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UCLA political scientists launch one of largest-ever public opinion surveys for run-up to 2020

As the nation heads into another contentious presidential campaign, what will drive people’s choices? What sacrifices are Americans willing to make to see their preferred politicians take office and their policy preferences take hold?

UCLA political science professors Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch plan to tackle those questions through the 2020 election with an ambitious data-gathering and analysis project called Nationscape. The effort is a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Democracy Fund, and the surveys are being fielded by Lucid, a New Orleans-based market research firm.

Every week until the end of 2020, Nationscape will survey 6,250 Americans, asking them to choose between two groups of policy positions and political attributes, among hundreds of other questions.

What makes Nationscape unique is the way it asks respondents to make choices. The survey includes 41 different policy statements and eight hypothetical attributes of potential candidates, all of which are randomized to appear in two sets of issues that voters must choose between. For example, respondents could be asked to choose one of the following sets of statements:

Each bundle of policies and outcomes could contain views that respondents disagree with, mixed with ideas they favor, but Vavreck said posing the questions that way will give researchers a better sense of what really makes the electorate tick.

“We designed the project to learn what people’s priorities are when they are forced to choose among states of the world they want to live in,” she said. “This will help us sort out what is really important to people who, in traditional surveys, tell us they ‘strongly agree’ with all sorts of issues. That response doesn’t really tell us how people will vote if a choice has to be made, and voting is all about making a choice.”

Researchers will share insights and analysis from the surveys regularly throughout election season on Nationscape’s website. By November 2020, the team will have completed a half million interviews — including at least 1,000 interviews in every congressional district.

“Our measurement approach, coupled with the massive scope of the project, will allow us to track both attitude change and shifts in the impact or importance of issues and candidate traits over time and space,” Vavreck said.

Data gathering began in late July. Among the initial findings: Even when Democrats and Republicans agree that children shouldn’t be separated from their parents at the southern border, that there should be a pathway to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as children, or that the size of the military should be preserved, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to concede on the other issues to preserve their preferred stances on immigration issues, while Republicans are more likely to make tradeoffs to preserve the military.

The results also hint at how people’s priorities change — or don’t — in relation to current events. For example, Vavreck said, few people changed their opinions about the need for universal background checks for gun purchases after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“But the importance of that issue changed quite a bit,” she said. “It became significantly more important to people in choosing policy packages after the shootings, even though only about 1.8 percent of them changed their positions on the issue.”

Vavreck is the co-author of critically acclaimed books about the two most recent presidential elections, “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election” and “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.” She is UCLA’s Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy.

Tausanovitch, an expert on political representation, is the co-principal investigator — along with Chris Warsaw of George Washington University — of the American Ideology Project, which characterizes the conservativism and liberalism of states and voting districts through a 275,000-person survey.

Tausanovitch combed through studies, programs and policies to develop the lists of scenarios that respondents are confronting in the Nationscape surveys. He’s interested in the tradeoffs people are willing to make based on their political leanings and where they come from.

“Data is already demonstrating to us the way people’s attitudes and priorities change in response to events taking place in the country and showing us how Democrats and Republicans prioritize things differently, even when they agree on policies,” Tausanovitch said. “This helps to explain how Americans agree on many things, but also illustrates that their priorities are different.”

The overarching goal of Nationscape is to engender more informed and productive political deliberations, said Joe Goldman, president of the Democracy Fund.

“Nationscape goes beyond horse race polls and battleground states and gets to the real issues that are driving voters and their decisions,” he said. “The unparalleled size and scope of this survey will help us understand how opinions differ across small geographic areas and groups of voters in a way that isn’t possible with traditional surveys, providing a deeper understanding of the electorate in this vital election.”

By the end of the election cycle, Nationscape will have reached people in every state and congressional district, America through Lucid’s platform.

