Scientists Use fMRI to Catch Test Subjectsin the Act of Trusting One Another

PASADENA, Calif.--Who do you trust? The question may seem distinctly human--and limited only to "quality" humans, at that--but it turns out that trust is handled by the human brain in pretty much the same way that obtaining a food award is handled by the brain of an insect. In other words, it's all a lot more primitive than we think.

But there's more. The research also suggests that we can actually trust each other a fair amount of time without getting betrayed, and can do so just because of the biological creatures we are.

In a new milestone for neuroscience, experimenters at the California Institute of Technology and the Baylor College of Medicine for the first time have simultaneously scanned interacting brains using a new technique called "hyperscanning" brain imaging to probe how trust builds as subjects learn about one another. This new technique allowed the team to see for the first time how interacting brains influence each other as subjects played an economic game and built trusting relationships. The research has implications for further understanding the evolution of the brain and social behavior, and could also lead to new insights into maladies such as autism and schizophrenia, in which a person's interaction with others is severely compromised.

Reporting in Friday's issue of the journal Science, the Caltech and Baylor researchers describe the results they obtained by hooking up volunteers to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines in Pasadena and Houston, respectively. One volunteer in one locale would interact with another volunteer he or she did not know, and the two would play an economic game in which trustworthiness had to be balanced with the profit motive. At the time the volunteers were playing the game, their brain activity was continually monitored to see what was going on with their neurons.

According to Steve Quartz, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Caltech, who led the Caltech effort and does much of his work on the social interactions of decision making by employing MRIs, the results show that trust involves a region of the brain known as the head of the caudate nucleus. As with all MRI images of the brain, the idea was to pick up evidence of a rush of blood to a specific part of the brain, which is taken to indicate evidence that the brain region is at that moment involved in mental activity.

The important finding, however, was not just that the caudate nucleus is involved, but that trust tended to shift backward in time as the game progressed. In other words, the expectation of a reward was intimately involved in an individual's assessment of trustworthiness in the other individual, and that the recipient tended to become more trusting prior to the reward coming--provided, of course, that there was no backstabbing.

Colin Camerer, the Axline Professor of Business Economics at Caltech and the other Caltech faculty author of the paper, adds that the study is also a breakthrough in showing that game theory continues to reward researchers who study human behavior.

"The theory about games such as the one we used in this study is developed around mathematics," Camerer says. "But a mathematical model of self-interest can be overly simplified. These results show that game theory can draw together the social and biological sciences for new and deeper understandings of human behavior. A better mathematical model will result."

The game is a multiround version of an economic exchange, in which one player (the "investor") is given $20 and told that he can either hold on to the money, or give some or all of it to the person on the other end of the game 1,500 miles away. The game is anonymous, and it is further assumed that the players will never meet each other, in order to keep other artifacts of social interaction from coming into play.

The person on the receiving end of the transaction (the "trustee") immediately has any gift that he receives tripled. The trustee can then give some or all of it back to the investor.

In ideal circumstances, the investor gives the entire $20 to the trustee, who then has his money tripled to $60 and then gives $30 back to the investor so that both have profited. That's assuming that greed hasn't made the trustee keep all the money for himself, of course, or that stinginess or lack of trust has persuaded the investor to keep the original investment all to himself. And this is the reason that trust is involved, and furthermore, the reason that there is brain activity during the course of the game for the experimenters to image.

The findings are that trust is delayed in the early rounds of the game (there are 10 in all), and that the players begin determining the costs and benefits of the interchange and soon begin anticipating the rewards before they are even bestowed. Before the game is finished, one player is showing brain activity in the head of the caudate nucleus that demonstrates he has an "intention to trust." Once the players know each other by reputation, they begin showing their intentions to trust about 14 seconds earlier than in the early rounds of the game.

The results are interesting on several levels, say Camerer and Quartz. For one, the results show the neuroscience of economic behavior.

"Neoclassical economics starts with the assumption that rational self-interest is the motivator of all our economic behavior," says Quartz. "The further assumption is that you can only get trust if you penalize people for non-cooperation, but these results show that you can build trust through social interaction, and question the traditional model of economic man."

"The results show that you can trust people for a fair amount of time, which contradicts the assumptions of classical economics," Camerer adds.

