2008/2009 Cohort

During the Fall 2008 semester, the ISS hosted eleven ISS Faculty Fellows. The primary purpose of this new in-residence program is to nurture the careers of Cornell University’s most promising assistant and associate faculty members in the social sciences. The program is also designed to promote an environment of intellectual exchange and an appreciation for interdisciplinary scholarship. During the in-residence semester ISS Fellows are given time away from teaching and most departmental responsibilities in order to focus on their research. All Fellows are provided with an office at the ISS and are awarded a research grant of $10,000. The 2008/2009 ISS Fellows Program was supported in part by a Leadership Grant from the President’s Council of Cornell Women.

For research project descriptions, please see below. For more on this cohort’s accomplishments to date, please see  publications, subsequent funding, and  press coverage.


Photo by University Photo

Back, left to right: Michael Goldstein, Stephen Morgan, Christopher Way,
Arturs Kalnins, Kathleen Vogel, Jeffrey Hancock, and Lillian Lee.
Front, left to right: Sherry Martin, Tarleton Gillespie and Michele Williams. Not pictured: Wes Sine.

Tarleton Gillespie, Communication
The Gesture of Publication in an Information Society
The economic and technological dynamics of the Internet are changing the shape of public discourse: who contributes to it, who profits from it, who accesses it, what gets said and heard, and with what implications. Part of this is the shifting status of the act of “publication.” To formally publish in a traditional medium, whatever the particular arrangements, required effort, resources, time, and commitment. It generally meant partnering with commercial institutions, whose own interests tended to intervene. But it also marked the difference between private talk, and joining the public conversation. The gate was also a gateway. Now, as the barriers to making one’s expression public diminish – as simple as clicking “submit” on your blog or updating your Facebook profile – I believe we are seeing: a blurring of the difference between public and private expression; technical innovations that rework that binary into a more complex spectrum [e.g., going public only to your “buddy” list]; a renegotiation of what, if anything, the remaining difference means for the institutions and policies that depend on it; and, in the process, a culture-wide reconsideration of the very meaning of public and private.  As we reassess what exactly is “public media” today and how it should be cultivated, protected, governed, and improved, we need to account for how the act of “publication” is itself changing, both in the material and economic arrangements that bound it and in the sociocultural and experiential ways in which its participants apprehend it. In my new course of research I plan to delineate this change and examine how public discourse is coping with it.

Michael Goldstein, Psychology
Socially Guided Learning in the Transition from Babbling to Words
How do infants learn to talk? Over the first year, infants’ vocal behavior changes dramatically. Beginning with immature, prelinguistic babbling, infants gradually learn a repertoire of sounds that fit the patterns of the ambient language and become incorporated into words. My past work has shown that the social environment plays a critical role in guiding the development of learning to talk. Parents of infants consistently respond to babbling. More speech-like sounds receive stronger reactions. In addition, specific patterns of parental responsiveness to prelinguistic vocalizations can facilitate or inhibit later language development. My current work focuses on mechanisms by which infants learn the phonology of their language from the responses of caregivers to their early sounds. I have recently discovered that caregivers’ contingent responses to babbling cause infants to create rapid modifications of their sounds. When caregivers react to prelinguistic vocalizations with speech, infants learn the acoustic patterns within adults’ utterances. These studies confirmed the existence of socially guided vocal learning and revealed rapid learning of specific phonological forms from contingent (but not non-contingent) social feedback. Taken together, these studies show that the early, immature vocalizations of infants regulate and are regulated by social interactions. By making immature sounds and observing the reactions of others, infants learn the acoustic structures and temporal contingencies that define communicative interaction. This work has important implications for understanding language development in infants and children with developmental disorders such as Down syndrome and autism.

Jeffrey Hancock, Communication
The Practice of Lying in the Digital Age
Over the last several years I have been studying how digital technologies affect our conceptualizations and practices of truth and deception, and our ability to distinguish between truths and lies. My research points to a need for an integrated, unifying theoretical framework for understanding the intersection between deception and technology. My goal for the ISS Fellowship is to produce a monograph that details this integrative perspective and provides the first systematic review of research on digital deception, drawing on recent literature from the fields of psychology, communication, linguistics, philosophy, economics, and cognitive science.

