A One-Time Punk Rock Guitarist Is Playing a New Tune at MIT

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MIT Professor David Rand

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MIT teacher David Rand is a one-time hard rock guitar player whose scholastic research study goes into psychology, cooperation, and politics. “To me, the essence of punk rock is saying, ‘Let me think about this for myself,’” Rand states. “Let me not be bound by social norms and conventions. … That’s what I try to do in my research. It’s the punk-rock approach to social science.” Credit: M. Scott Brauer

Meet Professor David Rand, a one-time hard rock guitar player who now goes into psychology, cooperation, and politics.

What’s it like being a teacher at the MIT Sloan School of Management? David Rand has a response you may not anticipate.

“Being an academic is like being in a punk-rock band,” states Rand, the Erwin H. Schell Professor in MIT Sloan’s Marketing Group.

Oh? How so?

“The short version is, in both cases, you start by trying to come up with a new idea that nobody’s used before,” discusses Rand, who studies human habits, cooperation, and social media networks. “In academia, it’s a good research idea, and in music it’s a cool riff or melody. Then you take that kernel and spend a lot of time developing it into this cohesive whole that you try to make a perfect as possible.”

Sounds sensible. What takes place next?

“Once that’s done, you have to capture it in a way you can share with other people, which is either writing the paper, or recording the song,” continues Rand, who likewise has a joint visit with MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. “That’s always the most painful part. It’s always tempting to just start new projects or songs, rather than putting in the work to finish the recording you’ve already created, but you have to do it.”

Rand invested years playing guitar and bass in punk-rock bands when he was more youthful, however has actually produced hits of a various kind more just recently, as a teacher who composes ingenious scholastic documents on social phenomena such as cooperation and the spread of false information on social networks. Much of Rand’s work explores what takes place when individuals’s habits is directed by instinctive thinking or a more deliberative mode of cognition. With that structure in mind, he looks for to comprehend what choices individuals will make in social settings, like whether to pay expenses to assist others, what news to think and share online, and whom to choose.  

Rand is now running the scholastic variation of a recording studio, if you will. He is the director of MIT’s Human Cooperation Laboratory and co-director of MIT’s Applied Cooperation Team — settings where he imitates a record manufacturer, teaming up with other scholars to assist them pursue their own research study concepts.

For his unique body of research study, Rand signed up with MIT with period in 2018, sensation that his work was “very MIT, very Sloan” in its focus on networks and real-world effect.

“I visited, and once I saw what people are doing, I said, ‘This is great,’” Rand remembers. “There are so many connections between my interests and what people are working on in the marketing group, in other groups at Sloan, and across MIT generally.”

Holidays in the sun

Rand matured in Ithaca, New York, where his dad was a used mathematics teacher at Cornell University. As an undergrad at Cornell himself, Rand learnt computational biology. That assisted him end up being thinking about evolutionary biology — consisting of concerns about how cooperation and selflessness fit in a structure of evolutionary competitors.

But academic community wasn’t the only thing that got Rand thinking about cooperation — so did playing in punk bands, which for him consisted of taking a trip below Cornell to Florida and other put on winter season break and in the summertimes.

“I had grown up with the basic understanding that people were by nature selfish, although my parents would say, ‘You didn’t get that from us,’” Rand shows. “I guess it was growing up in the 1980s.”

Still, he continues, while exploring with atrioventricular bundle, “we had so many experiences of total strangers being nice to us and helping us. The parents of fans, every show, would be like, ‘Here’s some random band from New York, you can sleep on the floor, we’ll make you breakfast.’ Our van broke down and a mechanic helped us for free because he felt bad for us. It transformed my idea of human nature. At least, under the right circumstances, people can be very prosocial.”

A couple years after college, Rand was accepted into Harvard University’s PhD program in systems biology, although without, he states, a firm grasp of what he wished to study. However, taking a class on evolutionary video game theory, Rand states, “I fell in love with the prisoner’s dilemma,” the timeless issue in which 2 detainees can jointly benefit the most by complying, however separately advantage by pursuing their own self-interests.

Rand beginning doing experiments about the detainee’s issue, encouraged by an easy concern worrying such scenarios — “What do people actually do?” — and has never ever actually stopped. Since 2008, he has actually co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed documents about cooperation, selflessness, and the spread of concepts and habits in networks.

Cambridge calling

In 2009, Rand made his PhD from Harvard, and, after some postdoctoral fellowships, signed up with the Yale University professors in 2013. He made period from Yale in 2018. The exact same year, he got his task deal from MIT Sloan and signed up with the Institute, attracted in part by the chances for interdisciplinary research study.

“I think there are tons of opportunities for real innovation that come from combining approaches from different disciplines,” Rand states.

However, he keeps in mind, even if interdisciplinary research study might sound enticing doesn’t suggest it is simple.

“I feel among the advantages of my [academic] trajectory is I am multilingual in a clinical sense,” Rand states. “Lots of people talk about how interdisciplinarity is cool. But the thing that makes interdisciplinarity hard is that in each discipline, if you’re raised in it, you learn how to talk in that discipline’s dialect, making it surprisingly hard to collaborate with people outside of the discipline. But … I’ve spent a lot of time in each of the relevant disciplines, to learn those disciplinary languages. One of my graduates students said to me, ‘Oh yeah, you’re code-switching.’”

At MIT, Rand has actually been teaming up thoroughly with teacher of government Adam Berinsky, who likewise runs experiments about political false information. Working with a collection of college students from throughout MIT, they have actually been examining false information and social networks.

In one task, performed in coordination with Facebook, they have actually been evaluating whether social networks platforms can survey their users to crowdsource fact-checking.

“The problem with professional fact-checking is that is doesn’t scale,” discusses Rand. “It’s much easier to create misleading content than it is to fact-check it, so professional fact-checkers simply can’t keep up. But it may be that averaging the responses of many laypeople can approximate the conclusions of professionals, thanks to the ‘wisdom of crowds.’” 

In another, they discovered that video was very little more convincing than text. “There is a great deal of panic right now about how AI can be used to make ‘deepfakes,’ very convincingly doctored videos,” Rand states. “But our work suggests that these concerns may be a bit premature. It’s really important to do empirical tests about what matters and what approaches will be effective, rather than just going off our intuitions.” 

Wherever his scholastic work takes him, Rand likes to circle back to music as a source of motivation.

“To me the essence of punk rock is saying, ‘Let me think about this for myself,’” Rand states. “Let me not be bound by social norms and conventions. … That’s what I try to do in my research. It’s the punk-rock approach to social science.”

Moreover, Rand concludes, in academic community, considering one’s research study as art assists form it for the much better.

“If the reason that I’m doing this is that I’m trying to make something beautiful, I’m like a perfectionist, with a good level of perfectionism in my science,” he states. “It’s not tempting to cut corners or be sloppy when you’re doing it for yourself, because then it makes things unsatisfying. You want results that are as true, and therefore as beautiful, as possible.”



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