This is good news for us humans who must do business with each other, Quartz explains, because trustworthiness decreases the incidental costs. In other words, if we can trust people, then the costs of transactions are lower and simpler: there are fewer laws to encumber us, fewer lawyers to pay so as to ensure that all the documents pertaining to the deal are written in an airtight manner, and so on.

"It's the same as if you could have a business deal on a handshake," Quartz says. "You don't have to pay a bunch of lawyers to write up what you do at every step. Thus, trust is of great interest from the level of our everyday interactions all the way up to the economic prosperity of a country where trust is thought of in terms of social capital."

The research findings are also interesting in their similarity to classical conditioning experiments, in which a certain behavioral response is elicited through a reward. Just as a person is rewarded for trusting a trustworthy person--and begins trusting the person even earlier if the reward can honestly be expected--so, too, does a lab animal begin anticipating a food reward for pecking a mirror, tripping a switch, slobbering when a buzzer sounds, or running quickly through a maze.

"This is another striking demonstration of the brain re-using ancient centers for new purposes. That trust rides on top of the basic reward centers of the brain is something we had never anticipated and demonstrates how surprising brain imaging can be," Quartz notes.

And finally, the research could have implications for better understanding the neurology of individuals with severely compromised abilities to interact with other people, such as those afflicted with autism, borderline personality disorders, and schizophrenia. "The inability to predict others is a key facet of many mental disorders. These new results could help us better understand these conditions, and may ultimately guide new treatments," suggests Quartz.

The other authors of the article are Brooks King-Casas, Damon Tomlin and P. Read Montague (the lead author), all of the Baylor College of Medicine, and Cedric Anen of Caltech. The title of the paper is "Getting to Know You: Reputation and Trust in a Two-Person Economic Exchange."

Robert Tindol

New study provides insights into the brain's remembrance of emotional events

PASADENA, Calif.--Those of us who are old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination are usually able to remember the initial announcement almost as if it's a movie running in our heads. That's because there is a well-known tendency for people to have enhanced memory of a highly emotional event, and further, a memory that focuses especially on the "gist" of the event.

In other words, people who remember the words "President Kennedy is dead" will remember the news extraordinarily well. But at the same time, they will likely have no more recollection of extraneous details such as what they were wearing or what they were doing an hour before hearing the news than they would for any other day in 1963. Neurobiologists have known both these phenomena to be true for some time, and a new study now explains how the brain achieves this effect.

In the new study, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Iowa College of Medicine show how the recollections of gist and details of emotional events are related to specific parts of the brain. In an article appearing in this month's Nature Neuroscience, the authors report that patients with damage to an area of the brain known as the amygdala are unable to remember the gist of an emotional stimulus, even though there is nothing otherwise faulty in their memory. The study shows that the amygdala somehow focuses the brain's processing resources on the gist of an emotional event.

"During a highly emotional event, like the Kennedy assassination, 9/11, or the Challenger accident, you remember the gist much better than you would remember the gist of some other neutral event," says Ralph Adolphs, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Caltech and lead author of the study. "But people with damage to the amygdala have a failure to put this special tag on the gist of emotional memories. In other words, they remember the gist of an emotional event no better than the gist of a neutral event."

To test their hypothesis, Adolphs and his colleagues at the University of Iowa College of Medicine showed a group of normal control subjects and a group of test subjects known to have amygdala damage a series of pictures accompanied by fabricated stories. One type of series involved fairly mundane episodes in which, for example, a family was depicted driving somewhere and returning home uneventfully. But in the other series, the story would relate a tragic event, such as the family having been involved in a fatal auto accident on the way home, accompanied with gruesome pictures of amputated limbs.

As expected, the normal control subjects had enhanced recall of the emotional stories and pictures, and far more vague recall of the mundane stories. The test subjects with amygdala damage, however, possessed no better recall of the gist of the emotional story than of the mundane stories. On the other hand, both the control group and the group with amygdala damage showed about equal ability to remember details from stories with no emotional content.

The findings suggest that the amygdala is responsible for our ability to have strong recollections of emotional events, Adolphs says. Further study could point to how the amygdala is involved in impaired real-life emotional memories seen in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease, he adds.

The other authors of the article are Daniel Tranel and Tony W. Buchanan, both of the University of Iowa College of Medicine's Department of Neurology.

