Spring 2015 Bulletin

On the Professions

Editors’ Note: We are inaugurating a new feature in this issue of the Bulletin: notes and short essays written by Academy Members on their current work or on new developments or topics of interest in their fields and professions. We invite all Members interested in contributing to “On the Professions” to contact the editors of the Bulletin at " + email + sym + emailHost + "") //--> . We hope that this new feature will be a medium through which Members address one another and share in the excitement of each other’s work.

Writing as Discovery

Scott Russell Sanders

When I told my parents I wanted to switch my major, midway through college, from physics to English, my father replied, “But you already know English.” So I explained that I wanted to study British and American literature, pursue a Ph.D., and become a professor. To my parents, neither of whom had graduated from college, that goal seemed rather grand, but like many of their generation, who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, they believed that a brighter future awaited their children. My father had earned his living in factories, first as a line worker and eventually as a manager, and he was surprised to learn that a person could actually get paid for reading and talking about books. My mother was a homemaker with sundry skills, none of which were dignified by a paycheck, but she was an artist at heart as well as an avid reader, and she understood that my real ambition was to become a writer. If studying English would help me pursue that dream, then she would support me wholeheartedly, and she persuaded my father to do the same.

Half a century after my parents gave me their blessing, I can look back on a career that has proven to be more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined as an undergraduate. After completing my Ph.D. in English at the University of Cambridge in 1971, I joined the faculty at Indiana University, where I taught for the next four decades. During all those years I never ceased feeling grateful to be able to earn my living in the way my father found so implausible: by reading and writing, and by discussing works of literature with bright, inquisitive young people. In what other profession could one share on a daily basis the pleasures of language well used and art well made, while exploring the variety and meaning of human experience?

It is not fashionable in today’s academy to speak of literary study as a source of aesthetic pleasure, much less as a way of exploring what it means to be human. But those were the rewards that drew me to the reading of stories and novels and poems in childhood, and that keep me reading now. Literature helps me think about how we shape our individual lives, how we treat one another, how we organize ourselves into communities, how we relate to the rest of nature, and how we might do all of those things more wisely, kindly, and richly. Biology influences our behavior profoundly, of course, as it does that of all animals; but humans are distinctive in the degree to which we must choose how to act, individually and collectively. Shall we go to war or make peace? Shall we enslave one another or not? Shall we cheat and lie and steal or shall we deal honestly with each other? Shall we care for the poor or discard them? Shall we regard Earth as a warehouse of raw materials or as our beautiful and irreplaceable home? Shall we think of ourselves as machines made of meat or as beings with souls?

The questions that guide my reading have also guided my writing over the past half-century. My first published work, which appeared when I was a junior in college, was an essay on the morality – or, as I concluded, the immorality – of nuclear weapons. I turned next to short stories, heavily (and clumsily) influenced by Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Hemingway, models that allowed me to brood over racism, class divisions, and war. Those issues, like the ethics of nuclear armaments, were impressed on me not only by the public history of the 1950s and 1960s – the civil rights movement, the persistence of poverty in the world’s richest nation, the Vietnam War – but also by my private history. Born in Tennessee, with a father from Mississippi, I felt implicated in the bitter legacy of slavery. I grew up among working class people, many of them chronically unemployed, in an economically and environmentally ravaged part of Ohio. I spent my school years living on and near an Army munitions base, surrounded by the expensive machinery of war. It puzzled me that we could spend vast amounts of money preparing to slaughter our enemies, while kids boarded my school bus from rusting trailers and tarpaper shacks, their cheeks hollow with hunger.

Like all children, I absorbed notions about gender roles without questioning them. Only after I became a father, first of a daughter and then of a son, did I begin to write about the impact of sexism on women and the impact of violent and oafish models of masculinity on men. Becoming a father, and then, thirty years later, a grandfather, made me pay closer attention to the deteriorating condition of the planet, a legacy of abuse as grievous as slavery, and one for which our descendants will have good reason to condemn us. While my colleagues were studying literary theory, I was reading reports by scientists about pollution, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, species extinction, climate disruption, and other symptoms of humankind’s erosive impact on nature, and I was weaving these disturbing trends into the plots of stories and novels or into the arguments of essays.

These concerns – about race, class, war, gender, environment – have preoccupied me on and off the page throughout my writing life. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, I have sought to understand these matters more deeply, hoping that in doing so I would make them more comprehensible, and more compelling, to readers. Literature has the power to enlighten as well as entertain us, to wake us up to life’s subtleties and beauties and possibilities. I have experienced this as a reader, and I have witnessed it as a teacher. Whether my writing carries that power, I cannot say, but I do know it has served me as a means of discovery, about language as well as nature, about our inner and outer worlds, mind and cosmos, and about the ever challenging task of being human.

Scott Russell Sanders is Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Indiana University. He is also a novelist and essayist. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy in 2012.

