All posts by jfanton

Communicating Scientific Facts in an Age of Disbelief in Experts

On May 18, 2017, the American Academy held a discussion, in partnership with the Carnegie Institution for Science, on “Communicating Scientific Facts in an Age of Disbelief in Experts.” Matthew P. Scott introduced the evening’s topic before handing the program to Jonathan Fanton. The discussion was moderated by Richard A. Meserve, and the featured speakers were Mary Sue Coleman, Alan I. Leshner, and Joe Palca.

The meeting served as the 2055th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I am pleased to call to order the 2,055th Stated Meeting of the American Academy.

It is a particular pleasure to convene this program in partnership with Matthew Scott and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Since their founding, our two institutions have shared a common mission of advancing knowledge in service to society.  And several Academy members have served as Carnegie Institution scientists, including its first two presidents, Daniel Coit Gilman and Robert Simpson Woodward.

Woodward, in fact, served as the Academy’s delegate to the centennial celebration of the University of Virginia in 1921. In his report to Academy President Theodore Richards on June 13, 1921, he lamented that

“Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and [Teddy] Roosevelt are the only, almost, American statesmen who had anything like a competent knowledge of science.”

The situation may have improved slightly since then, but I imagine most of us would agree there is still room for improvement.

The Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other leaders who helped to establish the United States. In the midst of the American Revolution, they believed the key to America’s long-term strength and survival was, in the words of our charter, “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”

From the beginning, the Academy’s purpose has been not to simply honor excellence in a broad range of disciplines and professions. Its members also conduct studies of critical policy issues and debate the most pressing issues of the day.

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“How Do We See?” A Discussion on Visual Perception

On May 17, 2017, Jonathan Fanton introduced a discussion on visual perception, entitled “How Do We See?Ken Nakayama moderated the discussion between Charles Gilbert and Dale Purves.

The discussion served as the 2054th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy. It is my pleasure to welcome you and to call to order the 2054th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Our topic this evening is “How do we see?” As you can imagine, questions about how vision works have been ever-present throughout the life of the Academy. In fact, an issue of the Academy’s Memoirs from 1809 contains a communication from Peres Fobes, a Massachusetts clergyman elected to the Academy in 1780, entitled “A Curious Phenomenon of Vision.” His letter describes the case of a 46-year-old man named Pierce who had “a kind of ulcer collected in his head,” which confined him to his home with weak eyesight and extreme sensitivity to light.

One night the ulcer broke, and Mr. Pierce awoke free of pain, feeling well and composed. He arose and went to look out a window, and, as Reverend Fobes described,

“to his great surprise [Pierce] saw, at a place called Reed’s ware-house, near the ferry, at the distance of near two miles, a cart and yoke of oxen. He could plainly discern the color of the oxen, the rounds in the cart, the stones on the beach, and even the courses and joints in the shingles on the ware-house. This extraordinary degree of acute, telescopic vision continued for about one hour; after which his sight returned to its usual state.”

The letter goes on to vouch for Mr. Pierce’s character and judgment.

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Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society

On April 18, 2017, Jonathan Fanton introduced a discussion on the book “Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity and Democracy and a Prosperous Society.” The panel, introduced by Nancy Cantor and moderated by Liz Cheng, featured the following speakers: Danielle Allen, Earl Lewis, Deval Patrick (via video), and Amy Schulman.

The program was organized by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Good evening.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for a program organized by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The panelists here tonight will discuss the book edited by Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor, Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society.

We are delighted that the Mellon Foundation selected the Academy as the New England venue for one of a series of conversations around the country on the issues raised in the book. The American Academy has been home to some notable projects over its history that addressed the issue of diversity in America, including ground-breaking scholarship in the 1970s on ethnicity, work on urban school desegregation, and comparative projects on ethnic pluralism and immigration in the United Kingdom, France, and China.

As Our Compelling Interests makes clear, America’s level of diversity is one of its most distinctive characteristics. Demographers predict that in 25 years the United States will have a majority non-white population. Diversity of all kinds—racial, socioeconomic, gender, religious, linguistic, regional, and sexual—has had a profound impact on American culture and institutions. Our Compelling Interests asks whether diversity is a goal worth pursuing, an opportunity to be leveraged, or a condition to be managed? Can we sustain a prosperous democratic society if there are particular groups that are excluded from the promises of equal political, social, and economic opportunity? How can our compelling interests as a nation be brought into alignment with the compelling interests of the many diverse groups of people who make up our population?