“We were very eager to partner with the UCLA team and help apply their expertise on a scale that reflects the complexity of contemporary American politics,” said Patrick Comer, Lucid’s founder and CEO.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA named No. 1 U.S. public institution by U.S. News & World Report for third consecutive year

UCLA consistently performs well in a broad range of national and international rankings.

UCLA once again tops the list of U.S. public universities in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings, which were published today. This is the third year in a row UCLA has captured this honor.

At just 100 years old, UCLA, which placed No. 20 among all private and public institutions, is the youngest of any public or private institution in the ranking’s overall Top 33.

“We are thrilled to once again be ranked the nation’s top public university, particularly as we celebrate our first 100 years,” Chancellor Gene Block said. “Even as UCLA becomes more competitive, we work hard to remain accessible to exceptional students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds who will help ensure our continued success in UCLA’s second century.”

UCLA also excelled in category-specific rankings published as part of the report. UCLA was ranked No. 1 for economic diversity among the top 25 universities, based on the number of undergraduate students receiving Pell Grants (36 percent at UCLA).

In addition, UCLA was named as the No. 1 public institution among the “best colleges for veterans,” and No. 4 among all universities. In 2018–2019, there were 572 members of the military enrolled at UCLA, the highest among the top 26 schools ranked in the category. UCLA is also among the list of colleges where students incur the least amount of debt.

Four other University of California campuses were among the top 10 public universities in the overall rankings: UC Berkeley (No. 2), UC Santa Barbara (7, tied), UC Irvine (9), and UC San Diego (10). UC Davis placed No. 11.

The top 19 institutions on the list are private universities, led by Princeton and Harvard, with Columbia, MIT and Yale tied for third.

The publication’s methodology includes factors that tend to favor private universities, such as endowment size, rate of alumni giving and student-faculty ratio. It also includes data related to academic reputation, student excellence and student retention and graduation rates, with a particular interest in students from lower income households.

In addition:

  • UCLA tied for No. 7 among U.S. public universities (tied for 11 overall) for ethnic diversity.
  • UCLA tied for No. 8 among public universities’ engineering schools that offer doctorates (tied for 15 overall)

UCLA consistently performs well in a broad range of national and international rankings.

Earlier this month, UCLA was named the No. 1 U.S. public institution in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings — also for the third year in a row. In addition, UCLA was recently ranked No. 2 among American public universities and No. 11 worldwide among public and private universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the No. 2 U.S. public university (9 overall) in the Times Higher Education Reputation Rankings. In April, UCLA was ranked the No. 4 best-value university by Forbes.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA is No. 1 public college in 2020 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking

For the third consecutive year UCLA has been selected as the No. 1 public institution in the nation in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings.

In addition, of the more than 800 public and private institutions that were assessed, UCLA placed fifth among all public and private colleges in the area of environment, No. 11 overall in the engagement category, No. 16 in terms of outcomes, and No. 25 overall.

The rankings focus on student success and learning in four key areas: student resources, student engagement, educational outcomes and learning environments. The results are based on data from the Times Higher Education U.S. Student Survey, which collected the opinions of more than 170,000 current university students, government data sources and findings from the Times Higher Education Academic Reputation Survey.

Leading the overall list of colleges were Harvard (No. 1), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 2) and Yale (No. 3). Among leading public universities, UCLA was followed by the University of Michigan, second (No. 27 overall), and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, third (No. 33).

Other University of California campuses included in the Top 10 public universities were UC Berkeley, fourth (No. 34 overall), followed by UC Davis, fifth (No. 36), and UC San Diego, sixth (No. 37).

UCLA consistently performs well in multiple rankings regardless of methodology or criteria. In 2018, UCLA was named the No. 1 U.S. public university in both the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges ranking and Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education survey. UCLA was also named the No. 2 U.S. public university (17 overall) by Times Higher Education in its 2019 World University Rankings and No. 2 (No. 9 overall) in its 2019 World Reputation Rankings.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of students on a study abroad program in Scotland.

Early graduation within reach for most bruins

 

Photo of students on a study abroad program in Scotland.