© 2015 by Scott Russell Sanders

An Intellectual Journey and Personal Odyssey

Arthur Kleinman

In 1973, at the very outset of my career in psychiatry and anthropology, I published four papers that would become the foundation of my journey as a scholar, teacher, and practitioner. One paper drew upon the research I had already initiated on patients, their families, and healers in Taiwan – where I had served as an NIH fellow in the U.S. Public Health Service seconded to the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2 – to formulate a model of health care systems. A second paper sketched a way of studying the history of public health in China through the Cultural Revolution, which Chinese society was then undergoing. Another put forth a practical clinical method for eliciting patients’ culturally shaped expectations of care to improve diagnosis and treatment. The last work was at once the most ambitious and least developed: it proposed studying medicine as a cultural system that could provide a way for biomedical science and clinical practice to become an object of cultural enquiry – an anthropology of science.

Over the years to come, I would work on each of these subjects with shifting intensities, and in so doing I crossed back and forth between medical anthropology, cultural and clinical psychiatry, social medicine, global health, the medical humanities, and China studies. While the driving force behind this broad interdisciplinary mobility doubtless was in part my personal peculiarities and predilections, I owed the rest to those whom I engaged as intellectual interlocutors and academic collaborators along the way.

I have always been passionate about transdisciplinary collaboration. Working with historians, sociologists, and humanists, on the one side, and with biomedical practitioners and scientists, on the other, taught me respect for the different forms of knowledge creation and education. Biosocial processes linking disease pathology, illness experience, caregiving, or health systems required that the social world be understood as embodied in populations and individuals and that psychophysiological processes in such conditions as depression, AIDS, or diabetes be reinterpreted (resocialized) in terms of the political economy of poverty, the moral economy of relationships, and the culture of institutions. To do so meant reading broadly across disciplines, engaging in academic conversations with those working in archives as well as laboratories, and forging ties in field research and teaching with different kinds of scholars. With them I have published and taught courses on topics from social suffering to SARS, subjective wisdom to global health policy, psychotherapy to neoliberalism, religion to pharmaceuticals, narratives to local biology.

And these border crossings have affected my academic career as much as my personal life. I have chaired the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Anthropology in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and I have directed the Harvard Asia Center and the Division of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at the University of Washington. I have practiced psychiatry in general hospitals and spent years in ethnographic field research. I have taught undergraduates and medical students, and I have mentored Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. And I have felt equally at home in Brooklyn, where I grew up, at Stanford, where I studied, in Boston, where I now live, in Washington, D.C., where I consulted at the NIH and Institute of Medicine, and in Taipei, Changsha, and Shanghai, where I conducted field research across five decades.

Those different worlds and ways of knowing have made me better able to understand the shared existential condition of what really matters for ordinary men and women facing the dangers and uncertainties of living. They have sharpened my awareness of the incompleteness and multiplicity of human conditions. They have better prepared me to appreciate not just the joys but the failures of aesthetic, moral, and religious quests. Shaking up my perspectives and expectations has curiously centered my understanding of the world. By forcing me to rethink and reimagine, these different worlds have served to free me from overly narrow, culturally constrained, and professionally circumscribed ways of knowing. Together with numerous former students I have worked toward uniting theory, research, practice, and policy so as to create a different kind of academic field. As a clinician and scholar who crosses disciplinary boundaries, I have learned to ask different questions, go against the grain, put findings into practices of care, and build a career and sustain a life.

The multiple worlds, cultural contestations, and near constant personal disorientation of a globalized career – with its intellectual dissonances and tense post-colonial professional experiences – used to seem particular; but now that it is increasingly the world we all inhabit, I feel the benefits of advanced preparation for a new age. It is a transitional age in which no single academic or intellectual perspective is adequate to capture the complexity of society and the rapidity of perceptual, affective, and value transformation. It is at once a dismaying and appealing time: challenges to the very idea of what is human, the differing notions of a good or at least adequate life, and the clash of an idealistic pursuit of social justice and humanitarian practices with the cynical reality of systemic corruption and extremist violence make it clear we really do not yet possess the concepts or language to adequately make sense of what we are facing. We are right now building a world whose environmental, health, technological, developmental, and ethical conditions have set us in a whole new reality. But what that reality is and what it will require of us to endure by fashioning an appropriate ars vivendi, no one knows. It is honest awareness of our ignorance and often the hypocrisy of our claims – as well as our urgent need to cross intellectual and practical domains of life in order to begin to get a handle on the radically new configurations of things – that tell me I haven’t been wrong in centering my work on the meaning of lived experience. And yet, I am humbled by having rarely succeeded in taking full advantage of what was once a precocious intellectual quest and is now a widely shared enterprise of interdisciplinary, collaborative, and useful (if incomplete) knowledge about global life in our times.

Arthur Kleinman is the Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and Professor of Medical Anthropology in Global Health and Social Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Victor and William Fung Director of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy in 1992.

