Emeritus Faculty Association news May 2014
Provost's Emeritus Lunch, Friday May 2nd, 11am S.A.C. Ballroom B (Please R.S.V.P. by April 25th to Alison at 632-7002 or Alison.Gibbons@stonybrook.edu). Kenneth Dill will speak on The Laufer Center: research at the interface of physics and biology at Stony Brook.
Abstract: The Laufer Center is a new research entity on campus. Started three years ago by a partnership between Henry and Marsha Laufer with Stony Brook University, it is a hub for research at the intersection between the physical and life sciences. Often, our inability to cure challenging diseases boils down to the limitations of our knowledge of basic physics, chemistry, math, or computation. For example, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are so-called "protein folding diseases". There is currently no cure for them. These are diseases in which protein molecules do not achieve their proper structures. Instead, these diseased proteins sometimes tangle up like strands of spaghetti in a bowl. These kinds of molecular processes are outside the realm of the "success envelope" of the present-day pharmaceutical industry. I will describe physical biology work going on at the Laufer Center, and how we hope it will have an impact beyond Stony Brook.
Bio: Born 1947 in Oklahoma City, Dill obtained his S.B. and S.M. in mechanical engineering at MIT (1971), and his Ph.D. in biology at UCSD (1978). After a postdoc in chemistry at Stanford and many years at UC San Francisco, he has now moved his research group to Stony Brook where he is Distinguished Professor of Physics, Chemistry, and the Director of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology. He was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. Dill is known for his work in folding pathways of proteins; the microscopic origins of the unusual physical properties of water; the foundations and applications of variational entropy-based principles in statistical physics; and how the laws of physics constrain and enable the biological properties and evolution of cells. He is the author of almost 200 scientific papers and the text Molecular Driving Forces in physical chemistry and statistical physics.
In Memoriam: John W. Pratt, Emeritus Professor of American History, died March 29, aged 82. An obituary appears here: http://www.northshoreoflongisland.com/Obituary-12915.112114-John-Webb-Pratt.html
Last Meeting: Don Ihde, Philosophy of Technoloy
Philosophy, one of the oldest of academic disciplines, took a turn in the 1970's-80's towards technology. The books that Don published at that time established him as one of the early practitioners of this philosophy of technology.
When we use some artifact to explore our environment it will enhance some of our sensibilities and suppress others. For example if we use the tip of a pen to feel a surface we perceive the tiny ridges and dents of the surface structure whereas if we use the tip of our finger we rather perceive the more general wetness and temperature. Some tools are embodied in the sense that they change our behavior and future course of development. An example of this is described in the current (April) issue of the Scientific American, about when humans first learned to attach split stone heads onto wooden spears and as a result changed their diet from plants to meat. As compared to other predators of the time humans were long range runners rather than sprinters, with arms and forward vision adapted to throwing at a distance. A result was that while the previous predators were beneficial to the environment because they felled the aged and the weak, the humans could bring down animals in their prime and were probably responsible for species extinctions. A more modern example is the caterpillar driver who learns to embody the controls to such an extent that the machine is like a part of him.
We now come to a less benign modern example - the advent of gun ownership. The famous maxim of the National Rifle Association: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people" may have some truth in that it is people pulling the triggers but those are people empowered by this artifact and thereby taking on a different behavior. Physically weak, emotionally passive, and psychologically introverted people will all be inclined to experience shifts in demeanor. A philosopher would say this is a technology which is non-neutral. Old cowboy movies may show the sheriff using the butt of a gun to hammer the nail into a "Wanted" post, but this is clearly an exceptional use. Most people clearly understand that guns are designed for the sole purpose of accomplishing radical and life-altering action at a distance with minimal physical exertion on the part of the shooter.
This is not to imply that Don is against gun ownership. He himself owns a gun which he uses when he is at his residence in Vermont. And as he was growing up on a Kansas farm he learned to become proficient with a rifle to the point that he could throw a can into the air and pierce it with 4 or 5 shots before it hit the ground. Of course someone with an automatic assault weapon could do this trick without any of Don's skill, and the NRA campaigned for these to be unregulated too. And now we have all seen how this has further empowered some very unstable people. Don went on to summarize how all this lack of regulation has led to the U.S. having a unique profile among world nations:
- Gun density: 88 guns per 100 population - almost double that of the second tier countries;
- Lethal results: 10.3 per 100,000 - more than 3 times that of the second tier (and compare Japan! 0.025 per 100.000);
- Execution rates: 5th after China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen;
- Incarceration rates: top at 700+ per 100,000;
According to Don it doesn't have to be this way.
Similar to the U.S., Australia had the same vestigial frontier mentality leading to similar high firearm ownership and fatalities, and by the 1980's, similar catastrophic mass shootings. But then the government decided to crack down. This led to over 600,000 weapons being returned and destroyed, and by 2006, a 90% reduction in firearm homicides and an 80% reduction in firearm suicides. Of course this required some amount of courage on the part of Australian politicians.
Perhaps that is the difference between the two countries.
Views of the state budget
President Stanley: The budget supports economic development with a continued emphasis on investment in the Regional Economic Development Councils, and will aid Long Island's economic growth with support for a new Mezzanine Building at the Stony Brook University Research and Development Park. (Ed: but no word on what happened to the $200M deficit for that park - see Sept 2012 newsletter).
UUP president Fred Kowal: While the final 2014-2015 state budget fails to provide the level of funding to fully support all of the expenses of the University's state operated campuses and SUNY's Health Sciences Centers and hospitals, it moves several of our budget priorities in the right direction. Your advocacy efforts at home and in Albany played a pivotal role in: 1) fighting back the private equity capital pilot program, which would have opened the door for the privatization of SUNY's hospitals; 2) increasing funding for the Equal Opportunity Program by $1.3 million; 3) increasing the General Fund appropriation for the SUNY Hospitals' state subsidy by $27.5 million; and 4) breaking the pattern of a flat-budget for state operated campuses, with an increase of $7.6 million in General Fund Support (state operating aid). This increase brings the total appropriation for these campuses to $715.6 million. This funding is sufficient to cover UUP's negotiated salary increases.
Judy Wishnia: The legislature rejected the Cuomo proposal not to refund the Part B contribution to Medicare for people who earned more than $80,000 (IRMMA legislation) a serious issue for those who have to withdraw money from TIAA/CREF. It will now continue to be refunded. Our UNUM contract covered a $1000 death benefit and the very popular travel insurance. This is expensive and up until January, NYSUT was subsidizing us. They ended that subsidy although we got an extension until June. At first I thought we could stop the death benefit (we get $3000 from NYSUT) and just keep the travel, but they are linked and cannot be separated. I asked if we could be covered by the NYSUT UNUM coverage and the answer is NO. So, without the NYSUT subsidy, it will cost us $77,000 a year for coverage. Since our dues brings in approximately 133,000 and we use all of it, we certainly cannot afford the cost. One alternative would be to raise dues just to cover the UNUM cost. Another alternative is to simply drop the coverage. For our students: Cuomo cut the funding that the legislature had granted last year to the EOC centers, but the legislature responded by doubling the amount! Also more TAP (tuition assistance program) money. Finally there will be no separation of the university centers from SUNY.
NY Times: No one should forget what Cuomo gave away to win legislators' compliance (retreat on campaign finance reform, gerrymandering reform, and disbanding the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption).