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2021 was not the year many people hoped for. In addition to the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic and emerging coronavirus variants, last year ushered in a laundry list of unprecedented weather events.

Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States were scorched by a record-breaking heat wave. An extended fire season in the American West sent blankets of smoke pollution rolling across the rest of the continent. In India, China and Germany, unseasonal rain storms brought on devastating floods. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA), July 2021 was the hottest July on Earth since global record-keeping began in 1880.

Data clearly shows that these kinds of extreme weather patterns are driven by climate change. But is that fact driving policymakers to make meaningful inroads to address the climate crisis? Marshall Burke, the deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, joins Michael McFaul on World Class podcast to review the latest data on what’s happening with the climate in the field and in the halls of Congress.

Listen here and browse highlights of their conversation below.

Click the link for a transcript of “Taking the Temperature on Climate Change."

Climate Policy in the United States

Changes in climate are going to affect most, if not all, of us in the U.S. And public opinion has certainly changed on this in the last 10 years. Many more Americans are on board that the climate is changing and that we should do something about it. There's much more support for climate legislation across the board from Democrats and increasingly from Republicans.

Anyone who works on climate was really excited to see the platform Biden ran on, because it was really the first mainstream presidential campaign where climate had played a fundamental role. There's been a lot of discussion aboutthe importance of climate, the damages from climate that are already happening, and what we need to do is take aggressive action in the future to deal with the problem.

But there are specific industries who are going to be harmed by this legislation, and they are quite organized in fighting this legislation, and in funding politicians who fight it, and in funding organizations, either transparently or not, that are fighting climate legislation.

We are closer than we’ve ever been to really meaningful legislation on climate change. The optimistic view is that we’re on the right trajectory and that we’re going to get some part of this done eventually. But we’re not there yet.

Progress is being made. Emissions are falling. But it’s also important for us to realize what we don’t know.
Marshall Burke
Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment

COP26: Climate Change on the Global Stage

A “COP” is a “Conference of the Parties,” which is an annual meeting of the signatories of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The main focus of Glasgow was to get countries to be very transparent about how they are going to achieve the ambitions for combating climate change that they articulated at the last major COP summit in Paris.

Was it a success? A lot of countries did come to the table in Glasgow and made commitments in ways that they hadn't done before. There were also new, important agreements on certain greenhouse gasses that we've learned recently are pretty damaging, like methane.

Where we failed to make progress was on something that's called “loss and damage.” Many developing countries argue that they are suffering the damages from climate change even though it is a problem that they have not caused, and they are seeking compensation from developed countries who have been the drivers of climate change. That issue was on the table in Glasgow, but it got put off until next year in Egypt.

The Forecast for the Future

Progress is being made. Emissions are falling in the U.S. They're falling in California. They're falling in the EU. They're pretty flat around the world. And these are not just the per capita emissions, but overall emissions are now going down in many parts of the world, which is a huge success.

Where has that progress come from? In part from government policies that have been successful in mitigation. But the driving factor has really been longer decadal investments by both the public sector and the private sector in technologies that allow us to produce energy in a clean way. It’s a combination of long-term public support through taxes and subsidies for the development of these technologies alongside private sector deployment of these technologies at huge scale.

We are closer than we’ve ever been to really meaningful legislation on climate change. But we’re not there yet.
Marshall Burke
Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment

It’s important for people to know about these successes. But it’s also important for us to realize what we don’t know. Emissions in different parts of the world are falling, and that’s fantastic. But it’s also true that people are already getting sick, being harmed, and dying because of the changes we’re already experiencing.  We’re poorly adapted to the climate we live in now, much less the climate of a two-degree warmer or three-degree warmer future, and the science on that needs to be much more widely understood.

I think a huge role for us as academics is not only to do the research to understand those questions, but to get that information out into the world. The great thing about the Freeman Spolgi Institute and institutions like FSI is that it's part of our mandate to translate this research out into the broader world. The translation of what we already know is important, as is the imperitive to drill down on and study the things that we don't.

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David Lobell holds up maize in a farm to show outcomes from different growing practices

David Lobell honored with 2022 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences

Lobell’s groundbreaking work has advanced the world’s understanding of the effects of climate variability and change on global crop productivity.
David Lobell honored with 2022 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences
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Climate expert Marshall Burke joins the World Class podcast to talk through what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what more needs to be done to translate data on the climate crisis into meaningful policy.

