Grant awarded to Caltech to study the neural wiring of moral and economic choices

PASADENA, Calif.—Steven Quartz, an associate professor of philosophy and member of the Computation and Neural Systems program at the California Institute of Technology, will lead a new program to examine the neural basis of economic and moral decision-making. The program is made possible by a $1 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The three-year program will have as its primary goal the creation of a new interdisciplinary field of research, a brain-based approach to the humanities and social sciences. It will be the largest effort yet at Caltech to bring humanists, social scientists, and neuroscientists together to help shape a newly emerging "social cognitive neuroscience." The new discipline will be aimed at understanding the neural and cognitive capacities that distinguish humans from other primates, says Quartz, who will be principal investigator of the project.

"We have devised experiments to probe the brain changes during evolution which allow humans to have the complex social life that we have," Quartz explains. "We're looking at essentially our ability to create a sense of self and to reason about ourselves and others symbolically in ways other animals seem unable to. These capacities appear to be the critical ones that allow us to create a moral and social order."

The coinvestigator will be John Allman, who is the Hixon Professor of Neurobiology at Caltech. Allman, an anthropologist by training, plans to research the neurobiology of decision-making in elderly people. Past studies have shown that the healthy elderly may be more accurate than younger people in calibrating the validity of their knowledge—which can be conventionally described as "wisdom"—though the studies have not addressed the neural differences that occur over time.

The research will focus on economics and moral choices because these are the areas in which a human being is able to make decisions with abstract future goals in mind, such as providing for a healthy retirement income in 25 years, or making early educational decisions that will allow a person to eventually pursue socially valuable work. By contrast, even anthropoids such as chimpanzees and gorillas seem limited to planning for near-term gratification.

"We are particularly interested in looking at the brain structures that allow humans to create symbolic value," Quartz says. "A piece of paper or an idea can be immensely valuable to us because it possesses symbolic value, whether as a piece of currency, or an ideology. For over 2,000 years, moral philosophers have speculated about how this capacity underlies our moral life, but did very little about translating speculation into verifiable experiments."

The experiments Quartz and his colleagues have in mind will take place while test subjects are asked to make moral and economic choices while being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI). Because fMRI is capable of showing levels of local brain activity during these decision-making experiments, the results will essentially show the brain basis of moral and economic decisions.

Quartz and his colleagues will begin by investigating how our brains represent information about ourselves. "One of the greatest scientific mysteries concerns how a brain can create a sense of self," notes Quartz. "This ability is crucial to our capacity to reason about the future, as we need to project ourselves into the future as the recipient of future hypothetical consequences. Patients who have lost this ability through injury are literally blind to tomorrow. Our social life, and the institutions we have created, depends on it."

Another element of this project will involve examining the role of emotions in reasoning about ourselves and others. "There's been a longstanding debate about the role of emotion in moral decision-making," Quartz says. "We will examine brain activity while a person is making a decision on an emotionally charged moral dilemma to see how emotion and our sense of self are intertwined."

The project will also involve faculty from Caltech who are interested in economic decision-making and game theory. "The framework of experimental economics, much of which was developed right here at Caltech, is ideally suited to the new experimental methods of fMRI. It is a tremendously exciting potential merging of social science and neuroscience," Quartz says. "fMRI scans of subjects making economic decisions and playing economic games with others provides a way to probe the brain basis of reasoning about others, cooperation, competition, guilt, envy, and reciprocity."

A long-term goal of this research is to better understand how our behavior can be influenced by social context. "Making group membership salient can have an enormous impact on individual behavior. Our 'groupishness,' for better and worse, is at the core of being human," says Quartz. "Hopefully, understanding how group influences alter the brain might lead to a better understanding of the social problems confronting us."

The funding will be used for purchasing time on the functional MRIs, which will be housed in Caltech's new Brain Imaging Center, and for postdoctoral scholar salaries and graduate student support. The research will be computer-intensive due to the large amount of processing involved in producing the 3-D datasets showing brain activity during the tests.

According to David Baltimore, president of Caltech, the new project "will be an integral part of an extensive effort at Caltech, representing the full range of disciplines at the Institute, to understand not only the brain, but also the idealized notion of the 'mind.'" The research will also provide new interdisciplinary avenues linking the natural sciences with the humanities and social sciences, he added.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation was created in 1964 to support and encourage nonprofit organizations dependent on private funding and volunteer leadership. The foundation awards grants in six main program areas: conservation; population; science; children, families, and communities; the arts; and organizational effectiveness and philanthropy.

