David G. Rand
Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences
MIT Sloan School of Management
David Rand’s first nomination had us at “a one-time punk rock guitarist.” Don’t believe it? Check out his music page here where he still plays his own renditions of his punk rock favorites, albeit paired down a bit and to a room of his own children. Rand now teaches Consumer Behavior to MBAs at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “I started as a punk rocker, then became a computational biologist, then a behavioral economist, and then a cognitive psychologist,” Rand says of his “circuitous route” to Sloan.
But as we dug past Rand’s punk rock roots, it was clear he needed to be on this year’s list. With more than 24,000 Google Scholar citations, no other professor has more in our nearly decade-long history of producing this list. “These days my work has largely been focused on online misinformation and ‘fake news’ – understanding why people believe and share inaccurate information, and figuring out what social media platforms can do to combat it,” Rand says. “I’m particularly excited about recent research suggesting that inattention plays an important role in the spreading of misinformation.”
Not surprisingly, the award-winning professor’s research has popped up in major media outlets like the New York Times, Wired, and New Scientist.
Current age: 39
At current institution since what year? 2018
Education: B.A. in Computational Biology (summa cum laude) in 2004 from Cornell University. Ph.D. in Systems Biology in 2009 from Harvard University.
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Consumer Behavior
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I started at Sloan. I took a very circuitous route to get here, and never imagined that I would wind up as a business school professor. I started as a punk rocker, then became a computational biologist, then a behavioral economist, and then a cognitive psychologist. I feel extremely fortunate that Sloan pulled me into the business school world, which I’m now extremely happy to call my home!
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? These days my work has largely been focused on online misinformation and “fake news” – understanding why people believe and share inaccurate information, and figuring out what social media platforms can do to combat it. I’m particularly excited about recent research suggesting that inattention plays an important role in the spreading of misinformation. Most people don’t want to share inaccurate content, but the social media context distracts them from thinking carefully and focuses their attention on factors other than accuracy – so they forget to stop and think about whether things are accurate before the share. As a result, we’ve shown that simple nudges that shift users’ attention back to accuracy can significantly improve the quality of information the share. For me this work is really energizing because I find it intellectually interesting, and it’s also directly useful. I am working with most of the major social media/tech companies to apply ideas from our research to the fight against misinformation.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be home taking care of my kids.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? What comes up most often in my course reviews is how enthusiastic and engaged I am in my teaching. I’m really lucky that the material I teach is so fascinating to me, and I love getting to expose students to it.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Nervous! Before I came to Sloan, I’d taught undergrads at Harvard and Yale, but I was really nervous about teaching MBAs for the first time. Little did I know how much I would love it!
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That it’s not so different from being a professor in a disciplinary department.
Professor I most admire and why: Too many to list!
TEACHING MBA STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I love all of the great, creative ideas that my students come up with about how to apply ideas from class to real-world problems. It’s really inspiring!
What is most challenging? Doing my best to make the concepts I teach directly useful for students after they leave school.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Engaged.
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Camera off.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… understanding.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? Playing guitar, going on adventures with my kids
How will you spend your summer? Hanging out with my family around MA.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: We try to go somewhere new every time.
Favorite book(s): I only read fiction, mostly science fiction. I find it so addictive that I have to actively prevent myself from starting new books, or else I won’t get anything done until I finish.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? The Big Lebowski. That movie has the perfect quote for virtually all occasions.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I mostly listen to punk and hardcore (my all-time favorite album is Refused’s “The Shape of Punk to Come”), although lately I’ve been playing Phoebe Bridgers’ album “Punisher” non-stop.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… honest, thoughtful required courses on social responsibility, negative externalities, and ethics.
In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… taking their impact on society seriously – not just paying lip service to “making the world a better place”, but really being willing to make choices that prioritize things other than just the bottom line.
I’m grateful for… everything. Every day I think about how lucky and privileged I am in so many ways, and how many random events had to come out just the way they did in order for me to be where I am today.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“Professor Rand was a super engaging and interesting professor! He was incredibly encouraging, fostering an environment where we all felt we could speak our mind and come up with creative ideas during the brainstorm. This was one of my favorite classes at Sloan so far!”
“Professor Rand was amazing. Engaging, interesting, and honestly cared about creating a good experience for all of us.”
“David Rand, a one-time punk rock guitarist who now digs into psychology, cooperation, and politics, is the Erwin H. Schell Professor in MIT Sloan School of Management’s Marketing Group and director of MIT Sloan’s Human Cooperation Laboratory and Applied Cooperation Team. Bridging the fields of behavioral economics and psychology, David’s research combines mathematical/computational models with human behavioral experiments and online/field studies to understand human behavior. He was awarded the 2020 Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) Early Career Impact Award of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making (SJDM), which recognizes early-career scientists of FABBS member societies who have made major research contributions to the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior, especially those whose outstanding research contributions are accompanied by outreach activities that increase public awareness of science. He is also the winner of the inaugural AMA-EBSCO Annual Award for Responsible Research in Marketing from the American Marketing Association, which honors outstanding research that produces both credible and useful knowledge that can be applied to benefit society. His very timely research papers include Cognitive reflection correlates with behavior on Twitter (Feb. 2021); Fighting COVID-19 misinformation on social media: Experimental evidence for a scalable accuracy nudge (March 2020); The implied truth: Attaching warnings to a subset of fake news headlines increases perceived accuracy of headlines without warning (Feb. 2020).”