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Expert alert: Iran agreement “risky,” Nebraska law professor, former DoD attorney, says

November 26th, 2013

The interim nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran brings high risk and few immediate advantages, says University of Nebraska Law Professor Jack Beard, who specialized in arms control and nuclear nonproliferation when he served as associate deputy general counsel for the Department of Defense.

“It’s risky because Iran has a well-established history of deception and denial,” Beard said after news of the agreement broke this week.

“Iran is already very much on the way to having the components for a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The hope of the U.S. government appears to be that this (agreement) will slow that process. But it isn’t designed to do anything irreversible to Iran’s program.”

The agreement, designed to stand for six months with the possibility that a more comprehensive accord  will be negotiated in the future, freezes much of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a modest easing of economic sanctions. It has been criticized by Israel and others because it allows Iran to retain the infrastructure to  continue low-level uranium enrichment that could be ramped up to produce weapons-grade material.

During a speech Monday in San Francisco, President Obama defended the agreement, deriding the criticism as “tough talk and bluster.”

“(It) might be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security,” he said. “We cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.”

Previously on the faculty of the UCLA School of Law, Beard has been an assistant professor of law at the Nebraska College of Law since 2011, where he teaches courses on international law, national security law, the law of armed conflict, arms control and space and cyber law.  While with the Department of Defense, he handled legal matters relating to arms control agreements, basing agreements in the Middle East and programs assisting the states of the former Soviet Union in dismantling weapons of mass destruction. .

Nuclear proliferation is the number-one security threat facing the nation and the world, Beard said, yet the general public seems far less concerned about it today than in past decades.

“It doesn’t get the attention it should,” he said. “Even though nuclear weapons are way more destructive and more readily available than in the past, it oddly ends up being something people put aside.”

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, in place since 1970, already bars Iran from possessing or building nuclear weapons, Beard said.

The question is Iran’s access to the materials that could be used to make a bomb.

Iran has been using a technique called enrichment, using sophisticated centrifuges to make enriched uranium isotopes that could be used for nuclear power – or to build a bomb.

“The key to making a nuclear weapon is the fissile material,” Beard said. “What Iran is apparently trying to do is make the components.”

Under the agreement, Iran will have access to about $8 billion in frozen economic assets and a promise that the U.S. will not enact new economic sanctions during the next six months, Beard said.  In return, Iran has agreed to scale back its nuclear program and to submit to inspections.

But it does not eliminate Iran’s centrifuges and it does not irreversibly stop Iran from enriching uranium, Beard said.
“As long as they have that capability, we have the menace of Iranian nuclear weapons in our future,” he said.

“If you really want to stop them from building nuclear weapons, you should make them stop enriching uranium and let someone else do it, if they want it for peaceful purposes. In fact, the U.N. Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran halt its uranium enrichment activities.”

Beard said the agreement also raises concerns among U.S. allies in the region, who “are increasingly concerned that the United States is not being tough enough or serious enough about Iran.”  The concerns arise from Saudi Arabia, “which dreads an Iranian nuclear weapon as much or more than anyone,” as well as Israel, Beard said.

The risk of the agreement is that it relieves Iran of some of the economic pressure to halt its program during the next six months.

“This appears to be a sort of calculated gamble by the administration, that the Iranians will have to show compliance over the next six months, or they’re going to lose whatever gains they get out of this. “

Though Hassan Rouhani’s election as Iranian president earlier this year, to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed to thaw U.S.-Iran relations, Beard said it remains to be seen whether there’s been a change of philosophy in the Iranian government.

“Their policy up until now has not been one of serious cooperation,” he said. “We’re left with the question of whether the economic toll of these sanctions has made them re-evaluate in any way their position on nuclear capabilities.  They have not yet forsaken these capabilities, in particular their ability to enrich uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

“Their track record is not good, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be a change of thinking.”

The agreement could open the door to a more lasting accord, he said.

‘”This gives us a chance to see if we have an ability to work toward something more meaningful,” Beard said. “It doesn’t in and of itself solve any problems, it’s an opening for solving a problem.”

“I suppose you can always applaud talking, instead of fighting,” he said. “Although at some point the argument can also be made that it could be a dangerous form of appeasement. For the time being, no one wants a military conflict, but the stakes are very high if they achieve this weapon, for ourselves and our allies.”

CONTACT: Jack Beard, assistant professor of law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 402-472-1460 or jbeard2@unl.edu

UNL Expert Alert: New filibuster rule “a big change”

November 21st, 2013

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid invoked “the nuclear option” and the Senate voted to eliminate the filibuster in confirmation votes for most presidential appointees.

Is it the end of the world as we know it?

Probably not, says John Hibbing, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist.

Here are some of his thoughts:

  • The long-term impact depends on how the American people react: “On the one hand, it sounds bad not to be able to do things on a majority vote.  On the other hand, (the rules change) is a clear violation of the normal pattern of behavior in the Senate.”
  • “The country probably can withstand a policy of approving judicial and executive nominations with a simple majority vote of the U.S. Senate, instead of the 60 votes required to end a filibuster.”
  • Still, “It is a big change – and it’s not going to do anything to smooth ruffled partisan feathers.”
  • “The interpretation rises and falls by the extent to which you believe the filibuster has gotten out of hand.”

Historically, the filibuster was used sparingly, as a protection of minority rights.  In recent years, filibusters have become more frequent, to the point that some believe they block government function. The latest battle came in the nomination of corporate lawyer Patricia Millett to a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Republican minority opposed her confirmation because it could tip the philosophical balance of the appellate court, which reviews many federal regulations and has served as a training ground for future U.S. Supreme Court Justices.  Thursday’s filibuster-ending vote cleared the way for her confirmation, likely next month.

Hibbing says he thinks filibustering probably had gotten out of hand.

The change applies to confirmations of the president’s judicial and executive appointtees, though it does not apply to U.S. Supreme Court nominations.

“There was too much obstruction on the executive branch level,” he said. “You lost the election. Let the president get his people in there. If they screw up, then vote them out.”

Hibbing also said he expects partisan payback for the rule change, particularly if the Democratic Party loses its Senate majority.

“The Republicans are probably right – the Democrats will come to regret this. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do,” he said.

CONTACT:  John Hibbing, Foundation Regents Professor of  Political Science, at 402-472-3220 (office);  402- 817-9623 (cell) or jhibbing1@unl.edu.

UNL Expert Alert: Psychology Professor Dennis Molfese served on national committee on sports-related concussion and youth

October 30th, 2013

Attention: News, Education, Sports Editors

Contact: Leslie Reed, National News Editor, University Communications, 402-472-2059, lreed5@unl.edu; Steve Smith, News Director, University Communications, 402-472-4226, ssmith13@unl.edu

Editors note: Molfese is traveling out of state Oct. 30 and will have very limited availability. Interview requests can be made via the contact information above.

News release website: http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases

UNL’s Molfese among national panel studying youth sports concussions

Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 30, 2013 – Dennis Molfese, director of the new Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is one of 14 authorities who served on a National Academy of Sciences committee that investigated sports-related concussions in youth.

The Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth released its report Wednesday morning at an event in Washington D.C. Citing a “culture of underreporting,” the committee called for a national surveillance system to monitor how often sports-related concussions occur in youth ages 15 to 21; longitudinal studies of the short-term and long-term consequences of concussion; and more research into equipment improvements and rules changes that could reduce the risk of concussion among young athletes.

The report is available at http://go.unl.edu/y6f9.

The committee’s most sobering finding, Molfese said, is that much remains unknown about concussions, their diagnosis and treatment.

“Many policies surrounding concussion are not based on scientific research,” Molfese said. “We need a great deal more information before conclusions can be reached” about how to prevent and treat concussions, he said.

For example, rest is commonly prescribed to recuperate from concussion, Molfese said. But no research definitely indicates how long a student-athlete ought to stay off the field or out of the classroom. In fact, staying out of the classroom could slow the brain’s recovery and result in an academic setback.

Another common yet unsubstantiated belief is that helmets protect against concussion, he said. Helmets protect against skull fractures, but not against the whiplash effect that causes concussion.

“Hit counts” – tracking how often a young athlete experiences a blow to the head – aren’t useful predictors of future concussions, though the risk of long-term disability increases with each concussion and it is believed that “sub-concussive blows” may increase the risk of brain damage.

Concussions today are diagnosed through symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, disorientation, gait and balance problems, Molfese said. CT and MRI scans don’t detect damage to the brain from concussions.  It is not clear whether a person “recovers” from a concussion. Instead of returning to its previous function, the concussed brain may have restructured itself to compensate for the damage, he said.

Molfese said the committee’s investigation makes it clear that concussions should not be taken lightly.

“Concussion is a serious injury. Concussion is brain damage,” he said.

In addition to Molfese, members of the Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth include Robert Graham, George Washington University, chair; Frederick P. Rivara, University of Washington, vice chair; Kristy Arbogast, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; David A. Brent, University of Pittsburgh; B.J. Casey, Weill Cornell Medical College; Tracey Covassin, Michigan State University; Joe Doyle, USA Hockey; Eric J. Huang, University of California, San Francisco; Art C. Maerlender, Dartmouth College; Susan Margulies, University of Pennsylvania; Mayumi L. Prins, University of California, Los Angeles; Neha P. Raukar, Brown University; Nancy R. Temkin, University of Washington; Kasisomayajula Viswanath, Harvard School of Public Health; Kevin Walter, Medical College of Wisconsin; Joseph. L. Wright, Children’s National Medical Center.

UNL expert alert: Understanding Partisan Gridlock in Washington

September 25th, 2013

Washington is expected to once more descend into partisan gridlock as Congress wrestles in coming weeks with the budget, the debt ceiling, the Farm Bill and other domestic issues.

Two political scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — John Hibbing and Kevin Smith – are among the nation’s leading experts on the differences between liberal and conservative thinking. In the most literal sense. Their research studies the biological differences in the brain processes and emotional responses of conservatives and liberals.

“Elected leaders, partisan officials and members of the media deserve a good deal of the blame for the sorry state of the country’s political affairs, but it is time to recognize that the roots of gridlock can be traced to deep differences in the predispositions of ordinary people,” Hibbing says.

Hibbing and Smith believe that wider understanding of those biological differences can help bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats.

For interviews,  contact Kevin Smith, UNL professor of political science, at 402-570-3082 or  email  at  ksmith1@unl.edu.

Contact John Hibbing, UNL  Foundation Regents professor of political science, at 402-817-9623 or jhibbing1@unl.edu

For photos of Smith and Hibbing, go to:

http://dropbox.unl.edu/uploads/20130927/e65a2dfb05c78b9c/HibbingSmith.zip

UNL expert alert: Washington Post sale and journalism’s digital future

August 6th, 2013

Officials with the Washington Post Co. announced Monday that its flagship paper would be sold for $250 million to Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos.

The news spells the end of the Graham family’s four generations of stewardship over one of the nation’s leading newspapers.  Bezos, to become the newspaper’s sole owner, plans to take it private to avoid shareholder pressure while he experiments with news operations.

The company’s newspaper division, of which the Post was the most prominent part, suffered a 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years.  Although  the Post established itself as a popular online news source, its print circulation dwindled, falling 7 percent during the first half of 2013 alone.

Gary Kebbel, professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has spent much of his career in online media, including serving as front page editor of Washingtonpost.com during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was founding editor of Newsweek.com and USA TODAY.com and directed the growth of AOL News from 1999-2005.

Here are some of his thoughts on the Post’s sale:

“I find it fascinating that America’s journalism giants, The New York Times Company and the Washington Post Company, through their respective fire sales of The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, are saying that traditional newspaper companies with more than a hundred years of experience each can only successfully run a newspaper in the analog age.”

“The Washington Post believes in the value of journalism so much that it is willing to say, ‘we can’t be successful in the digital age, so perhaps a digital native can. We hope a digital native can.’”

Kebbel sees the same changes occurring in advertising.

“Last week, Publicis and Omnicom combined and the respective CEOs said in the Financial Times:  ‘The pace of change which is occurring today is going to get faster, not slower.’ (John Wren, Omnicom) ‘What is true today is really not true tomorrow and we have to be prepared for that.’ (Maurice Levy, Publicis)”

“This comes after The (Chicago) Sun-Times company laid off all its photographers, and told the reporters to use their iPhones.”

All of this taken together implies that with the professions changing as fast as they are, educating for those professions is an arduously unique challenge.”

Kebbel, who departs Lincoln on Wednesday for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications annual meeting, can be reached via email at garykebbel@unl.edu or by cell at (703) 582-6758.

– Leslie Reed, University Communications

Good Will Husker: Matt Damon attends New Student Enrollment at UNL

July 10th, 2013

Pat McBride is always on his game when it comes to delivering New Student Enrollment presentations. But the UNL associate dean of admissions felt some added pressure as he stepped to the podium on July 10.

“I kept thinking ‘Matt Damon is here, sitting in the back of the room. I need to give a really good presentation,’” McBride said. “It’s not that often you have a guy like that sitting there listening to you.”

The Hollywood actor/director attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s New Student Enrollment event with a student he referred to as “a nephew.” McBride said university officials were unaware Damon would be on campus until he registered Wednesday morning.

“Our student worker who registered him didn’t realize who he was until he heard the voice. Then he knew,” McBride said. “The worker was busy registering others attending and couldn’t get away to let anyone know (Damon) was here. We found out about it about ten minutes later.”

McBride said NSE administrators decided to not give preferential treatment to Damon and let him experience the registration experience like any other parent, guardian or student guest.

“We wanted to just treat him like any other guy,” McBride said. “That’s how he acted when he registered and that’s how we felt he wanted to be treated.”

Damon attended morning NSE sessions, sneaking away once to go get a coffee. During that trip, people in the Nebraska Union recognized Damon and sightings started popping up via social media channels.

Armando Becerril, an NSE student worker (pictured with Damon, above), led the campus tour group for Damon’s nephew. Becerril said he tried to keep the identity of the student’s famous uncle from spreading, but soon students in the tour group started to ask if they could get photos and/or autographs.

The student agreed, called Damon and set up an impromptu photo opportunity outside the Nebraska Union shortly after noon.

“Mr. Damon was great. He took time to pose for a group and individual photos,” Becerril said. “There were about 50 people wanting photos. He agreed to all of them and even signed a few autographs.”

McBride said that overall, Damon’s appearance on campus was positive. He said faculty, staff, students and the public handled the surprise situation well. McBride also said Damon’s attendance did not appear to overshadow the experience of others attending New Student Enrollment on Wednesday.

“In the end, that was our goal,” McBride said. “We wanted everyone to walk away having a very positive experience. We wanted it to be just another day at New Student Enrollment.”

– Troy Fedderson, University Communications

UNL expert alert: Supreme Court rules that human genes can’t be patented

June 13th, 2013

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes can’t be patented, a ruling with both immediate benefits for some breast and ovarian cancer patients and long-lasting repercussions for biotech research.

The decision represents a victory for cancer patients, researchers and geneticists who claimed that a single company’s patent raised costs, restricted research and sometimes forced women to have breasts or ovaries removed without sufficient facts or second opinions.

But the court held out a lifeline to Myriad Genetics, the company with an exclusive patent on the isolated form of genes that can foretell an increased genetic risk of cancer. The justices said it can patent a type of synthesized DNA that goes beyond extracting the genes from the body.

A. Christal Sheppard, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, is a nationally recognized expert in patent and copyright law. She’s also a scientist, which gives her a unique perspective on the Myriad case.

She offers her informed opinion on the court’s ruling:

The public thinks the Myriad Supreme Court case is a win, but it is not. It’s a Band Aid on a cancer – not even close to ‘isolating’ the heart of the problem. The commercial value that the company is protecting and the public is objecting to is independent of the patent over the gene.

Synthetic genes representing the same information as the naturally occurring genes are still ownable. Naturally occurring versus synthetic is a ridiculous outdated distinction. The commercial value in the testing is independent of the patent over the gene.

The two major decisions from the courts about what should be eligible for patent ownership that have issued in the less than 35 days make nothing clearer – both only throw in more uncertainty.

It is long past time for Congress to step in and stop allowing the courts to determine public policy of what can be patented. Even the Court believes this. They stated “Concerns about reliance interests … are better directed to Congress.

Congress has not made a positive statement since the 1952 patent act on what should be eligible for the monopoly. Business is unhappy.  The public is unhappy.  But not in the ‘we’ve struck the right balance’ kind of way.

There is a better way for the court to have determined that genes are not patentable. Quite simply, genes aren’t new.  The law requires an invention to be new for it to be patented.   This is not a matter of what should be patentable but what meet the statutory requirements occurring to Congress since 1787 that require an ‘invention not be known before or used.’ ”

Reach A. Christal Sheppard, UNL assistant professor of law, at 402-472-1250 or asheppard3@unl.edu.

Sheppard

It’s official: CB3 gains final approval of postsecondary commission

March 14th, 2013

The Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education on March 14 gave final approval of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior as an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The center is a key component of an emerging collaboration between athletics and academics at UNL. Known as CB3, it will be located this summer in half of a 50,000-square-foot research area in the East Stadium addition to Memorial Stadium.

The vote by the commission was the final step in making the center official. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents also had given unanimous approval for the center in January.

“We are very pleased to have received the commission’s support and to know we have met all the requirements for its approval,” said Dennis Molfese, Mildred Francis Thompson Professor of Psychology at UNL and director of the center. “Now we can turn our attention toward final preparations for this cutting-edge center.”

CB3 will house a radiology unit and a state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) magnet, which will enable faculty and students from a wide spectrum of disciplines to conduct research related to behavior and performance, including the study of concussions.

The center will integrate the disciplinary building blocks of genetics, neuroscience, physiology, affect/emotion, cognition, socio-political attitudes and behavior. Research includes areas ranging from the heritability of social attitudes to the neurological basis of human decision-making to the study and remediation of brain concussion in athletes.

CB3 will occupy space in the south half of the East Stadium addition, while the north half will be dedicated to the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab. The research facility also will provide shared space, including 48 laboratories and a common area large enough to accommodate 40 to 50 people.

The CCPE is a state constitutional agency whose mission is to promote sound policies for Nebraska’s state and community colleges and the University of Nebraska. The CCPE balances the best interests of taxpayers, students and Nebraska’s postsecondary institutions. The Coordinating Commission’s responsibilities include authorizing academic programs such as CB3.

The laboratory and office space in Memorial Stadium is on schedule to open this summer.

UNL in the national news: February 2013

March 4th, 2013
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances included:
Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted extensively throughout February on a variety of topics, including the Academy Awards. Appearances included a half-hour discussion on Film Buff’s Forecast with Paul Harris on Triple R Radio in Melbourne, Australia on Feb. 16; a live-chat panel for Canada.com on Feb. 22; in Patheos.com on Feb. 14; in PBS NewsHour on Feb. 24; and in the Christian Science Monitor on Feb. 24.
http://go.unl.edu/dh8
http://go.unl.edu/47h
http://go.unl.edu/2di
http://go.unl.edu/h3i
Gwendolyn Foster, film studies, was quoted Feb. 25 by The Christian Science Monitor about the surprises in this year’s telecast of the Academy Awards.
http://go.unl.edu/nqp
Brian Fuchs, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, was quoted in the New York Times on Feb. 22 about the lack of snowpack in the west and what it might portend for the summer drought. He and other Drought Center climatologists were quoted regularly in February in outlets ranging from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to The Associated Press to United Press International to USA TODAY.
http://go.unl.edu/svo
http://go.unl.edu/4bi
http://go.unl.edu/u7a
http://go.unl.edu/ggg
http://go.unl.edu/vwf
Bridget Goosby, sociology, had her research into the pathways from childhood conditions to adult health outcomes featured by a number of media outlets in late February, including Yahoo! News, Psych Central and Science Daily.
http://go.unl.edu/mym
http://go.unl.edu/8ni
Richard Graham, University Libraries, had his 2011 anthology “Government Issue: Comics for the People” cited in a Feb. 28 Reason Magazine article on how the government turned comic books into propaganda.
http://go.unl.edu/93d
Ronnie Green, IANR vice chancellor, and Ron Yoder, IANR associate vice chancellor, were quoted in a Feb. 15 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education featuring IANR’s new plan to hire 36 new tenure-track faculty.
http://go.unl.edu/avm
John Hibbing, political science, was quoted by CNN on Feb. 2, the day Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy abruptly stepped down, about what the resignation meant for the upcoming governor’s race.
http://go.unl.edu/in7
Jinsong Huang, mechanical and materials engineering, had his research into producing efficient, affordable, flexible solar energy materials featured Feb. 22 by the National Science Foundation’s Discovery News.
http://go.unl.edu/ses
Matthew Jockers, English, had his text-mining-of-books research featured Feb. 3 by the Sunday Times of London. Later in the month, the Associated Press wrote about his leadership of a new research collaboration with private company BookLamp to text-mine data from 20th century books. The story ran in dozens of media outlets around the country.
http://go.unl.edu/kmc
http://go.unl.edu/3zn
Allan McCutcheon, survey research and methodology, was quoted in an Associated Press article on Feb. 23 about how polls are used to predict elections, in advance of an event at the UNL Great Plains Art Museum. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the country.
http://go.unl.edu/0jo
David Moshman, educational psychology, published an opinion column about anti-censorship resources for educators Feb. 8 in the Huffington Post.
http://go.unl.edu/nu8
Eric Thompson, economics, was quoted by The Associated Press in early February after Nebraska economic forecasters predicted modest economic growth in 2013. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the country.
http://go.unl.edu/wxh
Matthew Waite, journalism, was quoted regularly in February as national debate over the role of domestic drones began to heat up. Appearances included the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Fast Company and US News & World Report.
http://go.unl.edu/smu
http://go.unl.edu/kch
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This is a monthly column featuring UNL faculty, administrators and staff in the national news. National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published or broadcasted work.
Faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media are logged at http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/
If you have additions to this list or suggestions for national news stories, contact Steve Smith at 402-472-4226 or ssmith13@unl.edu.

UNL professor leads collaboration to open 300 years of books for data analysis

February 20th, 2013

In the 19th century, Britain was the world’s superpower, boasting a global empire of 10 million square miles and 400 million royal subjects. And British authors of the era reflected this supremacy, peppering prose with words of command and certainty — ones like always, never and forever.

At the same time in Ireland, writers echoed a different perspective in their books. With the Irish under the thumb of British rule, the nation’s scribes frequently used words that displayed inability or frustration — ones like almost, nearly or perhaps.

Matthew Jockers knows this to be a fact because it bears out in his computer-generated data: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of English has combined computer programming with digital text-mining to produce deep thematic, stylistic analyses in 19th-century literary works. He calls the data-driven process macroanalysis, and it’s opening up new methods for literary theorists to study classic literature.