Arturs Kalnins, Hotel Administration
Information Exchange in Revenue Management Industries
During my ISS fellowship I plan to work on a new project tentatively titled “Information exchange in revenue management industries.” With my co-authors, I will develop a theoretical mathematical model to examine the possibility that information exchange enhances consumer welfare (i.e., results in lower prices) in “revenue management” industries. These are service industries such as hotels, airlines, cruise ships, car rental, and theme parks with (1) perishable goods (e.g., a room-night, a seat on a flight), (2) fixed supply, and (3) stochastic demand. Also, we plan to test empirically the implications of our mathematical theory. Our preliminary theoretical results suggest that information sharing in the revenue management industries does increase welfare. A robust and complete theoretical model, if consistent with the preliminary results and if empirically tested, would fill a key gap because it would demonstrate the importance of considering industry variation when analyzing implications of information exchange. This project has meaningful implications for policy and practice. Like theorists, antitrust agencies have largely ignored industry variation when considering information exchange. A recent ruling regarding the hotel industry, that considered neither the perishable nature of hotel room-nights nor their fixed supply, has greatly constrained firms’ abilities to exchange information. If our final theoretical model does indeed show welfare benefits of information exchange, we would conclude that the constraints were misapplied.

Lillian Lee, Computer Science
The Verbal End: Interactions Between Computational Textual Analysis and the Social Sciences
Orwell wrote in 1946, “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”  The focus of my work is the development of automated methods for analyzing and extracting information from human-authored texts such as news articles, Web pages, blog posts, and so on.  Some of my recent research has addressed the creation of such techniques for supporting questions relevant to the social sciences; this is a natural direction, since a great deal of human behavior is now being exhibited in digital form.  For instance, my group’s body of work on ‘sentiment analysis’ for determining people’s opinions and viewpoints (e.g., in book reviews posted on blogs) can enable the analysis of diffusion of opinions and ideas or polarization. As another example, my group’s prior work on certain methods for analyzing networks and clusters could be applied to help identify (seemingly) authoritative documents or commentary.

Sherry Martin, Government & Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Parties, Networks, and the Political Representation of Women
This project examines how Japan, currently located at the low end of the cross-national spectrum of women’s representation, informs us about how women attain increased representation outside of common institutional remedies that include electoral reform, changes to district size and balloting procedures, and the introduction of quotas. More women have entered and won political races at the national and subnational levels in Japan in the past decade than in the preceding forty year period. And, women candidates have succeeded when existing institutional and cultural constraints would have lead us to predict failure. Does competition between political parties to increase vote shares explain the recent surge in successful women candidates? Is this trend more attributable to resources and support provided to political women via transnational and domestic networks cultivated by Japanese women’s groups? Or, does the answer fall somewhere between these two explanations? This project will use electoral data and elite interviews with political party leaders and prominent women activists to weigh the impact of contagion (competition) vs. diffusion (networking) effects on Japanese women’s representation. The theoretical and methodological framework employed facilitates direct comparisons with other cases that inform cross-national debates about institutional, structural, and cultural changes that facilitate women’s entry to elite politics.

Stephen L. Morgan, Sociology
Patronage Networks & Causal Analysis in the Social Sciences
Among topics of study in research on global inequality, few are as important as determining the capacity of educational interventions to alleviate poverty. Most sub-Saharan African countries remain in a state of chronic under-education. The advances that were achieved between 1950 and 1980, following independence movements from colonial overrule, have slowed appreciably. Analyzing household-level social network and demographic data collected in northern Nigeria, Morgan will study the consequences of patronage relations for patterns of educational attainment in an environment where primary schooling is nominally free (though is often of low quality) but where secondary schooling requires tuition payments. The questions to be addressed include: Do ties to comparably high-status patrons help households successfully educate their children? If the answer is “yes,” do patrons help by assisting with school fees, by helping to secure placement in higher quality private schools, or by offering generalized advice on navigating the education system? If the answer is “no,” then why not? Could it be the case that only those who need assistance have patrons and yet patrons do not provide effective assistance?