Walter P. Falcon
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Long-time readers of this posting will note that it is a year late. 2020 was a lost year in multiple senses, and one of substantial change for me personally and professionally. I have previously described myself as combining a day job as Professor of International Agricultural Policy at Stanford University with that of a farm manager of a medium- sized farm in Iowa. (Actually, assistant farm manager, since my wife, Laura. Is the real farm boss). But at 84, I retired for the third time at Stanford, and I am now on our farm full time. Daily life hasn’t changed that much, however, as I continue to write and Laura is still very much in charge of farming. Among her many agricultural talents, she is a crack shot with an air rifle, as several racoons, possums, and skunks can attest when they have attempted to raid the cat feeding dish.

The saga of how I became a full time Iowan is long and painful. The short version is that in early 2020 I fractured two vertebrae while doing physical therapy. (I have always doubted the wisdom of exercise!) Two back surgeries later, I found myself in a nursing home/rehabilitation center in the South Bay area. That timing was prior to vaccines and a period when care centers were hotbeds for COVID infections. Given my other heart and lung problems, I knew that I had to flee. With the help of my son, Andrew, I came to Iowa—2,200 miles straight through on a gurney in an ambulance. The awful nature of that ride was exceeded only by its cost! But I lived to tell the tale, and like many dreadful experiences, it has now morphed into a success story.

Much about life in Iowa remains the same. What I miss most about California are close friends, grandchildren, and great restaurants. Our town in Iowa has all fast-food outlets known to humankind. But really good restaurants—even decent places—are hard to find. With or without COVID, many Iowans have a good bit of parsimonious DNA in them, and they have little taste or time for great restaurant dining. On the other hand, when it comes to sweetcorn, tomatoes, and pork tenderloins, Iowa is destination dining.

One big change locally—mostly a victim of the virus—is the morning gathering of farmers for coffee in the old store in the nearby village of Waubeek. I certainly don’t yearn for the terrible coffee, but somehow community life is less rich, less informed, and less gossiped as a consequence of the demise of this decades-old tradition.

If anything, Iowa seems to have become more conservative—a ban on mask mandates, changed voting laws and regulations, and increasingly dim views on President Biden. There are few political conversations per se, but latent Trumpism seems alive and well. The hottest topic is whether the forever Senator from Iowa, Charles Grassley, now 87, should retire in 2022. Mostly, however, conversations revert to the traditional matters of weather, church, and family.

“Beware the ides of March” has long been good advice. For farmers in east central Iowa “Beware the 10th of August” is an even better warning. On that day in 2020, a huge derecho storm cut a 50- mile swath across Iowa. The storm carried with it straight-line winds of 130 miles per hour which created complete havoc. Our nearby city of Cedar Rapids lost two-thirds of its trees—some 600,000 in total. Our orchard grove after the winds looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree lot, and the impact on cornfields was a disaster—a combination of broken stalks and flattened rows. We had planned for 220 bushel per acre corn on our farm, but the actual number as measured by the scales was 104 bushels. I suppose the good news is that (80%) crop insurance paid for the equivalent of 72 bushels per acre of this loss. The further good news was that payment was at the prevailing market price, which was high relative to the prior 3 years. The farmer in me enjoyed cashing the government check; the professor in me wondered how seriously crop insurance programs were delaying climate-change adaptation in the corn belt.

On August 10, 2021, one year later to the day, we were hit by another vicious storm that appeared as a set of mini-tornados. During the prior month of July we had received no rainfall, and our county was then 12 inches below normal in seasonal precipitation. On the 10th, the midday sky turned absolutely black. The wind brought with it a couple of inches of rain to our great delight, but it also created a crazy pattern of destruction. In three adjoining fields of corn on our farm, one was unhurt; another had one-third of the crop flattened to the ground; and the third field had about 20 percent green-snap—stocks twisted and completely broken. A combination of water stress and wind seems likely to generate another year of low yields and more crop insurance payments. Soybeans fared better in this year’s storm, but the early drought has seriously hampered the “filling” of bean pods—few beans per pod and small sized as well. If new pickup trucks and tractors were available for sale, which they are not, fewer farmers would be interested this year.

