Category Archives: Video

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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“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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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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Making the Emergent City: A Panel Discussion

On May 12, 2014, the Roosevelt House welcomed a panel discussion exploring the city of the future, co-hosted by the World Policy Institute. The panelists included Jill S. Gross, Associate Professor in Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, Marc Norman, Director of UPSTATE: Center for Design, Research and Real Estate, and Emeka Okafor, Co-Founder and Curator at Maker Faire Africa. Kavitha Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Emergent Cities Project at the WPI moderated the event. Jonathan provided introductory remarks, which are provided here. Video of the event may be viewed below.

Making the Emergent City: A Panel Discussion

May 12, 2014

Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to a program we are doing in partnership with the World Policy Institute, a panel discussion on “Making the Emergent City.”  As more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, a number expected to grow to 6.3 billion by 2050, the future of the cities is a topic to which Roosevelt House will devote considerable attention.

Earlier this academic year, Bruce Katz of Brookings came to discuss his new book, The Metropolitan Revolution, in which he argues for a New Hanseatic League of international cities which will learn from one another.  Tonight’s program will deepen our exploration of the future of cities worldwide.

I am very glad Roosevelt House and the World Policy Institute are making common cause on this program.  When I was President of the New School, then WPI Director Arch Gillies and I merged the WPI into the New School and we were proud to have it and The World Policy Journal as part of our University.  Its longtime editors, James Chace and Karl Meyer, and WPI leaders like Sherle Schwenniger and Fellow Walter Russell Mead added to the University’s intellectual vitality.

When I was doing our due diligence before the merger, I talked with Les Gelb, then head of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He praised the WPI for its fresh thinking, for getting ahead of the issues, for bringing a different perspective, for example, understanding the changes in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and the shift in the balance between economic and military concerns.

After my time, the New School made the mistake of encouraging the WPI to become an independent institution again, but many New School trustees like Henry Arnhold and Michael Gellert remain vitally interested in it as do I.

Tonight’s program we think will stimulate complex and creative thinking around the contradictory fate of the 21st century city – the exploding megacities of the Global South and the shrinking Rust Belt cities of the Global North.  Tonight’s conversation will help us understand the challenges facing cities and some of the lessons that New York and other US cities might learn from emerging mega-cities around the world.

We gather in the homes of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara.  I think FDR would be pleased with our topic tonight.  “Making the Emergent City,” will look at what the informal sector, citizens themselves, can do to build cities that are decent places to live and work, resilient, and avenues of opportunity for people of all backgrounds to improve their lives.

FDR understood that government could not fix every problem, that local initiative was important.  Hear his words speaking to his neighbors in Poughkeepsie in 1933,

“More men and more women are taking an individual, a personal, interest in all the problems – the social relations and economic and political problems – than ever before in the history of the Nation, and I hope that that interest will be extended to the problems of the local government as well.”

And he understood that business as usual would not do.   Like the World Policy Institute, he challenged us to see our problems in all their complexity and be bold in thinking about future solutions.  Giving a commencement address at Oglethorpe University in 1932, he said,

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation… We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely.  We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer.  We need the courage of the young.  Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you.”

And that leads to our topic tonight.  How citizens from Detroit to Lagos to Katmandu can remake their cities.

To introduce and moderate our panel tonight, I will now call on Kavitha Rajagopalan, Senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and co-leader of the Institute’s Emergent Cities Program.  The program develops and pilots new ways to “activate” resilient urban spaces in the economically troubled and shrinking cities of the West, using lessons from cities in the developing world characterized by high rates of migration and informality, i.e. “emergent” cities.  Kavitha is the author of Muslims of Metropolis: The Stories of Three Immigrant Families in the West, a narrative nonfiction examination of migration, integration and identity formation in three Muslin immigrant families – a Palestinian family from Jerusalem to London, a Kurdish family from Turkey to Berlin, a Bangladeshi family from Dhaka to New York City.  Her projects include research and advocacy on the causes and consequences of undocumented migration, urban informality, and minority access to mainstream financial systems.  She writes widely on global migration and diversity and has taught related courses at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.

After the panel talks for about 40 minutes, we will open the conversation for your questions and conclude by 7:15 pm.