© 2015 by Arthur Kleinman

Selected works from Arthur Kleinman’s career include Arthur Kleinman, “Toward a Comparative Study of Medical Systems,” Science, Medicine and Man 1 (1973): 55–65; Arthur Kleinman, “The Background and Development of Public Health in China: An Exploratory Essay,” in Public Health in the People’s Republic of China, ed. Myron E. Wegman, Tsung-yi Lin, and Elizabeth F. Purcell (New York: Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1973), 1–23; Arthur Kleinman, “Some Issues for a Comparative Study of Medical Healing,” International Journal of Social Psychiatry 19 (3/4) (1973): 159–165; Arthur Kleinman, “Medicine’s Symbolic Reality: A Central Problem in the Philosophy of Medicine,” Inquiry 16 (1973): 206 –213; Arthur Kleinman, “Concepts and a Model for the Comparison of Medical Systems as Cultural Systems,” Social Science and Medicine 12 (1978): 85 –93; Arthur Kleinman, Leon Eisenberg, and Byron Good, “Culture, Illness, and Care: Clinical Lessons from Anthropological and Cross-Cultural Research,” Annals of Internal Medicine 88 (2) (1978): 251–258; Arthur Kleinman, Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture: An Exploration of the Borderland Between Anthropology, Medicine, and Psychiatry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); Wayne Katon, Arthur Kleinman, and Gary Rosen, “Depression and Somatization: A Review, Part I and Part II,” American Journal of Medicine 72 (1) (1982): 127–135 and 72 (2) (1982): 241–247; Arthur Kleinman, Social Origins of Distress and Disease: Depression and Neurasthenia in Modern China (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986); Arthur Kleinman, The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing and the Human Condition (New York: Basic Books, 1988); Arthur Kleinman, Rethinking Psychiatry: From Cultural Category to Personal Experience (New York: Free Press, 1988); Paul Farmer and Arthur Kleinman, “AIDS as Human Suffering,” Dædalus 118 (2) (1989): 135; Arthur Kleinman and Joan Kleinman, “How Bodies Remember: Social Memory and Bodily Experience of Criticism, Resistance, and Delegitimation following China’s Cultural Revolution,” New Literary History 25 (3) (1994): 707–723; Arthur Kleinman, “An Anthropological Perspective on Objectivity: Observation, Categorization and the Assessment of Suffering.” in Health and Social Change: An International Perspective, ed. Lincoln C. Chen, Arthur Kleinman, and Norma Ware (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994); Arthur Kleinman and Joan Kleinman, “The Appeal of Experience, the Dismay of Images,” Dædalus 125 (1) (1996): 1–23; Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock, Social Suffering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Arthur Kleinman, “Experience and Its Moral Modes: Culture, Human Conditions and Disorder,” in The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. 20, ed. Grethe B. Peterson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999), 357–420; Arthur Kleinman, Renee C. Fox, and Allan Brandt, eds., “Bioethics and Beyond,” Dædalus 128 (4) 1999; Arthur Kleinman, What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life Amidst Uncertainty and Danger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Dominic T. S. Lee, Joan Kleinman, and Arthur Kleinman, “Rethinking Depression: An Ethnographic Study of the Experiences of Depression Among Chinese,” Harvard Review of Psychiatry 15 (1) (2008): 1–8; Arthur Kleinman, “Global Mental Health: A Failure of Humanity,” The Lancet 374 (9690) (2009): 603–604; Arthur Kleinman, “A Search for Wisdom,” The Lancet 378 (9803) (2011): 1621–1622; Arthur Kleinman, “Culture, Bereavement, and Psychiatry,” The Lancet 379 (9816) (2012): 608–609; Arthur Kleinman, “Caregiving as Moral Experience,” The Lancet 380 (9853) (2012): 1550–1551; Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun, Sing Lee, Everett Zhang, Pan Tianshu, Wu Fei, and Jinhua Guo, Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person, What Anthropology and Psychiatry Tell Us about China Today (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); Paul Farmer, Jim Yong Kim, Arthur Kleinman, and Matthew Basilico, eds., Reimagining Global Health (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); Arthur Kleinman, “Why William James Still Matters,” in The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy, ed. Veena Das, Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, and Brighupati Singh (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014); and Iain Wilkinson and Arthur Kleinman, A Passion for Society: How We Respond to Human Suffering (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming).

Freedom of Expression on Campus

Geoffrey R. Stone

In light of recent events that tested the commitment of colleges and universities nationwide to free and open discourse, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer appointed a faculty committee last summer to draft a statement articulating the University of Chicago’s “overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation.” In the words of the committee, which was chaired by Geoffrey R. Stone, this statement, which was completed at the end of 2014, “reflects the long-standing and distinctive values of the University of Chicago and afirms the importance of maintaining and, indeed, celebrating those values for the future.” We present it here as an invitation to further debate and deliberation by other academic institutions throughout the nation.

