In most years, but not all, we award two of our colleagues important research honors – the Distinguished Achievement in Research Award and the Career Research Achievement Award. Nominations are received each year. The competition is always very strong, so merely being nominated is an honor. This year is no exception.
1. Distinguished Achievement in Research Award
This award recognizes a single distinguished achievement in scholarship and research. The types of achievement envisaged include the winning of a prestigious book prize, the receipt of distinguished awards from one’s peers, or the receipt of a major center grant. It is expected that such achievements will be relatively recent, certainly within the last five years.
This year’s awardee is Professor Kobbi Nissim of the Computer Science department.
Can we protect the privacy of individual data and still use data to produce information contributing to the common good? Kobbi Nissim answers “yes” to this question through fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of Differential Privacy. “Differentially private” analyses add some statistical noise to information gleaned from datasets to protect individual data in measurable ways, while retaining the information content of the statistics generated.
Kobbi received (along with his collaborators) the 2017 Gödel Prize, given annually to the authors of the year’s most outstanding paper in Theoretical Computer Science. The tools derived from their work not only ensure that we draw useful and valid inferences from data while keeping it safe, but also address concerns about sharing private information. Differential privacy was recently included among the “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2020” by the MIT Technology Review.
While his work is mostly theoretical, it has widespread practical applications, many of which he has stimulated. Working with computer scientists, social scientists and legal scholars from Harvard, Boston and Georgetown, Kobbi is leading a collaborative agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to use the technique to allow information from this year’s census to be shared while protecting the privacy of all contributors. Further, Google and Apple have incorporated the concepts into their operations.
2. Career Research Achievement Award
This award focuses on long-term impact of research in the wider academic community and beyond. The nominees’ work must be recognized as distinguished and influential well beyond the Georgetown community.
The recipient of this year’s Career Research Achievement Award is Professor Fathali Moghaddam, Professor of Psychology and director of the Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Program in the College. Prof. Moghaddam’s scholarship addresses intergroup dynamics and social conflict, with applications to multiple disciplines, including social psychology, political science, international relations, and human rights.
The author of 30 books, over 200 articles, and more than 100 book chapters, his research eschews a singular use of either quantitative or qualitative approaches. Instead, he uses a mixed methods approach, broad in scope and insightful to the problem at hand. Two recent books, The Psychology of Dictatorship and Threat to democracy: The Appeal of Authoritarianism in an Age of Uncertainty (a finalist 2020 PROSE award) provide evidence of the widespread relevance of his work to today’s world.
He has been honored by no less than three of his professional communities, with the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence, a division of the American Psychological Association (APA); the Outstanding International Psychologist Award in 2012 by the APA’s Division of International Psychology; and most recently, the 2020 Harold Lasswell Award by the International Society of Political Psychology “[g]iven to a scholar who has amassed a lifetime of achievement in interdisciplinary work that informs both Political Scientists and Psychologists around the world.”
Join me in congratulating these two colleagues. They honor Georgetown by their contributions to the expansion of human understanding.