COVID-Delta is now surging in Iowa. Hospitals are near capacity, but are not yet overrun. The state has been bipolar on opening activities. Last year the fairs were canceled, but this year they are back at full tilt. More than a million visitors visited the State Fair, an unbelievable number given that Iowa’s population is only 3.2 million.

Everything seemed bigger, though perhaps not better. Irish Cowboy won the super-boar contest weighting in at a whopping 1288 pounds, the butter-sculped cow made her 110th appearance, and reportedly by actual count, 49 different foods could be bought on a stick!

Our local fair was booming as well. What amazed me was the number of purple (championship)ribbons given this year. When I was showing cattle back in the 1950s, I remember 4 purple ribbons given in the beef show, and the only one that really mattered was the grand champion market steer. This year the beef show awarded 60 purple ribbons for various classes of animals, and another 20 for showmanship. It is less clear what winning means these days, but perhaps in both fairs and wars that is a good thing.

While the fairs had their moments of glory, two other events stole the spotlight locally. The last week in July saw the return of the “ride across Iowa”, known as RAGBRAI. This year, 16,000 supposedly sane bicycle riders started in northwest Iowa at the Missouri River and ended in east central Iowa before dipping their wheels in the Mississippi River. The weather was in the 80s and 90s, and it was also very humid. It was some sight to see 16,000 cyclists come riding (actually walking, a rule in towns) through our hometown of 1,400 people. The riders were welcomed warmly by the locals, and the church and auxiliary organizations had a field day selling all sorts of food and drink. The aftermath cleanup was welcomed less warmly.

What really put Iowa on the national map in 2021, however, was one particular corn field. It is near Dyersville, some 40 miles from where we live. That cornfield, which surrounds the “Field of Dreams,” brought Kevin Costner to town, as well as the White Sox and Yankees to play the first major league baseball game in Iowa’s history. The game itself was storybook in character, with a walk-off home run at its end. But the lasting image, and a source of great pride to Iowans, was the visual of the Yankee and White Sox players emerging from a towering corn field. There were some knowing smiles also when some of the “city ballplayers” found out that field corn was not the same thing as sweetcorn.

No farm field report is complete without a little bull. And that is what we now have—a two-year-old Angus sire that we hope will produce smaller calves and fewer calving difficulties. Our fat cattle from last year weighed well and graded prime—except for one. He was dangerously crazy, apparently thought he was half deer, and continuously jumped fences to go to the pasture rather than stay in feedlot. (Some of my Stanford colleagues actually think he was the smart one and it was the others that were crazy!)

Cattle marketing has changed locally, and most fed animals are now sold on a grade and yield basis. Farmers are paid after the animal has been slaughtered and graded, with the price determined at that point, rather than in a live cattle auction ring. Price margins between the farm and grocery stores have widened for beef recently, giving rise to all sorts of farmer claims of price fixing by meat packing companies. This claim is common, and my guess is that the reasons for increasing spreads are to be found in rising labor costs and transport bottlenecks.

More generally, it has been a very tough year for cattle feeders. Low beef prices coupled with high corn prices made for terrible feeding margins. Then there were the storms. Two of our nearby neighbors are the largest cattle feeders in the county, each having multiple feedlot buildings. The standard design of cattle feeding barns leaves them quite vulnerable to high winds The derecho storm blew virtually all their structures down or away, and dozens of animals were injured and had to be put down. “The sight of demolished buildings, injured and dead steers, and the rest of my high-valued inventory of live cattle walking around in the neighbor’s cornfield made for a really bad hair day” is how one summarized the scene.

Neighbors growing pigs have had their share of complaints as well, especially about California. Voters in that state voted, via a referendum, to ban the sale of pork products when the mother pig (sow) did not have at least 24 square feet of room. This size is greater than most Iowa farrowing pens (that are designed mostly to protect piglets) and reconfiguring them is costly. Since farmers in Iowa annually send some 30 million pigs to market (with lots of pork products going to California), the new law has both farmers and politicians up in arms. Mockery has been the typical form of exasperation. One newspaper suggested that next year Californians will require farmers to provide sows with pillows!