Robert Tindol

Anti-Semitism, Revolution and Relativity:New Einstein Volume Released Worldwide

PASADENA, Calif. - Student protests in Albert Einstein's classroom? Who would have thought the world-renowned genius would have to deal with such disrespect? But according to a new publication coming out of the California Institute of Technology, the protest was very real and very political.

It was anti-Semitism. His students were protesting the presence of poor, refugee Eastern European students who were auditing his relativity lecture in Berlin in 1920. So he dealt with the protest by offering free classes. Six months later, reporters, students, and scientists leveled more serious attacks at Einstein and his work.

In fact, politics had become a very large part of Einstein's life. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: Volume 7, The Berlin Years: Writings, 1918-1921, published by Princeton University Press, was released worldwide this month. It includes many political articles and drafts by Einstein – many of them previously unknown.

The volume includes his course notebook from November 9, 1918, the date Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated, which contains a remarkable and probably unprecedented entry in the annals of professorial documents: Einstein cancelled his lecture on relativity that day "due to revolution."

"Soon after, he met with the new head of the German interim government and secured the release of several University of Berlin professors and its rector, detained by revolutionary students," says Diana Kormos-Buchwald, associate professor of history at Caltech, and director of the Einstein Papers Project.

"Four days later, Einstein addressed a crowd of over 1,000 and, emphasizing the rights of the individual, declared that 'all true democrats must stand guard lest the old class tyranny of the right be replaced by a class tyranny of the left,' and expressed support and a willingness to work for the new post-World War I democratic Germany," Kormos-Buchwald added.

The new book is the first volume in a series coming out of the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech. The volume covers the period of Einstein's rise to international fame, and includes, in more than 70 documents, his lectures, notes, and articles on the general theory of relativity, material relating to his first trip to the United States in 1921, as well as his first publications on political, social, and humanitarian issues.

The volume, under the general editorship of Kormos-Buchwald, was edited by an international group of Einstein scholars: Michel Janssen, Robert Schulmann, József Illy, and Christoph Lehner. Daniel J. Kennefick, a 1999 Caltech PhD, was associate editor. Osik Moses and Rudy Hirschmann were editorial assistants.

"This volume is the first in the series to present a mixture of Einstein's scientific, pedagogical, political, and humanitarian writings," says Kormos-Buchwald. "Here we can see the complexity of his personal and public life, in an almost day by day record of work and public activities – the thoughts and actions of the mature, successful, world-famous, and often controversial Einstein around the age of 40."

After his rise to international fame in late 1919, Einstein's publications changed markedly. He faced an increasing demand for popular articles and lectures on relativity, and its development and meaning.

He completed his general theory of relativity in 1916 after 10 years of intensive and exhausting work. Two years later, in a paper that is now particularly well known, Einstein begins by announcing that he needs to correct a "regrettable error in calculation" and derives the famous quadrupole formula for the flux of energy radiated by a source of gravitational waves. Today, Caltech/MIT Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory scientists are hoping to be able to detect these gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein's work almost exactly 85 years ago.

Also, during this period, Einstein responded to a host of commentators, ranging from skeptical physicists to philosophers trying to reconcile his revolutionary theory with their views. For the first time, he also responded in print to outspoken anti-relativists, some of them fueled by cultural conservatism and, frequently, anti-Semitism. He assisted Central Europeans in the grip of starvation and economic collapse, praised the support of individuals and groups such as the Quakers, and championed the cause of Eastern European Jews. His rejection of assimilation, combined with a fierce defense of the right of Jews to higher education, led him to campaign for the establishment of a university in Palestine, the land that he conceived of as a cultural center for all Jews.

The Einstein Papers Project is a 25-year effort that will result in 29 volumes of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. It has been described as the most ambitious publishing venture in the history of 20th-century science.

The project requires research into more than 60,000 documents, including correspondence, scientific writings, speeches on science and social issues, notebooks, diagrams, photos, as well as various contemporary materials and letters about Einstein penned by family members, colleagues, and the press. The collection of photocopies is housed in seven large, fireproof filing cabinets, each the weight of a baby grand piano.

The cabinets contain copies because most of the originals are located at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the beneficiary of Einstein's literary estate. The Caltech collection also includes thousands of copied documents from other collections and archives.

