At Davos: Yale research highlights human factor

President Peter Salovey and several Yale faculty members participated in the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, Switzerland Jan. 20-22. Yale’s activities focused, among other topics of global importance, on the human factor in destroying and preserving cultural heritage and the environment, and how best to use big data.

In addition to the president, Yale economists and faculty members Robert J. Shiller (winner of a 2013 Nobel Prize) and Aleh Tsyvinski were among the experts who attended the 45th annual gathering, which brings together leaders from business, government, international organizations, civil society, academia, media, and the arts.

Preserving cultural heritage

In several forums at the WEF, Salovey highlighted Yale’s research and education activities in cultural heritage preservation, including at the university’s libraries, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Center for British Art, and the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. Salovey discussed how human actions have been responsible for both destroying historically important sites and preserving the past at a panel and a reception on Thursday.

"Cultural heritage is essentially what defines our humanity. Our identities are understood through the artifacts of our culture. But they are in real danger today from human activity, war, natural disaster and climate change,” Salovey told the BBC at a reception showcasing the pioneering work of Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. “Leaders in all sectors need to think about these issues. How can we work together, what are our obligations for preserving cultural heritage? We want … leaders throughout the world to appreciate cultural heritage and help protect it."

Innovative technologies developed in the last decade are allowing researchers at Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage to preserve artifacts from the university’s collections and to make them accessible in digital detail to scholars around the world, Salovey noted, “but it’s still a very human collaboration.”

Salovey noted that Yale’s scientists and scholars are also “interacting with the artists themselves, with the conservators, with the people who actually make this material come alive. At the end of the day, you end up with a community of people who care deeply about both the making of art, but also the creation of culture.”

At a Yale-hosted reception, Salovey was joined by IPCH director, Stefan Simon, in discussing the institute’s work.

Guests at the reception were given 3-D replicas of ancient artifacts from Yale and the Smithsonian Institution, one of Yale’s partners in cultural heritage research and education. One was a mathematical tablet from the 19th century B.C. — part of Yale’s Babylonian Collection — which showed that Mesopotamian scholars understood Pythagoras’ theorem centuries before the Greek philosopher was born. The other was a limestone funerary relief from Palmyra, Syria, much of which was recently destroyed or looted by ISIS. The relief, part of the Smithsonian’s collection, depicted a woman named Haliphat, who died in 231 A.D.

The human side of big data

On Friday, Salovey led a panel on “Big Data vs. the Human Touch” as part of the official program at the World Economic Forum. The discussion centered on the increasing use of big data to inform decisions and the tradeoff in moving away from human decision-making toward a data-driven world. The panelists were Nancy Lublin, founder and CEO of Crisis Text Line, a nationwide text line for teens; Bo Lu, co-founder and CEO of FutureAdvisor, which offers personalized data-driven investment advice; and John Sargent, co-founder of Broadreach, which provides data-driven metrics to complex healthcare issues.

In his remarks, Salovey discussed some of the university’s initiatives using big data, such as those in the Yale School of Medicine, the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, and insights from centers such as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Yale’s approach to big data, Salovey told YaleNews, is to illuminate, rather than obscure the individual, adding that it is “all too easy to miss the individual at the center of the data.”

Newest Environmental Performance Index unveiled

On Saturday, the EPI released its latest findings at the World Economic Forum. The Yale-based initiative evaluates how 180 countries protect ecosystems and human health, and issues a biennial report on its findings.

This latest report indicates that the world’s nations have expanded access to water and sanitation while creating more protected areas than ever before, yet countries have failed to reverse degradation of air quality and decline in fisheries.

Angel Hsu, assistant professor at Yale-NUS College and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, was the lead author of the report — which, she said, shows that focused, coordinated global efforts are essential to make progress on global goals and to save lives.

Read the full report.