Princeton Weekly Bulletin   October 22, 2007, Vol. 97, No. 6   prev   next   current

Nobel Prizes in economics, peace have Princeton ties

Princeton NJ — The winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes in economics and peace have University connections.

Eric Maskin, one of three economists selected Oct. 15 to receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, has been affiliated with Princeton’s Department of Economics for several years. His permanent position is as the Albert O. Hirschman Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study located in Princeton. Since 2000, he also has served as a visiting lecturer with the rank of professor in economics at the University.

In addition, 11 Princeton faculty members have been involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 12.

Economics prize

Maskin is an internationally recognized authority on economic theory whose work has been drawn on extensively by researchers in industrial organization, finance, development and other fields in economics and political science. He works in many areas of economic theory, including game theory, the economics of incentives and social choice theory.

Eric Maskin

Eric Maskin

“He is part of the intellectual community in economic theory at Princeton,” said Bo Honoré, chair of the Department of Economics. “He attends the seminars and helps advise graduate students. He has been the adviser of some of our most promising graduate students.”

Maskin, Leonid Hurwicz of the University of Minnesota and Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago were chosen to share the economics Nobel “for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory.”

“It is a thrill of a lifetime to have received such a recognition,” Maskin said. “It is particularly thrilling to share it with two such distinguished colleagues. Leo Hurwicz is the father of mechanism design theory and has inspired much of my work, and Roger Myerson is an old friend and collaborator and a tremendous economist.”

Mechanism design theory addresses situations in which markets do not work efficiently, such as when competition is not completely open, consumers are not fully informed or private interests are at work. “It has helped economists identify efficient trading mechanisms, regulation schemes and voting procedures. Today, mechanism design theory plays a central role in many areas of economics and parts of political science,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted in the prize announcement.

Stephen Morris, the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics at Princeton, said, “Eric Maskin is one of the leading economic theorists of his generation, and mechanism design is one of the great success stories of economic theory of the last generation. Eric is a leading figure in the mechanism design revolution, showing how game theoretic ideas can be used to understand institutions small and large. As well as writing many of the seminal papers in this area, he has also been a leading figure in translating these ideas into economic applications.”

Morris noted the University and the Institute for Advanced Study have played important roles in the history of game theory, which Maskin has continued to advance.

“The strong game theory group in Princeton’s economics department today benefits from collaboration with Eric,” Morris said, adding that Maskin is helping the department organize an academic conference on Princeton’s campus next year in honor of the 80th birthday of Princeton Nobel laureate and game theory pioneer John Nash.

“Over the last three decades, Eric Maskin has made key contributions to most of the major fields of economic theory including, in particular, mechanism design theory,” said Dilip Abreu, the Edward E. Matthews, Class of 1953, Professor of Finance. “The broad concern of this theory is the design of institutions in the presence of economic actors who have private information and incentives to conceal it. The applications of this theory — many of which Maskin has taken a leading role in developing — are ubiquitous.

“Maskin’s presence is a great gift to the department. He plays a central role in the teaching and mentoring of our graduate students and is a powerful intellectual presence at our seminars,” Abreu said. Maskin has taught courses during his time at the University, but is not teaching this semester.

Kareen Rozen, who completed her Ph.D. in economics from Princeton this spring and is now an assistant professor of economics at Yale University, said she was “privileged” to have Maskin as her main dissertation adviser.

“Eric is not only a brilliant researcher with an amazing breadth and depth of understanding, but he is also an incredible resource for students. I am endlessly amazed by his patience, caring and devotion to mentoring students, in spite of his already very busy schedule. Before I went on the academic job market this past year, Eric spent countless hours helping me to polish the presentation of my research papers; and in the years before he always made himself available to speak with me whenever I needed his advice,” Rozen said.

“He is also a phenomenal lecturer and writer, known for his ability to make the most difficult of topics accessible. Eric’s insistence on clarity and rigor has had a formative influence on the way that I think, write and present my own research,” she said.

Gustav Sigurdsson, who earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2006 and is now an assistant professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said, “I feel incredibly fortunate to have had Eric as my dissertation adviser at Princeton. Through his encouragement, a term paper I wrote for his auction theory class grew into the basis for my entire dissertation. His dedication is extraordinary — I am still amazed every time I receive his feedback on my work and find detailed line-by-line comments on long mathematical proofs.”

Peace prize

Princeton researchers have made numerous contributions to the IPCC in the effort to raise awareness about climate change. Michael Celia, Leo Donner, Anand Gnanadesikan, Isaac Held, Gabriel Lau, Denise Mauzerall, Michael Oppenheimer, Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Jorge Sarmiento, Robert Socolow and Robert Williams have contributed to panel reports over the years. For example, Oppenheimer was lead author of a report presented to the United Nations this past April, and Mauzerall contributed to an IPCC report issued in 2001.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the prize would be shared by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the IPCC for their efforts to “build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

Oppenheimer, who has been affiliated with the panel since 1990, said, “The Nobel Committee’s recognition of the IPCC is very encouraging to the thousands of scientists over the years who have dedicated large amounts of time for these reports. The recognition makes it clear that expert advice means something.”

The IPCC was created by the U.N. General Assembly in 1988 to provide objective policy advice in response to the growing concern about the risk of climate change. Thousands of scientists and officials from more than 100 countries have collaborated on IPCC reports over the past two decades.

Two panel reports presented earlier this year concluded it was very likely that humans were responsible for global warming, and that rising temperatures would likely accelerate if steps were not taken to address the warming trend.

Celia is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and chair of the department; Donner is a lecturer with a rank of associate professor in geosciences and atmospheric and oceanic sciences; Gnanadesikan is a lecturer in geosciences; Mauzerall is an associate professor of public and international affairs; Oppenheimer is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs; Sarmiento is a professor of geosciences and the director of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Socolow is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Williams is a senior research scientist in the Princeton Environmental Institute; and Held, Lau and Ramaswamy are lecturers with the rank of professor in geosciences and atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

Donner, Gnanadesikan, Held, Lau and Ramaswamy also are affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory located in Princeton.

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