The Einstein Papers Project began in 1971 when Princeton University Press agreed to take on the monumental task of the chronological publication of Einstein's annotated writings. The first volume in the series, edited by a team of experts at Boston University, appeared in 1987.

The Caltech connection to Einstein goes back much further than the arrival of the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech in August 2000. Einstein was a visiting scientist on the campus for the winter terms of 1931, '32, and '33. He might have become a full-time faculty member, had it not been for miscommunication between the Institute and Einstein. Because he could not return to Nazi Germany, he joined the new Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained from 1933 until his death in 1955.

The publication comes out at an opportune time because the most comprehensive presentation ever mounted on Einstein's life and work will open in New York's American Museum of Natural History on November 15. The show will then arrive at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in September 2004. The exhibit was coordinated by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Skirball.

When Kormos-Buchwald was appointed to the project, she was offered the option to work at Boston University, where the Project was located for 15 years, or move the collection to Caltech – she chose the latter. Her staff is bilingual because the majority of Einstein's writings are in German.

Copies of the documents in the Albert Einstein Archive are available in microfilm in the Caltech Archives, open to the public by appointment only; call (626) 395-2700.

The Einstein Papers Project web site is at

MEDIA CONTACT: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director (626) 395-3226

Visit the Caltech media relations web site:


Caltech Historian Accepts Joint Humanities Appointments

"We had hard times here. 'Course it'll be all different out there -- plenty work, an' ever'thing nice an' green, an' little white houses an' oranges growin' aroun'."

PASADENA, Calif.- Pa Joad's words refer to California in John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath. It tells the story of the Joad family, which loses its farm in 1930s Oklahoma, then heads west to the promised land of California in the hope of finding a better life. It is a story that still resonates today, says William Deverell, an associate professor of history at the California Institute of Technology, who has been elected chair of the California Council for the Humanities (CCH).

It will be a busy year for Deverell. This month the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation also named him the 2002-03 Haynes Fellow. The Haynes Foundation is a leading supporter of social science research for Los Angeles and also the oldest private foundation in the city.

As the new chair of the CCH, Deverell will be working to ensure the success of a new three-year project the Council will launch this June. Titled "California Stories," it is a initiative to refresh the story of California with the stories of today's Californians, and strengthen the sense of community across the state. The first project is called "Reading The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The CCH hopes its initiative will create opportunities for people to read and discuss the book, then consider the parallels between the book and the contemporary California experience. The conversations and the stories that spring from them will hopefully lead to increased understanding and tolerance among Californians, and stronger community bonds.

"I'm particularly excited about the opportunities provided by this unprecedented statewide effort," says Deverell. "The story of the Joad family still resonates powerfully in a state where 50 percent of the residents are immigrants. Through this project, we will be giving Californians a chance to reflect on their own family experiences, the dreams and disappointments shared by immigrants then and now, and a chance to consider the place of their own stories in the larger story of California."

In addition to his work with the CCH, as the newly appointed Haynes Fellow, Deverell will help to guide the Haynes Foundation and keep its trustees "attuned to developments in the social sciences research community," says Foundation president Donn B. Miller.

"Dr. Deverell's research continues to enhance our understanding of the events and relationships that have helped to shape California," says Miller; "we are delighted to welcome him to the Foundation."

"I'm deeply honored by the appointment," says Deverell. "The Haynes Foundation is an extraordinary regional institution with a rich and important history. I look forward to the challenges of this position with great personal and professional excitement."

The Haynes Foundation, founded in 1926, supports social science research into policy issues of the Southern California region.

The California Council for the Humanities was established in 1975. It is a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and an independent, nonprofit funder and creator of programs that seek to enrich California's cultural life, while strengthening the state's communities through public use of the humanities.


Exclude from News Hub: 

Grant Gives Undergraduates Access to One of the World's Great Archives of Literature

PASADENA, Calif.- The California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Library share an intertwined past, one that has ranged from common and lofty intellectual pursuits to nuts-and-bolts concerns about bookworms and possible nuclear attacks.

Now, thanks to a $197,500 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the two institutions continue their collaboration, this time to further invigorate Caltech's undergraduate curriculum in the humanities. The three-year grant, titled "Building Partnerships, Building Knowledge," will enrich the undergraduate learning experience in several ways: making the library's extensive collections in the humanities available for undergraduate research projects; providing for team-teaching by Caltech faculty and curatorial staff from the Huntington; presenting humanities seminars at the library; and providing fellowships for minority students to pursue research topics in the Huntington collections.

The grant will further enhance Caltech's determination, as stated by its president David Baltimore, to provide its students, who are mostly science or engineering majors, with the resources to emerge as "expansive thinkers rather than merely gifted technicians."

The Caltech Huntington Committee for the Humanities (CHCH) will oversee the grant. Established in 1988, the committee is an "intellectual partnership," says William Deverell, an associate professor of history at Caltech who chairs the committee. The CHCH designs and implements collaborative research, teaching, and scholarly programs between the two institutions.

"For the humanities at Caltech, the Huntington is our laboratory," says Deverell. "And thanks to the generosity and vision of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, we will be able to offer our students the same kind of hands-on research opportunities in the humanities that they receive as young scientists at Caltech."

Through its Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, which sponsors original undergraduate research supervised by Institute faculty, Caltech will use the Foundations' support to introduce students to the archives of the Huntington Library. Student research work will later be showcased in an annual humanities research conference. In addition, the grant will support the appointments of visiting faculty and the development of additional collaborative teaching and research programs.

Caltech and the Huntington share a rich and complementary history. In the early twentieth century, astronomer George Ellery Hale, the prime mover in the establishment of Caltech, urged railroad magnate, bibliophile, and philanthropist Henry E. Huntington to "think big" regarding the extraordinary library and art collection he and his wife Arabella had amassed. Huntington founded his library, art gallery, and botanical gardens in 1919; it was opened to the public in 1928. In the ensuing years, the two institutions have collaborated intellectually, and in surprising ways. In the 1930s, Arnold Beckman helped the Huntington eradicate a bookworm infestation by inventing a fumigation tube, and during the tense years of the Cold War, Caltech physicist Charles Lauritsen advised the library on the creation of a vault that would withstand nuclear attack.

Hale's observance that the Huntington—home to such renowned works as the illuminated manuscripts of William Blake, one of the two earliest surviving manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, circa 1455—was a veritable laboratory for the historian or literature scholar was exactly right: the institution has emerged as one of the world's great archives of Anglo American Art, literature, rare books, photographs, and manuscripts. "Working with our colleagues at the Huntington," Deverell notes, "we can offer our students as rich and exciting an undergraduate education as they can find anywhere in the nation."

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, based in Jacksonville, Florida, are national philanthropic organizations established through the generosity of the late American industrialist Arthur Vining Davis. The purpose of the Foundations is to provide financial assistance to certain educational, cultural, scientific, and religious institutions within the United States, with the goal of strengthening our nation's future.

Exclude from News Hub: 

At Caltech: Jean Ensminger New Chair of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences

PASADENA - She has traveled alone in a war-torn area of Africa and listened to lions pad around her tent at night, but now Jean Ensminger, a professor of anthropology at the California Institute of Technology, takes on a different challenge, as the new chair of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

In making the announcement, Caltech provost Steve Koonin commented, "Jean brings a distinguished record of teaching and research, fine judgment, and demonstrated management skills to an important position of academic leadership within the Institute. We are very fortunate that someone of her talents is willing to take on this important responsibility."

Ensminger will be the first woman to serve as division chair at Caltech, and will take the helm on June 15, 2002, replacing John Ledyard, a professor of economics and social science, who will be returning, he says, to "the best position in the world: full professor at Caltech." He will redirect his energies to his research in market and organization design, or focus on a new, unrelated area, or "go sailing," he says, "if my boat is still afloat."

For her part, Ensminger is enthusiastic about the prospects for the division, and hopes to build on its successes over the last two decades. "The division has transformed the study of political science and political economy in ways now emulated and dominant in virtually every major university in America," she says, "and is currently incubating several areas of expertise that have the same potential for transforming disciplines as we know them today."

Specifically, she notes that the absence of disciplinary boundaries at Caltech is spawning research that will "reshape the philosophy of mind, behavioral economics, and the frontier between neuroscience, psychology, and economics, while the division's uniquely seamless boundary between literature and history, together with proximity to the Huntington Library, affords us another opportunity to blossom in the humanities."

