Didier Fassin, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2018

Didier Fassin is an anthropologist and sociologist whose work in medical anthropology has illuminated important issues about the AIDS epidemic, social inequalities in health and the changing landscape of global health. Initially trained as a physician, he practiced internal medicine and taught public health before turning to the social sciences. Having completed a Master’s degree at La Sorbonne and a PhD at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, or EHESS), he eventually became professor at the University of Paris North and director of studies at EHESS, a position he still holds. He was the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Social Sciences (IRIS) at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. In 2009, he was appointed the James D. Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, United States.

Fassin initially conducted studies in medical anthropology, focusing on issues of power and inequality. His research on the politics and experiences of AIDS in South Africa led him to develop the conceptual framework of the embodiment of history to account for the reproduction of social disparities and the production of heterodox interpretations of the epidemic. He launched a scientific program on global interventionism in various international contexts of conflicts and disasters, analyzing the implications of speaking of injustice as suffering, violence as trauma and resistance as resilience. He also investigated immigration and asylum policies as part of a collective project on borders and boundaries supported by the French National Agency for Research.

His approach to political and moral anthropology was implemented in a 10-year ethnography of the French state, conducting fieldwork on police, justice and prison, and developing the field of critical moral anthropology. His most recent inquiry is a critical engagement with philosophical approaches to punishment and to life. Fassin developed a theoretical reflection on the public presence of the social sciences, which he presented in his recipient lecture for the Gold Medal in anthropology at the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award is enabling Fassin to implement the project Crisis: A Global Inquiry into the Contemporary Moment. The research will examine the ubiquity, in today’s world, of the notion of crisis, which has been applied to most domains of human life — social, economic, political, moral, and cognitive. It will analyze how this pervasive presence of the language of crisis signals something about the present that is both objectively identifiable and subjectively experienced. It will explore, through a multi-sited study conducted on five continents and mobilizing different disciplines, the multiplicity of the forms of, and responses to, crises. This inquiry will thus be used as a way to push further the frontiers of the social sciences, both geographically, through an opening toward a global perspective, and epistemologically, through the encounter with neighboring fields.

For more information about Didier Fassin and his work, please see his faculty profile.

Don Cleveland, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist 2018

Don W. Cleveland is a cancer biologist and neurobiologist studying mechanisms and therapies for neurodegenerative diseases at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. Cleveland is a pioneer in his field, having made multiple discoveries that have led to a greater understanding of neurodegenerative diseases. In 2018 he was awarded the prestigious Breakthrough Prize, which honors important achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics.

Among Cleveland’s discoveries is the tau protein, which mutates or abnormally accumulates in cells, leading to cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. He identified key steps that trigger disease and that accelerate ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) disease progression from a mutation in superoxide dismutase. These findings have changed the direction of stem cell and gene silencing therapies in ALS. Cleveland is also responsible for discoveries on the etiology of Huntington’s disease, a degenerative brain disorder, with implications for a number of other neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases.

He has developed promising gene-silencing therapies, also known as designer DNA drugs, which block the activity of the gene whose mutation causes diseases such as Huntington’s disease. These therapies are in clinical trials for ALS, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and are being adapted for treating several other diseases, including glioblastoma, chronic brain injury and Parkinson’s disease.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award is enabling Cleveland and his team to identify a previously unknown mechanism for cell entry in the mammalian nervous system, develop gene editing/gene suppression approaches, and identify the underlying basis for liquid-liquid de-mixing and its contribution to neurodegenerative disease. His NOMIS-supported project is titled, Mechanisms of Gene Silencing and Liquid-Liquid De-mixing in the Nervous System.

Cleveland earned his PhD from Princeton University, NJ, United States, in 1972. He is the Department Chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Neurosciences at UCSD, and head of the Laboratory for Cell Biology at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego.

For more information about Don W. Cleveland, please see his faculty profile.

Victoria Orphan, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2018

Victoria Orphan, James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, United States, is a geobiologist studying the interaction of microorganisms found in deep-sea sediment with the environment, and has shown that some of these microbes actually regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by consuming methane as their primary source of carbon. Her work on microbially mediated anaerobic oxidation of methane in deep sea sediment has won her the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (known as the “genius grant”), among many other awards and honors.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award is supporting Orphan in her efforts to investigate the impact of marine viruses on the transformation of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in ocean surface waters and sediments, with the ultimate goal of incorporating the data from this unique stable isotope approach into trophic models for ocean ecosystems. As part of this effort, Orphan and her team are advancing the viral-nanoSIMS method for multi-isotope and stable isotope labeling and tracking of host-virus dynamics at the nanometer scale. Her NOMIS-supported project is entitled, Understanding Virus-Host Dynamics in Ocean Ecosystems.

Victoria Orphan earned her PhD in 2001 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She did her postdoctoral research as National Research Council Associate at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. She was appointed the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech in 2016.

For more information about Victoria Orphan and her research, please see her faculty profile.

