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Point/Counterpoint: A conversation series bridging the ideological divide

Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago? Will it be better yet in another fifty years?

The Point/Counterpoint conversation series features an Amherst College Professor and guests engaging in thoughtful discussion and attempting to bridge the growing ideological divide in our nation.

This series is based on a course of the same name. The course and associated event series received special funding by a generous gift of 36 Members of the 50th Reunion Class of 1970.

Interviews with previous guests, and others, are available through Amherst College Professor Ilan Stavans’ NEPR show “In Contrast.” Have a listen! 


Schedule of Events 

JILL LEPORE & ROSS DOUTHAT

Thursday, September 26, 7 p.m., Stirn Auditorium

STEPHEN CARTER & NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS

Tuesday, November 5, 5 p.m., Stirn Auditorium

ELIZABETH KOLBERT

Tuesday, December 3, 5 p.m., Stirn Auditorium


Speaker Information

Jill Lepore & Ross Douthat

Thursday, September 26, 7 p.m., Stirn Auditorium

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. A prize-winning professor, she teaches classes in evidence, historical methods, humanistic inquiry, and American history. Much of her scholarship explores absences and asymmetries in the historical record, with a particular emphasis on the history and technology of evidence. As a wide-ranging and prolific essayist, Lepore writes about American history, law, literature, and politics. She is the author of many award-winning books, including the bestselling These Truths: A History of the United States (2018). Her latest book is This America: The Case for the Nation (2019).

Ross Douthat joined The New York Times as an Op-Ed columnist in April 2009. His column appears every Wednesday and Sunday. Previously, he was a senior editor at The Atlantic and a blogger for theatlantic.com. He is the author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” published in 2012, and “Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class” (2005), and a co-author, with Reihan Salam, of “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream” (2008). He is the film critic for National Review. 

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Stephen Carter & Nicholas Christakis

Tuesday, November 5, 5 p.m., Stirn Auditorium

Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1982. Among his recent courses are Contracts, Evidence, Law and Religion, the Ethics of War, Slavery and the Law, and Libertarian Legal Theory. He is the author of fifteen books, including, among others, The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama (2010); God’s Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics (2000); Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (1998); The Dissent of the Governed: A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty (1998); The Confirmation Mess: Cleaning up the Federal Appointments Process (1994); and The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (1993). His most recent volume, published in 2018, is Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer who Took Down America’s Biggest Mobster. He recently delivered the W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard, which he is writing up for publication.

Professor Carter is also the author of six novels, including The Emperor of Ocean Park, which spent eleven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, a fictional account of a trial of Lincoln in the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors. In addition to his scholarship, he has published hundreds of opinion pieces. He was a long-time columnist for the Daily Beast and currently writes regularly for Bloomberg, mainly about law, but also about ethics and about popular culture. In addition, he formerly blogged about professional football for the Washington Post.

Professor Carter is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School. He served as a law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall at the United States Supreme Court, and earlier for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson, III, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He is a fellow of several learned societies and a life member of the American Law Institute. He is a trustee of the Aspen Institute, where for fifteen years he moderated seminars. He has received eight honorary degrees.

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the areas of social networks and biosocial science. He directs the Human Nature Lab. 

His current research is mainly focused on two topics: (1) the social, mathematical, and biological rules governing how social networks form (“connection”), and (2) the social and biological implications of how they operate to influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (“contagion”).  His lab uses both observational and experimental methods to study these phenomena, exploiting techniques from sociology, computer science, biosocial science, demography, statistics, behavior genetics, evolutionary biology, epidemiology, and other fields.

To the extent that diverse phenomena can spread within networks in intelligible ways, there are important policy implications since such spread can be exploited to improve the health or other desirable properties of groups (such as cooperation or innovation).  Hence, current work in the lab involves conducting field experiments: some work involves the use of large-scale, online network experiments; other work involves large-scale randomized controlled trials in the developing world where networks are painstakingly mapped. Finally, some work in the lab examines the biological determinants and consequences of social interactions and related phenomena, with a particular emphasis on the genetic origins and evolutionary implications of social networks.

The author of several books and over 150 articles, Christakis was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 and was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010.

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Elizabeth Kolbert

Tuesday, December 3, 5 p.m., Stirn Auditorium

Elizabeth Kolbert traveled from Alaska to Greenland, and visited top scientists, to get to the heart of the debate over global warming. Growing out of a groundbreaking three-part series in The New Yorker (which won the 2005 National Magazine Award in the category Public Interest), Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change brings the environment into the consciousness of the American people and asks what, if anything, can be done, and how we can save our planet. She explains the science and the studies, draws frightening parallels to lost ancient civilizations, unpacks the politics, and presents the personal tales of those who are being affected most—the people who make their homes near the poles and, in an eerie foreshadowing, are watching their worlds disappear. Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change was chosen as one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year (2006) by The New York Times Book Review.  Her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, a book about mass extinctions that weaves intellectual and natural history with reporting in the field, was a New York Times 2014 Top Ten Best Book of the Year and is number one on the Guardian’s list of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of all time.  The Sixth Extinction also won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in the General Nonfiction category, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle awards for the best books of 2014. As with Field Notes from a Catastrophe, The Sixth Extinction began as an article in The New Yorker.

Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1999. She has written dozens of pieces for the magazine, including profiles of Senator Hillary Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Her series on global warming, “The Climate of Man,” appeared in The New Yorker in the spring of 2005 and won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s magazine award. Also in 2006, she received the National Academy of Sciences Communication Award in the newspaper/magazine category and was awarded a Lannan Writing Fellowship. In September 2010, Kolbert received the prestigious Heinz Award which recognizes individuals who are addressing global change caused by the impact of human activities and natural processes on the environment. She has also been awarded a National Magazine Award in the Reviews and Criticism category for her work in the New Yorker, the Sierra Club's David R. Brower Award, and the Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism from the American Geophysical Union. In 2016 she was named the 12th Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters at Bucknell University. She is also the recipient of the 2016 Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism. In 2017 she received the Blake-Dodd Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2019 she was the recipient of the Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s stories have also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Mother Jones, and have been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best American Political Writing. She edited The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009.  A collection of her work, The Prophet of Love and Other Tales of Power and Deceit, was published in 2004. Prior to joining the staff of The New Yorker, Kolbert was a political reporter for The New York Times.

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