Feds Investigate Theft of Intellectual Property by Chinese Nationals

(p. A10) BOSTON — Zaosong Zheng was preparing to board Hainan Airlines Flight 482, nonstop from Boston to Beijing, when customs officers pulled him aside.

Inside his checked luggage, wrapped in a plastic bag and then inserted into a sock, the officers found what they were looking for: 21 vials of brown liquid — cancer cells — that the authorities say Mr. Zheng, 29, a cancer researcher, took from a laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Under questioning, court documents say, Mr. Zheng acknowledged that he had stolen eight of the samples and had replicated 11 more based on a colleague’s research. When he returned to China, he said, he would take the samples to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital and turbocharge his career by publishing the results in China, under his own name.

. . .

Mr. Zheng’s case is the first to unfold in the laboratories clustered around Harvard University, but it is not likely to be the last. Federal officials are investigating hundreds of cases involving the potential theft of intellectual property by visiting scientists, nearly all of them Chinese nationals.

For the full story, see:

Ellen Barry. “Chinese Man Is Accused Of Smuggling Lab Samples.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 1, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 31, 2019, and has the title “Stolen Research: Chinese Scientist Is Accused of Smuggling Lab Samples.”)

Elizabeth Warren Started Out as a Student of Henry Manne’s Libertarian Law and Economics Ideas

(p. A1) Never one to shy away from a fight, Elizabeth Warren had found a new sparring partner. She had only recently started teaching at the University of Texas School of Law, but her colleague Calvin H. Johnson already knew her well enough to brace for a lively exchange as they commuted to work.

Indeed, on this morning in 1981, Ms. Warren again wanted to debate, this time arguing on the side of giant utilities over their customers.

Her position was “savagely anti-consumer,” Mr. Johnson recalled recently, adding that it wasn’t unusual for her to espouse similar pro-business views on technical legal issues.

Then something changed. He calls it Ms. Warren’s “road to Damascus” moment.

“She started flipping — ‘I’m pro-consumer,’” Mr. Johnson said.

That something, as Ms. Warren often tells the story, was her deepening academic research into consumer bankruptcy, its causes, and lenders’ efforts to restrict it. Through the 1980s, the work took her to courthouses across the country. There, she said in a recent interview, she found not only the dusty bankruptcy files she had gone looking for but heart-wrenching scenes she hadn’t imagined — average working Americans, tearful and humiliated, admitting they were failures:

(p. A10) “People dressed in their Sunday best, hands shaking, women clutching a handful of tissues, trying to stay under control. Big beefy men whose faces were red and kept wiping their eyes, who showed up in court to declare themselves losers in the great American game of life.”

. . .

The revelations from her bankruptcy research, by her account, became the seeds of her worldview, laid out in her campaign plans for everything from a new tax on the wealthiest Americans to a breakup of the big technology companies.

. . .

In 1979, Ms. Warren recruited her parents from her native Oklahoma to her home in the Houston suburbs to help babysit her two young children.

Then a professor at the University of Houston, she would be spending several weeks at a luxury resort near Miami, one of 22 law professors selected to study an increasingly popular discipline known as “law and economics.’’ One of its central ideas is that markets perform more efficiently than courts.

Mr. Johnson, Ms. Warren’s former Texas commuting partner, believes that it was an important influence on her early thinking.

“Before Liz converted, she came to us from the decidedly anti-government side of law and economics,” he said.

The summer retreat was colloquially known as a “Manne camp,” after its organizer, the libertarian legal scholar Henry G. Manne. With financial support from industry and conservative foundations, Mr. Manne had formed a Law and Economics Center at the University of Miami. (He would later move operations to Emory University and then to George Mason University.)

The mission of the retreat was to spread the gospel of free-market microeconomics among law professors. One participant, John Price, a former dean of the law school at the University of Washington, described it as “sort of pure proselytizing on the part of dedicated, very conservative law and economics folks,” with an emphasis on an anti-regulatory agenda. One faculty member, he recalled, suggested eliminating the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

. . .

While some in the group have said Ms. Warren expressed skepticism at the libertarian ideology, Ms. Blumberg remembers someone very much developing the early stages of her career, who was “far more captivated than I” with the theories.

. . .

Ms. Warren . . . wrote to Mr. Manne in 1981, attaching a copy of her latest published article. She was sending him one article a summer, she wrote, and each “increasingly reflects my time at LEC.”

. . .

“This is really hard-core law & econ analysis,” Todd J. Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason who formerly served as executive director of the Manne Center, wrote in an email. “If you had given me this article with the author anonymized and asked me who wrote it, I would have answered that it was one of the leading scholars in the law & economics of commercial and contract law. Never, in a million years, would I have thought this article was written by EW.”

For the full story, see:

Stephanie Saul. “THE LONG RUN; Warren’s Awakening to a World of Desperation.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 26, 2019): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “THE LONG RUN; The Education of Elizabeth Warren.”)

STEM Skills Are Quickly Obsolete

(p. B8) In a recent working paper with a Harvard doctoral student, Kadeem Noray, I calculated how much the skills required for different jobs changed over time. Help-wanted ads for jobs like software developer and engineer were more likely to ask for skills that didn’t exist a decade earlier. And the jobs of 10 years ago often required skills that have since become obsolete. Skill turnover was much higher in STEM fields than in other occupations.

We can also see this by looking at changes in college course catalogs. One of the largest and most popular courses in the Stanford computer science department is CS229 — Machine Learning, taught by the artificial intelligence expert and entrepreneur Andrew Ng. This course did not exist in its current form until 2003, when Professor Ng taught it for the first time with 68 students, and very little like it existed anywhere on college campuses 15 years ago. Today, the machine learning courses at Stanford enroll more than a thousand students.

. . .