If the new law is more than symbolic, however, it raises the most serious kinds of regulatory issues. Since smaller pens are not illegal, wo will do the enforcement? Presumably the task will fall to packing companies, but how? Will they use an “honor system” with farmers? will they pay premia to farmers who comply? and how will California interests be ensured, since a pork chop looks and tastes the same whether 16 or 24 square feet is provided the mother pig? I tell my west coast friends that if they are serious, they should get ready for bacon-less BLTs.

More than usual, my thoughts this summer have focused on Asia. I began my international career 60 years ago working in rural parts of Pakistan that adjoined Afghanistan. One vivid memory is driving through the Khyber Pass and, at nearly every one of the many turns. seeing a monument to some foreign regiment that had been defeated. The Pathan group of the region is the most fierce, rugged, and loyal group I have ever known. To know them is to admire them—yet to disagree with many aspects of their culture. An economist colleague from that era and I had conversations in 2010 about the region. We concluded, correctly I believe, that anyone who had ever visited the place would not go to war there.

The second link to Asia this summer was more biological in character. My 40-year involvement with Indonesia intensified my sadness about that country’s terrible bout with COVID. With limited health care and few vaccines, my friends and their institutions have been hit by devastating blows. Another Indonesia link appeared in a more unusual way. During the middle of the summer, we noticed that our alfalfa field had suddenly turned yellow, as it turned out, from an invasion of leafhoppers. We sprayed immediately and ended up with 4 marvelous cuttings of hay. (Interestingly, our net returns from growing alfalfa this year will exceed the net returns from growing either corn or soybeans.) And what is the Indonesian connection? During much of the 1970s my colleagues and I worked in Indonesia on controlling leafhoppers (albeit a different species than the Iowa variety) that were destroying much of Indonesia’s rice crop. Indonesia had been using the wrong pesticide, and multiple spraying killed the leafhoppers, but also killed the “good” bugs, thus setting up a spiral of ever greater pesticide use. The solution was the introduction of new Green Revolution varieties that not only greatly increased yields, but also had leafhopper resistance incorporated directly into the seeds.

This year is very different in one particular respect. For the first time since 1962, I am not immersed in lecture preparation for courses on world agriculture. Stanford students are back in residence, but I am not, and I will miss that. But there is still autumn work to be done. I must learn all of the intricacies of Zoom calls so as to participate better in Stanford activities such as the (would have been) 100th anniversary of the Food Research Institute. There is also a new backup generator to install, a new machine shed to design, and more directly personal, learning how to maneuver a wheelchair in Iowa snow that will come all too soon.

Walter P. Falcon is Farnsworth Professor of International Agricultural Policy and Economics, Emeritus. He and his wife,  Laura, reside on their farm near Marion, Iowa. (

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FSE Senior Fellow, Emeritus, Walter Falcon shares observations from Iowa on weather, farming, politics and more.


...water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink...

Join Stanford's Center on Food Security and the Environment for a lecture and reception with Dr. Junaid Ahmad, the World Bank Country Director for India.

Dr. Ahmad will look at the political economy of managing service delivery in India through the prism of water. The presentation will look at the water supply and sanitation sector and water resource management in the context of India’s federalism and urban and food policies. Ahmad argues that India’s transition to middle income will depend significantly on how water will be valued in India’s political economy.  

Junaid Ahmad, from Bangladesh, is currently the World Bank Country Director for India. Over the years, Mr. Ahmad has brought an exceptional track record of management and leadership in the areas of policy reform, service delivery and international partnerships, combining intellectual and analytical rigor with strategic operational focus. Mr. Ahmad’s work has covered urban finance and city management, infrastructure finance, water, service delivery in federal systems, and local government reform. Currently, he is responsible for managing the World Bank’s India portfolio.


David Beasley
Please join us for a conversation with United Nations World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, who will discuss "Challenges of 21st Century Humanitarian Response." The conversation will be moderated by his predecessor at the agency, Ertharin Cousin, a visiting fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment.


As Executive Director of the World Foods Programme (WFP), Mr. Beasley serves at the level of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and is a member of the organization's Senior Management Group under the leadership of Secretary-General António Guterres. At WFP, he is putting to use four decades of leadership and communications skills to mobilize more financial support and public awareness for the global fight against hunger. Under his leadership, WFP kept four countries from slipping into famine in 2017 and is moving beyond emergency food assistance, to advance longer term development that brings peace and stability to troubled regions. Before coming to WFP in April 2017, Beasley spent a decade working with high-profile leaders and on-the-ground programme managers in more than 100 countries, directing projects designed to foster peace, reconciliation and economic progress.