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“The Courage to be New” – A Celebration of the Arts and Sciences

On April 6, 2017, Jonathan Fanton opened the ceremony for the awarding of the Emerson-Thoreau Medal and the Talcott Parsons Prize. Toni Morrison, recipient of the Emerson-Thoreau Medal, accepted her award via video after an introduction from Christopher Benfy. Joan Wallach Scott accepted the Talcott Parsons Prize after being introduced by Laurel Ulrich.

The ceremony served as the 2053rd Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Good evening and welcome. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the Academy, and it is my pleasure to call to order the 2053rd Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Today, the Academy’s Council, Trust, and Board met for their semiannual in-person meetings.  Please join me in thanking all of the members of our governance bodies for their guidance, wisdom, and optimism about the Academy.

I especially want to thank the chair of our board, Don Randel, for his partnership throughout the years and his dedication to this institution. Don’s extraordinary term as chair is coming to an end in June.  The Academy is a stronger, more active, interesting, and vibrant organization as a result of his leadership.  Please join me in thanking Don Randel for his service to the American Academy.

This evening is our annual awards program – our version of “the Academy Awards.”  We have seven major prizes and awards representing the variety of field and disciplines within the Academy – the Francis Amory Prize in Biology, the Rumford Prize for Physical Science, Award for Humanistic Studies, the Sarton Prize for Poetry, the Sarton Prize for History of Science – and tonight’s awards – the Talcott Parsons Prize for Social Science and the Emerson-Thoreau Medal for Literature.

Academy prize selections are overseen by a committee chaired with great care by Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies and a member of our board.  The committee solicited nominations from Academy Fellows, compiled strong lists of candidates, and then sent the lists out for appraisal by other Academy Fellows.  We are grateful to all of the Fellows who participated in this process and honored by the selections they have made.

Tonight, we present awards to two Fellows whose work has changed how we think about the past, has helped us to see the present more clearly, and has encouraged us to dream of a future society that is more compassionate and more inclusive.

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Ethics and the Global War on Terror

On March 8, 2017, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion on “Ethics and the Global War on Terror: Can Conflicts with Non-State Actors Be Fought in a Just Way?” The panel was chaired by Allen S. Weiner; and the panel consisted of Gabriella Blum, Neta C. Crawford, and Jennifer Leaning.

The discussion was streamed to groups of Academy members and other distinguished participants gathered in Washington, D.C., Stanford University, and Notre Dame University, in addition to cadets and faculty at West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. When the panel concluded its presentations, members in each location held their own conversations.

The meeting served as the 2017 Distinguished Morton L. Mandel Public Lecture.

Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome you and to call to order the 2052nd Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This is also one of our Morton L. Mandel Public Lectures, established through a donation from the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation based in Cleveland, Ohio. It is part of the Morton L. Mandel Program for Civic Discourse and Membership Engagement, which aims to strengthen the bonds of community among the Academy’s 5,500 members as we stimulate discussion of important issues with the general public. We are enormously grateful to Mort for his generosity.

Tonight’s topic is particularly important and timely; it also raises complex legal, ethical, and political questions. How should military fight against terrorist groups? Should these groups be protected under the Geneva Convention like soldiers of regular armies, or should they instead be treated differently? What are the moral boundaries and constraints that should not be violated in an all-out war against terror?

It was September 20, 2001 when President George W. Bush used the term “war on terror” for the first time. Nine days earlier, the United States had been subjected to the largest and bloodiest terrorist attack ever carried out on its own soil. The term “war on terror” was meant to signify an enduring, global campaign to eradicate terrorism everywhere. But the term itself also produced significant legal and political consequences. The use of the word “war” designated the American counterterrorist strategy no longer as a law enforcement operation but as a war with the scale and consequences that any other war would carry.  Additionally, because terrorism is a global phenomenon, this meant a serious U.S. military commitment around the world to fight a threat that was borderless in nature.

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Press Conference on “America’s Languages”

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Jonathan F. Fanton addressed more than 100 Congressional staff members and members of the Academy’s Commission on Language Learning at a press conference to release its final report and recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Good morning.  As the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the release and first public discussion of our new report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Learning for the 21st Century.