SSRC at Roosevelt House: “Anxieties of Democracy”

On May 6, 2014 Roosevelt House hosted the final installment of the series, “Anxieties of Democracy,” in partnership with the Social Science Research Council. Titled, “Are the people the problem?” the event brought together two distinguished panelists: Jane Mansbridge of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of Beyond Adversary Democracy, and Paul StarrProfessor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. In a stimulating discussion, moderated by Jonathan,  the two scholars examined the role of human behavior in the political process–how it can both facilitate and hinder political and economic development. These are Jonathan’s introductory remarks. Video of the event can be viewed below.

 

SSRC, Anxieties of Democracy

“Are the people the problem?”

May 6, 2014

Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.

It is a particular pleasure to welcome to you to the third in a series of Roosevelt House-Social Science Research Council events on the pressing subject of ‘Anxieties of Democracy.’  Roosevelt House is devoted to public discussion of just such fundamental issues, so this partnership with the SSRC is based on deep affinities for the deployment of rigorous research and knowledge in the social sciences in the public interest.  Likewise, the Social Science Research Council, now entering its tenth decade, is devoted to advancing scholarship on the most critical issues of the day, and to promoting conservations within the academy and well beyond.  Together, both organizations are committed to an informed public sphere and to a robust civic culture.

The SSRC’s program on democracy asks how representative democracies can be strengthened to govern more effectively.  It is motivated by the sense that the core institutions of our democracy that connect citizens to the political system–institutions that include elections, mass media, political parties, interest groups, and social movements–are not working terribly well, and that the American people, both in particular groups and the citizenry as a whole, have lost a significant degree of faith in whether our democracy can address large problems such as  climate change, poverty, and personal and national security effectively, legitimately, and accountably.

Within the coming week, the SSRC’s work on ‘Anxieties of Democracy’ will launch its website on http://www.ssrc.org. This digital resource will open the posting of think pieces on democratic dilemmas written by thirty leading scholars and journalists who participated in formulating the scope and direction of the program during the past year.

The prior two sessions in the current series conducted in this House–a home where Eleanor and Franklin thought hard about the role of government and its abilities to solve big problems–examined the causes and significance of ideological polarization in our political life, and why Congress has recently had so much difficulty in governing effectively.  The focus on polarization and the discussion of Congress largely concentrated on the beliefs, actions, and shortcomings of political leaders.  Tonight, we shift gears.  We are asking, to what extent are the people the problem?  Intentionally provocative, the question invites us to think about what citizens know, how they think, what they prefer, the ways they are informed, the character of public voices, the manner in which citizens act, and how each of these dimensions of civic participation shape the character and prospects of our democracy.

FDR would be pleased we are having this discussion in his home tonight. Hear his reflections on the state of our democracy in a 1938 Fireside Chat:

“We in America know that our own democratic institutions can be preserved and made to work. But in order to preserve them we need to act together, to meet the problems of the Nation boldly, and to prove that the practical operation of democratic government is equal to the task of protecting the security of the people.”

Then as now we face big, vexing issues.  It is my hunch that our two distinguished speakers believe that it is less the people who are the problem than the ways the media, the parties, and money in political life shape what citizens know and believe and affect how they behave.  But as theirs are rich and sometimes surprising voices, I, like you, keenly look forward to hearing from these two distinguished scholars and public intellectuals.

Jane Mansbridge, recently president of the American Political Science Association, is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  Her current work includes studies of representation, democratic deliberation, everyday activism, and the public understanding of collective action problems. She is the author of Beyond Adversary Democracy, an empirical and normative study of face-to-face democracy, and the award-winning Why We Lost the ERA, a study of social movements based on organizing for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Paul Starr, the holder of a Pulitzer Prize, is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. His current interests concern the sociology of knowledge, patterns of technology, and information, especially as they bear on democracy. With Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich, he co-founded the influential magazine The American Prospect.  He recently published Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care Reform.

One further introductory remark:  I am substituting this evening for Ira Katznelson, president of the SSRC.  Ira has been awarded the Sidney Hillman Book Prize for his recently published Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.  At just this moment, the award is being conferred at The New York Times.  Ira, who sends apologies for his absence, asked me to step in to moderate the conversation that will follow the presentations by Professors Mansbridge and Starr.  They will each speak for about 15 minutes.  The three of us then will proceed to a conversation, followed by a period of questions.  Our program concludes about 7:20.  We begin with Professor Mansbridge.