Robert Tindol

Negative Impacts of Dam Construction on Human Populations Can Be Reduced, Author Says

PASADENA, Calif.--Despite the adverse impacts of large dam construction on ecosystems and human settlements, more and more dams are likely to be built in the 21st century wherever there is a need to store water for irrigated agriculture, urban water supplies, and power generation. But world societies and governments would do well to evaluate the consequences of dam construction as an integral part of the planning process, a leading authority writes in a new book.

The book, The Future of Large Dams, is the latest work by California Institute of Technology anthropologist Thayer Scudder, who is arguably the world's foremost expert on the impact of dam construction on human societies living along major world rivers. Published by Earthscan, the book argues that the early analysis by affected stakeholders of the impact of a dam's proposed construction is a worthwhile undertaking. And not only is it worthwhile, but also is quite possible to accomplish with established research techniques.

According to Scudder, large dams are a "flawed yet still necessary development option." Flaws include both the shortcomings of the dam itself as well as ecological and social impacts. In terms of the former, Scudder says that dams, on the average, can be expected to get clogged with sediment at a rate of about 0.5 to 1 percent per year. And in terms of the latter, changing habitat caused by the flooding of land behind and below dams is certain to change the habits of nearby humans and animals alike--if not devastate both.

"Although dams have their problems, they're unfortunately still necessary because of the growing needs of humans for water storage," says Scudder. "That's the dilemma."

Given that governments throughout the world-- the United States included--will continue to dam rivers, Scudder says it's important to take into consideration that hundreds of millions of people have been adversely affected by dams in the last century. Somewhere between 40 and 80 million people have been forcibly relocated by the flooding of the land on which they live to create the reservoirs above the dams. Furthermore, even larger numbers of people have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted by the change of the river flow below dams.

"Lots of people in many places in the world are dependent on the natural flow of rivers, and the consequences can be the sort of things you might not normally even take into account," he says. "For example, a settlement that depends on an annual flooding of agricultural land when the river rises can be wiped out if the regulated flow of the dam causes the annual flooding to cease."

Scudder, in fact, wrote his doctoral dissertation many years ago on such an instance, in which the construction of a dam obliterated the most productive component of an upstream farming system.

"But the book argues that, despite these adverse impacts, there are state-of-the-art ways of addressing them," he says. "For example, if local populations downstream have been depending on an annual inundation of an agricultural flood plain, then the authorities in charge and other stakeholders should consider a controlled release of water that recreates the flooding conditions. Experiments have been done with coordinating hydropower generation and flood recession irrigation needs with the release of 'environmental flows'--that is, releases of water to protect habitats and communities. This approach has been tried in several African countries, and research has shown in other cases that managed floods would be a 'win-win' option."

In general, the way to make dams work for humans everywhere, Scudder suggests, is to address the social and environmental impacts both downstream and upstream of any dam project before the structure is even built, and to evaluate the situations in river basins where dams have already been constructed.

Finally, the political and institutional consideration of dam construction should be addressed, Scudder says. Too often, a dam project is undertaken at a specific locale because of its political expedience, and this is not the best way to minimize the negative human and ecological impact. Restructuring governmental departments that oversee dams can also maximize negative environmental, agricultural, or other impacts.

"We should all be able to benefit from the dams that are to be built in the future rather than suffer from them," he concludes.

Review copies of the book are available from Earthscan Sales and Marketing Administrator Michael Fell by e-mailing him at or calling +44 (0)20 7121 3154.


Robert Tindol

Caltech Author's Take on Desperate Housewives, Family Fights, and Suburban Paranoia

PASADENA, Calif.-What does Merrill Joan Gerber, a lecturer in creative writing at the California Institute of Technology, know about desperate housewives, family feuds, and the façades of middle-class suburbia?

Well, Gerber comments on these issues and more in her newest book, This is a Voice from Your Past: New and Selected Stories.

Gerber's compilation of short stories exposes fascinating characters and their situations in seemingly serene Southern Californian suburbia, where what's hiding beneath the façade of normal middle-class life is revealed through stories of family fights and triumphs, vulnerable women, and paranoid housewives.

The New York Times Book Review said, "Gerber's supple prose takes us right inside her character's minds, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening, always absorbing and believeable." The book, available in bookstores this month, is published by Ontario Review Press.