From its very founding, the University of Chicago has dedicated itself to the preservation and celebration of the freedom of expression as an essential element of the University’s culture. In 1902, in his address marking the University’s decennial, President William Rainey Harper declared that “the principle of complete freedom of speech on all subjects has from the beginning been regarded as fundamental in the University of Chicago” and that “this principle can neither now nor at any future time be called in question.”

Thirty years later, a student organization invited William Z. Foster, the Communist Party’s candidate for President, to lecture on campus. This triggered a storm of protest from critics both on and off campus. To those who condemned the University for allowing the event, President Robert M. Hutchins responded that “our students . . . should have freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself.” He insisted that the “cure” for ideas we oppose “lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition.” On a later occasion, Hutchins added that “free inquiry is indispensable to the good life, that universities exist for the sake of such inquiry, [and] that without it they cease to be universities.”

In 1968, at another time of great turmoil in universities, President Edward H. Levi in his inaugural address celebrated “those virtues which from the beginning and until now have characterized our institution.” Central to the values of the University of Chicago, Levi explained, is a profound commitment to “freedom of inquiry.” This freedom, he proclaimed, “is our inheritance.”

More recently, President Hanna Holborn Gray observed that “education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.”

The words of Harper, Hutchins, Levi, and Gray capture both the spirit and the promise of the University of Chicago. Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

As Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university. The University of Chicago’s long-standing commitment to this principle lies at the very core of our University’s greatness. That is our inheritance, and it is our promise to the future.

Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, Chair

Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, Booth School of Business

Angela Olinto, Homer J. Livingston Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College

Mark Siegler, Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Surgery

David A. Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law

Kenneth W. Warren, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, Department of English and the College

Amanda Woodward, William S. Gray Professor, Department of Psychology and the College

Geoffrey R. Stone is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy in 1990.

Ferguson and the Meaning of Race in America

Douglas S. Massey

As we all know, on August 9, 2014, an eighteen-year-old black male named Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb just outside of St. Louis. The killing led to much civil unrest locally and widespread demonstrations nationally, and set off a national debate on the state of American race relations. Whereas media pundits and news reporters focused on what Michael Brown and Officer Wilson may or may not have done that fateful afternoon, as a sociologist I looked to the structural context in which the encounter occurred to make sense of the events.

The structural context for race relations in St. Louis, as in other metropolitan areas with large black communities, is one of longstanding and intense residential segregation. With the mass migration of blacks out of the rural South and into cities during the first half of the twentieth century, ever-higher levels of residential segregation were imposed on African Americans such that by 1950, the black ghetto was a characteristic feature of urban society.1

No other ethnic or racial group in the history of the United States has ever experienced the degree of residential segregation and spatial isolation that was routinely imposed on African Americans by the mid-twentieth century. Based on a standard index that varies from 0 (when blacks and whites are evenly distributed across neighborhoods) to 100 (when blacks and whites share no neighborhood in common) black-white segregation averaged 88.4 in the North and 90.1 in the South in 1950. In St. Louis, the index stood at 92.9.2 The only other place where racial segregation this durable and intense has been documented is the Union of South Africa under Apartheid.3

Although the black ghetto was well established as a structural feature of American cities by mid-century, black neighborhoods throughout the nation underwent a dramatic geographic expansion between 1950 and 1970. Aided by federal outlays for highways, income tax deductions, and government insured loans from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA), whites moved en masse out of cities to occupy the burgeoning suburbs being constructed on the urban fringe, while African Americans from the South moved into the neighborhoods the whites left behind. Black suburbanization was precluded by the fact that both the FHA and VA prohibited lending to black borrowers and to black neighborhoods, practices that set the standard for the entire lending industry. Even if a black borrower could somehow scrape together the money to purchase a home, racial discrimination was institutionalized throughout the real estate industry.4

Despite massive redistribution of urban populations during the postwar period, levels of black-white segregation hardly changed. As of 1970, the average level of black-white segregation across 287 metropolitan areas stood at 77.6, and in St. Louis the index was 85.0. Moreover, in a subset of U.S. metropolitan areas, African Americans were highly segregated across multiple geographic dimensions simultaneously, a pattern Nancy Denton and I labeled hypersegregation.5 In these areas, not only were African Americans unevenly distributed in space, they were also largely confined to all-black neighborhoods that themselves clustered together in a densely packed contiguous zone near the urban core. St. Louis, of course, was a hypersegregated metropolitan area.

Because black individuals and neighborhoods were cut off from capital and credit, once a residential area became black it inevitably began to deteriorate physically. Those areas that had gone black the earliest experienced the longest period of disinvestment, meaning that the process of deterioration began in the core of the ghetto and over time spread outward toward the periphery, creating areas of widespread abandonment and profound deprivation within an otherwise expanding economy. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that American cities were swept by successive waves of racial violence during the 1960s. In response to the rioting, Congress finally acted to combat housing segregation by passing the 1968 Fair Housing Act, though it was prompted to do so only in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination. It was followed in 1974 by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which banned discrimination in mortgage lending, and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibited discrimination against black neighborhoods.

In order to secure congressional passage of these pieces of legislation, however, their authors were forced to strip away the enforcement powers originally intended for federal authorities. Thus, in each case, the only remedy for victims of discrimination was to file a civil lawsuit to prove discrimination in federal court, obtain a cease and desist order, secure punitive fines, and collect damages. But over the years, relatively few lawsuits have been filed, fewer have gone to trial, and even fewer have resulted in a conviction. Moreover, the racially biased landlords unlucky enough to be convicted generally received small fines and very modest damage awards. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that audit studies have consistently shown that high levels of clandestine discrimination continue to pervade the U.S. housing and lending markets.

Over the course of the civil rights era, white racial attitudes nonetheless did change and principled support for segregation waned. Whereas in the early 1960s, 68 percent of white Americans believed that blacks should go to separate schools, 60 percent felt that whites had a right to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods, and 54 percent endorsed racial segregation in transportation, by the 1980s these percentages had fallen to 4 percent, 13 percent, and 12 percent.6 Although whites gradually came to accept the idea of a race-blind society in principle, they remained uncomfortable with its implications in practice. Integration was tolerated only insofar as it did not bring whites into frequent contact with many black people. In opinion polls, as the relative number of blacks in a social setting increased, ever-larger shares of whites replied they would seek to leave or refuse to enter.7

In the years since the civil rights movement, therefore, metropolitan areas with small black populations have moved steadily toward integration while those with large black communities have not.8 Shifts toward integration were especially pronounced in smaller, newer metropolitan areas containing colleges and universities (higher education is associated with racial tolerance) and military bases (racial tolerance in the military is mandated by command). In contrast, segregation levels in large metropolitan areas containing large black populations have stubbornly remained high, especially in areas with older urban centers surrounded by suburbs with density zoning regimes that prohibit the construction of multiunit housing. Metropolitan areas that fit this profile also tended to remain hypersegregated, and one-third of all black metropolitan residents continued to live under conditions of hypersegregation in 2010.9

As of that date, the St. Louis metropolitan area still satisfied the criteria for hypersegregation, with an average index value of 77.4 across the five geographic dimensions of segregation, making it the third most racially segregated city in the United States, behind only Milwaukee and Detroit. Given that segregation works to concentrate economic deprivation spatially for groups with high poverty rates, the average black resident of metropolitan St. Louis in 2010 lived in a neighborhood in which 42 percent of all residents earned less than thirty thousand dollars – an exceedingly high spatial concentration of poverty.

Over the past six decades, St. Louis has followed the classic trajectory of a large, older metropolitan area with a significant black community surrounded by independent white suburbs. Whereas in 1950 the bulk of the area’s residents lived in the city – which was 82 percent white and, of course, hypersegregated – over the next six decades, the city population fell from 857,000 to 319,000 while the white percentage dropped to 44 percent, even though the greater metropolitan area itself grew from 1.5 million to 2.8 million and remained 77 percent white: which brings us to Ferguson.

Although the white city population fell continuously from 1950 onward, the black population continued to grow through the 1990s. But over the last two decades, even the black population has begun to decline in response to the years of color-coded disinvestment that have steadily eroded the physical integrity of the black ghetto from the inside out. Although the pace of white population loss exceeded that of blacks until 2000, the rate of black decline since then has surpassed it. From 2000 to 2010, a net of 21,000 African Americans left the city, compared with just 12,000 whites.

The exodus was led by middle-class African Americans who sought improved residential circumstances in close-in suburbs such as Ferguson. Ferguson is an older suburb in which the median age of housing is fifty-five years. It was part of the first wave of postwar suburban construction and its population peaked at 29,000 in 1970, when it was just 1 percent black. Over the ensuing decades, the city population gradually dropped, reaching roughly 21,000 in 2010. Replicating the experience of St. Louis, this population decline was accompanied by an increase in the black share of the population, which stood at 67 percent in 2010, well on the way to incorporation into the St. Louis ghetto.

Such rapid demographic change has naturally led to a stark mismatch between a still overwhelmingly white municipal bureaucracy and a predominantly black resident population. In addition, the racial tensions inherent in such a mismatch were exacerbated by the emergence of a new form of credit discrimination that emerged in the 1990s. Whereas black neighborhoods had historically been systematically “redlined” by banks and thus excluded from mortgage lending, they have more recently become favored targets for a lending process that has become known as “reverse redlining” or “predatory lending.” In predatory lending, black borrowers who qualified for conventional loans were instead channeled into high-cost, high-risk subprime mortgages that were extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of the housing market, leading to the disproportionate concentration of foreclosures in black residential areas. Indeed, the single most important factor predicting the number and rate of foreclosures across metropolitan areas is the level of black-white segregation.10

