On Wednesday evening, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools shared a playlist he had curated of basslines that made an impact on him as a young player. As Schools explains in his post,I made a Spotify playlist featuring 21 songs with basslines that influenced and perplexed me as a young and evolving listener and player. It is not meant to be a Top-21 list of greatest bassists but rather a playlist of tunes that are important to me because the bass playing moved my brain, heart, soul, and/or butt… Featuring: Larry Graham, Jack Cassady, Berry Oakley, Chris Squire, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, James Jamerson, Scott Thunes, Jaco Pastorius, Wilton Felder, Oteil Burbridge, Charles Mingus, Phil Lesh, George Porter Jr., Bootsy Collins, Allen Woody, Geezer Butler, Jack Bruce, Roger Waters, and of course Sir Paul McCartney. …Yes I left some bassists off because I wanted to keep it as short as possible. Perhaps there will be a Volume 2 playlist with more contemporary bassists and deep cats.Unsurprisingly, given the list of god-like bass players on Schools’ mix, this “Bass Godz” playlist is an extremely fun listen and a perfect, funky, rocking complement to your morning. Throw it on and groove out below via Spotify:Dave Schools “Bass Godz” PlaylistAnd, of course, considering the curator of this playlist, we’d be remiss not to shed like on one last bass master: Dave Schools himself. Let Schools take you to school with this funky bass solo from Widespread Panic’s 10/23/10 performance at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV below:Dave Schools Bass Solo – 10/23/10[Video: chefbigjon]After a month off following their recent St. Augustine run, Widespread Panic will return to the stage on October 19th–21st for a three-night run in Milwaukee, Wisconsin followed by a three-night return to the Hard Rock in Las Vegas the next weekend, October 26th–28th, to celebrate Halloween. For more information, head to the band’s website.
Today, guitarist Al Schnier of moe. celebrates a birthday. In honor of Schnier’s birthday, we’re taking a look back at the moe.’s February 7th, 2015 show at Denver’s Ogden Theatre, when Al got the chance to play the late Jerry Garcia‘s Travis Bean TB500 #11 guitar, an axe that Garcia used in 1976.Back in 2015, after he played Garcia’s TB500 #11, Al spoke to Live For Live Music about the experience. In the interview, he explained how the situation came to pass: “Preston Hoffman, our lighting designer, told me maybe a month before, ‘I’ve got something for you that I’m going to have at the Denver show.’ And I said ‘Okay, cool!’ The last time he said that, he showed up with a pair of socks for me. (Laughs) And they’re great socks, he got me these really great wool socks. He found these socks that he loved and he bought them for everybody in the band. It was a really nice gesture. So I’m thinking to myself, ‘Maybe it’s underwear this time.’”He continues, “So a month had gone by, and I had completely forgotten about it and I show up and the Travis Bean is sitting onstage and I’m thinking ‘Oh! That’s what you were talking about!” I knew that he knew the guy, we had talked about it. I didn’t know what the deal was with it. I didn’t know how long it was going to be there. I thought maybe just for the sound check…whatever. Then I found out it was gonna be there the whole weekend and I was going to get to play it as much as I wanted. That was awesome! That guitar happened to be my favorite guitar of Jerry’s.”You can watch video of Al playing the Grateful Dead‘s “Deal” on the TB500 at the Ogden below (via YouTube user Mike Maciunski):You can also listen to audio of the full show below, via archive.org user moewu4u: Happy birthday, Al! Here’s to many more!SETLIST: moe. | Ogden Theatre | Denver, CO | 2/7/15 Set 1: Jazz Wank> Buster, Deep This Time, Shoot First, Silver Sun> Deal1Set 2: Hi and Lo> Big World> Ricky Marten> Down Boy> Billy Goat> Skrunk> McBainEncore: 32 ThingsNotes: Al Schnier played Jerry Garcia’s Travis Bean ’75-’76 #11[cover photo via Jay Blakesberg]
Today, moe. has announced the lineup for their beloved festival, moe.down, which is set to return to Snow Ridge in Turin, NY from July 4th through July 6th, 2019. The moe.down 2019 will feature three nights of camping and seven sets of moe., as well as performances from Drive-By Truckers, Spafford, and God Street Wine.The 2019 lineup also features Cory Wong, Everyone Orchestra, Max Creek (two sets), Ha Ha The Moose, Moe.Pods, Floodwood, Kung Fu, Parsonfield, Kat Wright, Hayley Jane & The Primates, and The Comb Down.The return of moe.down in 2019 will mark the 17th edition of the Buffalo-native jam band’s multi-day event. While the event took place annually for years, the band took an indefinite hiatus from their titular festival after its 2014 running. In 2017, moe. revived moe.down at Snow Ridge, moving the dates of the event to encompass July 4th weekend. With bassist Rob Derhak sidelined during his ultimately successful battle with cancer throughout the end of 2017, moe. skipped out on hosting the 17th moe.down in 2018, opting instead for more contained club and theater dates throughout the year.Now, with the band back in good health and playing at the highest of levels, moe. is ready to revive their festival in 2019. To find out more information about 2019’s 17th edition of moe.down as it gets announced, head to the event website here.
