is capable of making some important behavioral changes here at Brown. The inquisitive Brown student seeks an education beyond what he or she learns in the classroom through a wide variety of online sources. TED Talks, satisfyingly brief lecture-style reports of groundbreaking ideas in fields from education policy to medicine, are particularly popular. Admittedly thought-provoking articles from sources like Cracked, Thought Catalog and even the New York Times opinions page are equally well-liked while remaining brief, requiring only a moment’s consideration before the reader can scurry off to the next topic. From what I have gathered through informal observation, these types of

sources constitute the vast majority of our informal education, excluding purely experiential education. Is there nothing significant outside our formal education that requires more than 15 minutes or 1,500 words to make its point? It gets worse when we start to mimic the brevity of these pieces on our favorite social media sites. Twitter allows for 140 characters of thought. It is intended probably to keep physically distant friends in touch and to give the lonely and the delu-

1990s next to our attention span. There is unquestionably a place in the world of curiosity that Brown students inhabit for outlets like TED Talks. They allow us to explore and comprehend the surface level of foreign ideas and increase the accessibility of knowledge and thus power to a wide audience. But these can never replace the role of a book or even a scholarly article. They tend to blur the line between true scholarship and entertainment, and we only

It seems that we are incentivized to become novice-level conversationalists in all fields rather than experts in a happy few.

sional the false impression that they have any sort of relationship with their favorite celebrities. But instead, the site is often used for an attempt at real intellectual thought and discussion. Don’t we need a bit more than 140 characters for that? Restricting oneself exclusively to such quick and easy content resembles something rather like premature ejaculation. All you get is the climax of an idea. Where, I must ask, is the foreplay? Our generation seems to have left it in the

need to look as far as Fox News punditry to see why this is dangerous. Unfortunately, the behavior of browsing articles and short videos rather than reading a canonical piece of American literature is difficult to curtail. It’s addictive. After all, why read a whole book on the history of an idea when a blogger has explored it with greater wit and brevity? This behavior is perpetuated by others’ tendency to spend their time the same way. We are potentially left out of an

enlightening conversation if we choose to have a love affair with a John Keynes classic instead of a one-night stand with whatever Paul Krugman blog post just went viral on Facebook. Particularly in an environment like that of Brown, where many of our most treasured experiences come from the brilliant conversations we strike up with friends and hallmates, it seems we are incentivized to become novice-level conversationalists in all fields rather than experts in a happy few. To this sort of thinking, I will mimic the advice I was once given in an auditorium full of political thinkers. If all your education does for you is make you more interesting to talk to at a cocktail party, then you have failed. We owe it to humanity and to ourselves to reject the satisfaction of an hour on the aforementioned sites in favor of something more substantive. I leave readers with a challenge. The next time you come across a concept that satisfies your intellectual hunger, keep eating. Move beyond the commentary of the blogosphere and pick up a book about it until you’ve discovered that the meat of the hamburger you enjoyed is also the basis of a filet mignon. Matt Brundage ’15 hopes that you keep reading his opinions even though he just suggested that your time might be better spent otherwise.

Are universities becoming obsolete? OLIVER HUDSON Opinions Columnist Graduating from college is part and parcel of the American dream. Holding a college degree has been a major advantage for graduates for decades. In 1980, average tuition at a four-year institution was $8,756, adjusted for inflation. Then, only about a quarter of 18-24 year olds enrolled in college. The relatively low price of college and the fewer number of graduates seeking college-level employment made college a smart investment for those able to attend. A college degree virtually guaranteed a higher standard of living. But times have changed. Since 1980, tuition and enrollment have skyrocketed. In 2010, average tuition at a four-year institution was $21,657 and enrollment of 18-24 year olds was 41.2 percent. And though tuition has increased, a college education no longer guarantees a desired job. Last April, one in two college graduates was jobless or underemployed, the Associated Press then reported. The increased price of higher education and dire employment environment have together cast doubt upon the value of a college degree. But the current economy and past economic policies cannot take all the blame for the difficulties facing today’s college graduates. Much of the blame rests with the colleges themselves. Colleges have failed to teach well, produce enough valuable research and control costs. Teaching should be the bread and butter

