A podcast presented by Harvard Magazine. Managing editor Jonathan Shaw sits down with some of the world’s most thoughtful scholars to discuss everything from academic ethics – to hip hop music and medical marijuana.
Carrie Lambert-Beatty: What Happens When an Artwork Deceives its Audience?
The term “parafiction” refers to an artistic performance or presentation that depicts fiction as fact. This idea has particular relevance for our current post-truth moment, in which Americans find themselves overrun with conspiracy theories, misinformation, and fake news. In this episode, art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty explains how parafiction can actually help us sort out fact from fiction, and how reflecting on the experience of being tricked by a work of art can help train our minds to confront other kinds of information, both true and untrue, in the world around us.
Francesca Dominici: How Does Air Pollution Affect COVID-19?
How does the air we breathe affect our body’s reaction to COVID-19? Early on in the pandemic Francesca Dominici, Gamble professor of biostatistics, population, and data science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explored this question with her team. On this episode, she discusses the links between fine particulate matter in the air and COVID-19 outcomes. Dominici also discusses the pressure placed on scientists by government and media during public health crises—when answers are needed before conclusions exist. She concludes by describing how the government could help scientists reach conclusions faster, by collecting and releasing more (and better) data to scientists.
Rebecca Henderson: Does Capitalism Need to be Reimagined?
Climate change is out of control, leading many people to question whether it isn't just fossil fuels, but our entire economic system, that needs to be replaced. In this episode, Harvard Business School economist Rebecca Henderson talks through her own efforts to reconcile the climate crisis with her faith in the ingenuity of capitalism. "I believe that at the moment, our capitalism is also neither free nor fair," she says. "The free market works when everyone can take part, and prices reflect real costs"—when polluters have to pay the cost of emitting fossil fuels. Henderson's smart, original vision for recalibrating capitalism to meet the linked crises of climate change and extreme inequality is a must-listen.
Jeannie Suk Gersen: Do Elite Colleges Discriminate Against Asian Americans?
Decades of Supreme Court precedent says colleges can use affirmative action in admissions—but the court's new composition could change all that. In this episode, Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen breaks down everything you need to know about the lawsuit alleging that Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans in admissions. She explains why the stakes of this case may be different from what you think, and why the question of whether Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans can be treated separately from affirmative action. And she speaks so poignantly about her own experience as an Asian-American in elite institutions: "At some point in my past," she says, "I might've been one of the students who might've been rated lower" by the "personal" score used in Harvard's admissions process. This is a moving, wide-ranging conversation that goes deeper than most analyses of the admissions lawsuit.
Danielle Allen: What Do COVID-19 and Extreme Inequality Mean for American Democracy?
America's response to the COVID-19 crisis, says political philosopher Danielle Allen, represents "the biggest possible announcement one could have of the broken state of affairs" in our nation's democracy. Allen has helped lead one of the most authoritative national reports on the combination of testing and contact tracing needed to contain the pandemic, as well as an ambitious proposal for reinventing American democracy through an enlarged House of Representatives, ranked-choice voting, and more. In this episode, the political philosopher explains why the COVID crisis, extreme inequality, and undemocratic government are all connected—and how democracy in America can still be reinvigorated. "Failure with regard to democracy is, for me, simply not an option," she says. "I'm not an optimist, and I'm certainly not a pessimist. What I am is a not-an-optionist."
Caroline Buckee: Can Mobile-phone Data Help Control the Spread of the Coronavirus?
Can cellphone technologies play a role in controlling the coronavirus pandemic? Knowing how public health policies interact with people’s actual behavior, even at an anonymous population-level view, can help guide the decisions of leaders. Mobile phone location data can reveal large-scale patterns of activity and travel between regions. In this episode, associate professor of epidemiology Caroline Buckee explains how such data—carefully stewarded to ensure individual privacy—can even be used to help predict where outbreaks are likely to flare next.