“I had trouble deciding what to do,” says postdoctoral fellow Emre Basar, sitting at a bench in Professor Judy Lieberman’s lab in Harvard Medical School’s Immune Disease Institute. Small wonder. Basar, who already obtained an M.D. and is now pursuing a Ph.D., acknowledges that he has been “interested in a lot of things, particularly medicine, engineering, and business.”Born in Istanbul and educated at a French-bilingual school in Germany, Basar is fluent in German, French, English, and Turkish, and reads and writes Latin. Now he is seeking to understand how small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) can be harnessed as a drug against HIV and breast cancer. His global-minded, integrative approach to science, and life, is helping to build connections in research at Harvard and beyond.Basar earned his M.D. from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, finally deciding on medicine, he says, because it encompasses such a broad range of knowledge. “Medicine starts with biochemistry and physiology, but also includes clinical and practical components,” he says. “Not only do you have to know the pathobiology, you also have to interpret MR (magnetic resonance) images, know how to stitch the skin, and understand how to talk to a patient. Medicine has such a broad range of interactions and knowledge fields,” he says.Basar’s decision to attend medical school was also strongly influenced by his father, a professor of civil engineering and computational mechanics who died in 2002. “My father was an outstanding scientist and teacher, who truly cared about people and used his education to better the lives of others,” Basar says. For Basar, a natural networker with a love for travel, medicine offered the opportunity to explore new worlds, both intellectually and physically, while following in his father’s footsteps by helping others.Basar began his studies at Ruhr-University Bochum with a full stipend awarded by the German National Academic Foundation, which aims to build an interdisciplinary and international outlook among scholarship recipients.During medical school, Basar had a number of clinical rotations and fellowships throughout the world. One of the most influential was a practical in a private hospital in Istanbul. “My first real insight into clinical experience was early on in my medical studies: I was working at the German Hospital in Istanbul when the city was hit by a huge earthquake. I think there were 20,000 people killed. And due to the chaos caused by the earthquake, I had to help,” says Basar. “I had the chance not only to assist, but to perform some surgery myself, which was exceptional after only one year at medical school.”Basar was surprised by how much he enjoyed working in a clinical environment. “At the beginning of my medical studies I thought I would be more interested in biology or biochemistry. I didn’t think that I would like the clinical aspects as much, in particular the operations and having contact with patients,” he says. “But interestingly, I ended up enjoying this part the most.”In addition to his time abroad in Turkey, Basar attended a training fellowship at Imperial College in London, had a medical clerkship at the Hochgebirgsklinik in Davos, Switzerland, and completed an internship in the Neurointensive Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.Basar enjoyed living in Boston so much that he returned to the city after completing his M.D. “I wanted to do biomedical research, and I knew that I would come back to Harvard to combine graduate studies with a postdoc. It had to be Harvard because the access to hospitals and the biotechnology industry surrounding Boston, you can’t beat,” Basar says. “Also, Boston is a very international city and I like that.”In May 2005, Basar started a research fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), working to optimize an existing vaccine against anthrax. Although the vaccine component he tested proved to be inferior to the existing vaccine, Basar views the time as important to his career because he learned research techniques vital to biochemistry and immunology.“I became more familiar with what research is,” Basar says. “During medical school, my focus was on surgery, so my research fellowship at the Brigham helped me develop research techniques and get a sense of what’s important in science and the emerging trends in the field,” he says. “It was during my time at BWH that I became very interested in RNA interference [RNAi] and its applications in translational research.”Basar compares the current scientific interest in RNAi to the excitement caused by gene therapy two decades ago. “Craig Mello and Andrew Fire got the Nobel Prize for unveiling the mechanism of RNA interference, only eight years after their discovery. Normally, it takes decades to get a Nobel Prize; however, RNAi is an incredibly important technique: barely a decade after its discovery it has already revolutionized biomedical research.” Basar says.According to Basar, both gene therapy and RNAi can be harnessed to regulate gene expression. While gene therapy targets the DNA in the nucleus of the cell, “RNAi affects the cell only at the messenger RNA level, which is more elegant and safer as the cell’s genomic information remains untouched,” he says.Basar explains