2023–24 CASBS Fellows Tell Ghost Stories

CASBS at Stanford Univ.
4 min readJan 11, 2024

CASBS fellows often choose their offices (what we call studies) here on the hill for a very specific, sometimes personal, reasons, or get inspired once they see the list of former fellows (‘ghosts’) who occupied their studies throughout CASBS history. Here are some examples from 2023–24 fellows Michelle Miao, David Moore, Beth DeSombre, Thung-Hong Lin, and Peter Ferretto.

During my sabbatical year away from my home institution, CUHK, I found a sublime intellectual sanctuary in the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS). Study #16, my research haven, was once graced by two Nobel Laureates in Economics — Theodore W. Schultz (1979) and Paul M. Romer (2018). Despite receiving their Nobel Prizes 39 years apart, both had shared the same study space at CASBS over two decades before their Nobel recognition. Intriguingly, as eminent economists, they both significantly contributed to the concept of human capital in economic theory. As a legal scholar, their meticulous exploration of the impact of scarcity of resources on human development has offered me profound insights, albeit from diverse perspectives.

Michelle Miao

Moreover, Study #16 also housed the “uncrowned” Nobel laureate Amos Tversky. His collaborative work with Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman (2002), during their simultaneous tenure at CASBS, profoundly shaped our understanding of human judgment and decision-making. Their joint efforts during the 1977–78 academic year at CASBS and Stanford, along with groundbreaking work by Richard Thaler (also awarded the Nobel prize in 2017), marked a crucial turning point in the formation of behavioral economics, one of the most significant accomplishments in modern social science. Their scholarship continues to influence various fields including economics, medicine, law, and political science, and provides guidance for legal scholars like myself who continually seek interdisciplinary inspiration.

Finally, study #16 was also occupied by two esteemed legal scholars — Lawrence Friedman and John Kaplan. Their intellectual legacies in legal history and criminal law have been indispensable sources of inspiration in my past and current research. As I tread the same path “up the hill” as many CASBS predecessors have done over the past six decades, I am privileged to partake in the rich intellectual heritage they have generously bequeathed. My appreciation extends to both my home institution and my intellectual haven at CASBS for making this enriching year possible.

-Michelle Miao

I had an opportunity to visit CASBS in late April 2023, well before studies were eligible to be selected. I looked at the lists of the studies’ previous occupants and was amazed to see how many of my intellectual heroes had spent a year in the various offices; if I was going to make a choice based only on these “ghosts,” I would have had a dozen good studies to choose from. But study #54 attracted my attention for a different, non-ghost-related reason: It had a wonderful view and a second, side window that I thought would offer a welcome cross-breeze on warm days.

David Moore

After I was drawn to study #54, I looked at its list of previous occupants and was touched to see that my old friend and colleague, Nalini Ambady, occupied the office as a fellow in 2009–10. Nalini and I entered graduate school at Harvard University together in 1983, in a very small class of about 14 Ph.D. students; we all got to know each other very well over the next few years. Nalini went on to a spectacular career that took her to my Alma Mater, Tufts University, in 2004, and ultimately to Stanford University in 2011. Although her research was quite different from mine (in addition to studying racial biases and stereotyping, she studied the ability to predict people’s psychological characteristics after extremely short observations of their nonverbal behaviors, while I was studying perception in four-month-old babies), her work was consistently fascinating, important, and elegantly conducted. We lost touch in the decade after we earned our doctorates, so I was heartsick when I was told in the mid-2010’s that Nalini had died at the very young age of 54. I learned that the leukemia she was diagnosed with in 2004 was temporarily defeated following treatment, but it re-emerged in 2011; she died in 2013. So, tragically, this really is a ghost story, because this brilliant, kind scientist is no longer with us. But I am honored to be able to occupy study #54 this year, to share this space with my old, respected friend and colleague, temporally displaced as we are. May her insightful and inquisitive spirit animate my work at CASBS this year.

-David Moore



CASBS at Stanford Univ.

Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University casbs.stanford.edu