David Beasley was elected at the age of 21 to the South Carolina House of Representatives (1979-1992) and as Governor of South Carolina (1995-1999), one of the youngest in the state’s history.  He received a Profile in Courage Award in 2003 from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and is a 1999 Fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Born in 1957, he attended Clemson University and holds a B.A. from the University of South Carolina, as well as a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

The Conversation with David Beasley is co-sponsored by Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; the Center on Food Security and the Environment and the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

 The lecture will be held at the David and Joan Traitel Building, 435 Lasuen Mall, Stanford University. For more information about the event, contact Sonal Singh at

About the Wesson Lecture

The Wesson Lectureship was established at Stanford by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies in 1988. It provides support for a public address at the university by a prominent scholar or practicing professional in the field of international relations. The series is made possible by a gift from the late Robert G. Wesson, a scholar of international affairs, prolific author, and senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution.


Ertharin Cousin is a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment. She is also a distinguished fellow of global agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  

She previously served as executive director of the World Food Programme from 2012 until 2017. In this role, Cousin led the world’s largest humanitarian organization with 14,000 staff serving 80 million vulnerable people across 75 countries. Cousin possesses more than 30 years of national and international nonprofit, government, and corporate leadership experience.  She maintains relationships with global government, business, and community leaders. She has published numerous articles regarding agriculture, food security, and nutrition. 

In 2009, Cousin was nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate as the US ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome. In this role Cousin served as the US representative for all food, agriculture, and nutrition related issues. Cousin regularly represented US interest in global leader discussions, including prime ministers, foreign and agriculture ministers, academics and business executives, regarding humanitarian and development activities.  Cousin helped identify and catalyze US government investment in food security and nutrition activities supported by the USAID Feed the Future program.  Cousin convened foreign media tours resulting in millions of conventional as well social media impressions.

Prior to her global hunger work, Cousin helped lead the US domestic fight to end hunger while serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer of America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America). In this role Cousin led the operations, budgeting, and expenditures as well as the human resources, IT, and training activities of this national confederation of 200 foodbanks across America serving over 50,000,000 meals per year. Previously, Cousin served as senior vice president for Albertson’s Foods. As a corporate reporting officer, Cousin served as the Albertson lead for community relations, customer relations, legislative and regulatory affairs, industry and external relations, including communications serving as the company’s chief spokesperson. While serving at Albertson she was appointed by the US president to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development where she helped oversee US government agriculture research investments worldwide.  Before Albertsons, Cousin also served in government as the White House Liaison to the State Department. She received the department’s Meritorious Service award for her work expeditiously and successfully addressing foreign policy issues which arose when the US hosted the Atlanta Olympics.

A Chicago native, Cousin is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago; the University of Georgia Law School, and the University of Chicago Executive Management Finance for Non-Financial Executives program. Cousin has received honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the globe.  She has been listed numerous times on the Forbes “100 Most Powerful Women” list, as the Fortune “Most Powerful Woman in Food and Drink,” on TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list, and as one of the “500 Most Powerful People on the Planet” by Foreign Policy magazine.

Visiting Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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For 14 years, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar has been a tireless Stanford professor who has strengthened the fabric of university’s interdisciplinary nature. Joining the faculty at Stanford Law School in 2001, Cuéllar soon found a second home for himself at the Freeman Spogli for International Studies. He held various leadership roles throughout the institute for several years – including serving as co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation. He took the helm of FSI as the institute’s director in 2013, and oversaw a tremendous expansion of faculty, research activity and student engagement. 

An expert in administrative law, criminal law, international law, and executive power and legislation, Cuéllar is now taking on a new role. He leaves Stanford this month to serve as justice of the California Supreme Court and will be succeeded at FSI by Michael McFaul on Jan. 5.

 As the academic quarter comes to a close, Cuéllar took some time to discuss his achievements at FSI and the institute’s role on campus. And his 2014 Annual Letter and Report can be read here.


You’ve had an active 20 months as FSI’s director. But what do you feel are your major accomplishments? 

