Echoing a period of tremendous economic growth and political transformation in East Asia, the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) has announced a $20.5 million gift to launch an important initiative designed to expand and strengthen the School’s support of policy research and educational programming in Asia.The permanently endowed Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia will bring together academics and practitioners from around the world to enhance research, teaching, and training on public policy and governance issues of critical importance in Asia. A separate gift establishes a Harvard Kennedy School Indonesia Program within the institute, which will promote research, education, and capacity building in support of democratic governance and institutional transformation in Southeast Asia. As the world’s largest majority Muslim country, Indonesia is an important model for positive institutional change.The institute and program will be housed in the newly renamed Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.“The Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia at Harvard Kennedy School will create opportunities for Harvard scholars and students to work with people and institutions throughout the Asian continent,” said Harvard University President Drew Faust. “It will serve as a hub for policy research, education, and dialogue on a region that continues to grow in political and economic influence.”“We are deeply grateful for this generous gift to the Kennedy School,” said Dean David T. Ellwood. “Asia has experienced dynamic growth and change over the past two decades, enhancing the region’s influence on international policy and discussions while also increasing the challenges facing governments throughout the region. The new institute and program at the Ash Center will help enrich the policy dialogue among scholars, students, policymakers, and Asian leaders throughout many levels of government, business, and civil society.”“I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dean Ellwood and Director [Anthony] Saich for making this moment possible,” said Peter Sondakh, chairman of the Rajawali Foundation. “We are embarking on a very important relationship. Establishing the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia will open new opportunities both at the Kennedy School and in the region of Asia. For those of us at Rajawali, it is our hope that this institute will be a valuable instrument for deepening understanding of Asia, exploring possibilities for innovation, and advancing important initiatives that will affect millions of lives in Asia.”The institute will link existing Kennedy School programs focusing on Asia, such as the China Public Policy Program, the Vietnam Program, and Asia Vision 21. Asian scholars and practitioners will spend time at the center as research fellows, attending symposia and participating in executive education and policy dialogue programs. The HKS Indonesia Program will host Indonesian scholars and policymakers who will undertake research fellowships and attend both degree courses and executive education programs. Harvard scholars will collaborate with Indonesian colleagues in Indonesia and will participate in events both in Indonesia and at Harvard.Anthony Saich, director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said, “We are indebted to the Rajawali Foundation for their support in establishing the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia and the Harvard Kennedy School Indonesia Program. The newly created institute promises to strengthen our teaching capacity and enhance our center’s public policy research and expertise, not only in Indonesia but throughout Asia, encouraging ongoing dialogue and knowledge sharing among key policymakers, faculty, and students.”The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ’76, J.D. ’79, joked with a crowd in Austin Hall that he determined from the start of his time at Harvard Law School (HLS) to be part of its historic moot court event.“I decided very early on in my first semester that I wanted to participate in an Ames final,” said Roberts, “and I decided the easier way would be to get appointed chief justice.”The HLS alumnus made good on that decision Tuesday evening (Nov. 16) as one of three judges presiding over the final of the rigorous competition for third-year HLS students. The two other federal judges of the competition were Julia Smith Gibbons of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and Diana E. Murphy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.Established in 1911, the Ames Moot Court Competition unfolds in three rounds over the course of two years and challenges students to develop briefs and oral arguments addressing legal issues that the Supreme Court has not addressed or answered on-point.Two teams of six advance to the final of the competition, where two HLS students from each team argue a case before a panel consisting of three distinguished judges.This year’s final hypothetical case concerned the plight of Kermit McBride, a disgruntled blogger turned hacker. The defendant was found guilty of sabotaging the computer screens and ticker on the trading floor of the “Ames City Exchange,” with the message “The Taxpayers Demand a Refund. Or Else …”After he was charged, it came to light that evidence discovered by a local police officer in McBride’s home, which the officer then fed to the FBI, was not obtained with a search warrant. The district judge refused to suppress the evidence that was later found by the FBI with a legal warrant, but that had been based on the tip from the local officer. In addition, upon sentencing, the district judge required that McBride be barred from using computers for a period of three years.The case explored whether the evidence obtained by the FBI should have been admissible when the evidence supporting the issuance of the warrant was obtained during a warrantless search, and if the district judge overstepped by imposing a ban on McBride’s use of computers during a three-year, supervised release.The moot proceedings offered insight into the judicial thought process, as well as an idea of the vast knowledge needed to argue a case at the circuit and Supreme Court levels. Not to mention an appreciation of the nerves of steel it takes to argue before the nation’s highest courts, where, if the moot court was any indication, arriving unprepared is simply not an option.The justices were quick to interrupt each oralist, challenging and countering the students’ arguments with probing questions and references to previous cases and opinions pertinent to the one before them. They effortlessly took both sides of the issues being argued.