Nicholas A. Christakis Honored with Sterling Professorship at Yale

Professor Nicholas Christakis. (Photo by TNH staff, file).

NEW HAVEN, CT – Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis has been named Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Yale University announced in a statement. A physician and sociologist, Christakis conducts research in the areas of network science, biosocial science, and public health.

“The Sterling Professorship is the highest honor bestowed on Yale faculty, upon approval by the Yale Board of Trustees,” the Yale News reported.

“I am deeply honored by this recognition which reflects Yale’s substantial commitment to inter-disciplinary science and also the vibrant contributions of the many students and scholars on my research team. I am eager to make myself useful to Yale’s mission,” Christakis said.

Director of the Human Nature Lab and co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, which explores fundamental properties of social, biological, engineering, and computational networks, and invents approaches to intervene in them for the better, Christakis was at the center of controversy beginning in 2015 over an email sent by his wife Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Yale on Early Childhood Education.

Christakis had defended his wife’s email about young people’s choices in Halloween costumes, which itself was a response to a Yale directive from the Intercultural Affairs Committee warning students about culturally insensitive costumes.

“In the years since, Professor Christakis has been both hero and pariah on Yale’s campus, seen alternately as a fierce warrior of free expression or an unapologetic defender of ignorance,” the New York Times reported, adding that “Yale, suddenly a lightning rod for conservative and progressive critics alike, has repeatedly found itself forced to reaffirm its commitment to both ideological and racial diversity.”

Christakis retained his tenured teaching position after stepping down as the head of a residential college in 2016 amid the controversy, and has been vocal about free speech, writing an opinion piece in The Times about “teaching inclusion in a divided world,” and denouncing on Twitter the “distortions and out-of-context quotes” concerning his wife’s email, The Times reported.

A graduate of Yale College in 1984, Christakis received his MD from Harvard Medical School, his MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health, and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. At Yale, he has appointments in the Departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Biomedical Engineering, and Statistics and Data Science, as well as at the School of Management. Before joining the Yale faculty in 2013, Christakis served as professor at Harvard University for 12 years.  Prior to that, he was on the faculty at the University of Chicago, where he was also a clinical director of a hospice program delivering end-of-life care to underserved populations.

Among his several books are Death Foretold: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical Care and Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, which has been translated into 20 languages. Christakis’ next book, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, will appear in 2019. He has also written more than 180 peer-reviewed articles in professional journals, the Yale News reported.

Christakis was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006; the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010; and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017. In 2009, he was named by Time magazine to its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.