that genes are encoded in DNA and are then transcribed into messenger RNAs, which are in turn translated into proteins. Because proteins play a pivotal role in the regulation of all kinds of cellular processes, defects in their function or regulation can lead to disease. “In the case of AIDS, for instance, it is the immune cell receptors CD4 and CCR5 that are critical for HIV transmission,” Basar says. He explains that both CD4 and CCR5 are proteins that mediate binding of the virus to the cell membrane and hence enable HIV to penetrate and infect immune cells.According to Basar, one way to induce RNAi is by introducing small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) into a cell. Once delivered into the cytoplasm of the target cell, siRNAs bind to their complementary messenger RNA and when this happens the messenger RNA is cleaved and destroyed, he says. “If you transfect cells with siRNAs targeting the CCR5 co-receptor, RNAi will dramatically downregulate the expression of this receptor,” he says, and as a result, HIV will not find any binding site on the cell membrane to enter the cell. “When you knock out the CCR5 receptor, the door for HIV to enter its target cell is closed,” Basar says.During his work at BWH, Basar became very interested in harnessing RNAi to fight AIDS and cancer. “I started to look for a lab that combined RNAi with HIV or cancer research,” Basar says. Later that year, at an HIV symposium, Basar met Lieberman, a senior investigator at the Immune Disease Institute at Harvard Medical School, and was intrigued by her research. Lieberman’s lab was studying ways that RNAi could be used to create drugs for the prevention or treatment of viral infections, like HIV, and cancer. In fact, Lieberman’s group was the first one to successfully use siRNAs to inhibit genital herpes simplex virus transmission in mice.Basar joined Lieberman’s team in 2006 and his first research project was focused on the development of an siRNA-based topical microbicide to prevent vaginal HIV transmission in mice. As a result of this research, Basar and his colleagues have developed two promising strategies based on RNAi technology and plan to publish their findings soon.Basar is now applying the knowledge he gained working on an siRNA-based HIV microbicide toward developing new methods of siRNA delivery into breast cancer stem cells. At the same time he has become more and more interested in understanding how siRNAs are trafficked within a cell.Although RNA interference offers an exciting new approach for drug development, one major obstacle for using siRNAs as therapy remains their delivery into target cells, says Basar. “The big question, in the context of RNAi, is: How can you deliver siRNAs into different target cells? And how can you ensure that siRNAs, upon uptake into cells, translocate into the cytoplasm to become functional?”Basar thinks that this mechanistic question will occupy him and other researchers well into the future. “How are siRNAs binding to a cell, how are they taken up into a cell, and what’s their fate once inside the cell? There are so many questions,” he says. “A few years ago, I couldn’t understand how a scientist could spend a decade focusing on understanding a biological mechanism, because as a physician my focus has always been translational research,” he says. “Now, I’ve become the scientist interested in the mechanisms of siRNA trafficking.”Basar says that the biological processes underlying HIV and cancer are far more complex than he initially imagined. “That’s why you have to combine the knowledge of many researchers to get the most out of science.” Basar believes that building bridges and improving communication between scientists is just as important as the research itself.“Science has a bad reputation for not reaching out, for not networking and getting outside the lab,” Basar says. “Nowadays biomedical research requires a high degree of specialization, which is very costly, so it’s important to team up with other people to share knowledge and take advantage of the special skills research fellows have developed over years,” he says.In an effort to build social bridges across Harvard, Basar served as co-chair of the Harvard Medical School Postdoctoral Association for two years, where he coordinated a series of networking events. He also joined with fellow German students in 2008 to organize the first Harvard German Conference, which featured Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German secretary of state, as the keynote speaker.Basar has also expanded his networking efforts outside the lab by becoming a partner of the start-up company InterNations, the first online international community geared toward connecting expatriates and other globally minded people. Basar regularly helps organize InterNations events in Boston. “Building an international network and getting people together inspired me; it’s a very intriguing concept,” he says.But using science to help others remains Basar’s core inspiration. “For me as a physician it’s exciting to work on a drug, to work on something that immediately translates into healing a disease,” Basar says. “There’s a possibility that our research and contributions will help fight disease and hopefully positively impact health. That’s the power of research.”
The Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) Awards were established in 1990 to recognize outstanding service to Harvard University through alumni activities. This year’s awards ceremony will take place during the fall HAA board of directors meeting on Oct. 13.Michael A. Cooper ’57, L.L.B. ’60, of New York, has a long history of service to Harvard. He is a member of the Board of Overseers Visiting Committee to the Law School (HLS) and was chair of the Harvard Law School Fund and president of the Harvard Law School Association of New York City. For several years he was a member of the Harvard Law School Association Executive Committee, and now serves as vice president-at-large. He is co-chair of the HLS Senior Advisory Network, a special interest group formed to address the needs and concerns of senior alumni. Additionally, he was co-chair of his HLS 50th Reunion Gift Committee and vice-chair of the Harvard Class of ’57 50th Reunion Gift Committee.He is retired as litigation partner at the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell and has long been active in legal services organizations. He has three children, including son Jeffrey ’86.Judith A. Dollenmayer ’63, of Washington, D.C., has been one of the HAA’s most loyal and active alumnae. She was the first woman president of the Harvard Club of Washington and has long served as a Schools and Scholarships Committee interviewer. A former HAA elected director, she co-chaired the HAA Engagement & Marketing Committee, was a member of the HAA Awards Committee, and served on the Public Service Task Force, including traveling on the 2010 and 2011 HAA service trips to New Orleans. She is active in the Alumnae and Friends of Radcliffe College Shared Interest Group and serves as secretary for the Radcliffe Class of ’63.She is founder and principal of Dollenmayer Communications, a publication and editorial consultancy in Washington, D.C., and is a literary agent for Barrett Books Inc. of New York. She is the proud aunt of Katherine Dollenmayer ’97.Philip C. Haughey ’57, of Newton, Mass., is a true Harvard citizen. He has been chair of both the HAA Committee to Nominate Overseers and Directors and the Harvard Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, and was director of Harvard Magazine. President of the Harvard Club of Boston from 2007-2010, he currently serves as chair of the Club’s Officer Nominating Committee. Additionally, he is Chair of Friends of Harvard Celtic Studies, and is a member of the Real Estate Academic Initiative, an interfaculty, interdisciplinary program focused on real estate research and education. A longtime class agent and Reunion Gift Steering Committee member, he served as chair of the 30th Reunion Committee. He has dedicated countless hours and energy as chair of the Friends of Harvard Football and the Friends of Harvard Baseball, as president and chair of the Harvard Varsity Club, and as chair of Harvard’s Visiting Committee on Athletics.He is president of the Haughey Company Inc., a family real estate investment, development, and management firm. He and his wife, Peggy, have four children, including son Philip Jr. ’84, M.B.A. ’94, and granddaughter Christin ’14.Thomas G. McKinley ’74, of San Francisco, has demonstrated endless loyalty to Harvard. A longtime class secretary, he has been vice chair of the Class Gift Committee since his 20th reunion and is a director of the Harvard Club of San Francisco. He is chair of the John Harvard Society Leadership Committee, was an elected director of the HAA, former vice-chair of the HAA Schools and Scholarships Committee, and past chair of the HAA Committee on Continuing Education. He is a new member of the HAA Alumni Awards Committee. Over the years, he has been supportive of Harvard Women’s Volleyball and many initiatives at Harvard, including the I3 Harvard College Innovation Challenge, a program designed to promote, guide, and incubate entrepreneurship, and summer entrepreneurial and community projects for undergraduates.He is a West Coast partner at Cardinal Partners. He and his wife, Janet, have three children, including daughters Kathryn ’09 and Sara ’03, M.B.A. ’07.Walter H. Morris Jr. ’73, M.B.A. ’75, of Potomac, Md., has dedicated countless hours and energy in support of Harvard and the HAA. As president of the HAA from 2008 to 2009, he focused on “moving the dial” by making small but observable steps to advance the work and mission of the HAA. He was an HAA elected director from 2000 to 2003, and was chair of the HAA Alumni Awards and HAA Graduate Schools Committees. He is currently a member of the HAA Executive Committee. He is also an active member of the Harvard Black Alumni Society and has been a member of several Harvard Clubs, including the Harvard Club of New York City, the Harvard Club of Los Angeles, the Harvard Business School Club of Washington, D.C., and the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C., where he served as director from 2004 to 2007.He is a retired principal at Ernst & Young LLP. He and his wife, Cynthia, have two children, son Walter III and daughter Anne ’04.June Storey, of North Reading, Mass., dedicated more than three decades of distinguished service to Harvard and was, as one colleague noted upon her retirement, “An institution at Harvard whose legend will most definitely stand the test of time.” She began in 1976 as a staff assistant and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming director of events for Alumni Affairs and Development in 1993. Under her watch, the events department became known for its attention to detail and outstanding customer service. Over the years, she was intricately involved in the planning of a myriad of festive gatherings and special events, including Harvard’s 350th anniversary, the Mandela state visit, the convocation for Edward M. Kennedy, and the inaugurations of Neil L. Rudenstine, Lawrence H. Summers, and Drew G. Faust, as well as campaign kick-offs and celebrations, building dedications, recognition dinners, annual fundraising meetings and dinners, the annual honorary degree dinner and chief marshal luncheon, and the HAA Global Series events.She was known for being generous with her time and advice, providing endless guidance and collegiality, and was considered the best at what she did.
Harvard senior James McAuley was recently named a Marshall Scholar, a prestigious award that will allow him to study for two years at a university of his choice in the United Kingdom, likely in his case at the University of Oxford.A history and literature concentrator who lives in Currier House, McAuley is one of 36 students nationwide to receive a Marshall Scholarship, and the 250th from Harvard in the history of the awards. He plans to pursue a D.Phil. in Modern European history, which would continue his current undergraduate work on American engagement with Vichy France.“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” McAuley said of the chance to study at Oxford. “Some of the best academics in the field that I’m interested in are there, so I felt like this was the best next step I could take.”In his time at Harvard, McAuley has served as a research assistant to both Doris Kearns Goodwin and Louis Menand, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English. He has also been an editorial intern at The New Yorker, worked at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and served as editorial chairman of the Harvard Crimson.The study of history, McAuley said, offers the rare opportunity not only to understand the past, but through that understanding to become a positive agent in one’s own time.“I think that what’s most interesting to me about Vichy France is that you had this ostensibly free zone where individuals chose to succumb to their own opportunistic tendencies and collaborate with the Nazis to get a better future, or to resist,” McAuley said. “In that sense, it’s a fascinating look into human nature, and it raises the question of what we would do in those circumstances.”In his thesis, McAuley focuses on the diplomats who served in Vichy France, particularly on one Spanish official, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, who effectively sacrificed his career to issue thousands of escape visas for Jews and other “so-called undesirables.”By comparison, McAuley said, other diplomats, including those from the United States, “either refused or were incapable of seeing the truth of what was going on.”“It’s interesting to me to compare both types,” McAuley said. “The one who, for some incredible reason, was able to see what was happening and to act as we all hope we would — to become a positive agent in his time — and the others who were just along for the ride. I think it’s a very interesting question.”The awards were created in 1953 to commemorate U.S. aid to Europe after World War II under the Marshall Plan. As many as 40 promising scholars and likely future leaders in their fields are selected from across the United States each year to receive the awards.
To keep Harvard College affordable for students from every financial background, Harvard College will increase its financial aid budget for the 2013–14 academic year by $10 million, or 5.8 percent, bringing the total to a record $182 million. Since 2007, Harvard’s investment in financial aid for undergraduates at the College has increased by 88 percent.More than 60 percent of Harvard College students annually receive need-based scholarship aid, paying on average $12,000 toward the cost of tuition, room, and board. As a result, approximately 20 percent of families pay nothing and many College students graduate debt-free.“Despite the budget challenges posed by less-than-robust endowment returns and threatened federal funding cuts, I’m pleased that we have again renewed our commitment to making a Harvard College education affordable for any student, regardless of financial means,” Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Dean Michael D. Smith said. “Our message is simple. Getting admitted to Harvard College is difficult. Affording Harvard College shouldn’t be. By enabling us to attract the best and the brightest to Harvard from all backgrounds, our financial aid program strengthens the experiences of all our students, including those not receiving support.“Much of the credit goes to the enormous generosity of our committed alumni, who donate millions of dollars each year to support financial aid at the College,” Smith continued. “In doing so, they form an important partnership that spans generations of Harvard students and graduates, and which will continue when today’s students ultimately give back to help future generations.”Since 2004, Harvard has dramatically reduced the amount that families are expected to pay to send a child to Harvard College. Harvard has a policy of “zero contribution” from families with normal assets making $65,000 or less annually. Families with typical assets and incomes up to $150,000 will pay from zero to 10 percent of their income, depending on individual family circumstances. Families with annual incomes of more than $150,000 may still qualify for need-based assistance. Students are also asked to contribute to the cost of their education through term-time and summer work.For students not receiving need-based aid, the total cost of attendance (including tuition, room, board, and fees) is scheduled to increase by 3.5 percent, to $56,407. At an institution such as Harvard with a generous, need-based financial aid program, this “sticker price” is not necessarily what families pay. Current students, prospective applicants, and their families can estimate their personal costs by using Harvard’s Net Price Calculator.