Liberal arts advocates often argue that education should emphasize the development of the whole person, and that it is much broader than just job training. As an educator myself, I agree wholeheartedly.

But even on narrow vocational grounds, a liberal arts education has enormous value because it builds a set of foundational capacities that will serve students well in a rapidly changing job market.

For the full commentary, see:

David Deming. “Engineers Start Fast, but Poets Can Catch Up.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, September 22, 2019): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was last updated on Oct. [sic] 1, 2019, and has the title “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure.”)

The working paper referred to above, is:

Deming, David J., and Kadeem L. Noray. “Stem Careers and Technological Change.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Paper # 25065, June 2019.

Harvard President James Conant Helped Develop Mustard Gas in WWI

(p. C7) With America’s entry into World War I, Conant took a commission in the Chemical Warfare Service. His task was to develop poison gases—first mustard gas, then an even nastier brew called lewisite. Conant had Quaker branches on his family tree, but he had no qualms: What, he asked, was the moral difference between killing soldiers with explosives and killing them with gas?

. . .

The subtitle of Conant’s autobiography was “Memoirs of a Social Inventor.” He had invented poison gas; he had managed the invention of the Bomb; he had helped invent the modern Harvard; and he aimed to reinvent American education as a whole. But his greatest invention was himself: a new type of social being on the American scene—the scientist-administrator-social engineer. His granddaughter’s biography is an outstanding portrait of a technocrat, at work and at home.

For the full review, see:

Steven Shapin. “Citizen Conant.” The New York Times (Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 27, 2017, and has the title “Review: Citizen Conant.”)

The book under review is:

Conant, Jennet. Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Johns Hopkins Fires Professor for Defending Research Computer from Occupying Student Protesters

(p. A10) Shortly after midnight on May 8, [2019] a man slipped into an administration building at Johns Hopkins University with a pair of bolt cutters. In a dark stairwell, he got to work, sweating through his shirt as he struggled to cut through the metal chains attached to a first-floor door.

The man was a professor at the university, and he was trying to wrest the building from student protesters who had occupied it for more than a month. Before long, the students ejected the professor, Daniel Povey, 43, from the building.

This week, Johns Hopkins kicked him off the faculty, too.

. . .

Mr. Povey wrote on his website that the students had scratched him as they took him out of the building. He also wrote that he faced more serious consequences than the students — who he noted had also entered the building without permission — because Johns Hopkins feared being accused of racism. He said he had tried to take the building back from the students in part because a computer server that hosted his research was inside and malfunctioning.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. “Professor Tried To Forcibly End Student Sit-In. Now He’s Gone.” The New York Times (Monday, August 12, 2019): A10.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2019, and has the title “A Professor Tried to End a Sit-In With Bolt Cutters. Now He’s Been Fired.”)

With Work Ethic, but Not Much Education, “You Can Come Out Here and Still Make Six Figures”

(p. B1) When Mike Wilkinson moved to Midland, Tex., in 2017, he hoped the world’s largest oil field would change his life. His marriage was in tatters. He owed tens of thousands in credit card debt. His morale was broken.

He soon began working as a “hot shot” truck driver, carrying loads for drillers who need pipes or drums in a hurry. The United States is the world’s largest producer of oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia, and demand for “hot shots” has soared.

The epicenter of the oil boom is the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, a massive layer cake of shale that’s cracked open with a blasting technique known as fracking. The country’s growing energy dominance has created tens of thousands of jobs in this part of the Southwest in recent years, many for people like Wilkinson looking for fresh starts.

. . .

(p. B4) There are now 55,000 people now work in the Permian. Mr. Wilkinson says he’s found a certain camaraderie with other transplants: “They are either escaping debt or family issues or poverty.

. . .

“I have to make money, and this is the best way I can make money,” he said. “If you’re not educated and have a good work ethic, you can come out here and still make six figures.”

For the full story, see:

Clifford Krauss. “Boom Times and Fresh Starts.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 10, 2019, and has the title “‘This Is the Most Lonesome Job’: Ride With a ‘Hot Shot’ Trucker in Oil-Rich Texas.” The online version highlights photographs by Tamir Kalifa. The online and print versions have significant differences in wording and ordering. Where there are differences, the passages quoted above, follow the print version.)

45 Is Average Age of Gazelle Founders

(p. B7) It took an entrepreneur to reimagine the mundane home thermostat as an object of beauty — and then to make a fortune based on that vision.

The entrepreneur was Tony Fadell, who had that thermostat epiphany after decades in the tech industry, including at companies like Apple. Mr. Fadell embodied his idea in a new company, Nest, which he started with the help of a colleague from Apple in 2010, at age 41.

The Nest thermostat had a sleek and intuitive design, smartphone connectivity and the ability to learn its owner’s temperature-setting habits. The product was a big hit, and within a few years Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion.

Mr. Fadell’s deep experience and relatively mature age when he started Nest are typical of superstar entrepreneurs, who are rarely fresh out of college — or freshly dropped out of college. That’s what a team of economists discovered when they analyzed high-growth companies in the United States. Their study is being published in the journal American Economic Review: Insights.

The researchers looked at start-ups established between 2007 and 2014 and analyzed the top 0.1 percent — defined as those with the fastest growth in employment and sales. The average age of those companies’ founders was 45.

For the full commentary, see:

Seema Jayachandran. “ECONOMIC VIEW; High-Flying Tech Has a Touch of Gray.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, September 1, 2019): B7.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 29, 2019, and has the title “ECONOMIC VIEW; Founders of Successful Tech Companies Are Mostly Middle-Aged.”)

The forthcoming article mentioned above, is:

Azoulay, Pierre, Benjamin Jones, J. Daniel Kim, and Javier Miranda. “Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship.” American Economic Review: Insights (forthcoming).