Carlos Alós-Ferrer named NOMIS Professor for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory at the University of Zurich

Carlos Alós-Ferrer has been appointed NOMIS Professor for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory at the University of Zurich (UZH) in Switzerland. He is an economist who, prior to joining UZH, was professor of microeconomics at the University of Cologne, Germany, and the speaker of the interdisciplinary research unit “Psychoeconomics,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). He studied mathematics at the University of Valencia, Spain, and received his PhD in Economics at the University of Alicante, Spain, in 1998.

Alós-Ferrer has conducted research on game theory and mathematical economics, and has a strong interest in neuroeconomics (also known as psychoeconomics), the interdisciplinary field that combines psychology, economics and neuroscience to study human decision making.

The goal of neuroeconomics is to provide a foundation for the study of underlying neural processes of decision-making within today’s economic environment. Essential to the further progress of this field is the construction of empirically informed, testable models that connect the level of neural and mental processes underlying decision-making with the descriptive models of choice that characterize modern economics. Through this professorship, Alós-Ferrer will draw on the collaborative, interdisciplinary expertise at UZH to develop viable models with the potential to have a significant impact on the field of neuroeconomics.

The NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory is a result of a long-term partnership among the Department of Economics at UZH, the Excellence Foundation and the NOMIS Foundation.

Attentional and Perceptual Foundations of Economic Behavior

Over the last few decades, behavioral economics has grown into one of the leading branches of economics. Yet the behavioral revolution remains incomplete. It is not yet reflected in the “core” curriculum of many departments of economics in proportion to its growth and influence, and some applied subfields of the discipline have yet to incorporate it to any great extent; little work in macroeconomics, for example, makes use of the models, methods or findings of behavioral economics. This is partly due to a perceived lack of unifying principles. But these much-needed principles can be found in theoretical and empirical research on how attention and perception shape human decision-making.

The Attentional and Perceptual Foundations of Economic Behavior project, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the NOMIS Foundation, seeks to facilitate and energize interdisciplinary research linking psychological, neural, and behavioral aspects of attention and perception with microeconomic behavior and macroeconomic outcomes.

Through a series of workshops, symposia and summer schools, the project aims to build a research community, thus accelerating the following areas of research:

  • New measurement methods linking behavior with attention. By adapting methods from psychological research to economics, researchers will be better able to evaluate their potential to improve understanding of economic behavior.
  • New theoretical foundations for behavioral biases firmly grounded in attentional constraints. Once these new measurement methods are introduced and integrated into economic analysis, more empirically guided theories can be developed that ground otherwise diverse heuristics and biases, perhaps even unifying them under newly developed theoretical frameworks.
  • Causal measurement of how attentional constraints impact behavioral biases and insecurities. We must explicitly measure and manipulate attention and perception to evaluate the causal impact of attentional and perceptual constraints on economic behavior.
  • Attentional foundations for inefficient aggregate adjustment. As an example of a more applied issue for the project’s focus, we expect to address the question of how economists should understand both apparently inefficient delays in the adjustment of people’s behavior to some kinds of changes in market conditions, and over-reaction to others.

The Sloan-NOMIS project is being led by Andrew Caplin, New York University; Ernst Fehr, University of Zurich; and Michael Woodford, Columbia University.

Workshops, symposia and summer schools

The inaugural cross-disciplinary workshop, the Sloan-NOMIS Program on Attentional and Perceptual Foundations of Economic Behavior, was held in Westchester County, NY, United States, in October 2017.

A second workshop, Sloan-NOMIS 2018 Workshop on Attention and Choice, took place at New York University in February 2018.

The 2018 Summer School on Cognitive Foundations of Economic Behavior will be held in Vitznau, Switzerland from June 29 to July 8, 2018.

Palgrave Communications: “Will the Sustainable Development Goals be fulfilled? Assessing present and future global poverty”

Palgrave Communications, an affiliate of Nature, has published an article by the Converting Geospatial Observations into Socioeconomic Data project lead Jesús Crespo Cuaresma and his colleagues. The article focuses on their efforts to assess the potential future trends in poverty as a means of monitoring progress toward the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth by the United Nations. Crespo Cuaresma et al. have developed an econometric tool that provides a methodological framework to carry out projections of poverty rates worldwide and aims at assessing absolute poverty changes at the global level under different scenarios. The framework builds upon the combination of new estimates of the worldwide distribution of income and macroeconomic projections of population by age and educational attainment level, as well as income per capita, which have been recently developed in the context of climate change research.

The research is being undertaken in conjunction with the World Data Lab (WDL), an economist-founded organization dedicated to deploying new methods in data collection, data curation and dissemination, laying the groundwork to advance social and economic research on poverty in the most underdeveloped regions worldwide. Included in these efforts is the Converting Geospatial Observations project, which NOMIS is supporting. The project aims to develop the first-ever sub-national income model for Kenya. Jesús Crespo Cuaresma is head of the Institute of Macroeconomics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business.