Steve Moundou-Missi posted a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but the Harvard men’s basketball team fell to Yale in front of a sold-out Lavietes Pavilion crowd Friday evening, 62-52.With the loss, the Crimson (20-7, 10-3 Ivy) slips to one-game behind the Bulldogs (22-8, 11-2) in the Ivy League standings with one game to play. Harvard will host Brown on Senior Night Saturday at 6 p.m., while Yale will visit Dartmouth at 7 p.m. The Crimson will face the Bears live on the CBS Sports Network.Harvard shot only 32.7 percent (18-of-55) for the game and was 2-of-17 (.118) from 3-point range. Wesley Saunders had 11 points and seven boards, and Siyani Chambers added 10 points and six assists.Crimson guard Wesley Saunders drives to the basket past two Yale defenders. Saunders scored 11 points, one of only five Harvard players to score. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff PhotographerHarvard now trails Yale by one game with one game remaining, and needs a win versus Brown on Saturday coupled with a Yale loss at Dartmouth to tie the Bulldogs for the Ivy League crown and force a one-game playoff for the conference’s bid to the NCAA tournament.For complete coverage, visit the Harvard Athletics website.
A new study has found that the financial health of Social Security, the program that millions of Americans have relied on for decades as a crucial part of their income, has been dramatically overstated.The study compared all forecasts made by the Social Security Administration over the 80-year history of the program with its actual outcome, and found that its forecasts of the health of Social Security trust funds have become increasingly biased since 2000. Current forecasts are likely off by billions of dollars, and the program could be insolvent earlier than expected unless legislators act, the study found.The study, which appears Friday in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, was co-authored by Gary King, the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University; Konstantin Kashin, a Ph.D. student at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science; and Samir Soneji, an assistant professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice.These graphs reveal errors in Social Security Administration forecasts of two indicators of the health of its trust funds — the trust fund balance (a measure of inflows into the fund, minus outflows from it) and a measure of the overall cost of the program. Forecasts in the Trustees’ Reports until about 2000 had an error rate of around zero, indicated by a horizontal line. After 2000, the forecasts indicate that the balance in the fund is too high and the cost is too low, meaning that the fund is not as healthy as their forecasts indicate. (Source: Gary King)In a second paper, published on the same day in Political Analysis, the Harvard-Dartmouth team points to antiquated, ad hoc methods for creating the forecasts as the cause for the growing bias. They suggest that otherwise laudable efforts to insulate the forecasts from political influence have resulted, somewhat ironically, in insulating the process from data that could improve their accuracy.“The bias in their forecasts results in a picture that’s rosier than it really is,” King said. “They’re not saying the system is in good health. Pretty much everybody who evaluates Social Security realizes there’s a problem … But the system is in significantly worse shape than their forecasts are indicating.“This is a major problem,” he continued. “Social Security is the single largest government program. It lifted an entire generation of elderly out of poverty, and today affects the lives of almost every American. The forecasts are essential for ensuring the solvency of the Social Security trust fund, as well for Medicare and Medicaid, which together add up to half of the entire budget of the federal government.”While forecasting the health of the Social Security trust funds has long been part of the program — each year, the administration creates forecasts that look one, five, 10, 20, and even 75 years into the future — the study conducted by the Harvard-Dartmouth team is the first by anyone inside or outside of the government to evaluate their accuracy.“It’s typically been difficult to conduct studies that evaluate forecasts, but the Social Security Administration has been around long enough that if they made a 10-year forecast a decade ago, by now we can look to see how they did,” Soneji said. “There’s tremendous scientific value in evaluating real-world forecasts that were made by people who were really trying to figure out what the future was going to be like.”What they found, King said, was that while forecasts were never perfect, they were largely unbiased for quite some time.The Social Security Administration scores all major policy proposals from both political parties, but has never reported margins of error for any. This graph shows that for their 10-year and 75-year estimates, and for the balance in the trust fund or the cost of the program, almost all the public policies the agency scored were smaller than the uncertainty in its forecasts. Only the small number of proposals scores (represented by green triangles at the bottom of the graph, below at dashed line) are statistically distinguishable from zero. This indicates that almost all of the policy scoring the Social Security Administration has done is essentially random noise rather than systematic signal. (Source: Gary King)“On average, they were about right until about 2000,” he said. “Sometimes they were too high, sometimes they were too low, but they were able to adjust quickly enough over time and remained fairly accurate.”Over the last decade and a half, however, those course corrections weren’t made, and the gap between the forecasts and reality has grown steadily. To understand just how wide that gap is, King said, it’s necessary to understand the other key role played by Social Security auditors: evaluating legislation related to the program.“For every major policy proposal that’s put forward by Democrats or Republicans, they do what’s called ‘scoring’ the proposal,” King said. “This is a tremendously valuable service, and they’re the only ones who do it. Unfortunately, because the actuaries making the forecasts do not share all their data and procedures, no one else can.”But when King, Kashin, and Soneji collected every policy score from the past several decades and compared them to the forecasting bias, the result was troubling.