“But what we don’t know is what happens after the turn of the 20th century,” Jockers said. “The 20th century, as we know, is when the British Empire deteriorates and the Irish gain independence. So do each country’s authors remain as they were in the previous century? Or if they do begin to change their approach, in what ways do they go about it? That’s the kind of question we can address — with access to proper data, that is.”

Now, thanks to an exclusive agreement between UNL and private company BookLamp, Jockers and research collaborators from several U.S. universities have the tools to begin uncovering the answers to that question — and many others. This new research collaboration will ultimately allow scholars to access and analyze book data from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

BookLamp uses digital tools to compare books by theme and writing style, suggesting other books a reader might like based on how closely they match previous reads. To power their algorithm, BookLamp works with publishers across the industry to analyze thousands of titles in its Book Genome Project, which it launched in 2003.

“We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at the writings that have been published over the years as a whole, at a scale that’s been difficult to do in the past,” said Aaron Stanton, CEO of BookLamp. “We’re not providing access to data for individual books, but instead information that can help answer larger questions about changes in society over time.”

Jockers, who also is a fellow in UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, said that in scholarly circles, the arrangement signifies a big step forward: For years, digital researchers have had a difficult time gaining access to the results of digitally text-mined books from the 20th century, thanks to copyright and access issues. While BookLamp will not directly provide scholars with book texts or book-level data, it does provide corpus-level “anonymized” data that allows researchers to ask questions about key thematic and stylistic structures.

An example may be to query how often female writers used keywords related to traditionally male professions in the 1920s compared with, say, the 1980s, to track the changes in women’s literary roles over time, researchers said.

“Nearly everyone who does this kind of work focuses on the 19th century, because that’s all that’s been available in the digital format, outside of copyright,” Jockers said. “So unfortunately, we’ve been kind of stuck in time for a while. But this arrangement will help us clear that hurdle and we’ll be able to look more deeply into more modern works.”

Jockers leads the collaboration with digital literary scholars at Stanford University’s Literary Lab as well as Arizona State University. It starts with a two-year project involving data from BookLamp, as well as data from 18th- and 19th-century novels already compiled in Stanford’s Literary Lab.

Organizers have dubbed the effort the “Unfolding the Novel” project. Ultimately, they will consolidate 300 years of high-level book data to study long-term literary trends and patterns.

And in the 20th century, those patterns explode into a multitude of modern genres and open up a swarm of new research questions, Jockers said.

With the BookLamp-provided summary metadata, researchers could query information from a range of years — the 1950s, for example — and learn how many times a particular word was used in any of the new genres of the time, from detective stories to romance to science fiction. The text-mined results would shed new, data-supported light upon the various themes and styles authors employed in that decade.

One of the project’s initial queries will be to examine the words and stylistic elements that best allow scholars to distinguish between male and female writers, Jockers said. For example, in the 19th century, male authors were far more likely to use male pronouns than female ones. This indicates their stories were more masculine than those written by women authors, who used male and female pronouns more evenly during the same period.

“We’re interested to learn what happens to this tendency in the 20th century,” he said. “This is, after all, the period of liberalization, so the theory would be that women would begin writing more female-centered work. And, if these movements had any effects on the males, we should start to see a greater attention to the other gender in works by 20th-century men, as well. It will be interesting to see.”

The work of understanding and organizing data from 100 years of literature is long and difficult, Jockers said, much less 300 years of literature. But he said he thinks that he and his collaborators are inaugurating a game-changing, information-rich era of literary scholarship.

“The potential uses of this information are huge,” he said. “BookLamp has been a spectacular partner in the effort; they are genuinely interested in many of the same questions we are, and they are passionate in the pursuit of knowledge.

“The possibilities are practically endless.”

Contact: Matthew Jockers, assistant professor of English, 402-472-1896 or mjockers@unl.edu.