Year in Review: 2016's Top Stories

A look back at our top OMNIA stories from 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Intelligent Design in the Classroom: Kitzmiller v. Dover, 10 Years Later (Audio)

January 2, 2016

On Dec. 20, 2005, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District—the trial that set the stage for a national debate on the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design (ID) as an alternative to evolution—was decided. In the lead-up to the trial, Michael Weisberg, professor of philosophy and chair of the philosophy department, and Paul Sniegowski, professor of biology, co-authored a letter on behalf of their departments in support of the teachers who argued against the inclusion of ID in the curriculum.


Justifying Partiality on Super Bowl Sunday (Video)

February 2016

How do we decide on our allegiances to sports teams? Is it our personal history with the team? Are we influenced by our peers? Or are we simply in awe of a star player? We sat down with Errol Lord, assistant professor of philosophy, to investigate our partiality towards certain teams, as well as other fandom phenomena like the bandwagon effect.

Field Notes: How Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth’s Life Among Primates Is Influencing the Next Generation of Scientists 

June 2016

Dorothy Cheney, professor of biology, and Robert Seyfarth, professor of psychology, began their long-term study of free-ranging baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana in 1992. The wife-and-husband team spent the next decade and a half documenting the behavior, communication, and social cognition of these group-living primates. 

Three Penn Alums Upset the Political Applecart and Make Hay

April 2016

Their story reads like a film treatment: Three college students—all politics junkies—meet through their involvement in campus politics and hit it off. Soon after, they are hired to turn around two gubernatorial races in elections where the candidates are underdogs. They not only succeed in flipping the races and getting their candidates elected, they gain prominence as one of the nation’s leading campaign data and analytics firms in the process—all while trying to keep up with their homework. 

Penn PORES | NBC’s Decision Desk 2016 (Video)

June 2016

Penn Arts & Sciences undergrads followed the 2016 presidential election from behind the decision desk at NBC. As interns in the new Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies (PORES), they can be in the classroom in the morning and in New York using what they’ve learned that evening. PORES Director John Lapinski is an associate professor of political science and the director of the National Elections Unit at NBC.

Grit for Success

June 2016

Why do some people succeed and others fail? Is it raw talent or intelligence? Or something more? Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology, posits the answer is simply, but powerfully, grit—a steely combination of passion and long-term perseverance for a singular goal. The pioneering educator and researcher discusses the implications of stick-to-itivness and tenacity in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, her first book.

Plotting Murder and Paris

July 2016

A single short story published in 1841 in a Philadelphia-based magazine by a Boston-born writer invented modern French detective fiction. That is but one insight explored in Legacies of the Rue Morgue: Science, Space, and Crime Fiction in France by Andrea Goulet. Edgar Allan Poe’s story, which describes the investigation of a double murder surrounded by strange circumstances, continues to shape the global forms of the crime novel, Goulet says. 

Stay Off The Dunes

July 2016 

Bianca Reo Charbonneau, a third-year doctoral candidate in Penn’s Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, channeled her dismay at the damage Hurricane Sandy wrought into an academic exploration of the New Jersey shore’s dunes. Already her findings are helping steer land managers toward better-informed strategies for preserving and restoring dunes so they can help buffer the coast from storm damage.

Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen | 30th Anniversary (Video)

October 2016

The Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen celebrated its 30th Anniversary in July 2016. The Summer Institute is one of Penn’s premier pre-freshmen programs. This intensive one-week course of study is taught by standing Penn faculty and exposes students to major intellectual and cultural themes and currents in 19th, 20th, and 21st century African and African Diaspora studies.

Iron-Age Civilization Known for Raucous Music Had a Mellow Side

November 2016

There’s this music that’s wildly popular. It’s loud. It’s exotic. It’s energetic. At the same time, some are concerned that the music might be eroding the characters of the people who listen to it, and in dramas it’s used to signify a Bacchanalian-type party.

Sound familiar? That was the status of Phrygian music in ancient Greece, and some of the people who worried about its effects were Plato and Aristotle.

Quechua at Penn (Video)

November 2016

With nearly 8 million speakers throughout the Andes, Quechua is the most spoken indigenous language in the Americas. The Penn Language Center has been offering undergraduate and graduate courses in Quechua for two years.

Américo Mendoza-Mori, a scholar of the indigenous language, facilitates the Quechua Initiative's educational and cultural classes, as well as its related student groups on campus.

Mapping the Divine Comedy

November 2016

The Divine Comedy by poet of the Late Middle Ages Dante Alighieri recounts the journey of self-styled pilgrim Dante as he travels the otherworldly spaces of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, searching for redemption. But the tale is also an encyclopedia of medieval geography; the poem is rife with real-world references. How did Dante translate this knowledge into his writing, and how can we represent the complexity of his geographical imagination? Ph.D. Candidate Andrea Gazzoni seeks to address such questions using an innovative digital interactive map that acts as a guide for readers.

When Should We Expect the Robot Army?

December 2016

Arts and Sciences faculty on the fact, fiction, and future of artificial intelligence.

In popular culture, there’s a pretty simple equation: If you take a machine, give it a brain, and give it a gun, the first thing it wants to do is destroy humanity,” says Michael Horowitz, an associate professor of political science. “I think it says more about how we think of ourselves than it does about the machines.”