November 6, 2013

Upcoming Lecture: "How Do Social Networks Affect Your Health?"

Tomorrow evening, IU will receive a visit from Dr. James Fowler, who co-authored Themester's featured book: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. In the following interview, Professor Armando Razo (Political Science), who assisted in the organization of Fowler's upcoming lecture, discusses the author's work and how it will feature into his talk this coming Thursday. Razo and Fowler are both members of the Political Networks (POLNET) section of the American Political Science Assocation (APSA).

Fowler relates social networks to obesity, depression, etc. In what ways might social networks affect your health positively?

Fowler and co-authors have studied both positive and negative effects. Perhaps the negative effects get more press attention, but just like bad health habits can be (socially) transmitted through networks, so can good habits. In fact, this line of research also shows that social networks can be very important for social support and emotional well-being.

The event description references a "Three Degrees of Influence Rule." What is this rule and how does it operate in Fowler's research?

This rule quantifies the measurable impact or "reach" of social networks on individual behaviors. Network analysts measure social distance by counting how many steps (degrees) it takes for one person to draw a connection to another. Direct connections are just one step away (e.g., someone's "friend"). Indirect connections take two or more steps. For example, it takes two steps to reach "a friend of a friend" and so on.

In particular, Fowler and Christakis argue with their "Three Degrees of Influence Rule" that somewhat distant people (up to a third degree) can have an impact upon us. Of course we know our friends, and we may even know our friends' friends. But it's less likely that we would know the friends of our friends' friends; that's why they say that we can be impacted by people unknown to us.

What is most interesting about Fowler's work to you?

James Fowler's work spans several disciplines in very interesting ways, so this is a hard question to answer. Among others, I would say that the most interesting aspect is the public policy implications of his research. That is, if we can establish that social networks matter for public health and other important phenomena, what can (or should) we do about it, either as individuals or societies?

For more information about Fowler's book, visit click here.
For more information about Fowler's lecture, visit our calendar.
Time and Date: 5:30 p.m., Thursday, November 7
Location: Whittenberger Auditorium, IMU

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern

November 4, 2013

Ending Stigma, Changing Minds, and Saving Lives through Mental Health Advocacy

Professor Bernice Pescosolido (Sociology), discusses the upcoming Glenn Close lecture, "Ending Stigma, Changing Minds, and Saving Lives through Mental Health Advocacy." Pescosolido served as both as an organizer of the lecture and as Chair of the Themester 2013 committee. She is also the Director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research.

How will Close's lecture engage themes of networks and connectedness?

There are two unique aspects of Bring Change 2 Mind that make it uniquely connected to what we do here at Indiana University. First, BC2M is one of the few advocacy organizations closely tied to science and research in all of its efforts. This makes our mission of Themester and the work of BC2M tied not only in terms of building connectedness between IU and the national advocacy efforts, but also in terms of Glenn Close's message and direction. She is focusing on ending the stigma, isolation, and lack of connectedness that people with mental illness often experience. Stigma hinders the search for treatment and the societal resources that go to mental health care because it results in prejudice and discrimination.

What is Bring Change 2 Mind doing to curb the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness? Where can people find the "Public Education Materials" that the organization distributes?

There are so many things that they are doing. It is hard to list them all. People share their stories on the website, which for many people is the first place they disclose their illness publicly. BC2M partners with organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to bring visibility to the issue of stigma and discrimination through organized walks. They raise money for research to make their efforts are based on data that supports effectiveness. Glenn has been able to bring her star power to bear in terms of hundreds of hours donated by producers, directors, and other creative people to create messages and media.

To learn more about the organization, visit the Bring Change 2 Mind website.

For information about the lecture, click here to see our calendar.

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern

October 23, 2013

How "Dessert and Discussion" Works

Photo credit: Indiana Memorial Union
As Marie Antoinette never actually said, "Let them eat cake!"

Dessert and Discussion is exactly what it sounds like. Students meet in the Tudor Room to enjoy as many desserts as their conscience will allow and to discuss Themester's topic with one of IU's distinguished faculty members. Already this semester students have had the opportunity to discuss the film And the Band Played On with Professor Rega Wood (Philosophy), cognitive networks with Professor Colin Allen (History and Philosophy of Science), and empathy in networks with Professor Fritz Lieber (Education).

The events present a unique academic setting for students. It's an atypical experience to listen as a professor explains something between bites of lemon meringue pie rather than between PowerPoint slides in Times New Roman. There's something different about learning as you slowly enjoy a slice of German chocolate cake rather than hastily scribble notes in a crowded notebook. The result is a conversation that is more comfortable and complicated than anything you'll get in the standard lecture hall.

At these discussions, ideas aren't just passed from professor to student. They are passed back as well, then picked up by another student, then passed around the whole table (along with a cookie or two). Soon everyone has given and gained some perspective on the topic.

At one discussion, for example, Professor Allen got the ball rolling by discussing how a network by itself can be useless, but what we do to the network--in terms of finding patterns, applying algorithms, and looking at movement--can tell us a lot. As students jumped into the conversation, they took this one idea and related it to networks in language learning, spying with metadata, and a spectrum of other subjects.

This is how a typical Dessert and Discussion goes. When we run out of time, everyone heads out with food for thought and thoughts of food.

Click here to register for the remaining discussions.

Ryan Myers
Themester 2013 Intern

October 14, 2013

Flashback: A Look at Themester Events So Far

Creativity and Collaboration in the Arts Series
Irish Music and Dance Workshop
Photo credit: Sarah Boyum
Themester has seen a wide variety of events so far. This season's line-up has included dance workshops, plays, lectures, film screenings, and art exhibits, all of which explored a diverse range of networks.