“Here we leave to the discretion of the district judge whether to sentence this person for six months or 10 years, right? Why don’t we leave to the discretion of the district judge the much less significant question of whether to cut off his computer access for one year or three years?” Roberts asked HLS student Jason Harrow.Later Roberts took the other side of the argument, challenging the length of the district court’s decision, noting that the district judge never gave an explanation for why it imposed a computer ban during the three-year term of supervised release.Before delivering the panel’s decision, Roberts praised the competitors. “We were very, very impressed by the briefs and the advocates,” he told the audience of HLS students, staff, and faculty.Roberts commended the students for effectively using language from actual Supreme Court opinions, “controlling the argument,” not getting “dragged into a detour” with arguments irrelevant to the case at hand, and even correcting him at one point when he misspoke about a particular statute.Bringing some humor to the proceedings, Roberts lauded HLS student David Denton, a member of the team representing the United States, for using Roberts’ own wording in answer to a question from the chief justice.“It was done beautifully. A little bit more intonation in your voice and it would have been offensive. I don’t mean that facetiously at all — it wasn’t,” Roberts said, over a roar from the crowd, adding, “It was very effective.”The judges gave the best brief award to the petitioner (those arguing for McBride) and the best oralist award to Denton.“As you might imagine, given that division, it was a very difficult call for best overall team,” Roberts said, “but we decided that that title goes to the petitioners.”
Facilitate conversation, but don’t dictate. If your colleagues are at an impasse over a touchy issue, ask clarifying questions, paraphrase them respectfully, and ask for help from a third party if necessary. Don’t gang up.While the workshop’s core examples addressed gender and race, attendee Joseph Powers, director of group therapy at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, said bystander mediation skills have much broader applications.“I listen to patients all the time who are concerned about bias and prejudice toward people with psychiatric illnesses,” Powers said. “I wanted to learn some strategies to counter the bystander effect, skills that I could teach them. I think I got some good ideas.” Include someone who is being ignored. Introduce the person by name, and use welcoming body language and conversational segues to bring the person into the dialogue. Like most city dwellers, Robin Parker is used to uncomfortable public moments. “Riding back and forth on the T, I see a lot of things,” she said.But one recent evening, her attention was drawn to a group of teenage boys in prep-school khakis and their loud, crude insults about women and African Americans. Unsure whether to speak up, she finally targeted the most vulnerable-looking boy. “You’re too handsome to be talking like this on the train,” she told him.“They dropped their heads, stopped the conversation, and apologized,” said Parker, manager of Harvard’s Events and Information Center. Before she got off the train, a white man approached and thanked her, a black woman, for saying what he couldn’t.As Parker relayed her story in the Barker Center, a hush fell over the crowd. It was the end of a Dec. 7 workshop on bystander awareness, and many participants had confessed how helpless they often feel in such situations.“It’s about being able to bring the unspoken into a moment comfortably,” Parker said. But not everyone manages to be so gracious — or effective — when countering behaviors or remarks that touch on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality in the workplace. Everyone has a story of, say, a female team member being ignored at a big presentation, a co-worker unknowingly using a racially charged figure of speech, or a minority colleague being mistaken for waitstaff at a networking reception.But in the moment, employees often clam up out of embarrassment, confusion, self-doubt, or other reasons. In the process, they miss opportunities to show solidarity and reinforce diversity as one of Harvard’s key values, said workshop co-leader Maureen Scully, assistant professor of management at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.That hesitancy can be overcome with the proper awareness and practice, said her fellow presenter Stacy Blake-Beard, associate professor of management at Simmons College.“It’s like CPR training,” Blake-Beard said. “By practicing it, it becomes instinct.”The session was part of the Diversity Dialogue series hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Human Resources Diversity Initiative. The workshop drew participants from Schools and departments ranging from the Harvard University Police Department to Hospitality and Dining Services.As small groups acted out bystander responses to various scenarios, Blake-Beard and Scully emphasized how critical bystander support has become in increasingly diverse universities and businesses.“Now more than ever, as we are collaborating and competing with people who are so different from us … we need to know how to leverage differences,” Blake-Beard said.Some simple bystander strategies they suggested include:Reset the situation. Draw attention to a slight or inappropriate remark by using humor, calling for an end to the conversation, or merely saying, “Ouch.”
