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Experts Convened at Harvard University Propose the ‘Hardest Unsolved Problems’ for the Next Century in the Social Sciences

April 21, 2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 21 /PRNewswire/ — The first results from an initiative of Harvard University’s Division of Social Science to identify the world’s hardest unsolved problems in economics, psychology, government, sociology, and other social sciences were announced today.

“The social sciences have never had more vitality than today, and answering their unsolved questions has never been more important,” said Stephen Kosslyn, Social Science Dean at Harvard.

During a daylong symposium which was broadcast live, 12 distinguished experts from multiple universities proposed over 30 important questions for the social sciences to address in future years, including:

  • How do our social relationships influence our genes, and how do our genes influence our relationships?
  • How do societies create, or re-create, effective and resilient institutions?
  • Why do women still earn, on average, less than equally experienced men in similar jobs, and how can we close this gap?
  • How can we build systems resistant to financial crises?
  • How do we reduce the eighth grade “skill gap” between ethnic groups?
  • Does free trade reduce the risk of state failure?
  • How do simple elements combine in large numbers to produce complex systems (for example, economic systems)?
  • What are the origins of personal preferences and tastes?
  • How can we induce more people to engage in behaviors that are widely known to improve health?
  • As more personal information is recorded and stored, how will cultures and institutions change?

The experts included Nick Bostrom (Oxford), Susan Carey (Harvard), Nicholas Christakis (Harvard), James Fowler (UCSD), Roland Fryer (Harvard), Claudia Goldin (Harvard), Gary King (Harvard), Emily Oster (Chicago), Ann Swidler (Berkeley), Nassim Taleb (NYU/Polytech), and Richard Zeckhauser (Harvard).

All the proposals, discussion forums, and symposium videos are available at http://socialscience.fas.harvard.edu/hardproblems.

The second, critical, phase begins today. Over the next 45 days, anyone worldwide can submit additional problems for inclusion at the website above and vote on the importance and difficulty of every proposal. In June, Harvard will announce the problems which received the highest votes.

Initiated and funded by the non-profit Indira Foundation, this effort was inspired by David Hilbert, who challenged the world to solve 23 fundamental mathematical problems in 1900. Since then, mathematicians have solved 10 of the now-famous ‘Hilbert Problems’, creating new fields of knowledge along the way.

“Hilbert made two powerful observations,” said Nicholas Nash, a member of the Indira Foundation. “First, having important, unsolved problems is essential to the vitality of a discipline. And, as important, by identifying those problems, we can inspire future generations to solve them.”

About the Indira Foundation

The Indira Foundation is a Connecticut-based charitable organization dedicated to supporting programs that can make a difference in the fields of education, health care, and social welfare.

Media Contact: Steve Bradt (+1.617.496.8070, sbradt@fas.harvard.edu)

Facebook: Hard Problems in Social Sciences

SOURCE Harvard University


Source: newswire



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