The College of Arts and Sciences' communications office works closely with Cornell's Media Relations Office. As the College's representatives to media, we connect faculty experts and thought leaders to local, regional, national and international media organizations.
Linda Glaser, News & Media Relations Manager
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Tricia Barry, Communications Director
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Current press statements from Arts & Sciences faculty:
Middle East relations
Middle East deal underscores foreign policy chasms in region
On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump will host leaders of Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House in a ceremony to mark the normalization of relations between Israel and the two Gulf countries. The deal, which the Trump administration has described as a pivotal step towards peace in the Middle East, signals a shift amongst Arab countries, traditionally wary of siding too close to Israel.
Alexandra Blackman, assistant professor of government at Cornell University, studies the Middle East, including politics of gender, political party development, the evolution of authoritarian institutions, and the role of foreign and transnational forces in the region.
“The normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain further highlights the gap between the foreign policy of most Gulf states, which is guided by their enmity toward Iran, and the other Arab and Muslim countries that fear popular backlash to normalization more than they fear Iran. It will be interesting to see how the publics of the Gulf states react to these moves.
“With regard to U.S. foreign policy, what we are seeing is the end result of the Trump administration’s increased reliance on the Gulf states and Israel as partners in the region and the recognition by those leaders that they benefit more from Trump remaining in office than from a Biden administration. While a Biden victory in November is unlikely to change the broad contours of normalization with the Gulf states, we should expect a Biden administration to invest diplomatic efforts elsewhere in the region.”
For interviews contact:
office: 607-255-6035, cell: 607-793-1025
Venus: indications of life
Ancient ocean, meteorites could have seeded life in Venusian clouds
An international team of researchers has discovered the presence of the chemical compound phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus — a discovery that could indicate some form of life on the hot planet. They describe their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Jonathan Lunine, who was not involved in the Nature study, is a professor of physical sciences and chair of the astronomy department at Cornell University. He has worked on problems related to the origin of life in exotic environments, including Saturn’s moon Titan. He was part of a team that mapped the distribution of phosphine in Jupiter’s atmosphere from the Juno mission, and has published on the detection of phosphine in the atmospheres of extrasolar giant planets with the James Webb Space Telescope.
“Is there life on Venus, Earth’s nearest neighbor planet? At first this seems like an absurd question, because the surface temperature of Venus is above the melting point of lead. And, yet, the answer might be ‘possibly.’ In 1967, Carl Sagan speculated that life might exist in the Venusian clouds. What would be a signpost of such organisms? Phosphine or PH3 is difficult to make in hydrogen-poor environments like Earth’s or Venus’, and so could be such a signpost.
“If there is life, where did it come from? Spacecraft missions have shown that Venus’ surface once hosted an ocean that was lost in the distant past. Perhaps microbes could have found a refuge in the clouds as the ocean evaporated away. Or perhaps they were carried to Venus on meteorites blasted off Earth or Mars — or even carried there by our own space probes. Only future missions can answer these questions.”
For interviews contact:
Office: (607) 255-7701
Cell: (607) 793-5769
China and data security
China’s global data security initiative is “wholly aspirational”
On Tuesday, China announced a global data security initiative that aims to safeguard global data and promote more cooperation between countries in the way digital data is handled.
Sarah Kreps is a professor of government at Cornell and an expert in the intersection of international politics, technology, and national security. She says that the move is unlikely to offer a viable alternative for global data security.
“China is clearly trying to allay concerns about its digital hygiene. The initiative follows a series of steps the U.S. has taken to cajole allies into disavowing Huawei, force the sale of Tiktok, and demand that a Chinese tech company sell the popular dating app Grindr, all in the name of national security. It is also implicitly an alternative to the U.S. Clean Network initiative that has assembled a coalition of countries and companies to guard against ‘authoritarian malign actors’ online.
“The Chinese initiative purports to conduct data security in ‘an evidence-based manner,’ and maintain transparency about its information technology protocols. It sounds good in principle but is problematic and potentially evasive in practice. What evidence could they provide that would be dispositive, or confirm without a shadow of a doubt that they are not installing backdoors in their products to obtain user data? Or that they would not transfer user data to the government? The absence of evidence that they are doing just that would certainly not be evidence of its absence. It could just be evidence of their tech savvy.
“So, while trying to signal the right tone for digital governance, the initiative is wholly aspirational. It is unlikely to offer a convincing alternative to the U.S. Clean Network nor suddenly align U.S. national security interests with a Chinese-owned TikTok.”
Rebecca Slayton is an associate professor of science and technologies studies at Cornell University with a focus on international security and cooperation.
“At a glance, I am skeptical that this will have much impact outside China (or even inside). It appears that China is calling on other nations to oppose ‘mass surveillance against other states.’ which is likely a thinly-veiled criticism of well-known U.S. surveillance programs.
“China is perfectly willing to conduct surveillance on its own people, however—particularly ethnic minorities—and I doubt that its intelligence agencies would forego opportunities to surveil individuals in other countries if they thought it would be useful. Arguably, Chinese disinformation campaigns (e.g. about COVID-19) already leverage the implicit surveillance system embedded in social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
“China also looks like it will be calling on companies not to install backdoors, but most companies already have a much stronger incentive not to do that—they would lose international market share if they were ever found to have done this. This statement also seems primarily aimed at public relations, particularly at a time when much of the world is concerned about backdoors or other untrustworthy aspects of products from Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei and ZTE. Ironically, China is trying to reduce its dependence on Western IT products (just as the U.S. has been trying to reduce dependence on Chinese IT products), which is likely to erode any market power that China might have to establish standards.”
Thai protestors demand ‘new moral compact’ with monarchy
About 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday to demand reforms, including of the monarchy, in a continuation of unrest that began earlier this year with the dissolution of the Future Forward Party. The Sunday protest is one of the largest anti-government protests in Thailand since 2014.
Tamara Loos, professor of history and Thai studies at Cornell University, says the protests are ground-breaking in that demonstrators are demanding a “new moral compact” with the monarchy – an institution that has historically been legally protected from criticism.
“Protests and demonstrations around the country since June have culminated in calls for a radical transformation in the relationship between Thailand’s monarchy and its citizenry. In August, demonstrators made history by publicly broaching the taboo topic of the monarchy, which is protected by severe lèse-majesté and sedition laws with harsh sentences for those who violate them.
“Student Union of Thailand (SUT) leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul courageously read aloud the ten demands that are historic in their audacious and explicit call for the reform of the institution of the monarchy. They include the demand that the king be subject to Thai law, including investigation of the murder of those who have been critical of the monarchy, the auditing of royal finances, the abolishment of laws that limit freedom of speech about the monarchy, and the end of royal endorsement of military coups. These demands have expanded in recent demonstrations, to include the drafting of a new constitution and the dissolution of parliament.
“What makes these protests ground-breaking is the public articulation of the ways in which the king is unaccountable—fiscally, legally, politically and morally. They demand a new moral compact with the monarchy, who is accused of neglecting ‘his duties as head of state that bind him to the hearts of the people,’ and his use of the people’s taxes ‘to seek pleasure and reside outside the country.’ King Vajiralongkorn resides in Germany for most of the year and has been criticized for his indifference to the impact of the pandemic and worsening economic crisis back home.
“The public nature of their demands is double edged: protestors risk arrest or even death when they critique authorities publicly. At the same time, the very public and viral (social media) nature of these protests means that the world is watching the Thai state’s response to the very group—Thai youth—who comprise that country’s future.”
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