Gerber has taught at Caltech since 1989. She is the author of 25 books, seven of which are novels. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Mademoiselle, and Redbook, winning her numerous awards, including the O. Henry Award in 1986.

Gerber's other books include Anna in the Afterlife, one of the Los Angeles Times "Best Books of 2002"; the travel memoir Botticelli Blue Skies: An American in Florence; King of the World, winner of the Pushcart Press Editor's Book Award; and The Kingdom of Brooklyn, winner of the Hadassah Magazine's Ribalow Prize.

Gerber lives in Sierra Madre with her husband, a retired professor from Pasadena City College.

The author will read from and discuss This is a Voice from Your Past: New and Selected Stories on Friday, February 4, at the Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, at 2:30 p.m. in the Overseers' Room, free of charge, and Wednesday, February 23, at Vroman's Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, at 7 p.m., free of charge.

The author can be reached at or visit her website at


Contact: Saskia Pickles (626) 395-3227

Visit the Caltech Media Relations Web site at:


Neuroscientists discover that humans evaluate emotions by looking at the eyes

PASADENA, Calif.--If your mother ever told you to watch out for strangers with shifty eyes, you can start taking her advice to heart. Neuroscientists exploring a region of the brain associated with the recognition of emotional expressions have concluded that it is the eye region that we scan when our brains process information about other people's emotions.

Reporting in the January 6 issue of the journal Nature, California Institute of Technology neuroscientist Ralph Adolphs and colleagues at the University of Iowa, University of Montreal, and University of Glasgow describe new results they have obtained with a patient suffering from a rare genetic malady that has destroyed her brain's amygdala. The amygdala are found in each side of the brain in the medial temporal lobe and are known to process information about facial emotions. The patient, who has been studied by the researchers at the University of Iowa for a decade, shows an intriguing inability to recognize fear and other emotions from facial expressions.

"The fact that the amygdala is involved in fear recognition has been borne out by a large number of studies," explains Adolphs. "But until now the mechanisms through which amygdala damage compromises fear recognition have not been identified."

Although Adolphs and his colleagues have known for years that the woman is unable to recognize fear from facial expressions in others, they didn't know until recently that her problem was an inability to focus on the eye region of others when judging their emotions. They discovered this by carefully recording the way her eyes focused on pictures of faces.

In normal test subjects, a person's eyes dart from area to area of a face in a quick, largely unconscious program of evaluating facial expressions to recognize emotions. The woman, by contrast, tended to stare straight ahead at the photographs, displaying no tendency to regard the eyes at all. As a result, she was nonjudgmental in her interpersonal dealings, often trusting even those individuals who didn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.

However, the good news is that the woman could be trained to look at the eyes in the photographs, even though she had no natural inclination to do so. When she deliberately looked at the eyes upon being instructed to do so, she had a normal ability to recognize fear in the faces.

According to Adolphs, the study is a step forward in better understanding the human brain's perceptual mechanisms, and also a practical key in possible therapies to help certain patients with defective emotional perception lead more normal lives.

In terms of the former, Adolphs says that the amygdala's role in fear recognition will probably be better understood with additional research such as that now going on in Caltech's new magnetic resonance imaging lab. "It would be naïve to ascribe these findings to one single brain structure," he says. "Many parts of the brain work together, so a more accurate picture will probably relate cognitive abilities to a network of brain structures.

"Therefore, the things the amygdala do together with other parts of the brain are going to be a complex matter that will take a long time to figure out."

However, the very fact that the woman could be trained to evaluate fear in other people's faces is encouraging news for individuals with autism and other maladies that cause problems in their recognizing other people's emotions, Adolphs says.

"Maybe people with autism could be helped if they were trained how to look at the world and how to look at people's faces to improve their social functioning," he says.

Adolphs is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Caltech, and holds a joint appointment at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. The other authors of the paper are Frederic Gosselin, Tony Buchanan, Daniel Tranel, Philippe Schyns, and Antonio Damasio.

Robert Tindol

Einstein: Release of Volume 9, The Berlin Years

PASADENA, Calif. - Early in the 20th century, scientists were grappling with a controversial and complex new theory from Albert Einstein: defying Newton's Principia that stated space was fixed and time was absolute, inexorably ticking away, Einstein's general theory of relativity held that matter actually changes the shape of a combined space-time. Further, that curved space-time tells matter how to move. Not only was his theory conceptually perplexing, at the time the observable consequences of it were few and minute.