We started with a superb faculty and made it even stronger. We hired six new faculty members in areas ranging from health and drug policy to nuclear security to governance. We also strengthened our capacity to generate rigorous research on key global issues, including nuclear security, global poverty, cybersecurity, and health policy. Second, we developed our focus on teaching and education. Our new International Policy Implementation Lab brings faculty and students together to work on applied projects, like reducing air pollution in Bangladesh, and improving opportunities for rural schoolchildren in China.  We renewed FSI's focus on the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies, adding faculty and fellowships, and launched a new Stanford Global Student Fellows program to give Stanford students global experiences through research opportunities.   Third, we bolstered FSI's core infrastructure to support research and education, by improving the Institute's financial position and moving forward with plans to enhance the Encina complex that houses FSI.

Finally, we forged strong partnerships with critical allies across campus. The Graduate School of Business is our partner on a campus-wide Global Development and Poverty Initiative supporting new research to mitigate global poverty.  We've also worked with the Law School and the School of Engineering to help launch the new Stanford Cyber Initiative with $15 million in funding from the Hewlett Foundation. We are engaging more faculty with new health policy working groups launched with the School of Medicine and an international and comparative education venture with the Graduate School of Education. 


Those partnerships speak very strongly to the interdisciplinary nature of Stanford and FSI. How do these relationships reflect FSI's goals?

The genius of Stanford has been its investment in interdisciplinary institutions. FSI is one of the largest. We should be judged not only by what we do within our four walls, but by what activity we catalyze and support across campus. With the business school, we've launched the initiative to support research on global poverty across the university. This is a part of the SEED initiative of the business school and it is very complementary to our priorities on researching and understanding global poverty and how to alleviate. It's brought together researchers from the business school, from FSI, from the medical school, and from the economics department.  

Another example would be our health policy working groups with the School of Medicine. Here, we're leveraging FSI’s Center for Health Policy, which is a great joint venture and allows us to convene people who are interested in the implementation of healthcare reforms and compare the perspective and on why lifesaving interventions are not implemented in developing countries and how we can better manage biosecurity risks. These working groups are a forum for people to understand each other's research agendas, to collaborate on seeking funding and to engage students. 

I could tell a similar story about our Mexico Initiative.  We organize these groups so that they cut across generations of scholars so that they engage people who are experienced researchers but also new fellows, who are developing their own agenda for their careers. Sometimes it takes resources, sometimes it takes the engagement of people, but often what we've found at FSI is that by working together with some of our partners across the university, we have a more lasting impact.


Looking at a growing spectrum of global challenges, where would you like to see FSI increase its attention? 

FSI's faculty, students, staff, and space represent a unique resource to engage Stanford in taking on challenges like global hunger, infectious disease, forced migration, and weak institutions.  The  key breakthrough for FSI has been growing from its roots in international relations, geopolitics, and security to focusing on shared global challenges, of which four are at the core of our work: security, governance, international development, and  health. 

These issues cross borders. They are not the concern of any one country. 

Geopolitics remain important to the institute, and some critical and important work is going on at the Center for International Security and Cooperation to help us manage the threat of nuclear proliferation, for example. But even nuclear proliferation is an example of how the transnational issues cut across the international divide. Norms about law, the capacity of transnational criminal networks, smuggling rings, the use of information technology, cybersecurity threats – all of these factors can affect even a traditional geopolitical issue like nuclear proliferation. 

So I can see a research and education agenda focused on evolving transnational pressures that will affect humanity in years to come. How a child fares when she is growing up in Africa will depend at least as much on these shared global challenges involving hunger and poverty, health, security, the role of information technology and humanity as they will on traditional relations between governments, for instance. 


What are some concrete achievements that demonstrate how FSI has helped create an environment for policy decisions to be better understood and implemented?

We forged a productive collaboration with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees through a project on refugee settlements that convened architects, Stanford researchers, students and experienced humanitarian responders to improve the design of settlements that house refugees and are supposed to meet their human needs. That is now an ongoing effort at the UN Refugee Agency, which has also benefited from collaboration with us on data visualization and internship for Stanford students. 

Our faculty and fellows continue the Institute's longstanding research to improve security and educate policymakers. We sometimes play a role in Track II diplomacy on sensitive issues involving global security – including in South Asia and Northeast Asia.  Together with Hoover, We convened a first-ever cyber bootcamp to help legislative staff understand the Internet and its vulnerabilities. We have researchers who are in regular contact with policymakers working on understanding how governance failures can affect the world's ability to meet pressing health challenges, including infectious diseases, such as Ebola.

