- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Belfer in Brief

Spring 2021

Highlights of recent activities and recognitions from the Belfer Center.

Recognizing Impact: Sheila Jasanoff, Will Tobey, Fran Ulmer

"Sheila Jassanoff Headshot"Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, has been named to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the American Philisophical Society for 2021. The Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded by John Adams and John Hancock, "honors individuals for excellence in arts and science scholarship and to support multidisciplinary research that informs public policy." The American Philosophical, which honors extraordinary accomplishments in all fields, is the oldest learned society in the United States, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” 

"Fran Ulmer Headshot"Fran Ulmer, Senior Fellow with the Belfer Center’s Arctic Initiative, was honored in April by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) during their Salute the Parks virtual event. In their announcement, the NPCA said Ulmer exemplifies NPCA’s mission to protect and enhance American’s National Park System for present and future generations. “Fran has been an enduring advocate for our national parks and the environment throughout her career in politics, academia, and conservation. Her experience and reputation have led to her appointment to numerous local, state and federal boards...” 

"William Tobey Headshot"William Tobey, Faculty Affiliate with the Project on Managing the Atom, has been named Chair of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, effective May 1, 2021. The mission of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board is to provide an open forum for discussion, and to organize and oversee studies on safety, security, technical efficacy, and other policy and societal issues arising from the application of nuclear and radiation-based technologies.Tobey has also been elected to the American Nuclear Society’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Division Executive Committee.


Bruce Schneier Explores a World of AI Hackers 

In a chilling essay, Bruce Schneier writes: “AIs [Artificial Intelligence systems] are becoming hackers. They’re able to find exploitable vulnerabilities in software code....We have every reason to believe that AIs will continue to get better at this task, and will soon surpass humans.”

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“It's science fiction, but not stupid science fiction.”

Bruce Schneier

Applied History Essay Asks How to Reunite the Nation; Speakers Focus on Learning from the Past 

The Belfer Center's Applied History Project is excited to support the Stanton Foundation's 2021 Applied History Essay Contest, with several of its members—Graham T. AllisonCalder Walton, and Anne Karalekas—serving on the contest's Selection Advisory Committee alongside scholars at Stanford's Hoover Institution and the University of Chicago. Building on the success of the Foundation's 2020 Applied History competition, this new contest will reward the best Applied History essay that both clarifies the challenge of reuniting America and identifies initiatives the U.S. government or others could take to address it. The author of the winning essay will win a prize of $10,000 and up to two runners-up will win prizes of $5,000 each. For more details, including on eligibility and submission deadlines, see the Stanton Foundation's website here.

"Carmen Reinhart screenshot from event."

At a time when the post-COVID economic recovery around the world remains uncertain, World Bank Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart (right) recently analyzed history's lessons for economic recovery during a discussion with the Applied History Working Group.  Moderated by Graham Allison, discussions during the semester have included a number of distinguished historians and scholars, such as  historians Paul KennedyStephen Wertheim, and Jon Meacham, journalist Fareed Zakaria, and Project Co-Chair Niall Ferguson.

This series of events has attracted hundreds of participants and sparked a broader engagement with the Applied History Project's mission: to illuminate current challenges and choices by analyzing historical precedents and analogues. To learn more about the Project, visit the Applied History website, which has been redesigned this semester to support a more effective and engaging layout.

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Environment Program Focuses on Climate Media and Leadership; Researches Renewable Hydrogen

This spring, the Environment and Natural Resources Program (ENRP) welcomed top environmental journalists to discuss the challenges of reporting on climate and environmental justice and an inside look at how reporting has changed from the Trump to Biden administration. Among the journalists interviewed by ENRP Senior Fellow Cristine Russell were The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin, The New York Times' Lisa Friedman and Simini Sengupta, Justin Worland of TIME Magaine, and AtmosMagazine's Yessinia Funes.

Also this spring, ENRP hosted “Adaptive Leadership and Climate Action,” a conversation with two Harvard Kennedy School alums - Natalie Unterstell and Camila Thorndike - who are working to solve the climate crisis in Brazil and the U.S. 
"Unterstell screenshot from event.""Thorndike screenshot from event."




ENRP is ramping up its “Future of Hydrogen” initiative, building on ongoing research and activities in advance of the G20 meeting in Rome in October. Led by ENRP Director Professor Henry Lee and Senior Fellow Nicola De Blasio, the initiative has studied emerging hydrogen economies in China and the European Union, and will assess the potential of renewable hydrogen in India and Japan. 

Global Security Essay Contest Challenges Young Women 

"Essay contest graphic with IS and Girl Security logos."The Belfer Center’s journal International Security has joined forces with Girl Security to offer an essay competition designed to amplify young women’s voices in global security. The contest is open to young women of high school and undergraduate age around the globe. Essays can focus on any topic related to international relations, global and regional security, and military and diplomatic history.

Morgan Kaplan, International Security Executive Director, said in announcing the contest that while women continue to advance groundbreaking research in international relations, they have been historically underrepresented in contemporary security journals and course syllabi.” Girl Securityis a non-partisan, non-profit organization preparing girls, women, and gender minorities for national security through learning, college-to-career training, and mentoring. More details are available at girlsecurity.org/essay-contest.

New Research from the Middle East Initiative

This spring brought the publication of new research from the Middle East Initiative community, including by Faculty Director and Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman Professor of International Relations Tarek Masoud and by Senior Fellow and Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank Rabah Arezki

The Washington Post’s political science blog, The Monkey Cage, featured a piece co-authored by Masoud, “Will the pandemic spark a religious revival in the Muslim world?” The article presented a collaborative research project, which explored whether the large-scale disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a “turn to faith” or a “religious recession” in the Muslim world. Masoud partnered with A. Kadir Yildirim of Rice University and Peter Mandaville of George Mason University to measure the effects of the pandemic through a survey of 9,000 Muslims across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Their data revealed that, with the exception of Turkey, people in these countries became more religious during the pandemic. They posit that this increase in religiosity reflects a heightened desire for comfort during such a challenging period, and noted an apparent negative correlation between religiosity and emotional distress. 

Rabah Arezki, MEI Senior Fellow and Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, co-authored a paper titled “Contagious Protests,” with Alou Adessé Dama, PhD candidate at Clermont Auvergne University, Simeon Djankov of the London School of Economics, and Ha Nguyen of the World Bank. The paper details the findings of their research project on the role of social media in spreading nonviolent and spontaneous demonstrations across borders. Arezki and his partners evaluated data from 200 countries between 2000 and 2020 with an autoregressive spatial mode, which clearly showed the power of social media penetration as a catalyst for “contagious protests,” noting it facilitates not only peoples’ ability to protest in one country, but also sympathizers’ ability to “read, learn and emulate.”

You can stay up to date on the latest publications from MEI’s research community by visiting MEI’s website or by following MEI on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"Belfer in Brief." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. (Spring 2021)