In 1919 British astrophysicist Arthur Stanley Eddington took advantage of a natural phenomenon, a solar eclipse, to test Einstein's theory. The eclipse would allow him to observe the way the mass of the sun bent the path of light traveling from distant stars. Eddington led an expedition to the island of Principe, off the Atlantic coast of Africa, to observe the eclipse. If Einstein was right, the thinking went, the light would be bent twice as far as conventional Newtonian physics would allow.

While they were gone, Einstein waited anxiously in Berlin. Finally, months later in November 1919, Eddington announced that Einstein was indeed right, instantly making him the first science celebrity of our age.

Set in the turbulent post-World War I period, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 9, The Berlin Years: Correspondence, January 1919-April 1920, is the latest publication issued by the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology.

The present volume shows that Einstein was involved in numerous other issues, both personal and professional, during this period of his life. Piqued by early suggestions of a unified field theory, says Caltech's Tilman Sauer, one of five editors who worked on Volume 9, Einstein also pondered how to unify gravitation and electromagnetic field theory, and worked to resolve contradictions between the new quantum physics and relativity. "He also had many open-minded exchanges with colleagues," says Sauer, "that may challenge his later image as the stubborn critic of quantum mechanics."

The book also shows the nonscience side of Einstein, he says. "He was deeply engaged in discussing social and political issues, he participated in humanitarian efforts, and he intervened on behalf of intellectuals condemned to death after the fall of the Bavarian Soviet Republic," says Sauer. He also faced anti-Semitic outbursts, reflected increasingly on his own identity as a Jew, and assisted in efforts toward the establishment of the Hebrew University. As an internationalist opponent of war, and a German-speaking Swiss citizen whose renown was sealed by the Englishman Eddington's confirmation of relativity, Einstein mitigated postwar hostility toward German scholars.

Correspondence with family and friends documents his divorce, remarriage to his cousin, and his closeness to his two sons. Evidence in newly uncovered material shows there were efforts to lure Einstein back to Switzerland and also to the Netherlands. However, Einstein, entertaining high hopes for the young Weimar Republic, remained in Berlin. This volume reveals new facets of Einstein as he constructively participated in German and European scientific, academic, and cultural life.

Volume 9 is the second volume that the Einstein Papers Project has put out since it came to Caltech three years ago; some 20 more volumes are in preparation. The project has been described as the most ambitious publishing venture in the history of 20th-century science.

The overall 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. (Most of the originals are located at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the beneficiary of Einstein's literary estate.)

The editors are already working on Volume 10, which will be another volume of correspondence that will enrich the image of Einstein the scientist, philosopher, but also humanist, colleague, friend, husband, and father.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733

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Media Can Call to Discuss Election: What Worked, What Didn't

PASADENA, Calif.— Researchers from the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project are available to discuss how voting technology performed on election day and other election-related issues, via conference call with the news media, Nov. 3 at 8 a.m. PST/11 a.m EST.

This team of computer scientists and political scientists from two of the nation's most prestigious universities has been at work since the 2000 election evaluating the state of the American voting system. Their research has focused on all aspects of the election process, and includes the groundbreaking study "What Is; What Could Be" (July 2001), which found that 4 to 6 million votes were lost in the 2000 presidential election. The Voting Technology Project web site is at

WHO: Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project co-directors Michael Alvarez at Caltech and Ted Selker at MIT; Caltech professors of political science Jonathan Katz and Rod Kiewiet; Shuki Bruck, the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computation and Neural Systems and Electrical Engineering at Caltech; Steve Ansolobehere, professor of political science at MIT; and Charles Stewart, professor of political science and associate dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences at MIT.

WHAT: Media availability with informal Q&A. There is no set agenda; you may address questions to a particular individual or to the group at large.

WHEN: Wednesday, November 3, 8 a.m. PST/11 a.m. EST, one hour (call anytime)

NUMBER TO CALL: Call toll-free (877) 322-9648, punch in code 576979


Memo to VTP Reporters

Greetings from Caltech,

You had expressed interest in voting technology news. We though this might be of interest to you. Thanks.

While the November 2 election will determine who will occupy the White House for the next four years, it may also make another determination as well: namely, whether Americans will embrace the use of electronic voting devices.

Suffering through the Florida recount debacle in the 2000 presidential election may have raised America's consciousness as to the methods they use to cast votes. Since then, there have been lots of claims made by advocates about how comfortable people are with electronic voting, while opponents have argued just the opposite, that the confidence of all voters is now shaken by the thought of using electronic voting systems. Who's right, who's wrong?

Neither, says R. Michael Alvarez, a professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology, and codirector of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. "In fact, there appears to be a lot of indecision on the part of voters about the use of electronic voting devices," he says. Alvarez and Thad Hall, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Utah, and a collaborator with the Voting Project, just completed a study on American registered voters' attitudes about electronic voting devices. "Roughly one-third of the registered voters in our sample stated they had no opinion about any of the arguments for or against the use of electronic voting machines," notes Hall. "This might represent uncertainty about electronic voting machines, a lack of familiarity with them, or some ambivalence about their use."

That leads Alvarez to believe that public opinion is at a critical moment regarding their use. This November, voters in 42 states will use new voting systems, such as touch screen ballots and optical scan machines. As a result, says Alvarez, "The performance of these voting systems on November 2 will play a critical role in determining how American voters feel about using electronic voting technologies in the future." If things run smoothly with few glitches, electronic balloting will probably be here to stay. If there is another glitch-filled election, the controversy will go on.

The telephone survey, funded by the University of Utah's College of Social and Behavioral Science and Political Science Department, was conducted by International Communications Research between August 25 and 29. It interviewed a nationwide sample of 829 male and female registered voters. (The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.) While roughly one-third of voters in the sample expressed no opinion, a plurality of 38 percent of voters said they are most comfortable with using electronic voting machines to cast their vote, while 30 percent were most comfortable using optical scanning devices.

Not surprisingly, the survey shows a sizeable generation gap in attitudes about electronic voting. More than half of Generation Y registered voters, those between age 18 and 28 and a generation that grew up with computers and video games, expressed comfort with their use. But only a third of those 59 and older were comfortable with the newer electronic voting technology.

A plurality of registered voters in the sample--43 percent--also agreed with the statement that electronic voting equipment is prone to unintentional glitches, while 38 percent agreed that electronic voting increases the potential for fraud.

Other questions broke responses down by race and political affiliation (see for complete results), but the scientists believe opinions will be strongly set by the November election. "The tenor of the debate over voting technology has been very argumentative over the past two years," says Hall, "but electronic voting hasn't been all bad." On the one hand, he says, there have been many cases of anomalies in the implementation of electronic voting systems that have resulted in votes being lost or problems at polling places. At the same time, there have been cases of electronic voting enfranchising voters, giving certain voters--such as people with disabilities--the chance to cast a secret ballot for the first time, or lowering the number of uncounted ballots. "Much of this debate has played out among media and political elites," says Alvarez, "and our goal was to determine how the public views these issues at this point in time, in particular the tradeoffs between possible increases in accuracy relative to potential increases in either glitches or outright election fraud.

"Overall, I'd say the electorate does seem inclined to favor some form of electronic voting, but it's weak. So it will be interesting to see how the November elections shapes this ongoing argument."

MEDIA CONTACTS: Mark Wheeler Caltech (626) 395-8733

Ann Bardsley University of Utah Public Relations (801) 587-9183

Visit the Caltech media relations web site:


Caltech and MIT Propose Measures to Ensure Accuracy, Accessibility in Presidential Election

PASADENA, Calif.— Experts in voting technology from the California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology say that four relatively simple and inexpensive steps can be taken to ensure that voting procedures in this fall's presidential election are as accurate and reliable as possible.

The recommendations are included in a new report prepared by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent bipartisan agency that serves as a national clearinghouse for information on the administration of federal elections. The report also includes several steps that the group believes are necessary for avoiding lost votes in November.

"Between four and six million voters were disenfranchised in the 2000 election," said Mike Alvarez, a professor of political science at Caltech. "Although some progress has been made these past four years, we are still concerned that millions of votes could be lost in November--particularly if the popular vote is close."

Ted Selker, associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, says, "Procedural improvements can still be made this year to ensure that we have only a fraction of the errors that we had in 2000."