Michael Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been awarded the George Ledlie Prize by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.Brenner, who received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1994 and came to Harvard in 2001 after six years as a faculty member in applied mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was praised for his creative research and his dedication to teaching and learning.“He is richly deserving of this award, not only for his stellar research on the application of mathematics to a wide range of problems in science and engineering, but also for the equally compelling way he infuses his love for the subject to his work as a remarkable teacher and mentor,” said Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy at SEAS and director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.Over the past 10 years, Brenner’s research has focused primarily on theoretical modeling in physical sciences and engineering. Problems he has tackled include the breaking of fluid droplets, sonoluminescence (the production of light from very high-pressure gas bubbles in liquid), the sedimentation of small particles, and electrospinning (a materials technique for producing small fibers).Recently, Brenner has branched into an even broader spectrum of fields, from atmospheric chemistry (developing algorithms to accelerate simulations of global pollution) to materials science (understanding the limitations of self-assembly and pattern formation) and physiology (exploring voltage-gated ion channels and hemoglobin). With support from the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard, he has also explored how to limit the growth of biofilms and even used “simple math” to explain dramatic beak shape variation in Darwin’s finches.Brenner has been lauded for his teaching and mentorship several times before. He was named a Harvard College Professor in 2010, and in 2009 was given the inaugural Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising at SEAS. He has been particularly instrumental in exposing undergraduates to the joys of applied mathematics through the course Applied Mathematics 50, in which he invites students to use unorthodox problems — such as the reproductive dilemma of humble fungi — as material for quantitative investigation.Grace Tiao ’08, in a profile of Brenner, wrote: “His lectures, in fact, resemble in pace and execution the projectile motion of flying spores. When he speaks about his favorite subject — interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving — his sentences pop and plunge. Brenner has a habit of stopping mid-predicate to allow the next thought to hurtle into the air.”He was also a driving force behind the wildly popular “Science and Cooking” General Education course at Harvard College, which he co-taught this year with SEAS colleague David Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics, and a team of world-renowned chefs, instructors, and teaching fellows.“Michael has been a constant positive force for quantitative thinking — not simply limited to particular classes, but infused throughout the College curriculum,” said SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray, John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences and professor of physics. “His ultimate goal is nothing less than repositioning applied mathematics as a way of thinking and transforming the concentration into a quantitative liberal arts degree. He makes applied mathematics inviting, engaging, and, for lack of a better word, hip.”As area dean for applied mathematics at SEAS, Brenner is working with Murray to radically overhaul and enhance the undergraduate and graduate curricula and to improve advising. Moreover, he is engaged with many of the key aspects of running the school, from student and faculty recruitment to student affairs to communications.In the words of Margaret Meaney, a graduate academic programs administrator at SEAS, “He is sympathetic to the work that staff do to support teaching efforts. He always gives praise for work that often goes unnoticed and always treats everyone as his equal.”The Ledlie Prize is awarded no more than once every two years to someone affiliated with the University who “since the last awarding of said prize has by research, discovery, or otherwise made the most valuable contribution to science, or in any way for the benefit of mankind.” Robert B. Woodward, the Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry, was the first recipient in 1955. Other winners have included Judah Folkman, the Julia Dyckman Andrus Professor of Pediatric Surgery; Douglas Melton, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences; Gerald Gabrielse, the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics; and most recently, Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics and of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics.
We are all saddened by the tragic death this morning before the Harvard-Yale football game. Our thoughts are with the victim and her family and friends.We also express our sympathy and concern for the two other people who were injured, one of whom is a staff member at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE). Our DCE colleague was treated at and released from a hospital in New Haven earlier this afternoon. To protect her privacy, we are not releasing her name at this time.