On issues of economic policy and development, our faculty convened a summit of Japanese prefectural officials work with the private sector to understand strategies to develop the Japanese economy.  

And we continued educating the next generation of leaders on global issues through the Draper Hills summer fellows program and our honors programs in security and in democracy and the rule of law. 


How do you see FSI’s role as one of Stanford’s independent laboratories?

It's important to recognize that FSI's growth comes at particularly interesting time in the history of higher education – where universities are under pressure, where the question of how best to advance human knowledge is a very hotly debated question, where universities are diverging from each other in some ways and where we all have to ask ourselves how best to be faithful to our mission but to innovate. And in that respect, FSI is a laboratory. It is an experimental venture that can help us to understand how a university like Stanford can organize itself to advance the mission of many units, that's the partnership point, but to do so in a somewhat different way with a deep engagement to practicality and to the current challenges facing the world without abandoning a similarly deep commitment to theory, empirical investigation, and rigorous scholarship.


What have you learned from your time at Stanford and as director of FSI that will inform and influence how you approach your role on the state’s highest court?

Universities play an essential role in human wellbeing because they help us advance knowledge and prepare leaders for a difficult world. To do this, universities need to be islands of integrity, they need to be engaged enough with the outside world to understand it but removed enough from it to keep to the special rules that are necessary to advance the university's mission. 

Some of these challenges are also reflected in the role of courts. They also need to be islands of integrity in a tumultuous world, and they require fidelity to high standards to protect the rights of the public and to implement laws fairly and equally.  

This takes constant vigilance, commitment to principle, and a practical understanding of how the world works. It takes a combination of humility and determination. It requires listening carefully, it requires being decisive and it requires understanding that when it's part of a journey that allows for discovery but also requires deep understanding of the past.

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Michael McFaul, a Stanford political scientist and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, has been selected as the next director of the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

The announcement was made Wednesday by Stanford Provost John Etchemendy and Ann Arvin, the university’s vice provost and dean of research. McFaul will succeed Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who was nominated in July as an associate justice of the California Supreme Court and elected Tuesday.

McFaul takes the helm of FSI in January.

"Stanford has long been a home for scholars who connect academia to policy and public service, and Professor McFaul is the embodiment of that model," Etchemendy said. "We are grateful for Mike's service and confident he will be a strong leader for FSI."

Arvin said McFaul is a strong fit for the position.

“Professor McFaul’s background as an outstanding scholar and his service as an influential ambassador give him a vital perspective to lead FSI, which is Stanford’s hub for studying and understanding international policy issues,” she said. “His scholarship, experience and energy will keep FSI and Stanford at the forefront of international studies as well as some of the most pressing global policy debates."

McFaul has been a faculty member in the department of political science at Stanford since 1994.  He joined the Obama administration in January 2009, serving for three years as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House. He then served as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2012 to 2014.

McFaul already has a deep affiliation with FSI. Before joining the government, he served as FSI deputy director from 2006 to 2009.  He also directed FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) from 2005 to 2009.

During his four years leading CDDRL, McFaul launched the Draper Hills Summer Fellowship program for mid-career lawyers, politicians, advocates and business leaders working to shore up democratic institutions in their home countries. He also established CDDRL’s senior honors program.  From 1992-1994, McFaul also worked as a Senior Research Fellow at FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

“I am thrilled to be assuming a leadership role again at FSI,” McFaul said.  “FSI has become one of the premier institutions in the country for policy-relevant research on international affairs.  I look forward to using my recent government experience to deepen further FSI’s impact on policy debates in Washington and around the world.”

Arvin said McFaul’s previous positions at FSI and CDDRL will make for a smooth transition in the institute’s leadership.

“His familiarity with FSI’s history and infrastructure will allow him to start this new position with an immediate focus on the institute’s academic mission,” she said.

McFaul is also the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and plans to build on his long affiliations with both Hoover and FSI to deepen cooperation between these two premier public policy institutions on campus.

He has written and co-authored dozens of books including Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should, How We CanTransitions To Democracy: A Comparative Perspective (with Kathryn Stoner); Power and Purpose: American Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (with James Goldgeier); and Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin.