Wesley Sine, Johnson Graduate School of Management
Political Turbulence, Entrepreneurial Processes, and Outcomes
During my semester at ISS I will be working on two related projects that focus on how the social environment affects entrepreneurial processes and outcomes. In the first project, Shon Hiatt and I examine how political violence shapes entrepreneurial activity. We are collecting panel data on 1000 entrepreneurs in five cities in Colombia: Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. Our goal is to learn how levels of violence affect the extent to which entrepreneurs take risks and innovate. In the second project I examine how local ideology affects entrepreneurial processes and outcomes. Using data on wind and solar power entrepreneurs in the U.S. from 1978-2007, I consider how, after controlling for natural resources and regulation, the presence and activities of environmental groups affect the likelihood that entrepreneurs will found ventures in the energy sector using renewable technology. Although very different in context, both studies probe at the relationship between the social environment, entrepreneurs, and risk.

Kathleen Vogel, Science & Technology Studies
Science and Scientific Expertise in the Assessment of and Response to Bioweapons
My current research is focused on writing a book manuscript that examines how science and scientific expertise, across classified and unclassified policy settings, are involved in assessing and responding to bioweapons threats to the United States.  The goal of my research is to create a new kind of technical security policy analysis, one that combines approaches and perspectives from science and technology studies (STS) and security policy to directly inform and influence policymaking on contemporary security issues involving biological weapons.  To date, technical security policy analyses of bioweapons issues tend to look exclusively at the material aspects of biotechnology, and utilize a technologically deterministic framework for thinking about bioweapons threats from advances in biotechnology.  As a result, current policy attention remains fixated on finding technological solutions (and more technical expertise) to counter this threat.  My research seeks to challenge this dominant security frame through examining the particular laboratory practices, communities of practice, disciplines, and other socio-technical contexts that shape bioweapons-related technologies and their associated threats.  Through particular case studies, I show how a lack of considering the socio-technical dimension of biotechnology can lead to erroneous bioweapons assessments that can have significant national and international security policy implications.

Christopher Way, Government
Understanding Bioweapons Proliferation
Fears of rogue states, the withdrawal of Cold-War security guarantees, and concerns about availability to terrorist organizations ensure that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a central security issue. Yet despite the vast attention given to nuclear weapons proliferation, surprisingly little systematic scholarship has investigated the proliferation of biological weapons. My current research applies quantitative methods to the study of nuclear weapons proliferation and the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and Way will extend this research to biological weapons proliferation. The questions to be addressed include: When and why do states pursue biological weapons? Is the logic of BW proliferation similar to that of nuclear weapons, or does it differ in ways that are important to understand in seeking to stem BW proliferation? Does the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) — which lacks inspection, verification, and enforcement mechanisms –- affect state behavior? The best information available about bioweapons proliferation is dispersed among experts around the globe, most of whom have partial knowledge about specific cases or regions. The challenge is tap and aggregate that dispersed information in a systematic manner – something that has never been done. To that end, I will conduct a web-based survey of over 200 bioweapons experts. The results will provide the best available answer to the question: what do we know about bioweapons proliferation? In addition, the data will allow me to identify any patterns in expert assessments. Do American experts differ in their assessments from European or Asian ones? Do the assessments of academics differ from those with current or past experience in government agencies? Despite its intrinsic interest, the expert survey is primarily a means to the end of studying patterns in bioweapons proliferation, which will comprise the second part of the project.

Michele Williams, Organizational Behavior
The Emotions of Embeddedness
This project sets forth to explain why some scholars argue that trust is irrelevant for economic exchange while others propound its importance. I will attempt to reconcile the debate over the role of trust and personal relations in economic exchange by examining people’s emotional responses to economic transactions — responses that may appear trusting and may directly motivate cooperative behavior. The debate over the importance of trust cannot be resolved by additional research or theorizing on trust alone because trust is insufficient to explain altruism and other non-economic, non-rational behaviors associated with embedded ties. I contend that the personal or social content of embedded ties include three affective states that have consistent influences on non-economic motives for cooperation. Although the arguments in my paper are verbal, a mathematically inclined reader is likely to recognize the potential for models.