The innovation that transformed the home lending industry was the invention of mortgage-backed securities. Whereas in the past banks made loans directly to borrowers who repaid them over time in monthly installments, mortgages today more often originate with brokers who quickly sell them to large financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, who, in turn, bundle them together into bonds that are sold to investors. As a result, the number of mortgages a bank generates is no longer limited by total bank deposits, but by whatever the market for mortgage-backed securities will bear. In addition, the risks of lending are borne by investors, not by brokers or financial institutions. These actors simply serve as middlemen who make profits by originating, bundling, and selling mortgages, rather than collecting interest on the loans themselves. Moreover, even if a financial institution chooses to buy mortgage-backed securities, it can insure against loss through a credit default swap in which a third party, such as AIG Insurance, agrees (for a fee) to pay off the bonds in the event of default.

Together, mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps created what economists call a “moral hazard” in which brokers, banks, and financial institutions have strong incentives to generate as many loans as possible irrespective of a borrower’s ability to repay and to steer as many customers as possible into subprime lending products, which carry higher interest rates, larger fees, and inflated repayment structures. Under these circumstances, formerly excluded black communities such as Ferguson became prime targets for predatory lending, housing a striving middle-class black population with incomes and homes that can be capitalized through refinance loans. The middle-class status of Ferguson’s black community is indicated by the fact that the number of college graduates rose from 19 percent to 30 percent from 2000 to 2010 as the population shifted from half to two-thirds black.

Compared with whites, African Americans in places like Ferguson were far more likely to receive home equity loans and, regardless of their financial circumstances, were far more likely to be steered into riskier, costlier, and generally more unfavorable lending terms. As a result, the inevitable housing bust put African Americans at greater risk of insolvency. In the course of the recession, massive amounts of home wealth were transferred away from black households and communities and into the pockets of financiers in faraway financial centers like New York.11 Home values in Ferguson fell by around 10 percent, foreclosures proliferated, and home ownership dropped from 67 percent to 59 percent. At present, half of all home owners are “underwater,” owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. The economic fragility of the community is evident: median household income in Ferguson dropped by 14 percent in real terms between 2000 and 2010 – despite the rising share of college graduates – and the poverty rate more than doubled from 12 percent to 25 percent.

The economic devastation of communities like Ferguson led to two ancillary developments relevant to understanding the meaning of the events there. First, encouraged by foreclosures and a proliferation of underwater properties, outside investors swept in to buy distressed homes on the cheap and convert them into rentals, often leasing to families that before the crisis had themselves been homeowners. Second, the decline in home values and incomes put downward pressure on municipal revenues from property and sales taxes, prompting officials to allocate more resources to traffic enforcement as a revenue-generating strategy. Traffic enforcement generates money not only from fines, but also from penalties and interest on late payments, as well as court costs and garnished wages when arrests are made and forfeiture when contraband is found during a traffic stop. In the three fiscal years prior to 2014, municipal court revenues in Ferguson rose by 80 percent and came to constitute 13 percent of the total municipal budget. Under such circumstances, it is little wonder that in a recent poll, 70 percent of blacks nationally said that police do a poor job of treating the races equally and only 31 percent of blacks believe police do a good job of protecting people from crime.12

Thus, the encounter between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson occurred against a backdrop of intense racial segregation and predatory lending that devastated the black community economically. Aspiring middle-class black homeowners saw their hard-earned wealth flow into the pockets of distant, wealthy white financiers, while they themselves were displaced into rented homes they formerly owned, while also being purposefully harassed by white police officers seeking revenue to pay the salaries of a mistrusted white municipal bureaucracy. In this tense, racially charged context, any encounter between a white police officer and a young black male has the potential to escalate out of control, thereby setting fire to the tinderbox of racial inequalities and longstanding grievances that pervade the St. Louis region. Owing to the continuing reality of racial segregation in the nation’s large urban black communities, America’s racial divisions are by no means a thing of the past. Communities such as Ferguson are simply conflagrations waiting for the right sparks to ignite them.

Douglas S. Massey is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy in 1995.

© 2015 by Douglas S. Massey


1. Douglas S. Massey, Jonathan Rothwell, and Thurston Domina, “Changing Bases of Segregation in the United States,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 626 (1) (2009): 74–90.

2. Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

3. Douglas S. Massey, “Segregation and the Perpetuation of Disadvantage,” in The Oxford Handbook of Poverty and Society, ed. Linda Burton and David Brady (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2015).

4. Massey and Denton, American Apartheid.

5. Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, “Hypersegregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas: Black and Hispanic Segregation along Five Dimensions,” Demography 26 (3) (1989): 373–393.

6. Howard Schuman, Charlotte Steeh, Lawrence D. Bobo, and Maria Krysan, Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).

7. Camille Z. Charles, “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation,” Annual Review of Sociology 29 (2003): 167–207.

