Portrait of HKS faculty member Linda BilmesIN THE 20 YEARS SINCE ITS INCEPTION, the War on Terror has cost the United States trillions of dollars—and those costs, according to Senior Lecturer Linda Bilmes, are far from over, regardless of the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan. In her recent working paper, “The Long-Term Costs of United States Care for Veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars,” Bilmes is the first to calculate the total costs of health care for veterans of the post-9/11 wars. She finds that by 2050, those veterans’ medical costs will reach $2.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion—double the amount of previous projections. Bilmes cites several reasons for this increase, including a high rate of disability among this cohort of veterans, higher levels of medical support provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government agencies, and greater numbers of veterans taking advantage of those services. She also reminds us of the additional deep costs of conflict for the millions of veterans who live with disabilities as a result of those wars. 

HKS faculty panelists moderated by Sarah Wald

Heard at the Dean’s Discussions

This fall, HKS faculty panelists discussed the past and future of Afghanistan in three Dean’s Discussion conversations, moderated by Sarah Wald, chief of staff to Dean Elmendorf and adjunct lecturer in public policy.

“If one of the defining characteristics of this period was human rights violations, it calls into even more question the power of military intervention to prevent human rights violations.”—Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy, at “Dean’s Discussion: What’s Next for International Relations after the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan?”

“Don’t forget what it is we are trying to do—not the creep of all the wonderful things you might be able to do.” —Eric Rosenbach, lecturer in public policy, at “Dean’s Discussion: What Happened in Afghanistan During the Past Two Decades?”

“During crisis, NGOs can help create models of governance that create more local responsibility.” —Asim Khwaja, the Sumitomo–Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development Professor of International Finance and Development, at “Dean’s Discussion: What’s Next for Afghanistan and Its People?”


Safer Violence Research

headshot of Dara Kay CohenResearch on political violence—which can involve interacting with vulnerable people on sensitive topics in unstable contexts—can pose significant ethical and safety risks. In an article in PS: Political Science and Politics, Professor Dara Kay Cohen argues that those risks are even greater for undergraduate and graduate students’ research. The article, “Who Says Yes or No? Models of Ethical and Safety Oversight for Student-Led Political Violence Research,” details additional constraints those students may face compared with doctoral students or faculty members—including little or no training in relevant qualitative methodologies, limited oversight, short deadlines, and clustering in over-researched areas—and how those factors can put the research participants, the research team, and the students themselves at risk. Cohen, who as a scholar delved deeply into the study of violence and conflict and as a course instructor taught a Policy Area of Concentration seminar for several years, offers examples of formal oversight mechanisms that can help students, faculty members, and institutions better manage student-led research and mitigate ethical and safety issues. 


Misperceptions and COVID-19

Portrait of HKS faculty member Matthew BaumConcern about misperceptions among the public has been high in recent years, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, little research has been done on how they take root. In their recent article in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, “The Role of Race, Religion, and Partisanship in Misperceptions About COVID-19,” Professor Matthew Baum and his research team explored how factors such as group affiliation, media exposure, and lived experiences correlate with the number of misperceptions people hold. Reassuringly, they found that people who have the correct information far outnumber those with misperceptions. They also found that racial minorities, the very religious, and those with strong partisan identities—on both ends of the political spectrum—hold substantially more misperceptions overall.


No Flash in the Pan

Portrait of HKS faculty member Justin De Benedictis-KessnerSince the 2016 presidential election, the number of women running for office for the first time has increased dramatically. But given that first-time candidates are more likely to lose—and suggestions that women may be more likely to be discouraged by those losses—many worry that this trend could harm women’s political engagement in the long run. However, in his new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Men and Women Candidates Are Similarly Persistent After Losing Elections,” Assistant Professor of Public Policy Justin de Benedictis-Kessner and his coauthor, Rachel Bernhard (University of California, Davis), find that women who narrowly lose elections are no more likely than men to drop out of politics. Using data on more than 212,000 candidates in state and local elections across the United States from 1950 to 2018, the researchers found that although historically fewer women than men have been involved in politics, their decision-making differs from men’s at the point of entry into politics, not of reentry. The research adds depth and context to mainstream news coverage of this phenomenon and provides evidence against pessimistic claims that the surge in women candidates is merely a “flash in the pan.”  


Assessing Community Participation

Portrait of HKS faculty member Archon Fung
Portrait of HKS faculty member Dan Levy

Each year, millions of children around the world die within the first month of life from diseases and complications that are readily preventable or treatable. Could a solution lie in greater transparency and community participation in health programs? The first study in development literature to look at such programs in a multicountry context suggests not. For their recent article in World Development, “Can Transparency and Accountability Programs Improve Health? Experimental Evidence from Indonesia and Tanzania,” Professor Archon Fung, Senior Lecturer Dan Levy, and their research team measured the effect of a transparency and accountability program designed to improve maternal and newborn health in Indonesia and Tanzania. Conceived in conjunction with local partner organizations, the program encouraged community participation to address local barriers to accessing high-quality care. The research team found no significant improvement in maternal and newborn health services, community members’ likelihood of using them, or perceptions of civic efficacy among recent mothers in treated communities. Using interviews, focus groups, and other methods, the authors determined that the paths from planning to execution in these settings are too complex for most community members to navigate.  


Faculty Recognition

Professor of Public Policy Marcella Alsan won a 2021 MacArthur “genius grant” for her work on health inequities.

Adjunct Professor of Public Policy Deborah Hughes Hallett received the 2022 American Mathematical Society Award for Impact on the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics.

John P. Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Research Professor of Environmental Policy, received the National Academy of Sciences’ most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal, for his five decades of work combining science and public service.

Pippa Norris, the Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, received the 2021 Murray Edelman Lifetime Distinguished Career Award from the political communication research section of the American Political Science Association/International Communication Association. She has also received the 2022 Sakip Sabanci International Research Award Jury Prize.

Soroush Saghafian, associate professor of public policy, received the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences MSOM Society’s 2021 Young Scholar Prize.


The Great Unequalizer

Headshot of Marcella Alsan
Headshot of Amitabh Chandra

From its early days, COVID-19 has been discussed as an “equal-opportunity pathogen”—one that could affect people of any socioeconomic status. But as Professors Marcella Alsan and Amitabh Chandra wrote in a working paper, “The Great Unequalizer: Initial Health Effects of COVID-19 in the United States,” epidemics are not experienced evenly. Black people, Hispanic people, and American Indians account for a disproportionately large number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. According to the authors, “The medium and long-run health effects of COVID-19—as well as the consequences of future novel infectious disease outbreaks which will assuredly emerge—will be shaped by how effectively and equitably policymakers respond to these formidable, yet not wholly unprecedented, challenges.”

Faculty portraits by Martha Stewart, inline photo by Benn Craig