of education. Today, when information is available in seconds over the Internet, colleges must do more than provide information. The real value of a college education lies in imparting the ability to think, rather than the ability to recall facts. Each of us intuitively understands this. We all know it doesn’t matter that you remember a fact from a history class. What matters is that you learn to use facts to support an argument. Though teaching is what matters for students, today’s colleges do not do much teaching. Colleges have shifted from teach-

library. But, the Internet has made self-education even easier. Many claim university research provides great benefit to society, perhaps more than teaching does. But it is in fact not clear that much of this research has any real value. Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, estimated that 21,000 articles about Shakespeare have been written since 1980. Most of these articles will be read by hardly anyone and have almost no impact on student education. By funding esoteric, likely worthless research, universities do a great disservice to their students

Teaching should be the bread and butter of education.

ing to pursuing research. From 1988 to 2004, teaching duties of professors at research universities have decreased by 42 percent. Even at liberal arts colleges, teaching duties during the same time period have declined by 32 percent. Of the major 266 national universities in the country, only 45 percent of the classes have fewer than 20 students. The changing focus on universities from teaching to research deprives students of the main benefit of a college education. As universities become more focused on research rather than on classroom education, one has to wonder whether using the Internet cannot accomplish the same function as a college at a fraction of the price. Even before the Internet, skeptics used to joke one could get a college education for free at a local public

and the general public, which supports public and private universities through government research grants. Across all subjects, it is estimated a university article costs on average $72,000. Universities have allowed their operating costs to spiral out of control. Rapidly rising costs have much to do with an increasingly bloated university bureaucracy. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that between 2001 and 2011, the number of university employees hired to administer people, regulations and programs increased more than 50 percent faster than the number of hired instructors. The effect of administrative costs on the cost of college is clear from a study conducted about the University of Texas. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity concluded

that tuition at the University of Texas could be cut in half by having the 80 percent of professors with the lightest teaching loads teach half as much the 20 percent of professors with the heaviest teaching loads. Universities enjoy limitless demand, but as the costs of college continue to rise, universities may not always have the customer base to support profligate spending. In a nod to modernity, many universities have recently begun offering online courses. More than 6.1 million students took at least one online college course during the fall of 2010. For a university, online courses are an efficient way to increase revenue at relatively low cost. But though universities may have an advantage now in offering online courses, eventually others, with far cheaper overheads, will catch up and be able to offer such courses at much lower prices. If the university will survive, it must return to its original mission of teaching to cultivate the mind. Brown has been an innovative university, best expressed with the creation of the Open Curriculum in 1970. But in recent history, Brown has been morphing into a more conventional research-oriented and preprofessional university. In the last decade, the size of Brown’s graduate school has grown in student size by 30 percent and the Alpert Medical School’s class size has grown by 36 percent. While expanding Brown’s graduate school and research capability has benefits, returning Brown to its original dedication to teaching would be a better direction. Oliver Hudson ’14 may be contacted at oliver_hudson@brown.edu.


daily herald science & research THE BROWN

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

Speaker promotes drug decriminalization Exec. director of Drug Policy Alliance emphasized the need for drug policy reform By ANDREW JONES CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The United States needs to legalize marijuana, decriminalize drug possession and combat the black market for drugs to the greatest extent possible, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, to a crowd of close to 70 people at the Watson Institute for International Studies Tuesday. Nadelmann, a longtime drug policy reform activist, stressed the importance of legislative and cultural change in the realm of drugs at home and abroad. If Americans are willing to take certain measures, like decriminalizing drugs, the United States could be a model for drug policy for the rest of the world — in particular, Latin America, he said. Nadelmann said though a wide range of opinions exists, many Latin