Students on a study abroad program in Scotland. Photo Credit: Michael Le

To her surprise, Qiyuan (Grace) Miao realized during her sophomore year that she could graduate a year early, allowing her to begin graduate school ahead of schedule.

Miao is one of many Bruins who choose to complete their undergraduate degrees in less than the traditional four years. Although on different academic paths, these students all share a common message: With good planning and by taking advantage of UCLA programs designed to reduce time to degree, almost anyone can graduate early.

Miao, who graduated in June, pointed to several opportunities at UCLA that enabled her to get ahead on her coursework and finish her communication degree in three years while still enjoying a full undergraduate experience.

Opportunities start freshman year

UCLA offers two intensive programs to introduce incoming students to campus and academic life: the Freshman Transfer Summer Program in the Academic Advancement Program, for students from underrepresented populations, and the College Summer Institute (CSI). Students in both programs take courses that fulfill graduation requirements, giving them a head start before their first fall quarter even begins.

CSI is where Miao first met with Brian Henry, an academic adviser who helped her map out her academic path — something all undergraduates are encouraged to do at least once a year. In advising sessions, students discuss their academic, personal and career goals and learn about opportunities to enrich their university experience. Academic counselors can also advise students on effective ways to maximize their time to degree if their goal is to graduate early.

Another way Miao optimized her time at UCLA was by taking a Freshman Cluster course, “Frontiers of Aging.” These are year-long general education courses offered on topics such as “Evolution of the Cosmos and Life” and “History of Modern Thought.” Each cluster, over the course of a year, satisfies four general education requirements and the Writing II requirement.

“Clusters are a great way to fulfill a lot of requirements very quickly,” Miao said.

UC’s study-abroad intensives

Graduating early doesn’t require students to sacrifice meaningful experiences outside of the classroom.  Michael Le, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience in winter 2019, one quarter early, was still able to study abroad one summer at the University of Glasgow, where UC offers an intensive three-course physics program over two months.

“I completed all three courses in a mere eight weeks, something that would [normally] take 30 weeks,” Le said. “This is an excellent way to get your study abroad ‘fix’ in and be efficient with course planning.”

Shrey Kakkar, a junior majoring in computer science, is on track to graduate one or two quarters early and said many of his peers could do the same, even in a demanding major like computer science. He credits his fast track to his commitment to enroll in four classes every quarter, plus one summer class.  And he still has had time for other activities such as doing research and working for a startup.

Fitting more into four years

Graduating early isn’t every student’s goal. For some, like Mac Casey, maximizing time to degree meant packing a lot into the traditional four years: He was in the rigorous College Honors program, studied abroad for a year, and graduated in 2016 with degrees in both political science and business economics.

“The faculty at UCLA are excellent, and I loved taking courses – the more courses the better,” Casey said. “I really wanted to learn as much as I could and interact with great faculty and researchers.”

Casey said that accomplishing so much in four years is not out of reach for most students. By choosing courses strategically and enlisting the expertise of his honors academic counselor, he was able to complete all his major requirements and stay on track.

Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Patricia Turner said that although UCLA already does an excellent job of graduating students in a timely manner, she will continue to work with her faculty colleagues to develop new opportunities to allow students to graduate on time or early while still having a personalized, fully engaged undergraduate experience.

“A student’s undergraduate years are the perfect time to discover what they’re most passionate about,” Turner said. “Students who take advantage of credit-earning opportunities such as service learning, civic engagement and entrepreneurship often find themselves on career paths they otherwise might not have discovered. And because of the way these programs are designed, students can still graduate in four years or less.”

The stone faces and human problems on Easter Island

Photo of Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati. Photo credit: Easter Island Statue Project

In 1981, archaeology graduate student Jo Anne Van Tilburg first set foot on the island of Rapa Nui, commonly called Easter Island, eager to further her interest in rock art by studying the iconic stone heads that enigmatically survey the landscape.

At the time, Van Tilburg was one of just a few thousand people who would visit Rapa Nui each year. Although the island remains one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, a surge in visitors has placed its delicate ecosystem and archaeological treasures in jeopardy.

“When I went to Easter Island for the first time in ’81, the number of people who visited per year was about 2,500,” said Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project, the longest collaborative artifact inventory ever conducted on the Polynesian island that’s part of Chile. “As of last year the number of tourists who arrived was 150,000.”

Journalist Anderson Cooper interviewed Van Tilburg on the island for a segment that aired Easter Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Cooper spoke with Van Tilburg about efforts to preserve the moai (pronounced MO-eye) — the monolithic stone statues that were carved and placed on the island from around 1100 to 1400 and whose stoic faces have fascinated the world for decades. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Van Tilburg, who is research associate at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and director of UCLA’s Rock Art Archive since 1997, was the first archaeologist since the 1950s to obtain permission to excavate the moai, granted from Chile’s National Council of Monuments and the Rapa Nui National Park, with the Rapa Nui community and in collaboration with the National Center of Conservation and Restoration, Santiago de Chile.

She has spent nearly four decades listening, learning, establishing connections, making covenants with the elders of Rapanui society and reporting extensively on her findings. Major funding has been provided by the Archaeological Institute of America Site Preservation Fund.

“I think my patience and diligence were rewarded,” she said. “They saw me all those years getting really dirty doing the work.”

Photo of Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes interviews Van Tilburg.

Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes interviews Van Tilburg. Photo credit: Keith Sharman.

Bringing together research and teaching

Van Tilburg credits the sustained support of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute as critical to her work on the island. She regularly includes both UCLA undergraduates from a variety of academic disciplines and passionate volunteers in the hands-on work on Rapa Nui.

Van Tilburg, who received her doctorate in archaeology from UCLA in 1989, is working on a book project that will harness her massive archive as an academic atlas of the island. She used the proceeds of a previous book to invest in local businesses, the Mana Gallery and Mana Gallery Press, both of which highlight indigenous artists. She also helped the local community rediscover their canoe-making history through the 1995 creation of the Rapa Nui Outrigger Club.

Her co-director on the Easter Island Statue Project, Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, is Rapanui and a graphic artist by trade. Van Tilburg exclusively employs islanders for her excavation work. She’s traveled the world helping catalog items from the island that are now housed in museums like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the British Museum in London. Van Tilburg does this to assist repatriation efforts.

Culture and environment at risk

Her work is important to the 5,700 residents of the island, who also are coping with increasing waves of tourists into their fragile ecosystem, Van Tilburg said. Only in the last decade or so have they been given governance of the national park where the moai are located.

“But by Rapa Nui standards, on an island where electricity is provided by a generator, water is precious and depleted, and all the infrastructure is stressed, 150,000 annual visitors is a mob,” she said.

What’s more disheartening are travelers who ignore the rules and climb on the moai, trample preserved spaces and sit on top of graves, all in service of getting a photo of themselves picking the nose of an ancient artifact, Van Tilburg said.

Hierarchy and inequity in Rapanui society

Van Tilburg’s original impetus behind studying the moai is rooted in her curiosity about migration, marginalized people and how societies rise and fall.

Rapanui society was traditionally hierarchical, led by a class of people who believed themselves God-appointed elites. These leaders dictated where the lower classes could live and how they would work to provide food for the elites and the population at large.

The ruling class also determined how and when the moai – used as the backdrop for exchange and ceremony – would be built.

“This inherently institutionalized religious hierarchy produced an inequitable society,” Van Tilburg said. “They were very successful in the sense that their population grew. But they were unsuccessful at understanding that unless they managed what they had better, and more fairly, that there was no future.”

Population growth and rampant inequity in a fragile environment eventually led to wrenching societal changes, she said. Internal collapse (as outlined in UCLA professor Jared Diamond’s book Collapse), along with colonization and slave-trading in the 1800s, caused the population of Rapa Nui to drop to just 111 in the 1870s.

As an anthropologist, Van Tilburg is concerned with equity.

“I’m interested in asking why we keep replicating societies in which people are not equal, because in doing so, we initiate a crisis,” she said. “Inequity is at the heart of our human problems.”

Andrea Ghez, Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics at UCLA, receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford University on June 26, 2019. Ghez is with her sons.

UCLA astronomer receives honorary degree from Oxford

By Lisa Garibay

Andrea Ghez, Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics at UCLA, receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford University on June 26, 2019. Ghez is with her sons.

UCLA’s Andrea Ghez with her sons at Oxford University.

Andrea Ghez, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy and director of UCLA’s Galactic Center Group, was awarded an honorary degree today from Oxford University during its annual Encaenia ceremony.

Ghez demonstrated the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, with a mass 4 million times that of our sun. Her work provided the best evidence yet that these exotic objects really do exist, providing an opportunity to study the fundamental laws of physics in the extreme environment near a black hole, and learn what role this black hole has played in the formation and evolution of our galaxy.

She joins an eclectic group including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, and UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna, who developed the CRISPR-Cas9 technology for gene editing.

Ghez, who is the Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics, earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT in 1987 and her doctorate from Caltech in 1992, and has been on the faculty at UCLA since 1994.

This article was originally published on the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

The parallels of female power in ancient Egypt and modern times

Photo of Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

 

Over the course of 3,000 years of Egypt’s history, six women ascended to become female kings of the fertile land and sit atop its authoritarian power structure. Several ruled only briefly, and only as the last option in their respective failing family line. Nearly all of them achieved power under the auspices of attempting to protect the throne for the next male in line. Their tenures prevented civil wars among the widely interbred families of social elites. They inherited famines and economic disasters. With the exception of Cleopatra, most remain a mystery to the world at large, their names unpronounceable, their personal thoughts and inner lives unrecorded, their deeds and images often erased by the male kings that followed, especially if the women were successful.

In her latest National Geographic book, “When Women Ruled the World” Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture and chair of the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, tells the stories of these six women: Merneith (some time between 3000–2890 B.C.), Neferusobek (1777–1773 B.C.), Hatsepshut (1473–1458 B.C.), Nefertiti (1338–1336 B.C.), Tawroset (1188–1186 B.C.) and Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.).

As we ponder Women’s History Month, and look forward toward a U.S. presidential primary campaign that includes more women candidates than ever before, we asked Cooney about themes of female power and what Egypt can illuminate for us.

Your book illustrates that Egyptian society valued and embraced women’s rule when it was deemed necessary, but these are not instances of feminism. Their attempts to rule was really about keeping the set structure in place.

Studying Egypt is a study of power, and specifically of how to maintain the power of the one over the many. That story also always includes examples of how women are used as tools to make sure the authoritarian regime flourishes. This is the most interesting part to me because then the whole tragedy of the study, of the book, is that this is not about feminism at all. It’s not about feminists moving forward, it’s not about the feminist agenda. It’s not about anything but protecting the status quo, the rich staying rich, the patriarchy staying in charge and the system continuing. We still do this, us women. Women work for the patriarchy without thinking about it, all the time. In the end, did women rule the world? Yes, they did rule the world but did it change anything? No.

I want to look at our world the same way. It doesn’t matter if we have a female president. What matters is how people rule and whose agendas are served.

People who have been to Egypt probably know the name Hatshepsut and maybe Nefertiti, but clearly the most pervasive female cultural Egyptian reference is Cleopatra. Why is she the one? Do we just have more materials related to her?

No, it’s because when you are successful, you can very easily be erased. Cleopatra failed in her efforts to hold on to power and hold onto native rule in Egypt. When you are a failure, it’s aberrant, strange and it spins a good tale. It’s a great story, failure. Whereas success is doing what everyone did before you and what everyone will do after you. It’s the same and nobody cares. It’s the same as being a successful female in a meeting or a successful female who shares a great idea with her boss and her boss takes that idea into the meeting while she sits there meekly, letting the boss take it for his or her own because it’s a successful, great idea.

So it’s the women who are the greatest successes in the story who are the most successfully erased. The women who did it all wrong and didn’t leave their land better than when they found it, who are remembered as cautionary tales. That’s our cultural memory. That’s why everyone can pronounce the name Cleopatra and no one has any idea how to pronounce Hatshepsut. She is not in our cultural memory. It doesn’t serve our patriarchal system to add her to it.

But remember, in the Egyptian mindset Cleopatra wasn’t a failure. She fought Rome and lost, but in the Arabic sources Cleopatra is remembered as an adherent to Egyptian philosophy, a freedom fighter against Rome and as a learned patriot to her people.

Book cover of When Women Ruled the World

How does the framework of Egypt’s long and relatively well-documented history and culture inform our perspectives on power as American citizens, a country of such a comparatively short history and governance?

Egypt is such a gift. When I get asked — and I do — “Why bother devoting your life to this place that’s been gone for 2,000 years and studying people that are as old as 5,000 years?” the answer is that Egypt provides me with 3,000 years of the same cultural system, religious system, government system and language system. I can follow them through booms and busts, through collapse and resurgence and see human reactions to prosperity and pain. That’s really useful. We are in this infancy of 250 years and we think we are so smart, we think we are post-racial, post-sexist and all of these things. But we’re not. Egypt is a huge gift to compare the situation that you are in to the past to see how you might better face the future.

It must be difficult to unearth women’s stories because of the ways in which historical records from around the world largely excluded information about them.

That’s the frustration of working with Egypt. We can’t forget that this is an authoritarian regime. It’s not a competitive place where I can get a speech from a competitor and try to understand a different viewpoint and agenda. It’s my responsibility as a historian of this regime to try and break it down and see what the truth is between the lines. For these women in power it’s even harder because so many of them were erased when their stories did not fit the patriarchal narrative. My job is to be a historical reconstructionist without being a revisionist. I’m interested in seeing how people work within a system and why we are so opposed, even hostile, to female power.

Why are we so hostile to female power?

The stereotype is that the female is going to use emotionality, her own and others, to manipulate and lie, to shame and guilt people into doing something. The man somehow won’t do that. He will be a straight shooter.

There is the idea that there is the masculine emotionality and a female emotionality. This female emotionality, which many men also bear, is the reason we don’t allow them to wield power because they’re happy, sad, up, down. They feel too many emotions that cannot be allowed.

The men that we ask to lead must suppress those emotions and show this even-keeled strength or only anger and no other softer emotions and then only strategically. We demand a kind of emotionality from our leaders that I find quite stunted and I want to know what the evolutionary biology of that is because a lot of this is a knee-jerk reaction to what serves us better in a short-term, acute time of crisis. I think we all need to discuss what it is about that female emotionality, of connecting with our own emotions and others or even manipulating our emotions for our own gain, that is so problematic.

As of now, six women have announced Democratic presidential campaigns for 2020. What does our historical knowledge of what happens to women when they seek power bode for the coming election season?

I get rather cynical about it, to be honest. Already I see the dialogue revolving around deceit and not being a straight shooter.

Again, it’s that double standard that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a man. It’s interesting to see how people are judging women based on emotionality and how much of that they show, how ambitious they seem to be and how duplicitous they may or may not be.

That possibility for deceit is something we are quite obsessed with for female candidates. The possibility of lies by the female is that much more powerful than the outright, absolute fact of deceit by a male candidate or leader. That is very interesting to me. The female is assumed to be a liar, but when a man lies he’s doing it for a reason and he’s on my side so I’m cool with it.

We’ve been discussing racism for some time but we do not discuss our hostility towards females in power. Unless we start to talk about it and openly discuss it, it won’t change.