“Even if we assume that every one of those policy scores was 100 percent right for today, which is an unrealistically optimistic assumption, when we look at the uncertainty in their forecasts, we find it’s larger than almost all of the policy scores,” King said. “That’s hugely problematic, because it means all the policy debates about Social Security are being informed by something that’s basically random noise.”While there is benefit to Democrats and Republicans coming together to debate how best to reform the Social Security system, King said the simple step of making the data used in the forecasts public would dramatically improve them, and provide the parties with a more solid foundation upon which to have that debate.“No one else can make fully independent forecasts of Social Security because they have the data, and they don’t fully share it with anyone,” King said. “They don’t share it with government; they don’t share it with academics; they don’t even share it with other parts of the Social Security Administration. There’s no reason it needs to be kept secret … And if they were to make the data available to the scientific community, academics would fall over themselves competing to help them make better forecasts, and ultimately that would be better for absolutely everyone in the United States.”This figure plots errors in Social Security Administration short-term forecasts for female life expectancy and male life expectancy at 65 years old. On the vertical axis, zero means the forecast was correct, as it approximately was for most years until 2000. After 2000, the line falls below zero, indicating that the Social Security Administration has been substantially underestimating how long Americans will live. This error means that the trust fund will have to pay benefits longer than expected. (Source: Gary King)While the evidence points to increasing bias in the forecasts produced by the Social Security Administration, it still begs the question of why the forecasts have been skewed in one direction versus another.Ironically, King said, it may be the result of Social Security auditors doing just what the public might want them to do and insulating themselves from the contentious political questions that swirl around the program.“One thing that has happened since 2000 is that people started living longer than expected, which means people are drawing benefits longer than expected,” King said. “But in trying to hunker down and insulate themselves from the politics, they ended up insulating themselves from the data as well.”Among the keys to improving the forecasts, King said, will be bringing the forecasting process into the 21st century.“They’ve been using almost the same methods to generate these forecasts, with few important changes, since the program was instituted,” Soneji explained. “They have committees that try to set some of the parameters for their models, but there is a great deal of informality and a lot of ad hoc decisions. It is an essentially a qualitative process that could be formalized.”In the wider world, the revolution in big data, data science, and statistical methodology of the past several decades has deeply transformed how forecasts are generated, yet relatively little of that progress has been utilized by the Social Security Administration. Ideally, King said, the process should be automated where possible, with humans stepping in when they can add value. As it stands today, with many people making hundreds of informal decisions, the process is rife with procedures that social psychologists have demonstrated can lead to inadvertent biases, no matter how hard individuals try to avoid them.To avoid such problems, King said, the Social Security Administration needs to do two things: develop a formalized, replicable approach to generating forecasts that automates the process as much as possible; and work with social psychologists and other experts to ensure that, when humans do enter the process, their inherent biases are controlled as much as possible.“For example, one thing they do is forecast mortality rates by age,” King said. “We know that mortality rates are lower for a 60-year-old than an 80-year-old. But that’s just one of 200-plus parameters they have to consider in these forecasts. One person can’t remember what those 200 parameters are, much less what their relationships are, all at the same time.“The approach we have now may have been the best method decades ago. But now we have much better methods of automating, not 100 percent of the process, but far more of it. We don’t want quantitative methods to replace human decision-making; we want them to empower human efforts. Similarly, there’s no reason to add up a long column of numbers without a computer these days, but your computer isn’t going to know what column to add up without you in control.”No matter what reforms are put in place, King said, it’s important to understand that the forecasting process will never be foolproof.“The progress that’s been made in data science formalizing, and thus improving, human decision-making has been spectacular, and these developments need to get to Social Security,” King said. “The rest should be dealt with by social psychologists, who can devise procedures to take the human bias out of the process that must remain qualitative. For example, the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman showed that if men and women auditioned for violin spots in an orchestra from behind a curtain, men still won most of the spots. But if you took off their shoes first, so the judges couldn’t hear who had on high heels, the gender bias vanished.”Soneji explained: “The combination of modern data science, modern social psychology, and modern data sharing can vastly improve the situation.”Ultimately, however, taking steps to improve the forecasts can’t keep Social Security from becoming insolvent. The debate over how to keep the program afloat must be left to the nation’s elected representatives. But by improving the forecasting process, King said, it is possible to ensure that debate is informed by facts.“I don’t know how the politics are going to come out,” King said. “There certainly are ways to keep the system from going insolvent: You could slightly lengthen the retirement age, increase taxes on the wealthy, or increase payroll taxes. Our results don’t say which of those to choose, or even whether to choose anything. I think the politicians will do something. There have been grand compromises over Social Security over the years. When the parties sit down to negotiate, all we want is for them to have the real facts. That’s all.”