American leaders agree drug reform is necessary. He recounted numerous firsthand encounters with Latin American chiefs of state and politicians, such as former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos. Many of these leaders are wary of taking bold action on drug policy lest they lose political face, he said. “The number one obstacle is public opinion in these countries,” Nadelmann added. Taking action on drug policy is difficult in Latin American countries, partly because of pressure from the United States to stop the distribution and use of drugs, Nadelmann said. He said if drugs were legalized, these countries could benefit from the “unstoppable dynamic of the global commodity market,” but the United States government continues to unsuccessfully fight the growth of the drug market at home and abroad. The objectives of drug policy reform should be to “reduce the role of criminalization in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with

protecting public safety and health,” Nadelmann said. A good drug policy would strike a balance between more “draconian policies” involving strict punishment for drug use and a virtual lack of regulation in the free market, which he dubbed “Milton Friedman’s wet dream.” In the question-and-answer section of the event, Nadelmann said cultural transformations are also necessary to modernize views on drugs. Specifically, he said certain language can stigmatize drug users. Terms like “drug war,” “drug abuse” and “drug addict ... diminish the person’s humanity,” he said. Nadelmann’s lecture was co-sponsored by the Watson Institute and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. It was part of an ongoing lecture series entitled “New Security Challenges in the Americas.” Peter Andreas, interim director of the Watson Institute and professor of political science, said the lecture series is “part of a larger effort to raise a profile of the Watson Institute’s focus on global security.”

Potential fossil fuel alternative found in polymer University researchers study polymer lingin, whose properties can be used as a fuel substitute By GABRIELLE DEE STAFF WRITER

In developing alternatives to fossil fuels, one possibility lies in the polymer lignin, whose components can be engineered to develop fuel. Most microorganisms cannot break down lignin, but in a study published earlier this month in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, Brown researchers described a possible mechanism for how the Streptomyces bacterium achieves this feat. At present, the findings are mostly of academic interest, said Breann Brown GS, who worked on the research with Jennifer Davis GS under the guidance of Jason Sello, associate professor of chemistry, and Rebecca

Page, associate professor of biology. “What we’re contributing to the field is a better understanding of how the bacteria do what they do,” Brown said. Streptomyces bacteria are able to metabolize lignin through enzymes that are only produced when a certain gene cluster is active, according to a University press release. But a protein called PcaV usually binds to the bacteria’s DNA, switching off the gene that signals the production of enzymes. The researchers found that when bacteria are exposed to a specific enzyme, protocatechuate, PcaV loses its affinity for DNA, Page said. With the DNA now unblocked, “all the machinery that is needed to transcribe DNA to RNA can actually bind and work,” Page said. To understand what was happening with the protein at a molecular level, the researchers used a technique called protein crystallography

to compare what PcaV looks like with and without protocatechuate, Page said. Results from the protein crystallography revealed that the amino acid arginine was involved in PcaV’s binding to DNA as well as PcaV’s binding to protocatechuate, according to the press release. This led the researchers to speculate that arginine might be the specific subunit responsible for the blocking and unblocking of DNA. Sello called the crystallization “the most difficult part” of the research. None of the protein crystals that were bound to DNA diffracted enough to present a clear structure, and it would have been difficult to solve the structure of even fully formed crystals, Brown said. To understand the structures at a molecular level, the team had to test the bacteria in protein solutions in over 8,000 conditions, Sello said. For Page, a highlight of the experiment was / / Polymer page 5

Mass. health law influences national policy Speaker described how state law increased well being and inspired a recent federal act By EMILY BONEY SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Healthcare reform in Massachusetts in 2006 influenced both the success and politics of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, said Nancy Turnbull, senior lecturer in health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, who helped former Governor Mitt Romney create the Massachusetts reform, in a lecture Tuesday. Turnbull’s talk, hosted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, was intended to shed light on the ongoing health care debate in America and to explore

CITY & STATE

what lessons could be learned from Massachusetts. The Affordable Care Act has provisions as the law in Massachusetts, including increased coverage for the poor, subsidies for people with middle income and a reformation of the insurance market. The act also requires offering an official comparison tool, like a website run by the Massachusetts state government, for different health insurance policies. Turnbull outlined a number of lessons the national healthcare system could take away from Massachusetts’s experience. For instance, most Massachusetts residents polled said they liked the reform once it went into effect. The Massachusetts bill also improved access to and use of services, Turnbull said, adding that even cigarette smoking rates went down with the law’s passage. Racial discrepancies in health care access were also reduced, with a higher number

of non-white people gaining health insurance coverage. “(The Affordable Care Act) is an incremental law,” Turnbull said, adding that America would not be able to completely socialize health care — at least not for a long time. Rhode Island has already implemented a few changes included in both the Massachusetts and national healthcare bills. For example, Rhode Island forbids insurance companies from turning people away due to preexisting conditions or charging higher premiums to the elderly. Medicaid is well-utilized in Rhode Island, with approximately 75 percent of those eligible taking advantage of the program. Once the Affordable Care Act goes into effect, approximately 5 percent more people will qualify for Medicaid. The law in Massachusetts brought the rate of those who were uninsured down from / / Health page 5