Recommendations from the Caltech/MIT team include:

- Collect the information that would be needed to audit the 2004 election. This is essential. Currently, 11 states do not report total ballots cast, making it nearly impossible to track the performance of equipment and election procedures in these states. The EAC should require a report of total ballots cast and votes cast for each federal office from each election jurisdiction. These reports should also include the number of registered voters and absentee ballots cast. The secretaries of state should include these figures in their statement of certified votes.

- Fix common ballot problems. This includes some very basic design issues that were problematic in the last election. For example, the EAC should recommend that all jurisdictions using optical scanning use the term "Someone Else (write name)" instead of the term "Write In." If the ballot has a back side, the front side of the ballot should clearly state so in large, plain letters.

- Produce provisional voting guidelines. Many people went to the wrong precinct in 2000, and were unable to vote. New provisional voting guidelines need to be developed by mid-August that give uniform procedures for allowing provisional ballots to be used when a person's registration is in question.

- Develop common complaint procedures and election monitoring processes. The EAC needs to establish a procedure for managing complaints, and should be prepared to serve as an ombudsman to receive, investigate, and follow up on complaints.

The Caltech/MIT report also makes other recommendations that insure that every step in the voting process is checked and improved upon in multiple ways. Among these is the requirement that each stage of the election process have more than one person involved in all matters that can affect voting including equipment purchasing, ballot storage, and setting up polling places.

The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project was established shortly after the controversial 2000 presidential election. The goal of the partnership is to prevent disputed elections in the future by examining potential problems in the voting process and introducing technological improvements for voting procedures.

A copy of the report can be found at


Media contact: Jill Perry Caltech Media Relations (626) 395-3631

Patti Richards MIT News Office (617) 253-8923 prichards@MIT.EDU


The Whitewashed History of Los Angeles

PASADENA, Calif. — Los Angeles's booming rise out of the 1880s, roaring on through the 1920s and the coming of the Great Depression, is a historical marvel, writes Bill Deverell in his new book, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past. But, as the title suggests, this growth was interwoven with the city's often troubled relationship with Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

That relationship, writes Deverell, an associate professor of history at the California Institute of Technology, was expressed in the ways in which elite city-builders approached Mexicans and variously co-opted, appropriated, and even obliterated the region's connections to Mexican places and Mexican people. Published by the University of California Press and available in bookstores now, Whitewashed Adobe begins by describing the bloody years of the 1850s just after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, in which ethnic hatred ran high, and hangings and shootings of Mexicans were not uncommon.

Yet within a generation, Deverell writes, the city's business interests, looking for a commercially viable way to establish urban identity in Southern California, borrowed Mexican cultural traditions to put on a carnival called La Fiesta de Los Angeles. Ethnicity came to bear as well on later efforts to corral and fill the tempestuous Los Angeles River with concrete. Proximity to the river had long been one marker of Mexican Los Angeles, says Deverell, just as the river itself had bounded (and continues to do so to this day) neighborhoods separate from the commercial districts of downtown. Concrete and fencing, he says, drove the point home.

City leaders turned to the resident Mexican population for workers to build the modern metropolis. Deverell also examines the ethnic dimensions to the official Los Angeles response to the nation's last major outbreak of bubonic plague, and concludes by considering the Mission Play, a famed drama tied to regional assumptions about history, progress, and ethnicity.

"Among the most important scholarly traditions in coming to terms with the history of this region are studies of urban growth and studies of ethnic relations," says Deverell. "My new book is a modest attempt to put those two concerns together in a scholarly investigation of Los Angeles history."

It was not that powerful Anglos were trying to render Mexicans invisible, writes Deverell. On the contrary, assimilation was specifically not the goal. Instead, he says, the goal was to keep Mexican peoples, newer arrivals as well as long-standing Californians, expressly visible on the landscapes of the burgeoning city but very much isolated within specific "containers"--containers created by discriminatory wage systems, increasing public segregation in schools and social spaces, and political exclusion.

This often grim history of racial exclusion has implications for how the future of Los Angeles will continue to be shaped, he writes. "If the city of the future is to work at all," he says, "we must look closely at how these containers were built, who built them, and how they got filled. Then we have to work together to make sure that we take them apart."

On May 26 at 7:00 p.m., Deverell will give a talk about his book at the Los Angeles Central Library, Fifth and Flower Streets, Los Angeles. Admission is free, although reservations are suggested. Please call (213) 228-7025.

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