Ensminger is an uncommon anthropologist: Her line of research is in an area known as experimental economics, a field, she notes, that the division has played a pivotal role in shaping. As an experimental economist, Ensminger is interested in how people make economic decisions. It involves running experiments—described to the participants as games—that use real money in order to learn something about real behavior. Unlike most experimental economists, however, Ensminger takes the method out of the university laboratory to African and other small-scale communities.

The simplest game she uses plays for fairly high stakes, usually a day's wages, whether the game is played in Hamilton, Missouri, or Wayu, Kenya, two places where she has conducted her research. Ensminger will bring a group of people together to play in pairs. Player one is told he or she has, say, $50 to divide with the other person; both will remain anonymous to one another, and player one can give player two any amount or nothing. How is the money divided? More fairly than one might guess, often as high as a 50-50 split.

Even more counterintuitive to conventional economic theorizing, says Ensminger, is that the more involved a society is in a market economy—that is, working for wages, or raising something (crops or cattle) and selling it in order to live—the fairer people tend to be. Across 16 small-scale societies studied around the world, the U.S. is the most fair-minded reported to date, while hunter-gatherers are the least.

For almost 25 years, Ensminger has traveled to Africa, living and studying with the Orma tribe, partially nomadic cattle herders in northeastern Kenya, near the Somali border, where she will return this summer for five weeks. In the beginning, she would live in a tent (on the grounds of a local school), in a place that was frequented by roaming lions at night. Now she stays in the compound of the local chief, but there is a greater danger—banditry.

"My field site became very dangerous in the 1990s because of the collapse of the Somali state," says Ensminger. "There is an ethnic conflict between the Orma and the Somali, who want to take over Orma territory. A phenomenal number of people I know have either been shot or killed by the bandits. It's not a war; it's like the Wild West with armed bandits on the loose."

As a woman traveling alone, carrying cash, and in one of the few cars in the area, she is obviously a target for bandits. And while she feels safe in the Orma villages, she admits to being "unabashedly terrified whenever I go on the roads in and out of that area." Still, that is where 20 years of her research is, and she is not willing to give it up.

It is that kind of perseverance she intends to bring to working with her colleagues as division chair. "I'm honored and delighted to have the opportunity to work with faculty of the extraordinary quality found here, and I look forward to the possibilities and challenges that lie ahead."

Exclude from News Hub: 

Grants Strengthen Ties and Scholarship between Caltech and Huntington Library

PASADENA, Calif.— The history of the American West, the immigrant experience of Asian Americans, and the volatile years of the British Romantic period are some of the diverse areas of study that will soon be undertaken by the California Institute of Technology, thanks to a $440,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will support four new postdoctoral positions.

In addition, a second grant from the Foundation, for $90,000, will support two seminars that will challenge and spark young scholars in the humanities. The teaching and research efforts of both will be undertaken by a collaboration between Caltech and the Huntington Library, located less than a mile away in San Marino, and will move humanities-related research and teaching forward in a number of new directions.

"Thanks to the generosity and vision of the Mellon Foundation, these new seminars and postdoctoral positions will allow us to further the exciting collaboration between two extraordinary research institutions," explains William Deverell, an associate professor of history at Caltech and the chair of the Caltech Huntington Committee for the Humanities.

The four new appointments will conduct original research and teach in the following fields:

—The Romantic period in British literature. The revolutionary years around 1800, says Caltech's Kevin Gilmartin, an associate professor of literature, were marked by an almost unprecedented intersection of the forces of historical and cultural change in Britain. The young scholar appointed in this field will conduct research in the Huntington's extensive sources devoted to Romantic poetry and fiction, as well as its deep holdings in such materials as Romantic period broadsides, prints, and political satire.

—Asian American history. The scholar appointed to this position will work with a body of material pertaining to the history of Asian migration to the Pacific Coast, as well as related materials addressing Asian American naturalization and citizenship. "Asian American studies is one of the most vibrant areas of American historical inquiry," says Deverell, "and we are particularly excited about welcoming a junior colleague in this field to our group."

—The history of gardens. The new postdoctoral fellow in this field will take advantage of the library's extensive holdings to investigate the natural and cultural histories of gardening, plant cultivation, and species differentiation in both the Old and New Worlds. "The Huntington is not only one of the great botanical gardens of the world," Deverell explains. "The institution's photograph, book, and manuscript collections are also rich sources for study of this fascinating topic."

—The history of the American West. "The Huntington's collections in this field are, again, unparalleled," says Deverell. "We expect to bring in a young scholar whose research would be well served by these collections in print, manuscript, and visual documentation, and in turn we expect that their research and teaching will inform our undergraduates pursuing their Caltech humanities coursework."