SCIENCE & RESEARCH ROUNDUP

BY KATE NUSSENBAUM, SCIENCE & RESEARCH EDITOR

U. group to test drug for anal cancer The Brown University Oncology Research Group will coordinate the next phase of a study of a new drug to treat anal cancer, according to the Rock Hill Herald. The study will test the effectiveness of ADXS-HPV, a drug developed by the New Jersey-based company Advaxis, Inc. Howard Safran, associate professor of medicine, will lead the study, which is set to start this month and will include patients at Rhode Island Hospital and the Miriam Hospital, according to the Rock Hill Herald. The trial will test how anal cancer patients respond to being treated with both the new drug and standard chemotherapy simultaneously over six months. Almost all anal cancer infections are caused by Human Papillomavirus, so the drug specifically targets cells that express HPV-associated proteins. So far, 193 patients with other forms of HPV-related disease, like cervical cancer, have benefited from administrations of the drug. “The anal cancer study will continue to build the safety and efficacy profile of our immunotherapy platform,” said Robert Petit, vice president of clinical operations and medical affairs at Advaxis, in the Rock Hill Herald.

Study examines link between mental health and HIV risk in National Guard soldiers Soldiers with mental health problems like depression and posttraumatic stress disorder may be at increased risk of contracting HIV, according to new research led by Brandon Marshall, assistant professor of epidemiology. The study was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress earlier this month. Marshall and his team interviewed over 2,000 members of the Ohio National Guard who enlisted between June 2008 and February 2009. They screened the soldiers for PTSD and major depressive disorder and collected information about their HIV risk activities. The researchers found that those who screened positive for major depressive disorder or both major depressive disorder and PTSD were more likely to engage in HIV risk behavior than those without either depression or PTSD. Despite findings from past studies that suggest otherwise, soldiers with only PTSD were no more likely to engage in risky behavior than those without it, the study reported. “PTSD in the presence of other psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression) may have a greater influence on risk behavior than PTSD on its own,” the study reported. “These findings suggest that mental health problems including depression and PTSD play a role in augmenting vulnerability to HIV in this population,” the study reported. “Effective interventions are required to support soldiers at risk for HIV and prevent future infections.”

Study sheds light on visual and motor attention When people reach for objects, they must allocate their attention both to the object and to accomplishing the reaching motion, their motor goal. Usually, people reach in the same direction toward which they direct their visual attention, making it difficult to understand whether they dedicate attention to their visual goals or to their motor goals. New research by University faculty members sheds light on this previously puzzling attentional divide. Joo-Hyun Song, assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, and Patrick Bedard, assistant professor of neuroscience, found that during “goal-directed reaching movements,” people divide their attention between the visual target and their overall motor goal. Their study was published in the online edition of the journal Experimental Brain Research earlier this month. Participants in the study used a computer mouse or stylus that was programmed so that it moved a cursor in a different direction. If participants moved the mouse one way, the cursor on the screen would move in the 45-degree-counterclockwise direction. This enabled researchers to separate visual targets on the computer screen from participants’ motor goals. The researchers then used a technique called rapid serial visual presentation, in which different pieces of text or images are displayed one after another in a specific location to assess where participants directed their attention. They found that subjects performed better in the RSVP task when it was presented either at the location of the visual target or at the location of the motor goal than when it was placed at a random location. This led the researchers to conclude that participants split their attention between their visual and motor goals. “We conjecture that attention allocation mechanisms might be shared across different effectors such as the eye and the hand,” the researchers wrote in the study.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013