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton

UCLA biology professor uses superheroes to help students sift fact from fiction

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton

Shane Campbell-Staton, shown in his UCLA office, says comic books offer a fantastical look at biological concepts.

While Shane Campbell-Staton was working on his dissertation at Harvard in 2013, he walked into a comic book store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and saw a comic in which Superman fought Muhammad Ali. That was the first comic book he ever bought.

An evolutionary biologist, he spent his days writing about the evolution of a small green lizard that adapted from a warm, sub-tropical environment to the cold winters of Tennessee, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Before going to sleep, he read the comic book as a guilty pleasure.

“Pitting the peak of human performance in Muhammad Ali against the peak of science fiction performance in the Man of Steel, in a ring with gloves on, I had to see how that fight ended,” Campbell-Staton said. (He refuses to spoil the ending by saying who won.)

Campbell-Staton became curious about other comic book universes, and returned to buy a couple of other superhero comics, which he also read before falling asleep. He started to have strange dreams that combined the biology he was thinking about with the comic books he was reading. He had a dream about the Flash – the fastest person in the world whose super speed is coupled with superhuman reflexes – running faster than a bullet. Campbell-Staton woke up thinking about muscle fiber, friction and metabolism — things that fuel a body.

“Science fiction and comic books are a really good way of approaching classic questions in biology from a different angle,” said Campbell-Staton, a UCLA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, whose research focuses on how reptiles and other animal species adapt to extreme environments, and the physiology, biology and evolution behind that process. “Comic books offer a fantastical look at the same concepts.”

Campbell-Staton started his popular Biology of Superheroes podcast in late 2017, which was a top 20 iTunes science and medicine podcast this January.

This quarter he is teaching a new “Biology of Superheroes” course for juniors and seniors in the life sciences. He uses superheroes such as Batman, Captain America, Black Panther and Wonder Woman, as well as Jurassic Park and zombies, to teach his students the biology of aging, genetics, evolution, genetic engineering, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, the ethics of reviving extinct species, parallel universes, intelligent alien life and how biology shapes modern society.

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton giving a lecture to students.

Shane Campbell-Staton teaches his “Biology of Superheroes” course at UCLA.

Students read peer-reviewed research journal articles, chapters from science books and comic books. They can create their own science fiction or superhero podcast for their final project, or write a paper or a superhero short novel. Campbell-Staton said he would like to include some of their podcast material on his podcast.

Campbell-Staton said he wants to push students to think about biology in ways they typically would not.

“Regardless of whether these students go into medicine, research, politics, or other fields, my job is to help them sift fact from fiction,” Campbell-Staton said. “If you can sift fact from fiction in Spider-Man, that is a training ground for asking questions about what is true, what is not, and how to tell one from the other when it comes to complex ideas they will confront later in their lives.”

His students agree.

“Usually, we learn the biology of plants and animals. This class is refreshing and cool,” Fayt Sarreal said.

Student Andy Duong said Campbell-Staton cleverly weaves science into the superhero discussions in a creative and engaging way.

In a recent class session, Campbell-Staton raised a question posed by Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould (who died in 2002): If you replay the tape of evolution, will you repeatedly get the same results or different results?

The consensus among the students was the results would be different. One said the six-mile-wide asteroid that crashed to Earth 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and approximately 75 percent of the world’s animal and plant species, might miss the Earth in an alternate scenario, and if so, the dinosaurs likely would still roam the Earth.

The 2018 movie, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” addresses this question with alternate universes. The character Peter Parker is Spider-Man in one universe, while Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman in another universe. The same characters appear in different universes, but as a superhero in one universe, a normal person in a different universe, and a supervillain in another universe. The role of determinism in evolution is a lively, ongoing debate in evolutionary biology — one this movie explores through the lens of the multiverse, Campbell-Staton said. Gould argued that replaying the tape of life repeatedly would yield different results, likely not including humans.