3GSAS student Ben Oseroff stretches after training for the Head of the Charles. Mark Abelson, professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, planks in the background. As Gustav Mahler worked to complete the orchestration for his Symphony No. 7 in 1906, he discovered the final element for his opening motif in the sound of a rower dipping oars in the water and lightly skimming the surface in recoiling the stroke.In Cambridge that same year, a permanent home for the art and sport of rowing was established when the family of George Walker Weld built the Weld Boathouse. With 8 miles fit for rowing and a six-lane, 2,000-meter racecourse, the Charles River is a favored site for the sport, used by some of the country’s finest collegiate programs. Weld Boathouse is home to the Radcliffe lightweight and heavyweight crews, as well as Harvard’s recreational sculling and intramural House crew programs. It also supports a wide range of fitness programs, including yoga, cycling, and weight training.For Mark Abelson, training for the Head of the Charles masters’ division under athletics pro Dan Boyne, who has worked in the boathouse for 27 years, has provided a steady thrill.“There is nothing more steeped in tradition than launching a shell out of the historic Weld Boathouse and nothing more exciting and making you want to bend an oar than having the great Harvard coach Dan Boyne instructing you from the launch through his Crimson megaphone,” said Abelson, a professor of ophthalmology.As Marina Felix ’19 read through coursework while training on the spinning machine, she described the high level of athleticism, and fellowship, in Weld Boathouse.“There’s a fine line in rowing that exists between teammates: We have to balance a fierce competitive drive with a crucial sense of camaraderie. I’ve never found myself to be a part of a team that has achieved this balance quite as effortlessly as the Radcliffe varsity lightweights.”Radcliffe heavyweight crew team member Emily Gaudiani ’17 said she’s been grateful for the “incredible experience” and “privilege” of training at Weld.“To be in a boathouse that is primarily all-women builds an incredible sense of comfort and camaraderie that is palpable the moment you walk in,” she said. “Radcliffe Crew has an impressive history, and the efforts and successes of all the women who have rowed in the bslack and white are memorialized throughout Weld, reminding all the current athletes of the incredible lineage that we try to uphold with every stroke we take.” 9Princeton University rower Gevvie Stone, who is in training for the Olympics, rests in a team room beneath historical trophies. 15Emily Gaudiani ’17 carries oars into Weld Boathouse. 6Radcliffe crew team members Mary Carmack ’16 (front) and Emily Gaudiani ’17 exercise on rowing machines. 1Dan Boyne, who has worked at the Weld Boathouse for 27 years, coaches athletes for the Head of the Charles Regatta. 12Details of a Weld Boat Club trophy from 1897. 7Kevin McGrath, an associate of the Department of South Asian Studies, carries his boat. 18Harvard Medical School’s Mark Abelson (right) trains for the Head of the Charles Regatta. 2Liz O’Leary (right), head coach of the women’s heavyweight crew, talks with team members Mary Carmack ’16 (from left) and Lauren Tracey ’17 after practice. 16Kathy Keeler, an Olympic gold medalist, volunteer coach with the Radcliffe crew team, and widow of the late Harry Parker (the Thomas Bolles Head Coach for Harvard men’s heavyweight crew for 51 seasons), works out on a rowing machine inside Weld Boathouse. 14Detail of a bust of George Walker Weld, the boathouse benefactor. 5With Harvard Business School as a backdrop, rowers return to Weld Boathouse. 10Radcliffe lightweight crew team member Marina Felix ’19 does coursework while spinning on a bike machine. 4Overview of Weld Boathouse and Weeks Bridge. 11Professor of Ophthalmology Mark Abelson trains on a rowing machine. 8Harvard Medical School Professor Mark Abelson, a former professional water skier, shows calluses from training. 17Ellen Kennelly ’85 created this glass sculpture for the ceiling of Weld Boathouse. The piece was commissioned by the Friends of Harvard and Radcliffe Rowing for Weld’s centennial in 2006. 13This historical photo shows a 1972 practice on the Charles River.