This is the final publication of the Academy’s Commission on Language Learning.  The Academy created this Commission in response to a bipartisan request from members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives: Senators Orrin Hatch, Brian Schatz, Tammy Baldwin, and Mark Kirk; and Representatives David Price, Don Young, Leonard Lance, and Rush Holt.

The title of this report, America’s Languages, refers to an important historic fact about our nation, and one of its great strengths.  As the Commission writes in the report’s introduction:

“Linguistic diversity is deeply embedded in our history. The English we speak is only one of many European, Native American, African, and Asian languages that have been spoken on the North American continent. This diversity is a cherished part of our nation’s past, a fact of our present, and a key to our future: a valuable asset in our relations with other nations and cultures and a benefit to our children as they grow up in an interconnected world.”

In addressing the need for enhanced language education, this report brings the American Academy all the way back to one of its original concerns.

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Remarks to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation

On Tuesday, December 2, 2016, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Jonathan F. Fanton addressed members of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and several dozen members of the Academy in Berlin, Germany.

Good afternoon and thank you for hosting us here today. The American Academy has 596 foreign honorary members from 45 countries, in addition to our approximately 4,000 members in the United States. We are actively trying to engage our foreign honorary members in the Academy’s work and are very happy to see you all here today.

We have begun to hold gatherings with our members around the world. For example, this fall alone we have convened meetings in Paris, London, and Israel.

As we reach out to members in other countries, Germany has been high on our list because of the many connections between scholars here and in the U.S.

We currently have 70 members (7 fellows and 63 foreign honorary members) in Germany, with 18 based in Berlin.  A total of 252 members affiliated with Germany have been elected since Johann Jacob Hemmer was elected in 1788. Over the years, other prominent members have included:

  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859); elected 1822, FHM
  • Jacob Ludwig Grimm, (1785-1863); elected 1857, FHM
  • Max Planck, (1858-1947); elected 1914, FHM
  • Albert Einstein, (1879-1955); elected 1924, FHM
  • Werner Karl Heisenberg, (1901-1976); elected 1958, FHM

We added five new German members in the Class of 2016.

They are:

  • Hans-Joachim Freund, (1951-); Director and Scientific Member, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft; elected 2016, FHM
  • Gerd Gigerenzer, (1947-); Professor; Director, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung; elected 2016, FHM
  • Joachim Küpper, (1952-); Professor of Romance Literatures and Comparative Literature, Freie Universität Berlin; elected 2016, FHM  
  • Horst Bredekamp, (1947-); Professor of Art History, Humboldt University; elected 2016, FHM
  • Christof Niehrs, (1962-); Executive and Scientific Director, Institute of Molecular Biology; elected 2016, FHM

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R2P Cultural Heritage Exploratory Fund Meeting

On November 30, 2016, Jonathan Fanton introduced a discussion focused on the “Responsibility to Protect Cultural Heritage” at the British Academy in London. The discussion was co-hosted with the Getty Trust.

Good morning. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our meeting to discuss the international community’s role in preserving at-risk cultural heritage around the world.  We are honored to co-host this meeting with the Getty Trust, which has been a leader in the conversation of cultural heritage around the world. Let me give some background on the American Academy and then turn the proceedings over to Getty President James Cuno, who will moderate our meeting.

The American Academy, founded in 1780, is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States.  When the Academy was created, the War for Independence had not ended and the American Constitution had not been drafted, yet the Academy’s founders, led by John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin, were already looking to the future, anticipating our young republic’s needs for new knowledge and practical ideas.

From its beginnings the Academy has brought together the nation’s and the world’s most distinguished citizens to address social and intellectual issues of common concern and to translate knowledge into action. Timely research and publications are central to the Academy’s mission to promote useful knowledge and advance the public good. As an independent research center, the Academy is known for multidisciplinary, nonpartisan research that provides evidence-based approaches for complex challenges in the areas of Science, Engineering, Technology, Humanities, Arts, Education, American Institutions, and Global Security.  Today’s meeting is a good example of such an interdisciplinary project bridging the worlds of art and history with global security and human rights.

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Populism and the Future of American Politics

On November 10, 2016, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion focused on “Populism and the Future of American Politics.”

The panelists were: Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Lawrence D. Bobo, W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University; and Jennifer Hochschild, Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.

The discussion served as the 2045th Stated Meeting of the American Academy. 

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy. It is my pleasure to welcome you, and to call to order the 2045th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This evening’s program, on “Populism and the Future of American Politics,” could hardly be more timely—indeed, it has been a subject that has likely been on the mind of everyone in this room for the past several months. And when we chose it we did not anticipate the outcome of Tuesday’s election. I think this is a topic that some—maybe many—of us feel the need to talk about this week.

“Populism” is a term that did not exist when the Academy was founded in 1780. When the authors of the Academy’s charter wrote that the “end and design of the institution of the said Academy is to … cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people,” they meant something very different by the term “people” than did those who coined the “populist” label in the late 19th century.

It is clear that the founders of the Academy would not have described themselves as populists in the current sense of the term. Their view of classical populism would have been informed by the warnings of classical philosophers, such as Aristotle, who in Politics defined a “demagogic democracy” as a society where a popular faction “takes the superior share in the government as a prize of victory,” incited by the misleading rhetoric of a charismatic leader. Plato laid out the results in his Republic, predicting that the people—an “obedient mob”—would “set up one man as their special leader … and make him grow great.” These observations have more meaning to me today than when I prepared this Introduction two weeks ago.

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In Conversation with Danny Meyer

On May 15, 2014, Jonathan sat down with renowned New York City restauranteur, Danny Meyer, to discuss his life in and outside of the restaurant business. Jonathan’s introductory remarks are below and video of the event will be available shortly. The conversation lasts 40 minutes, followed by a Q&A session with members of the audience. 

In Conversation with Danny Meyer

May 15, 2014 

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a very special evening.  Many of you have been here before to enjoy book discussions like Bruce Katz’s Metropolitan Revolution or to hear global leaders like South African Constitutional Court justice Edwin Cameron.  Or attend major conferences like “John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream,” a fresh look at lessons from his time as Mayor.

But tonight is different.  For the past few years I have had a series of public conversations at Roosevelt House with the most interesting people I know personally.  Ed Koch was my first guest, followed by former MoMa President Agnes Gund, James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Vartan Gregorian of the Carnegie Foundation, Judy Collins, and most recently, Joseph Califano and former Columbia President Michael Sovern.

My guest tonight is Danny Meyer, New York’s leading restaurateur.  You know the names, Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Blue Smoke, Untitled at the Whitney and The Modern at MoMA and, of course, Shake Shack.  How many in the audience have eaten at one of Danny’s places?

Danny is from St. Louis, majored in Political Science at Trinity College, worked in Italy in his father’s tour business and opened his first restaurant at age 27, The Union Square Café.  And that is how we know each other – I was President of the New School and Chair of the Union Square – 14th Street Local Development Corporation at the time and Danny joined our Board.  He was one of the pioneers in the transformation of Union Square from “Needle Park” as it was known in the early 80’s, to the safe, clean, vibrant Park it is today.

He was the model of a responsible, engaged businessman taking an interest in the people, institutions and local businesses that called Union Square home.  And when I moved to Chicago to head the MacArthur Foundation, Danny was one of the key people who assumed leadership of the LDC.  Speaking of Chicago, we have another tie: his grandfather, Irving Harris was a friend of mine in Chicago as we shared so many interests from the Harris Public Policy School at the University of Chicago to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which provides underserved communities with high quality early childhood care and education. I know Irving was very proud of Danny’s accomplishments.

Danny has written several books:  The Union Square Café Cookbook,  Second Helpings From Union Square Café, and the one I like the best, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business Setting the Table gives us an insight into Danny’s deep caring for humanity, his respect for his employees and the customer experience, his taste for risk, his dedication to quality.

That quality is reflected in numerous awards and prizes. Danny and the Union Square Hospitality Group account for 14 James Beard Awards, and 3 of New York City’s top 10 most popular restaurants according to Zagat’s 2014 Survey, a list that in the past has been topped by Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern 15 times.

But his recognition goes far beyond his restaurant work.  In 2010 Cooper Union recognized him with its Urban Citizenship Award, and NYU followed a year later with the Lewis Rudin Award of Exemplary Service for New York.  In addition to the Union Square LDC, Danny has served on the Boards of Share Our Strength, City Harvest and the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

So we have a lot to talk about.  Danny and I will chat for about 35-40 minutes and then open to your questions.  Our program will finish at 7:15.