The Caltech Huntington Committee for the Humanities (CHCH) will oversee the new postdoctoral program. The CHCH is an "intellectual partnership," says Deverell, that designs and implements collaborative research, teaching, and scholarly programs between the humanities faculty at Caltech and curators from the rare books, manuscripts, and art divisions at the Huntington.

The interpretive seminars will strengthen this scholarship as well, combining the expertise of scholars from both institutions with the rich resources of the Huntington. One seminar, "British Literature and Society in the 1790s", will be taught by Caltech's Gilmartin and Saree Makdisi of the University of Chicago. The second, "Power, Text, and Community in Medieval Europe," will be taught by Caltech's Warren Brown, an assistant professor of history, and Jason Glenn of the University of Southern California.

The history of the Huntington Library—home to such renowned works as the illuminated manuscripts of William Blake, one of the two earliest surviving manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, circa 1455—has always been intertwined with that of Caltech. In the early twentieth century, George Ellery Hale, who was instrumental in shaping Caltech out of Throop Institute, helped convince railroad magnate and bibliophile Henry E. Huntington to keep his renowned book, art, and manuscript collection in Southern California. Hale believed the two institutions could work in tandem as research institutions of higher learning. Huntington founded his library, art gallery, and botanical gardens in 1919; it was opened to the public in 1928.

"Through programs like these," Deverell suggests, "our small group of humanities scholars can continue to pursue research and teaching at the very highest scholarly levels. This partnership benefits all involved: our faculty, our postdoctoral fellows, and our students. We are exceedingly grateful to the Mellon Foundation and our colleagues at the Huntington Library for their invaluable help in making all this possible.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes grants in six core areas: higher education, museums and art conservation, performing arts, population, conservation and the environment, and public affairs. More information about the Foundation and its activities is available on its website:

Exclude from News Hub: 

Seventy Percent of Americans Think Bush'sTax Plans Mainly Benefit Wealthy, Study Shows

Seven in 10 Americans think the Bush administration's proposed tax cuts would mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers, according to a national poll conducted by the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology's joint Center for the Study of Law and Politics (CSLP).

The study, which also revealed deep divisions along political and gender lines about how much of a tax cut should be enacted, shows that 29 percent of the public believe Bush's proposals would be of most benefit to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. An additional 41 percent believe the wealthiest 10 percent would be the beneficiaries.

Yet, in polling conducted while the Senate was considering President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax-cut proposal, 44 percent agreed with the president that the size of the cut was "just right"; 41 percent agreed with the majority of the Senate, who sliced the proposal by some $400 billion, that the President's cuts were "too big." Fifteen percent saw President Bush's tax cut as "too small."

"To see so much ambivalence in the American public about tax cuts shows how much work President Bush still has to do," noted Professor R. Michael Alvarez, a political scientist from Caltech associated with the CSLP, and one of the principal investigators of this study.

"It's clear that even though this was the centerpiece issue of his presidential campaign, President Bush has not closed the deal yet on his $1.6 trillion tax cut," Alvarez said.

Professor Edward McCaffery of the USC Law School and Caltech, director of CSLP, and another investigator on the study, noted that tax-cut fever is catching. "Everyone wants something from Uncle Sam, even if they know that others will get more."

Most respondents said they favored income tax cuts across the board (29 percent), followed by elimination of the marriage penalty (17 percent), Social Security or cuts in Medicare taxes (13 percent), elimination of the estate or death tax (11 percent), or new tax credits for retirement accounts (10 percent). Eight percent said they favored no tax cut at all or had no opinion on the matter.

But on this specific breakdown, as on other issues that CSLP is examining, McCaffery noted a pronounced gender gap: "When it comes to tax cuts, men are far more likely to have an opinion, and a positive one; women are less certain about the whole deal."

As an indication of the political fights facing President Bush, Alvarez pointed to the partisan conflict underlying public opinion about the tax cut: "62 percent of Republicans saw the Bush tax cut as `just right,' while 60 percent of Democrats said it is `too large.'" Importantly, survey respondents who said they were independent were divided, with 42 percent saying the Bush tax cuts were `too large' and 42 percent saying they were 'just right,' Alvarez added.