“In so many ways, Mike represents the best of FSI,” said Cuéllar, who has held leadership positions at FSI since 2004 and begins his term on the California Supreme Court in January. “He knows the worlds of academia and policy extremely well, and will bring unique experience and sound judgment to his new role at FSI.”

McFaul currently serves as a news analyst for NBC News, appearing frequently on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC as a commentator on international affairs. He also appears frequently on The Charlie Rose Show and The Newshour, as well as PBS and BBC radio programs. He has recently published essays in Foreign AffairsThe New York TimesPolitico, and Time

McFaul was one of the first U.S. ambassadors to actively use social media for public diplomacy. He still maintains an active presence on Facebook at amb.mcfaul and on Twitter at @McFaul.

McFaul received his B.A. in International Relations and Slavic Languages and his M.A. in Russian and East European Studies from Stanford University in 1986.  As a Rhodes Scholar, he completed his D. Phil. in International Relations at Oxford University in 1991.

“Since coming here in 1981 as 17-year-old kid from Montana, Stanford has provided me with tremendous opportunities to grow as a student, scholar, and policymaker,” McFaul said. “I now look forward to giving back to Stanford by contributing to the development of one of the most vital and innovative institutions on campus.” 


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Becky Bach
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Eyeglasses boosted the standardized test scores of rural Chinese schoolchildren as much as 18 percent in just six months, according to a large-scale, ongoing study led by Stanford researchers.

"The evidence is overwhelming," said Scott Rozelle, co-director of the Rural Education Action Program (REAP), a coalition of Chinese universities and Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies that works to improve education and health in rural China.

The initial test scores for nearsighted students hovered around 68 percent. After receiving glasses, average scores soared to 86 percent. "You do these simple interventions and a child's whole life changes," Rozelle said. "It's fantastic."

REAP scholars partnered with Chinese ophthalmologists and scores of graduate students to orchestrate the massive project, the first to examine vision problems in rural China.

In 2012 and 2013, the team screened the vision of approximately 20,000 fourth and fifth graders in rural Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and doled out more than 4,000 pairs of eyeglasses. They discovered that 25 percent of the students were nearsighted, but only one in seven of those nearsighted students had the glasses they needed.

"There's a huge amount of unmet need," said Matthew Boswell, a REAP project manager based at Stanford.

The results may seem intuitive. Yet, helping the millions of nearsighted children in rural China is anything but easy, the REAP team discovered. Few of these rural children (and adults) know they are nearsighted – the world, to them, is naturally blurry. In addition, eye doctors are concentrated in the populous coastal corridors or regional "county towns," often dozens of miles by bus from the homes of rural Chinese families, Boswell said.

Basic eyeglasses cost between 200 and 500 yuan ($30 to $80), a price out of reach for many, he said.

The researchers also struggled to counter pervasive superstitions about eyeglasses.

For example, many rural Chinese residents believe that glasses make children's' vision deteriorate, relying on the observation that vision generally worsens with age, Boswell said. In addition, many Chinese do "eye exercises" by rubbing their eyes, cheeks and temples each morning, a practice they believe improves vision, he said.

They also face political struggles: China's rural health care program doesn't pay for vision care. "We could tell health or education officials until we were blue in the face there was a high level of need for vision care in rural communities," Boswell said. "But if your findings are not attached to something they care about, it's hard to make them listen."

Hence the connection to the test scores, a highly valued measurement by Chinese policymakers. The REAP team taps its large network of Chinese academic collaborators to translate its research results into policy reform, a process that is often successful, Rozelle said.

REAP is currently analyzing alternative ways to boost the delivery and acceptance of eye care, Boswell said. The original study assigned nearsighted students into six groups.  Researchers gave one-third of the students glasses; one-third received a voucher to purchase glasses; and another third remained untreated. Then, half of the students in each group received training about the causes and treatments for vision problems.

The training failed to significantly affect whether students wore the glasses, Boswell said.  The students who had to invest time to acquire glasses using a voucher demonstrated similar usage rates as students who received free glasses, he said.

Among a variety of other initiatives currently underway, the REAP team is training Chinese teachers to conduct simple vision tests, Boswell said.

"It's an extreme feel–good example," Rozelle said. "You put the first pair of glasses on a kid … and then a huge smile lights up their face."

Becky Bach is a writer for the Stanford News Service.

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