May 25, 2001

News In Brief

Allen, Oreglia, Rosner and Silberman awarded Quantrell

The 2001 Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching were awarded to one faculty member in each division of the College this week. The four recipients are Danielle Allen in humanities, Mark Oreglia in physical sciences, Marsha Rosner in biological sciences, and Bernard Silberman in social sciences.

Allen, associate professor in classical languages and literatures, has taught courses in introductory and advanced Greek, political theory, and core sequences in the humanities and social sciences since joining the classics department in 1997. She also coordinates “Poem Present," an ongoing series in contemporary poetry.

Oreglia, associate professor in physics, has taught the “Physics for Poets" sequence and sequences for first- and second-year physics concentrators. He is currently working with undergraduates to develop components for a subatomic particle accelerator at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory.

Rosner, the Charles B. Huggins Professor and director of the Ben May Institute for Cancer Research, has taught the course on cancer biology since she created it five years ago. Though she sees 40 students as an ideal enrollment, Rosner teaches a class of 70 due to overwhelming popularity. She helped create and served as the first chair of the Committee on Cancer Biology and is a nationally renowned cancer researcher.

Silberman, professor in political science, teaches what he calls the “anti-core," courses: Losers, To Hell with the Enlightenment, and Springtime for Hitler and Germany, which will debut next year. Silberman is interested in offering courses based on thinkers and writers outside of the traditional canon of rationalists.

The awards were created by an anonymous gift to the University in 1938 to provide an annual monetary award to a faculty member in each division. In 1952, University Trustee Ernest Quantrell added to his gift and named in after his parents, Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester. The Quantrell Award is the nation's oldest prize for undergraduate teaching.

— Jennifer Bussell

U of C scientist supports claim that placebo effect does not exist

A new study by Danish scientists indicates that the "placebo effect" does not exist. John Bailar, a University of Chicago emiritus professor, wrote an editorial in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine advising a reduction in the prescription of placebos and extensive justification for each use.

The study conducted by Dr. Asbjorn Hrobjartsson and Dr. Peter C. Gotzsche of the University of Copenhagen and the Nordic Cochran Center consisted of analysis of 114 previously published clinical studies of approximately 7,500 patients. The researchers found no conclusive evidence that patients receiving a placebo benefited more than patients left untreated.

A placebo is an intervention given to patients in lieu of actually being treated. Since 1955, it has been thought that placebos have a positive affect on patients, mainly because they believe their condition will improve due to "treatment."

However, the new research asserts that there is no significant improvement due to placebos; rather, patients improve as part of the natural fluctuations in the course of a disease. "The underlying problem analytically is that diseases have ups and downs," Bailar said.

Bailar cited the evidence of a slight placebo effect in those studies involving patients' estimation of pain as reason to not completely discount placebos, though emphasized that the effect was slight. "It's about one-third of the relief that you would get from an over-the-counter analgesic like Aspirin," Bailar said.

Bailar's main concern about the use of placebos is the damage done to the doctor-patient relationship. "[The use of placebos] is based on deceit," Bailar said, "and that's a very bad thing. I think that the deliberate use of something that you think is not going to be effective is really very bad medicine."

-- Jennifer Bussell

Annual Festival of the Arts returns to campus tenth week

Campus life will be enriched next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as the University of Chicago Festival of the Arts (FOTA) returns to the quads from several years of dormancy. FOTA aims to showcase "spontaneous, low-budget, high-profile" arts exhibits, performances, and showings on campus, according to student organizer Katherine Scaife. To this end, the festival has recruited 30 student organizations and hundreds of solo artists to turn the campus into an uninterrupted three-day carnival of the arts.

Thursday and Friday will see FOTA events blanket the University. These events include a day at the Smart Museum of Art, with performances by Off Off Campus and hands-on activities with photography group Glass Eyeball; a concert presented by JJAM and one benefiting Ladyfest, a summer concert in Chicago; outside screenings of movies by Fire Escape -- who hope afterward to turn the movie screen into a giant canvas; and performances by UMPH!, the recently organized campus puppetry and dance group.

These events will serve as preliminaries to Saturday's all-day campus fair, involving all FOTA participants, who will fill the quads with exhibits and cavorting performances.

FOTA premiered on campus in the spring of 1955 as a celebration of musical, visual, and performing arts, and became a major event that drew crowds of thousands of students along with notable artists and musicians to its various campus locations. This year, the revived FOTA is also making a concerted effort to draw University alumni to the event, some of whom will be among the exhibiting artists. The festival will also highlight the University's many venues for performance and the arts and to demonstrate to students and administration the interest in and value of the arts on campus.

"We hope to gain some attention," Scaife said, "so that more money, space, and attention can be allotted to the arts." FOTA "used to be a month-long event that brought speakers to campus and worked on enriching the work of the artists here. Our goal is to bring more such performances."

--Kyle Holtan