The national probability telephone survey was conducted between March 26 and April 6. Interviews were conducted by Interview Services of America, Inc. Fifteen hundred American adults were interviewed, with a margin of error for the sample of +/- 2.5 percent.


Robert Tindol

Caltech/MIT Issue Voting Technology Report to Florida Task Force

PASADENA, Calif.- The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project has submitted a preliminary report to the task force studying the election in Florida. Their nationwide study of voting machines offers further evidence supporting the task force's call to replace punch card voting in Florida. The statistical analysis also uncovered a more surprising finding: electronic voting, as currently implemented, has performed less well than was widely believed.

The report examines the effect of voting technologies on unmarked and/or spoiled ballots. Researchers from both universities are collaboratively studying five voting technologies: paper ballots with hand-marked votes, lever machines, punch cards, optical scanning devices, and direct-recording electronic devices (DREs), which are similar to automatic teller machines.

The study focuses on so-called "undervotes" and "overvotes," which are combined into a group of uncounted ballots called "residual votes." These include ballots with votes for more than one candidate, with no vote, or that are marked in a way that is uncountable.

Careful statistical analysis shows that there are systematic differences across these technologies, and that paper ballots, optical scanning devices, and lever machines have significantly lower residual voting rates than punch-card systems and DREs. Overall, the residual voting rate for the first three systems averages about 2 percent, and for the last two systems averages about 3 percent. This study is the most extensive analysis ever of the effects of voting technology on under- and overvotes. The study covers the entire country for all presidential elections since 1988, and examines variations at the county level. When the study is complete, it will encompass presidential elections going back to 1980, and will examine a finer breakdown of the different technologies, and a breakdown of residual votes into its two components: over- and undervotes. A final report will be released in June. The Voting Project was the brainchild of California Institute of Technology president David Baltimore in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Charles Vest. It was announced in December 2000 and faculty from both campuses immediately began collecting data and studying the range of voting methods across the nation in the hope of avoiding in the future the vote-counting chaos that followed the 2000 presidential election.

The analysis is complicated by the fact that voting systems vary from county to county and across time. When a voting system is switched, say from lever machines to DREs, the number of residual votes can go up due to voter unfamiliarity with the new technology.

"We don't want to give the impression that electronic systems are necessarily inaccurate, but there is much room for improvement," said Thomas Palfrey, Caltech professor of economics and political science.

"Electronic voting technology is in its infancy and seems the most likely one to benefit significantly from new innovations and increased voter familiarity," states the 11-page report.

Caltech Contact: Jill Perry Media Relations (626) 395-3226

MIT Contact: Kenneth Campbell News Office (617) 253-2700


Caltech and MIT Join Forces to Create Reliable, Uniform Voting System

Caltech and MIT are joining forces to develop a United States voting system that will be easy to use, reliable, secure and modestly priced, the presidents of the two universities announced today.

"America needs a uniform balloting procedure," said Caltech President David Baltimore and MIT President Charles M. Vest in a letter to Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian who is recommending the corporation fund the initial research. "This has become painfully obvious in the current national election, but the issue is deeper and broader than one series of events."

Vest and Baltimore said the new technology "should minimize the possibility of confusion about how to vote, and offer clear verification of what vote is to be recorded. It should decrease to near zero the probability of miscounting votes... The voting technology should be tamper resistant and should minimize the prospect of manipulation and fraud."

The two university presidents proposed that their prestigious institutions give the project high priority for two major reasons:

"First, the technologies in wide use today are unacceptably unreliable. This manifests itself in at least three forms: undercounts (failure to correctly record a choice of candidate), overcounts (voting for two candidates), and missed ballots (machine failure or feeding error). Punch cards and optically scanned ballots are two of the most widely used technologies, and both suffer unacceptably high error rates in all three categories. For example, in the recent Florida election, optical scanning technology had an undercount rate of approximately 3 out of 1,000, and the punch card undercount rate was approximately 15 out of 1,000. Including the other two sources of errors, the overall ballot failure rate with machine counting was about three times this.

"Second, some of the most common types of machinery date from the late nineteenth century and have become obsolete. Most notably, many models of lever machines are no longer manufactured, and although spare parts are difficult to obtain, they are still widely used (accounting for roughly 15 percent of all ballots cast).

"States and municipalities using lever machines will have to replace them in the near future, and the two most common alternatives are punch cards and optical scanning devices. Ironically, many localities in Massachusetts have recently opted for lever machines over punch card ballots because of problems with punch cards registering preferences. "

Gregorian of Carnegie Corporation of New York, will recommend a grant of $250,000 to fund the initial research.