With the discovery of a compound that can slow the degradation of insulin in animals, scientists at Harvard have opened the door to a potential new treatment for diabetes.The new approach, described by David Liu, professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and Alan Saghatelian, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, uses the compound to inhibit insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE). Inhibiting IDE in mice, they have shown, elevates insulin levels and promotes insulin signaling in vivo. Eventually, using this compound in patients may help maintain higher insulin levels to improve glucose tolerance and thereby treat diabetes. The discovery of the compound, and tests demonstrating its efficacy in mice, are outlined in a May 21 paper in the journal Nature.“This work validates a new potential target for the treatment of diabetes,” Liu said. “What we show is that inhibiting IDE in an animal can improve glucose tolerance under conditions that mimic the intake of a meal if you administer this compound beforehand.”For decades, insulin-based diabetes treatments consisted of three main strategies — inject insulin into diabetics, provide drugs that stimulate insulin secretion, or administer drugs that make the body more sensitive to insulin.“What’s been missing has been the ability to regulate the degradation of insulin,” Saghatelian said. “The technological leap we’ve made was in identifying a molecule that allows that to happen. This opens up a new avenue to control insulin signaling in vivo.”To identify the new molecule, Liu, Saghatelian, and their co-workers turned to DNA-templated synthesis, a method of creating molecules that self-assemble according to an attached DNA sequence. The system works by combining DNA “templates,” or short segments of DNA, with the chemical building blocks of molecules, each of which is linked to a complementary piece of DNA. As the DNA segments bind, the building blocks are brought together and react with one another, forming molecules of greater complexity. The composition of the resulting molecules can be identified by sequencing their associated DNA strands.“We took a library of about 14,000 DNA templates and combined it with several sets of DNA-linked reagents,” Liu said. “The resulting synthesis of about 14,000 small molecules was largely driven by, and programmed by, DNA base pairing. At the end of that process, we had 14,000 strands of DNA, each with a unique compound at its end.”Researchers then took that library of DNA-linked compounds and incubated it with IDE in the hope that some might bind to the enzyme.“Our hypothesis was that the molecules that were retained by IDE might modulate IDE’s activity,” Liu said. “In this case, right out of the library, we found quite a potent and selective inhibitor. Perhaps most important, this molecule had a good half-life in animals, so it could be used to answer the 60-year-old question of what happens when you slow down the natural degradation of insulin in the body.”Identifying a molecule that could inhibit IDE, however, was only the first step.Researchers were also able to show that the compound remained active in the body, and experiments with mice showed that it was able to help regulate blood-sugar levels.“To validate that this strategy of slowing the degradation of insulin is actually therapeutically useful, we have to show that this compound can transiently inhibit the target, and show that it has a benefit in animals,” Liu said. “That is what we demonstrate in this study.”In addition to pointing the way toward a new way to treat diabetes, researchers uncovered information about how IDE works in the body.“In the process of resolving some seemingly paradoxical results, we discovered that IDE is actually somewhat misnamed,” he said. “It doesn’t just degrade insulin, it degrades at least two other important glucose-regulating peptide hormones, glucagon and amylin.”While the discovery of the molecule is exciting, Liu emphasized that it may still be some time before the compound finds its way onto pharmacy shelves.“To develop a drug requires a number of additional tests and developments,” he said. “But this work validates IDE as a new target for the treatment of diabetes, and it provides experimental tools that can be used to develop this compound further into potential therapeutic leads.”“What this paper has done is given a proof of concept that targeting this protein is the way to go,” Saghatelian said. “To make the leap from this molecule to a drug, there are other factors that need to be optimized. But we’ve hung the carrot out there for the pharmaceutical industry and other labs to start looking at IDE as a potential target for treating diabetes, and to push through the remaining obstacles that are there. We’ve shown it’s worth the effort to look into this more deeply, and hopefully what we’ve done is opened people’s eyes to IDE as a valid therapeutic target.”Researchers from Stony Brook University, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Chicago contributed to the research.
A vintage Singer Mfg. Co. trade card. Many American brands familiar in the 19th century survive today. “Westward the Star of Empire Takes Its Way,” an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad poster. Rail systems aggressively expanded after 1865, spurring national markets that, in turn, spurred national advertising. All images courtesy of Baker Library/Harvard Business School. ‘The Art of American Advertising’ A circa-1920 Crosse & Blackwell advertisement, © Michael Nicholson/Corbis. Branding found new life in modern advertising, sometimes with a global touch. A Queen City Printing Ink Co. advertisement from The Inland Printer, Vol. 9 (October 1890-September 1891). Advances in printing technology influenced national advertising. As The New York Times noted on Oct. 14, 1894, “A pot of printer’s ink is better than the greatest gold mine.” “The 19th-century advertising formats and marketing strategies exhibited here are the precursor of everything you see today,” said Banta. Trade cards, testimonials, and brand-name souvenirs still exist, along with the sense that advertising is the first showcase of popular art. Artists, she said, flocked to the medium for the exposure it brought.At one point, for instance, “advertising posters of locomotives were popular in executive offices, and in this context were considered works of art,” Banta said. Many of these advertisements are so attractive and well done that “art” is a term applied easily. “It was challenging,” she said of choosing images and artifacts for the exhibit. “Every piece was fascinating from an artistic and documentary point of view.”A lot of 19th-century advertising seems familiar. “A surprising number of companies have survived,” said Banta. A visitor to the exhibit may be puzzled at Boston’s Hinkley Locomotive Works, but will recognize names like Singer (sewing machines), Crosse & Blackwell (sauces), and Domino’s (sugar).Still, part of the charm of the three-room exhibit rests in how it showcases brands and technologies that have passed from the scene — steam locomotives, for example. Also a thing of the past is the family carriage. (The exhibit includes a catalog illustration of the Kimball Barouche and the old American Phaeton; both look springy and fragile.) Corsets aren’t what they used to be.A certain temper of advertising language also seems to have vanished, but the exhibit recaptures it for the close reader — “vegetable pills,” “never-break corset clasps,” and the assurance of a “pectoral balsam for coughs and colds.”Luckily, archivists are busy collecting material history that still has the potency to teach and to inspire modern businesspeople. HBS has an Advertising Ephemera Collection that includes more than 8,000 trade cards. (About 1,000 have been digitized so far.) The Bates Trade Card Collection has another 500, most from Boston and Cambridge businesses.Baker Library Historical Collections also has an extensive collection of trade catalogs, most from the New England of 1870 to 1900. And there is the Baker Old Class Collection — books, pamphlets, manuals, and periodicals related to printing and promotion from the Gilded Age and after.Taken together, such collections offer a treasure house of perspective on the origins of modern advertising.“As far as we’re concerned,” said Riggle of the exhibit, “we have a hit.” A Moore’s Throat & Lung Lozenges trade card from the Advertising Ephemera Collection at Harvard Business School. Advertisements from 1865 to 1910 could pass as fine art, as some modern analogs might today. No blame will be assigned if you have never heard of the Massasoit Varnish Works or B.T. Babbitt’s Best Soap. And rest easy if you have forgotten that during the late 19th century, for the modest sum of 50 cents, you could purchase from the New York Dental Co. of 7 Tremont St. in Boston a device for the painless extraction of teeth.And yet blame and shame are all yours if sometime this month you don’t see “The Art of American Advertising,” an exhibit open through Aug. 1 in the North Lobby of the Baker Library/Bloomberg Center at Harvard Business School. The idea: illustrate the rise in America of artful, profit-making, culture-shaking advertising from 1865 to 1910.During that period of robust economic growth, a confluence of factors contributed to a boom in how products were advertised for sale. National markets were expanding fast, hastened by a rise in consumer demand. Magazines and newspapers were hungry for advertising. Businesses were beginning to embrace brand recognition to build profits. (Among the exhibit’s nine themes is “A Marketing Revolution.”) And rail systems were growing.“The railroads had a transformative effect on the U.S. economy,” said Melissa Banta, guest curator at Baker Library Historical Collections, the source of the exhibit’s artifacts. “The industry created the model for the mass production of goods and made possible the mass distribution of those goods.”At the same time, consumers had more cash. “People’s incomes were expanding,” said Christine Riggle, an HBS special collections librarian who was on the exhibition staff. Would-be customers were also “becoming visually literate,” she added, though photography would not dominate advertising until after 1910.Advances in printing technologies — better inks, papers, presses, and image-capturing plates — helped drive advertising’s reach and profits. (“A pot of printer’s ink,” The New York Times declared in 1894, “is better than the greatest gold mine.”) The race was on for more and better posters, catalogs, trade cards, brochures, and novelties — the kind of ephemera at the heart of the HBS show and of modern advertising itself.
Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital are reporting that xenon gas, used in humans for anesthesia and diagnostic imaging, has the potential to become a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other memory-related disorders.“In our study, we found that xenon gas has the capability of reducing memories of traumatic events,” said Edward G. Meloni, assistant psychologist at McLean and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “It’s an exciting breakthrough.”In the study, published in the current issue of PLOS ONE, Meloni and HMS Associate Professor of Psychiatry Marc J. Kaufman, director of the Translational Imaging Laboratory at McLean, examined whether a low concentration of xenon gas could interfere with a process called reconsolidation — a state in which reactivated memories become susceptible to modification. “We know from previous research that each time an emotional memory is recalled, the brain actually re-stores it as if it were a new memory. With this knowledge, we decided to see whether we could alter the process by introducing xenon gas immediately after a fear memory was reactivated,” explained Meloni.Statistics show an increase in PTSD diagnoses among the military. Harvard researchers are investigating a potential breakthrough that would treat symptoms associated with PTSD. Credit: Congressional Research Service PTSD data/McLean HospitalThe investigators used an animal model of PTSD called fear conditioning to train rats to be afraid of environmental cues that were paired with brief foot shocks. Reactivating the fearful memory was done by exposing the rats to those same cues and measuring their freezing response as a readout of fear. “We found that a single exposure to the gas, which is known to block NMDA receptors involved in memory formation in the brain, dramatically and persistently reduced fear responses for up to two weeks. It was as though the animals no longer remembered to be afraid of those cues,” said Meloni.Meloni points out that the inherent properties of a gas such as xenon make it especially attractive for targeting dynamic processes like memory reconsolidation. “Unlike other drugs or medications that may also block NMDA receptors involved in memory, xenon gets in and out of the brain very quickly. This suggests that xenon could be given at the exact time the memory is reactivated, and for a limited amount of time, which may be key features for any potential therapy used in humans.”“The fact that we were able to inhibit remembering of a traumatic memory with xenon is very promising because it is currently used in humans for other purposes, and thus it could be repurposed to treat PTSD,” added Kaufman.For these investigators, several questions remain to be addressed with further testing. “From here we want to explore whether lower xenon doses or shorter exposure times would also block memory reconsolidation and the expression of fear. We’d also like to know if xenon is as effective at reducing traumatic memories from past events, so-called remote memories, versus the newly formed ones we tested in our study.”Meloni and Kaufman indicate that future studies are planned to test whether the effects of xenon in rats that they saw in their study translate to humans. Given that intrusive re-experiencing of traumatic memories — including flashbacks, nightmares, and distress and physiological reactions induced by with trauma reminders — is a hallmark symptom for many who suffer from PTSD, a treatment that alleviates the impact of those painful memories could provide welcome relief.The study may be viewed on the PLOS ONE website.
The Daily Gazette Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news. They bad-mouth you to work colleagues behind your back; they angrily demand the impossible from everyone but themselves; they make unwanted comments about your attire.At some point in our careers, most of us have come across someone known as a “toxic worker,” a colleague or boss whose abrasive style or devious actions can make the workday utterly miserable. Such people hurt morale, stoke conflict in the office, and harm a company’s reputation.But toxic workers aren’t just annoying or unpleasant to be around; they cost firms significantly more money than most of them even realize. According to a new Harvard Business School (HBS) paper, toxic workers are so damaging to the bottom line that avoiding them or rooting them out delivers twice the value to a company that hiring a superstar performer does.While a top 1 percent worker might return $5,303 in cost savings to a company through increased output, avoiding a toxic hire will net an estimated $12,489, the study said. That figure does not include savings from sidestepping litigation, regulatory penalties, or decreased productivity as a result of low morale.“I wanted to look at workers who are harmful to an organization either by damaging the property of the company — theft, stealing, fraud — or other people within the company through bullying, workplace violence, or sexual harassment,” said Dylan Minor. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff PhotographerDespite their seeming ubiquity, quantifying bad apples is an understudied area.“Most of the work in organization design and human resource management has been focused on what I would say are ‘positive outliers’ — the really top performers,” or star talent, said economist Dylan Minor, a visiting assistant professor of business administration at HBS and the paper’s co-author. “[As] it turns out, we’ve all had personal experiences where we have a worker on the other side of the distribution [who], rather than really helping performance, actually hurt performance in one way or another.”Looking at the existing academic literature on negative performance, Minor said it soon became clear how little is known about who these workers are, where they come from, how productive they are, or what effect they have on organizations and other employees. And because of privacy restrictions, much of that research is based on laboratory results, not real life.The term “toxic” is meant to convey both a person’s ability to cause harm and their propensity to infect others with their bad attitude, said Minor, who is here from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.“I wanted to look at workers who are harmful to an organization either by damaging the property of the company — theft, stealing, fraud — or other people within the company through bullying, workplace violence, or sexual harassment,” he said. “The other reason I chose the term ‘toxic’ is that, as I find in the empirical study, it also tends to spill over — that if you are exposed to these toxic workers, then you become more likely to ultimately be terminated … later on.”Analyzing rarely available employment data on nearly 60,000 workers across 11 companies, the study focused on only the most egregious kinds of toxic behavior: conduct that resulted in a worker’s termination.The data suggests that toxic people drive other employees to leave an organization faster and more frequently, which generates huge turnover and training costs, and they diminish the productivity of everyone around them.Although not part of the study, Minor said client customer surveys indicate that toxic workers “absolutely” tend to damage a firm’s customer service reputation, which has a long-term financial impact that can be difficult to quantify, he said.Who is most likely to be a toxic worker? The research shows three key predictors. First, whether a person has a very high level of “self-regard” or selfishness. Because if such people don’t care about others, they’re not going to worry about how their behavior or attitude affects co-workers.Second, feeling overconfident, which can lead to undue risk-taking. “Imagine you’re going to engage in some misconduct and steal something from your company. If you think the chance that you’re going to get away with it is much greater than it really is, … you’re more likely to engage in that conduct,” said Minor.And lastly, if a person states emphatically that the rules should always be followed no matter what, watch out. “That is kind of counterintuitive. In a simple world, we would just ask someone, ‘Do you always follow the rules?’ And if you do, then of course, you’re not going to ever break them. But I find very strong evidence in my study that those that say ‘Oh no, you should always follow the rules’ — versus those that say ‘Sometimes you have to break the rules to do a good job’ — that the people who say ‘I never break the rules’ are much more likely to be terminated for breaking the rules,” said Minor.Getting rid of toxic workers is often difficult because they’re also more likely to be high performers, or to be perceived as such, which can blunt or blind supervisors to the true depth of their impact on the workplace.“A natural question I get from people is ‘Why would anyone have a toxic worker? That’s crazy!’” said Minor. “But then you realize they’re incredibly productive. And so, it makes sense then that maybe managers would look the other way because they’re really hitting all their productivity numbers.”Rooting out toxic workers not only stops the immediate harm they’ve been causing, but acts as a deterrent for others tempted to go down the same path. “Literally, the worst thing to do is to not do anything, which happens a lot, unfortunately,” Minor said.Hiring decisions that only consider an applicant’s potential upside, or prioritize it over other traits and skills, open the door to toxic workers, said Minor.“Most managers, if you ask them, ‘Do you want to have someone who cares more about others?’ They’d say, ‘Of course, I want that.’ But at the end of the day, most of them aren’t hiring much based on that.”By considering someone’s potential toxicity as well as their productivity, managers might hire employees who don’t look like world-beaters on paper, but will, in the end, bring more value to an organization.Managers and human resource staffers should take a more holistic, multidimensional hiring approach, one that values productivity and corporate citizenship, said Minor, for as the study makes clear, having good people working for you who care about others, and keeping the bad ones out, is not just a nice thing to do, it’s good for business.
Read Full Story James Mitchell, associate professor of genetics and complex diseases, is the 2016 recipient of the Armen H. Tashjian Jr. Award for Excellence in Endocrine Research. At an awards ceremony on May 17, Mitchell spoke about the “Role of endogenous hydrogen sulfide in endocrine regulation of aging.” The award was presented by Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, J.S. Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism and chair of the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases.Mitchell’s research focuses on how dietary restriction can slow the aging process, improve metabolic fitness, and increase the body’s resistance to a variety of stressors. He told the audience that age is a leading risk factor for multiple conditions, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, but Mitchell said that by targeting the aging process itself, it may have an effect on all of these diseases. “The aging process is plastic; it’s really malleable by a variety of interventions, including dietary and even some pharmacological interventions,” said Mitchell.Armen Tashjian was professor of toxicology emeritus in the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases. He led the School’s toxicology program for nearly three decades. The Tashjian Research Award recognizes promising young faculty members and fellows at the School who are pursuing innovative research ideas in basic biomedical sciences.