8. Jacob S. Rugh and Douglas S. Massey, “Segregation in Post-Civil Rights America: Stalled Integration or End of the Segregated Century?” The DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race 11 (2) (2014) (published online March 1, 2013), doi:10.1017/S1742058X13000180.

9. Douglas S. Massey and Jonathan Tannen, “A Research Note on Trends in Black Hypersegregation,” Demography (published online March 20, 2015), doi:10.1007/s13524-015-0381-6.

10. Jacob S. Rugh and Douglas S. Massey, “Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis,” American Sociological Review 75 (5) (2010): 629–651.

11. Jacob S. Rugh, Len Albright, and Douglas S. Massey, “Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse,” Social Problems (forthcoming 2015).

12. Pew Research Center for People and the Press, “Few Say Police Forces Nationally Do Well in Treating Races Equally” (Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center, 2014), http://www.people-press.org/2014/08/25/few-say-police-forces-nationally-do-well-in-treating-races-equally/ (accessed January 1, 2015).

Mathematical Population Biologist

Joel E. Cohen

When asked my profession, I usually respond with a telescoping sequence: scientist – biologist – mathematical biologist – mathematical population biologist. Most people look away with regret after the first word, and I stop there. I proceed, step by step, only on provocation.

What does this mathematical population biologist profess? I try to understand biological populations – humans, bacteria, trees, fish, viruses, trypanosomes that cause Chagas disease, bugs that transmit infection, and food webs, but normally not populations of light bulbs or buildings – by using mathematics in the broadest sense, which includes mathematics, statistics, and computation. As a tool-maker, I try to create new mathematics to understand questions in population biology.

For example? Shrimp are generally more numerous than whales per square kilometer of ocean surface where both occur. In a single species of oak, seedlings are more numerous per square kilometer of land than mature giants. Bigger organisms are rarer than smaller organisms. Almost always, the population density of organisms declines as their average body mass increases. Here’s the surprise: the relationship of population density to average body mass can be described well by a simple mathematical formula, a power law.

What is a power law? In elementary geometry, the area of a square increases as the second power (the square) of the length of an edge: area = (edge length)2. This is a power law with exponent two. The volume of a cube increases as the third power (the cube) of the length of an edge: volume = (edge length)3. This is a power law with exponent three. Since a cube has six square faces, the surface area of a cube is six times the area of one face of the cube: surface area of cube = 6 × (edge length)2; another power law with exponent two. It follows that the surface area per unit volume of a cube is 6 × (edge length)2 / (edge length)3 = 6 / (edge length). This power law (with exponent negative one, for those at ease with such details) explains why, when you take a baby out of doors in cold weather, you should wrap the baby more warmly than you wrap yourself. You have a much bigger edge length (height or girth, for example) than the baby does. Therefore, to the extent that you and the baby are more or less the same shape (even if neither of you is a cube), you have a smaller ratio of surface area to volume than the baby, so you lose relatively less heat through your surface, per unit of your volume, than the baby loses through its surface, per unit of his or her volume.

Ecologists have verified so many times that population density is inversely proportional to some (disputed) power of average body mass that they’ve given this power law a name: density-mass allometry. Although density-mass allometry has the same power-law formula as the geometric power laws, there is a major conceptual difference. The geometric power laws relate two attributes of individual squares, cubes, or other geometrical objects of different sizes. By contrast, in density-mass allometry, population density (defined as the number of organisms per unit of area or of volume) is not an attribute of any individual, but is an attribute of a population (ensemble of organisms). Average body mass – the other quantity in density-mass allometry – is a hybrid of individual and population attributes: body mass is an attribute of an individual, but the average body mass is a statistical attribute of a population.

Mathematical biology is interested in patterns and mechanisms applicable to individuals and populations. Mathematical population biology focuses on patterns and mechanisms applicable to the attributes of populations that are not attributes of individuals. In that difference lies scientific opportunity. Population thinking in biology is less than two hundred years old. The mathematical tools for population thinking are also young, and in many cases, much younger. Far more mathematical tools for population thinking remain to be invented and discovered than we now possess.

In 2007, I had the good fortune to spend the summer in the laboratory of evolutionary biologist Michael Hochberg at the University of Montpellier. That his laboratory was located in a beautiful old city in southern France near the Mediterranean coast was not irrelevant, but was not my primary motivation for going there. Montpellier has perhaps the world’s largest concentration of population biologists in basic and applied fields. I had known and admired Hochberg’s work over decades.

He and two graduate students were designing experiments with bacterial populations to test theoretical predictions published in 2003 about Taylor’s law. By 2007, Taylor’s law had been the subject of an estimated one thousand papers. Hochberg invited me to join the design and analysis of the experiments. For starters, he asked, what did I think about Taylor’s law?

Truth be told, I knew nothing about it, but on first exposure, I was fascinated. Initially, Taylor’s law seemed magical; simple but widely applicable. Though his examples were not the first, ecologist L. Roy Taylor published in Nature in 1961 twenty-four examples of the power law that would later unjustly be named after him. Chester I. Bliss published examples in 1941, S. B. Fracker and H. A. Brischle in 1944, B. I. Hayman and A. D. Lowe in 1961. These examples ranged from aphids to zooplankton.

In the experiments of Hochberg and his students, clones of a bacterial species were grown in laboratory dishes that had eight different amounts of bacterial food (nutrient concentrations), with eight replicate dishes for each level of nutrient concentration. All dishes started with the same number of bacteria. After twenty-four to thirty-six hours, the students estimated the number of bacteria in each dish. For each level of nutrients, they estimated the mean and the variance of the population density of bacteria in the eight replicates. The mean is simply the average of the bacterial counts (the sum of the counts in all eight dishes, divided by eight). The variance is a standard statistical measure of scatter, that is, of how much the counts varied around the mean: it is the average of the squared difference of each count from the mean count. The bigger the variance, the greater the scatter. Taylor’s law connects the mean and the variance: it asserts that the variance of the counts should be a power of the mean of the counts, with an exponent near two. Both variables in Taylor’s law – the variance and the mean of counts – are intrinsically population attributes, not attributes of individuals. Sure enough, when the experimental dust settled, the eight points (one for each nutrient concentration) lined up as predicted by Taylor’s law with an exponent not statistically distinguishable from two. How did the bacteria know?

My own work, some of it not yet published, with collaborators in many countries, has confirmed Taylor’s law in oak forests in New York; mountain beech forests in New Zealand; parasites and hosts in New Zealand lakes; gray-sided voles in Hokkaido, Japan; and humans in Norway and the United States.

Beyond the empirical testing of Taylor’s law, theoretical questions beckon. Why is Taylor’s law so successful with so many diverse populations, and far beyond population biology? To explain why a simple formula describes so well such a widespread empirical pattern, I have shown mathematically that several well-known models of population dynamics lead to Taylor’s law. One of these models was published prominently (by others) in 1969. But it was not until 2013 that my coauthors and I established a connection between that 1969 model and Taylor’s law. We showed that the mechanisms assumed in the model described the details of observed tree counts over seventy-five years of censuses from Black Rock Forest, New York, and correctly predicted the form and parameters of Taylor’s law for the trees.

In addition to trying to explain Taylor’s law, I have been exploring its consequences. Independently, the Chilean ecologist Pablo Marquet and his colleagues and my colleagues and I realized that a combination of Taylor’s law and density-mass allometry predicted a new power law, which I called variance-mass allometry: the variance of population density should be a power of average body mass. My colleagues and I confirmed variance-mass allometry empirically for plants and animals.

Completely unexpectedly, in purely theoretical work, I discovered that the exponent of Taylor’s law could pass through a singularity: as one parameter in a highly simplified climate model changed smoothly, the exponent of Taylor’s law started at two, grew faster and faster, exploded to positive infinity, jumped to negative infinity, and returned to two. Subsequently, I showed that classical population models like branching processes and linear birth-and-death processes also led to Taylor’s law and displayed abrupt changes of the exponent of Taylor’s law in response to smooth changes in their parameters. In these examples, abrupt biotic change crawled unbidden out of the theoretical woodwork of smooth environmental change, hissing with teeth bared. A greater investment in understanding the conditions, warning signals, and consequences of abrupt biotic change seems in order.

Many questions remain unanswered. For example, how much of the widespread empirical success of Taylor’s law reflects the biology of populations, and how much reflects statistical processes independent of biology? Taylor’s law is used in controlling insect pests of economically important crops like cotton and soybeans and in assessing extinction risks in conservation. What are other practical or scientific applications, in mathematical population biology and beyond?

When I was fourteen, living in Battle Creek, Michigan, I knew I wanted to become a composer of music, or a writer of journalism or poetry, or a mathematical biologist. I knew then that biology had irresistible problems and that new mathematics would be required to make sense of them. I’ve been lucky. Nearly six decades later, I am still in love with music, poetry and prose, and the adventure of mathematical population biology.

Joel E. Cohen is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Populations and head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller and Columbia Universities. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy in 1989.

© 2015 by Joel E. Cohen

Most of Joel E. Cohen’s academic publications are freely available for download at http://lab.rockefeller.edu/cohenje/cohenall. For more background reading on these topics, see Nicolas Bacaër, A Short History of Mathematical Population Dynamics (London; Dordrecht, The Netherlands; Heidelberg, Germany; New York: Springer-Verlag, 2011); Joel E. Cohen, “Mathematics is Biology’s Next Microscope, Only Better; Biology is Mathematics’ Next Physics, Only Better,” Public Library of Science Biology 12 (12) (2004): 2017–2023; and Zoltán Eisler, Imre Bartos, and János Kertész, “Fluctuation Scaling in Complex Systems: Taylor’s Law and Beyond,” Advances in Physics 57 (1) (2008): 89–142.