Summer Institute Speaker Series is more relevant than ever

From upper left, Beth Myers, Helen Boaden, Eric Isaacs, John Kerry, David Plouffe, Sarah Chayes. —Courtesy Summer Institute Speaker Series

This year’s Summer Institute Speaker Series’ lineup will give policy wonks heart palpitations. Unless otherwise stated, the talks are held at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center at 7:30 pm every Thursday through August 10. Joseph Bower, chairman of the Summer Institute, sat down with The Times and went through the highlights of each talk and the person giving it.

First up is “How to Deal with Fake News: In Search of Unbiased Reporting” by Helen Boaden on July 13. Boaden is a fellow at the Shorenstein Center for journalism at Harvard University and the former director of BBC Radio and BBC News.

This talk is reflective of the increased awareness of media biases, especially with regard to American politics. “She’s really quite spectacular,” said Mr. Bower. “She did some work while she was [at the Shorenstein Center] on the question of fake news. She did this from the perspective of someone who had run the BBC. It turns out the problem begins with the U.S. concept of fair and balanced, which has been appropriated by Fox, but in fact, it was involved in our legislation. That’s not the way that the Brits view it. The way they view it, the job of news is to be objective, and if that means that it seems one-sided, that’s too bad, because that’s what it is.”

Dr. Eric D. Isaacs comes next on July 20 with his talk titled, “U.S. Science: Underfunded Asset.” Dr. Isaacs is the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago, and the executive vice president for research, innovation, and national laboratories at the university.

“Federal funding for research in science has been declining steadily. On the other hand, business spending has increased. The challenge is that business does not fund basic research. Studies show that the competitiveness of the U.S. in the global market depends heavily on the ability of the society to innovate, which depends in turn on research. The U.S. has been cutting back since the early years of the space program. This is reflected in the decline of U.S. citizens in STEM-subject Ph.D. programs,” said Mr. Bower in an email to the Times. “Eric Isaacs has been at the center of this problem, first as director of the Argonne Lab at University of Chicago, and now as director of research and large projects at the university. In that role he also has insight into bio-science, another field where research is key and there are cutbacks.”

Next up on the docket is “The Secretary’s Perspective: The U.S. Role in a Tumultuous World” on July 27, given by former Secretary of State John Kerry. The venue has been moved from the Hebrew Center to the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

“This one speaks for itself,” said Mr. Bower. “Here he was coming to live on the Vineyard, and I said, ‘How would you like to meet your neighbors?’ and he said, ‘Fine.’ We have a chance to have him reflect at a really incredible moment. It will be just after the G20, and it will be very interesting to hear what he has to say.”

In an effort to address the collective “Huh?” that happened when people woke up to the news after election day last year, Beth Myers, former Romney campaign manager, and David Plouffe, former Obama campaign manager, will try to provide an answer in “How Did It Happen? The 2016 Election” on August 3.

“We put this series together in the fall, and we had just experienced the election, and everybody in the United States was really interested in how did this happen,” said Mr. Bower. “Myers ran Romney’s campaign and Plouffe ran Obama’s, so it seemed that this was a way of getting a balanced, expert view on what happened. We’re all still baffled.”

The speaker series will conclude on August 10 with “Thieves of State: How Global Corruption Undermines the U.S.” by Sarah Chayes, a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The title of the talk echos the title of her most recent book: “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security.”

“In her book she describes a situation that most of us don’t acknowledge, it’s that most of the governments that we deal with are terribly corrupt, and in many instances the way in which we deal with them is not as wonderful as we would like. The scale of the problem isn’t trivial; global corruption is estimated at 15 percent of global GDP. She’s talking about a really big and important problem, and it just seems like there are other things to talk about than U.S. politics,” said Mr. Bower.

The Summer Institute Speaker series has amassed another set of thought-provoking talks for the 2017 season. To buy tickets, $20 each, visit