"I want to congratulate the two presidents of our nation's most distinguished universities for their leadership in this welcome and timely initiative on behalf of our election system," said Gregorian. "Voting is the fundamental safeguard of our democracy and we have the technological power to ensure that every person's vote does count. MIT and Caltech have assembled a team of America's top technology and political science scholars to deal with an issue no voter wants ignored. This research is certain to ensure that America's voting process is strengthened."

The project will involve a team of two professors from each university who are experts in technology, design and political science. Initially, they will be charged with defining the problem, surveying experiences with existing voting devices, and making a preliminary analysis of a variety of technological approaches. They will also set goals and create a plan for full-scale research and development of the new system.

The four members of the team are Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professors Stephen Ansolabehere of political science and Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the Media Lab; and Caltech Professors Thomas Palfrey of political science and economics and Jehoshua Bruck of computation and neural systems and electrical engineering. Vest and Baltimore noted their credentials:

"Professors Ansolabehere and Palfrey have deep knowledge of the U.S. electoral process, have facility in tapping into what is known about existing voting systems and equipment, and have expertise in performing the statistical analyses that will be an integral part of the study. Equally important, any system that is suggested must be politically acceptable. Professors Ansolabehere and Palfrey will undertake a consultative process with the various relevant levels of government to find a solution with a reasonable likelihood of acceptance.

"Professor Negroponte and his MIT Media Lab colleagues and Professor Bruck at Caltech combine capabilities in technology, cognitive science, and graphic design. They can assess the various voting schemes that are currently available and, if necessary, design a new system that fulfills the technological and political needs of a fair voting process."


Caltech Contact: Robert Tindol Media Relations (626) 395-3631

MIT Contact: Kenneth Campbell News Office (617) 253-2700


Pasadena philanthropists donate $1.1 million for Caltech writing center and student writing award

PASADENA—The California Institute of Technology has received a $1.1 million gift from Pasadena philanthropists Alexander and Adelaide Hixon for the creation of a new writing center and an annual undergraduate writing prize.

The gift will be used to establish the Alexander P. and Adelaide F. Hixon Writing Center, which will be available for use by the Caltech student body. The center will be directed by a professional with credentials in composition and rhetoric, and will provide a range of instruction and services in basic composition.

The center's offerings will supplement the curriculum of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which has traditionally provided the bulk of writing instruction to the student body through various courses. In particular, Caltech freshmen have received their primary writing instruction in their sequence of two freshman humanities courses that cover rhetoric and composition and also serve as an introduction to college-level work in the humanities disciplines, as well as more specialized upper-level humanities classes. All humanities courses, with the exception of those in foreign languages, have a writing requirement of at least 4,000 words.

The creation of the writing center is especially welcome in the light of recent reforms to the humanities curriculum. These reforms reflect the faculty's commitment to giving Caltech's undergraduates a serious introduction to the humanities (in particular history, literature, philosophy, art history, music, and languages), while emphasizing their writing skills.

All freshmen will take a writing examination at the beginning of the academic year, and basic composition courses will be required of those students who need help with writing skills. Beyond that, students will also have to pass a writing proficiency requirement in each of their freshman humanities courses.

Those students who do not meet the required standard will be directed to take a composition course to improve their ability to write flowing, coherent prose and to structure an argument. The writing center will provide these courses. It will, moreover, be a permanent resource for all students-undergraduates and graduates-who seek assistance in the composition of their papers, reports, and applications.

The Hixon gift also provides funding for the Hixon Prize for Writing, which will be awarded annually to a student for the best composition in a freshman humanities course. The prize will be administered by the writing center and the winner will be chosen by a special committee, with preference given to the paper best illustrating the relationship between the humanities and science and or engineering. The winner will receive a cash award of at least $1,000.

"The Hixon Writing Center will add a significant component to our undergraduate education program, greatly enhancing our ability to foster students' communication skills," said David Baltimore, president of Caltech. "Furthermore, rewarding those students who show excellence in writing is a great way to reinforce the importance of those skills."

The Hixons are both members of the Caltech Associates, a support group whose donations assist in the development of the research and educational programs at Caltech. Adelaide Hixon also serves on the Associates Board.

Robert Tindol


Subscribe to RSS - HSS