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January 13th, 2010
Bringing Helen Fisher to NYAS

a-burkeAdrienne Burke, Director of Public Outreach, The New York Academy of Sciences

I first met Helen Fisher in 2006, when I visited her Upper East Side apartment to interview her for a Science & the City podcast about the science of love. Helen, who is a professor at Rutgers University and author of five books, had recently become Chief Scientific Advisor to Chemstry.com, which was touting a scientific new method she had developed for determining romantic compatibility. Based on more than 30 years of biological anthropological research into the nature and chemistry of romantic love, Helen had devised an online questionnaire that would enable the matchmaking site to take a scientific approach to pairing up its romance-seeking customers. Answers to an odd variety of questions—such as, Which in a series of doodles is most similar to your own? Or, How does the length of your index finger compare to your ring finger?—would give Chemistry.com a clue about the respondent’s levels of the four hormones that Fisher says are the keys to successful relationships.

Four years later, Helen was one of the first people to come to mind when I began recruiting women doing fascinating research to speak in a Girls Night Out series. At the New York Academy of Sciences on Tuesday night, more than 300 people crowded into the 40th floor conference center for the first event in our series to hear Helen explain the science behind her personality test and her research into how brain chemistry influences the success of our romantic attachments and our choices of partners. Some of her research is based on studies in which she observed the brains of people in love, or recently rejected in love, though functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Check out the video to learn which hormones are best in similar doses and which make opposites attract, and to find out what Helen thinks about humans’ tendency toward monogamy, and why love is like cocaine to the brain. She shares information that might help you to find love if you’re looking for it, or to better understand the partner you already have.

November 21st, 2009
Commentary: Revisiting the Mumbai Massacre

Todd Baer, Al Jazeera English

Todd Baer, correspondent, Al Jazeera English

The panel at Columbia University almost 1 year to the day since the Mumbai attacks was an engaging discussion and analysis of what happened in one of the world’s greatest cities on November 26, 2008.

The film that was presented, Secrets of the Dead: Mumbai Massacre by director Victoria Pitt, gave us a personal and compelling account of how the survivors managed to get away. We heard for the first time the chilling phone calls between the attackers and their handlers in Pakistan, as senior members of Lashkar-e-Taiba ordered the attackers to inflict as much damage as possible.

The film and panel discussion also brought up something that as been a source of contention since the world’s media converged on Mumbai to cover the story.

Was this an attack on foreigners staying in high-end hotels? Was this a religious attack aimed at Mumbai’s Jewish community at Nariman House? Was this an attack on India, the Indian people and Indo/Pak relations?

The short answer is all of the above, but the story presented enormous challenges to the media because there were so many layers. The panel discussion allowed me to give some insight into how I was able to cover the story for Al Jazeera English.

I had the advantage of having lived in Mumbai. I had stayed at the Oberoi Hotel and frequently visited Colaba District, where the attacks happened. In addition to this, I previously worked as a correspondent in both India and Pakistan, so naturally, I had a good understanding of what happened, where it was happening and who may be behind such a brazen attack.

Before leaving for Mumbai, my editor Richard Lewis offered what I consider to be the most commendable guidelines I have ever had on a story. He said in his notable Australian drawl, “Hey mate, let’s not make this an attack on Brits and Americans in expensive hotels. Be sure to emphasize that this was an attack on India and on the people of Mumbai.”

It made good sense. Of the more than 170 people who died, most of them were Indian citizens just going about their daily routines at Victoria station and dining at Leopold Café or the Taj and Oberoi Hotels.

Al Jazeera English had five teams of correspondents, producers and cameramen in Mumbai to cover the story. I think we probably had more manpower and more resources than any TV network in the world; this allowed me to tell the part of the story that most of the international media overlooked.

But this wasn’t just about manpower and resources. This was an example of exemplary editorial judgment from our bosses in Doha, Qatar, where Al Jazeera English is based. We knew that most of the media, no matter how many reporters they had on the ground, would run with the headline that this was an attack on foreigners and forget the Indian story.

No journalist feels good about covering a story like this, but it is our job to explain awful events to the world. I can’t think of a better assignment than getting a chance to tell the Indian part of this story.

The editorial decision allowed me to tell stories that no other international media outlet covered. We traveled to Gujarat to tell the story of Balwant Bi Tandel, one of the first casualties of the Mumbai attacks. Tandel was a fisherman on the trawler that was hijacked before the attackers reached Mumbai. We told the story of how Vishnu Ratta Van Zende, the train announcer at Victoria Station, saved dozens of lives. And we traveled to Kashmir to report on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the attacks.

Producing short news segments and making a film are different things that present unique sets of challenges.

Secrets of the Dead’s film Mumbai Massacre did an excellent job of touching on all aspects of the attack, while focusing on the stories of the survivors caught up in the siege.

This was the most compelling story that could be told in a film format because the survivors’ struggle lasted for three harrowing days, and they spoke in detail about the fear and panic inside of the hotels.

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