An earlier class session covered whether elite athletes have to be extraordinarily gifted genetically. Campbell-Staton discussed specific gene mutations that influence endurance and muscle strength. He plans to teach the “Biology of Superheroes” each year in winter quarter.

When Campbell-Staton was in high school, he took a memorable course on myths and legends that delved into broader issues. “That always stuck with me as a unique and enjoyable learning experience that forced me to push myself,” he said.

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

41 UCLA scientists among world’s most influential scholars, based on citations

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

A UCLA chemistry lab. The Clarivate report identifies researchers whose publications have “been repeatedly judged by their peers to be of notable significance and utility.”

 

The world’s most influential scientific researchers in 2018 include 41 UCLA scholars.

In its annual list, Clarivate Analytics names the most highly cited researchers — those whose work was most often referenced by other scientific research papers for the preceding decade in 21 fields across the sciences and social sciences. (The 2018 list is based on citations between 2006 and 2016.)

The researchers rank in the top 1 percent in their fields in producing widely cited studies, indicating that their work “has been repeatedly judged by their peers to be of notable significance and utility,” according to Clarivate. Current UCLA faculty members and researchers who were named to the list, noted with their primary UCLA research field or fields, are:

Three UCLA professors awarded 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships

Three young UCLA professors have been named recipients of 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships. The fellowships, which were announced today, were awarded to 126 scientists and scholars from 57 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” said Adam Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of 21st-century science.”

Winners of Sloan Research Fellowships receive a two-year, $70,000 award to support their research. The fellowships are intended to enhance the careers of exceptional young scientists and scholars in chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences and physics.

UCLA’s 2019 recipients are:

 

Photo of Denis Chertverikov

Denis Chertverikov

Denis Chetverikov

Chetverikov, an assistant professor of economics at UCLA since 2013, studies econometrics, an area of economics that focuses on the use of mathematical and statistical methods to describe economic systems. His recent research includes work on high-dimensional models, shape restrictions and applications of empirical process theory in econometrics. He has been published in Econometrica, the Annals of Statistics, and the Annals of Probability. He is also the recipient of a 2016 grant from the National Science Foundation; and the MIT Presidential Fellowship in 2008. He received his doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013 and his master’s from the New Economic School in Moscow in 2007.

 

 

Photo of Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu

Hu, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, studies nanoscale transport processes and advanced materials for research into energy and micro/nanoscale sensor systems. His group’s discovery of the world’s most efficient semiconductor material for thermal management was featured in the Aug. 10, 2018 issue of the journal Science. His research has been recognized with a National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award, U.S. Air Force Young Investigator Award, and the American Chemical Society’s Doctoral New Investigator Award. Hu and colleagues also received a UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge grant, a program made possible by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. Hu joined the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering in 2014. Prior to UCLA, he was a Battelle postdoctoral fellow at MIT and earned his doctorate from Harvard University.

 

 

Aaswath Raman

Photo of Aaswath Raman

Aaswath Raman

Raman, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, investigates how to control light and heat at the nanoscale. His laboratory brings together a multi-disciplinary computational and experimental perspective to design, fabricate and study metamaterials and new complex optical materials that can shape, absorb and emit light in highly unusual and useful ways over a broad range of wavelengths. Raman and his team are strongly motivated by climate change and the need for new energy technologies that better harness the light and heat around us. He has pioneered the development of radiative sky cooling as a new energy technology, showing how a natural phenomenon in which heat dissipates into the sky and space can, among other things, cool buildings without using electricity, and also generate electricity at night. In 2018, Raman gave a widely viewed TED talk on his research. His honors include being named to MIT Technology Review’s annual Innovators Under 35 list. He is a recipient of the Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction from the Government of Alberta, Canada; the SPIE Green Photonics Award; and the inaugural Nelson “Buck” Robinson Science and Technology Award for Renewable Energy from the Materials Research Society. Raman is also the co-founder and chief scientific officer of SkyCool Systems, a startup company based on his radiative sky cooling research.