We kicked off the semester with two exhibits in the Grunwald Gallery. Imag(in)ing Science featured collaborative work that combined the efforts of artists and scientists, while Geist und Form featured the work of of ten Berliner artists who represented and discussed the rising art capital.

"The Top 1% of Neurons in the Brain
and Why They Do Most of the Talking"
John Beggs (Indiana University - Physics)
Photo credit: Alex Hughes
Our film series began with The Social Network, a fictionalized account of Facebook's origins. It was followed by And the Band Played On, which reveals how networks operated in and influenced the AIDS crisis. The Hunt showed next, a film that illustrates the drastic, damaging effects of a single lie within a small-knit community. Our latest installment in the series was Margin Call, a dramatized version of the 2008 economic crisis.

The season has also featured two theatrical productions thus far. Cardinal Stage Company's production of Lord of the Flies examined how connectedness is lost and changed in a group of stranded young boys. Bloomington Playwrights Project just wrapped its production of Sequence, which explored debates between luck versus fate, coincidence versus predetermination.

Imag(in)ing Science at the Grunwald Gallery
Photo credit: Alex Hughes
Lecturers and panels have discussed connectedness and networks as they pertain to romantic attraction, disease, international relations, and much more. Vincent Hendricks, for example, gave a series of lectures covering social epistemology, game theory, and financial crises. The Framing the Global Conference discussed evolving research in global studies.

We're only half way through the semester. There is plenty still to come! For a full list of our future events, refer to Themester's official calendar.

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern

September 25, 2013

Grunwald Gallery: Interview with Betsy Stirratt

Betsy Stirratt, Director of the Grunwald Gallery of Art, discusses two Themester-related exhibits currently showing in the gallery: Geist und Form: Ten Painters from Berlin and Imag(in)ing Science.

Entrance to Geist und Form.
Photo Credit: Geist und Form
1) How do these exhibits engage "Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World"? What does the work suggest about connection and networks?

Imag(in)ing Science includes work made by teams of scientists and artists. Faculty members at IU have collaborated to make pieces that would not have been possible without their connectedness. Each of the artist-scientist teams was created by knowing and becoming familiar with the work of the other person, so that the teams were developed by both social connectedness as well as connections in a professional and academic realm.

Geist und Form contains work by ten artists who have emigrated from other countries to Berlin. They traveled to Berlin because it is an art center at this time, and many visual artists from all over the world have found success and connections there.

An interactive piece featured in Imag(in)ing Science.
Photo credit: Alex Hughes
2) Imag(in)ing Science achieves one of Themester's greatest goals: to combine disciplines. Can you say more about this marriage of science and art? Its challenges and successes?

The most successful of the collaborations utilize research from both parties to create an entirely new final product. These works are visually successful, engaging the viewer to try to find out more about the work, and scientifically successful by imparting information about the science behind the final work.

3) Geist und Form is the product of a strong artistic network. How does such a network become a "cultural center" like Berlin?

Many factors came into play to make Berlin one of the visual art capitals of Europe. After the wall came down, artists were drawn to the city because it was inexpensive to live there and there was a pioneering spirit that existed. The city was being rebuilt and repopulated, and anything was possible. This is the kind of environment that artists have been drawn to for a long time, because space for working is available, and they could exist financially without too much worry. As more and more artists moved there, a momentum was created that drew artists and galleries from all over the world.

Panel discussion with five artists featured in Geist und Form.
Photo credit: Sarah Boyum

Both exhibits will continue to show through October 11.
Gallery hours are from 12-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.
(Closed on Sundays and Mondays).

Grunwald Gallery will also host four more discussions about Imag(in)ing Science.
For dates and times, refer to Themester's event calendar.

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern

September 12, 2013

Lord of the Flies: Interview with Ellen MacKay

Ellen MacKay, an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department , discusses Cardinal Stage Company's upcoming production of Lord of the Flies. MacKay served as the production's dramaturg.

Nathan Robbins (Jack) and Nat Zegree (Ralph).
Provided by Cardinal Stage Company.

How does this play contribute to Themester's discussion on networks and connection?

Lord of the Flies is about remaking the social fabric from the ground up. I don't think I am giving away anything by saying that it's an experiment that doesn't go well. But in keeping with the grand tradition of utopian and dystopian writing, Lord of the Flies is a meditation on the ties that bind us together, their fragility, and the horrors that result in their absence.

Is there a loss of connection in this play? If so, what sort of connection is lost?

Well, the Island is a unique social environment in that it lacks the diversity of our global, multicultural world. In fact, it lacks every social type aside from school-aged, middle class, British boys. There are no adults. There are no women. There are no girls. There are no families, schools, churches, or social structures. So many of the connections that would suture the social fabric together are cut. Yet the boys find a way of organizing themselves, and they police that system ferociously. The chaos that results is not just the effect of cut connections, but also the effect of this strangely homogenous and too-tightly bound society.
Provided by Cardinal Stage Company.

Does the network developed between the boys in this play fail completely or run a natural course?

Any answer would depend on what you take to be humankind's natural condition. If the play follows the course of nature, then it's the nature that Thomas Hobbes describes, in which life is nasty, brutish, and short. According to John Locke, the human state of nature is a peaceable, sociable one. He would say that the disaster of Lord of the Flies is the effect of a corruption of nature and not natural at all.

To purchase tickets for Lord of the Flies, visit the Cardinal website:

Buskirk-Chumley Theatre

Wednesday 7:30 p.m. (preview)
Thursday 7:00 p.m.
Friday 7:00 p.m.
Saturday 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Sunday 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern