Economics

You may have seen Pantheon, the newest creation out of MIT Media Lab’s Macro Connection group, in the news lately. With the ability to rank globally famous people—Aristotle currently sits at number one—the platform has garnered a lot of attention. These rankings, however, are just one part of Pantheon.

A concept developed by Macro Connection’s Principal Investigator, César A. Hidalgo, which builds off his previous work with the Observatory of Economic Complexity and DataViva, Pantheon aims to map and visualize historical cultural production. Think of cultural production as contributions to our global culture, like Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone or Stephen King’s multitude of novels.

“The major insight at the project’s start was that a lot of things can count as culture, say Starbucks or blue jeans. Those things we can’t really measure, but we can measure Harry Potter as proxied by JK Rowling,” explains graduate student Kevin Hu ’13, who works with the Macro Connections group.

Consequently, cultural productions are represented in Pantheon’s database by the biographies of globally notable characters who have broken the boundaries of space, time, and language.

Pantheon then ranks, sorts, and visualizes the data of the 11,340 biographies sourced from Wikipedia that meet this criteria. For the language criteria, a biography must appear in Wikipedia in more than 25 different languages to be included in Pantheon’s database. Pantheon’s space criteria relates to how far a notable figure’s influence has reached around the world. Lastly, time helps to weed out cultural one-hit wonders that may seem huge in a specific year, but lose their cultural relevance beyond that.

With this information, Pantheon can then provide visitors myriad visualizations. It can showcase the cultural output of a country based on profession—the US is tops for actors. Or rank the most famous gymnasts of all time—Věra Čáslavská of the Czech Republic claims the number one spot.

Beyond the compelling visualizations, Hu says that the ultimate goal of Pantheon is to give everyone the chance to discover and draw conclusions from data it provides: “Anyone with a web browser and internet connection can learn the stories contained in our data.”

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The winter issue of MIT’s Spectrvm showcases MIT research on making cities more livable, efficient, and sustainable. Certainly, they are growing—by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities. The work of many of MIT’s architects and urban planners, who are working on the problems and opportunities inherent in this rapid growth, is covered in this issue.

Fab Lab champion Neil Gershenfeld chats with students at Boston’s South End Technology Center. Photo: Len Rubenstein

Fab Lab champion Neil Gershenfeld chats with students at Boston’s South End Technology Center. Photos: Len Rubenstein

A trend toward sharing assets, rather than owning them, offers opportunities to live more conveniently and less expensively. Professor J. Meejin Yoon has proposed the Shareway, a transformation of the I-95 Boston-Washington route into a multi-layer transportation artery that would include a high-speed rail system along with cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Kent Larson, director of the City Science Initiative in the MIT Media Lab, says his group is designing 300-square feet apartments that can function at twice their size. A 10-year study launched by the new Center for Advanced Urbanism will examine how physical design can improve human health, even as urban density seems destined to increase. Read the full article, “The Future Is Cities,” for more. Other highlights:

Do-it-Yourself Manufacturing

Fab labs, workshops equipped with computer-controlled tools for making things, have spread across America and beyond, championed by MIT and offering city dwellers a place to build furniture or a startup prototype. This form of do-it-yourself manufacturing, pioneered by Professor Neil Gershenfeld, is helping cities evolve by sparking local, small manufacturing businesses and teaching young people to be self-sufficient.

Noelle Eckley Selin works to cut air pollution in urban areas.

Noelle Eckley Selin works to cut air pollution in urban areas.

Pollutants to Smart Policy

Noelle Eckley Selin’s research tracks air pollution and determines its economic impact. When she found that air pollution in China cost the country $112 billion in 2005, environmental policymakers worldwide took note. Recently the assistant professor has turned her computer models on the effects of potential climate policies on air pollutants and human health across the northeastern U.S.

Read Spectrvm online and check out Continuum, Spectrvm’s blog. In a recent post, learn about Alexandra Witze ’92, a correspondent for Nature, who parlayed her earth science studies into a career as a science writer.

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More than 50,000 people visit MIT’s Living Wage Calculator each month, trying to understand the gap between what Americans earn and what they need to earn to cover basic needs.

MIT Living Wage Calculator identifies the gap between what people earn and what they need to earn.

MIT Living Wage Calculator shows the gap between wages and a modest cost of living. Click to enlarge.

Certainly this tool, with county-by-county statistics, provides data relevant to current discussions on raising the federal minimum wage. And its creator, Professor Amy Glasmeier, offers insights on how to transform America’s unemployment and underemployment problems into a solution that can help individuals and families as well as national productivity.

Glasmeier, professor of economic geography and regional planning, first developed the calculator in 2004 during a study of why some geographical areas that emerge from poverty, return to it in a few years. The difference between communities that returned to poverty—or not—was the rate of people participating in the labor market, she says. And a key reason people leave the labor market is because they can’t earn enough money in the traditional workforce to survive.

The MIT Living Wage Calculator lets you figure out how much is “enough” to live in your county by comparing the living wage—based on the barebones cost of housing, food, transportation, and child and health care—against the poverty wage and the minimum wage.

Amy Glasmeier with some of her students in the SkolTech program in Russia.

Amy Glasmeier, center, with students she taught last fall in MIT’s SkolTech program in Russia.

This is not a middle class lifestyle—the living wage does not include any savings and only one set of clothing for either hot and cold weather, not both. Surviving on the living wage is tough, she says, and it’s nearly impossible to live on the current federal minimum wage, $7.25. In comparison, the living wage for a family including one adult and one child in the state of Massachusetts is $24.84; for Mississippi, it’s $16.88. Check the living wage in your area.

So what has spurred public interest in raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 now?

“We are seeing this cascading of human stories that are quite tragic, and everybody, even in the most sophisticated occupations like finance and health care, know someone who has lost their job or has had to move down in the labor market and is working for less than their skills are worth,” Glasmeier says. In addition, many parents see that their young college-educated children are under or unemployed, and employers see that their minimum wage employees often work a second job to cover basic living expenses.

Glasmeier says the argument that a higher minimum wage would reduce employment is questionable. Research shows that many employers prefer not to cut employees, whom they have invested time and money in, when wages go up. Rather, they may invest in productivity, so their returns go up. So raising wages plus public sector employment can be good investments, she says.

“When we began with the minimum wage, the argument was made that you were under utilizing human resources if you did not employ people and pay them a wage they could live on,” she says. “If, as a nation, we have millions of people out of work or under employed, then we are not using our assets wisely. If people are unable to achieve their maximum potential, that is also a drag on the economy.”

To paraphrase Henry Ford, you have to pay people enough to buy the things they produce—but raising wages also boosted Ford’s bottom line by reducing employee attrition. So, at least in that example, raising wages really did help everybody.

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on Dec. 6, Slice highlighted MIT alumni who were nominated for TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. But those alumni nominees weren’t the only MITers honored by the magazine in 2013.

A few months back, TIME announced the 2013 TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people throughout the past calendar year. According to TIME, entrants are recognized for changing and affecting the world—in a positive or negative way.

Three MIT alumni made this year’s list and Slice is proud to announce that each had a positive effect on the world in 2013.

Image via TIME

Image via TIME

Mario Draghi PhD ’77

As president of the European Central Bank, Draghi oversees the world’s largest single-currency area and is responsible for leading the European banking system towards an economic recovery.

“After 18 months at the helm of the Frankfurt institution, Mario has reshaped the bank. His down-to-earth approach and keen sense of humor conceal a formidable will and the courage to take on skeptics for the good of the currency — and the continent.”

Image via TIME

Image via TIME

Katherine Luzuriaga ’78, SM ’80

Luzuriaga is an immunologist from the University of Massachusetts who, according to the magazine, is one of three women responsible orchestrating a medical breakthrough that functionally cured a newborn of AIDS.

Luzuriaga was named to the list alongside Hannah Gay, a pediatrician at the University of Mississippi, and Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

“There’s even hope that adults may benefit from the same rapid treatment immediately after HIV infection. Following the success with the newborn, another study reported that 14 more patients have been able to control HIV. These findings show that early HIV treatment has even greater benefits than previously thought.”

Image via TIME

Image via TIME

Andrew Ng SM ’98

Ng, the director of the Stanford University AI Lab, cofound Coursera, the educational technology company that partners with universities to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs). He was named to the list with Coursera cofounder and Stanford Professor Daphne Koller.

“Coursera recruited elite schools and top professors, offers a range of courses beyond computer science and built a platform with enough bandwidth to reach a global audience. Daphne and Andrew’s energy and devotion to try to educate the world is terrific.”

In 2012, five members of the TIME 100 had MIT connections: Draghi; educational pioneer Sal Khan ’98, MEng ’98; Professor Andrew Lo; Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ’76; and Professor Donald Sadoway.

What’s your take? Are there other MIT alumni—or anyone else—who should have been named to the TIME 100? And which alums should be named to the 2014 list? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Shiller_MIT_News

Robert Shiller SM ’68, PhD ‘72. Courtesy MIT News

Robert J. Shiller SM ’68, PhD ‘72, whose empirical analysis of asset prices has shown that stock prices are less-tightly linked to future dividends than previously thought, will share the 2013 Nobel Prize in economic sciences.

Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale University who the New York Times calls “an innovator in incorporating psychology into economics,” will receive the award on December 10 in Stockholm.

Alumnus Robert J. Shiller wins Nobel Prize in economic sciences,” MIT News

The academy cited Shiller’s work, dating to the early 1980s, showing that stock prices are not as tightly linked to future dividends as the previous theory had held, but can become rapidly inflated. However, Shiller found, such swings in the market also lend themselves to a level of long-term predictability, since market corrections tend to ensue.

Listen to a telephone interview with Shiller recorded immediately following the announcement. His Nobel lecture, which will be webcast live, will take please on Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 7:30 a.m. EST.

Shiller and post-doctoral researcher James Rothman, who will share a 2013 Nobel in medicine/physiology, become the 79th and 80th MIT-connected Nobel winners. Shiller is the 31st MIT alumnus to win the Nobel Prize and the first alumnus since Adam G. Riess ’92 won the 2011 prize in physics for his observations of distant supernovae that helped reveal that the universe is rapidly expanding.

The full list of Nobel Prize-winning MIT alumni, descending by award year, is listed below.

2013: Shiller
2011: Riess
2009: Oliver E. Williamson ’55, economics sciences
2008: Paul Krugman PhD ’77, economic sciences
2007: Wei M. Hao SM ’12, peace
2006: Andrew Fire PhD ’83, medicine/physiology; George Smoot ’66, PhD ’71, physics
2005: Robert Aumann SM ’52, PhD ’55, economics sciences
2002: Robert Horvitz ’68, medicine/physiology
2001: George Akerlof PhD ’66, economic sciences; Kofi Annan SM ’72, peace; Eric Cornell PhD ’90, physics; Leland Hartwell PhD ’64, medicine/physiology; Joseph Stiglitz PhD ’66, economics sciences; Carl Wieman ’73, physics
1999: Robert Mundell ’99, economics sciences
1998: Robert Laughlin PhD ’79, physics
1997: Robert Merton PhD ’70, economic sciences; William Phillips ’76, physics
1990: Elias Corey, Jr. ’48, PhD ’51, chemistry; Henry Kendall PhD ’55, physics
1989: Sidney Altman ’60, chemistry
1987: Charles J. Pedersen SM ’27, chemistry
1980: Lawrence Klein PhD ’44, economic sciences
1976: Burton Richter ’52, PhD ’56, physics
1972: John Schrieffer ’53, physics
1969: Murray Gell-Man PhD ’51, physics
1966: Robert Mulliken ’17, chemistry
1965: Richard Feynman ’39, physics; Robert Burns Woodward ’36, PhD ’37, chemistry
1956: William Shockley PhD ’36, physics

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Prof. Suzanne Berger

Professor Suzanne Berger describes the results of the PIE study, which she co-chaired. Photo: David Sella

Guest blogger: Peter Dunn

An MIT team has identified problems that are inhibiting the revival of American manufacturing.

In the 20th century, flagship R&D organizations like AT&T’s Bell Laboratories and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center generated new technologies like the transistor and the graphical user interface for their parent corporations.

Today, that integrated approach to technology commercialization is largely gone. Basic R&D typically begins at a university or startup, with manufacturing handled by outsourced partner companies, often offshore.

And that’s a problem. MIT’s Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) project just published two MIT Press books and hosted a September conference reporting the results of their three years of research and analysis on the subject.

  • Drawing on 255 interviews in eight countries, the PIE group found that the US innovation ecosystem has significant holes that inhibit new breakthroughs from entering manufacturing and limit the growth of innovation-driven US companies.
  • Another important finding: prototyping, pilot production, and volume manufacturing not only create good jobs, but they are also fertile ground for innovation and learning, which feeds back into R&D.

“One of MIT’s great strengths is our ability to research and analyze broad questions that are rooted in technology, but engage many aspects of society,” said political science Professor Suzanne Berger, co-chair of PIE. Researchers included more than 20 MIT faculty members from engineering, science, economics, plus political and management sciences. Conference speakers included decision-makers from Dow Chemical, the Commerce Department, NIH and NSF, organized labor, and startups.

“With lower energy prices due to natural gas, rising labor costs in Asia, and more-realistic views about the constraints of outsourcing, there’s a moment of opportunity for rebuilding manufacturing in the United States,” said Berger. “That could help innovation get to market in higher volumes and faster.”

At the conference, MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced a new Institute-wide initiative on Innovation, similar to the MITEI energy initiative, with a focus on methods for accelerating the incorporation of innovations into products, including policy research into manufacturing and education.

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Manolis Kellis ’99, MNG ’99, PhD ’03 opened his TEDx Cambridge talk on September 13 with a romantic story.

“In Greece, my grandparents’ chromosomes met and it was love at first sight,” he said. “Three myosis events later, through my dad and through my mom, they gave rise to my chromosomes, a new and unique combination.”

Media Lab graduate students Deepak Jagdish and Daniel Smilkov at TEDx Cambridge.

Media Lab graduate students Deepak Jagdish and Daniel Smilkov at TEDx Cambridge.

Those in the audience at the Broad Institute auditorium and watching the talk outside in Technology Square on the crisp late-summer night were grateful for Kellis’s genetic journey. After all, it brought them a delightful talk, and more importantly, one of today’s best thinkers on science, genetics, and artificial intelligence.

Kellis, now an associate professor of computer science at MIT, projected his genome on the screen, one which revealed a genetic predisposition to macular degeneration. He then imagined aloud how doctors might treat such a condition in a future guided by genetic sequencing.

“How do we enable personalized genetics, personalized diagnosis?” he asked. “We need a systematic understanding of every single nucleotide in your genome. That’s what the analysis revolution is about. In past 10 years my lab has developed a series of computational techniques, understanding genes now at an unprecedented level of detail.”

Kellis was one of eight speakers at this year’s TEDx Cambridge event, named with an “x” to signify its independently-organized flavor in a community.

Of the eight who spoke, five came from MIT, including planetary scientist and recent MacArthur Award recipient Sara Seager, MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management Zeynep Ton, and Media Lab graduate students Deepak Jagdish and Daniel Smilkov. Watch their talks on the TEDx website.

Professor Ton addressed bad jobs in America and offered a model in her case study of Mercadona, a Spanish supermarket chain that captured a higher market share than Walmart thanks to her four prescribed tactics: operating with slack, offering fewer products, cross-training employees, and standardizing and empowering their work.

To the audience, Ton implored: “Vote with your feet: dine or shop at places that offer good jobs…companies lack long-term thinking. But everyone wins [in this method]–customers, employees and investors. We need more companies to follow it.”

Following Ton came Smilkov and Jagdish, who designed and coded Immersion, the “people-centric view of your email life,” in Professor César Hidalgo’s Macro Connections group at the MIT Media Lab.

The two explained the serendipity in launching a tool that aggregates and displays one’s entire email inbox in the same month that the NSA email-scandal emerged. Still, they shared some of their great insights on metadata, enormous amounts of which have been collected through the program.

“We leave behind unique digital traces,” Smilkov said. “What we lack are tools that can help us revisit and learn from our own digital trail.”

The last presentation came from Sara Seager, who took audience members on a journey to exoplanets in deep space, ones that her lab, along with Northrup Grummond and Cal Tech, has studied with a unique combination of telescopes and a star shade. Seager displayed a video of the star shade opening and closing before it was launched into space, where it will block out the light from suns to expose the planets orbiting them.

“I believe that in our lifetime, we will be able to take children to a dark sky, and point to a star and say ‘that star has a planet with signs of life in its atmosphere. That star has a planet like earth,’” said Seager. “And I am going to be devoting the rest of my life to make this happen.”

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More than 600 “High Streets”–or main streets–beckon shoppers in Britain’s cities and towns, including High Street London, a well-known shoppers’ paradise. But High Streets, like US main streets, have suffered in a down economy where both online shopping and brick-and-mortar rents have taken off.

Graphic: Keith Khan

To win shoppers back, downtown shops must see themselves as connected nodes on the customer’s grid, says Gomez. Graphic: Keith Khan

Niki Gomez MBA ’09 hopes to fix that in London, where she currently lives. After co-authoring a study on how technology can improve downtown marketplaces, Gomez traveled to Parliament last week to present a report entitled “Future of Retail White Paper” along with entrepreneur Bill Grimsey.

Her report is a blueprint for towns seeking to reinvent the way they do business on their High Streets, leveraging the latest technology in big data and social networking.

London is known for its congestion zone system, which tracks and exacts auto tolls when your car goes in and out of certain high-traffic zones. Retailers could employ this technology, Gomez suggests, to figure out who is in the neighborhood. They could email or text deals, change offers in their signage real-time, and adjust parking rates to meet demand. Customers could earn neighborhood points by volunteering for nonprofits in the area or by making traditional retail purchases.

For businesses, Gomez envisions real-time mobile alerts telling owners what kinds of customers are walking into their stores, and more rent flexibility on High Streets, allowing startups to bid for retail spaces on an annual basis. Re-envisioning themselves as nodes in an interconnected user-experience, businesses could benefit by networking, both physically and virtually.

“We can’t go to the old models for help,” says Gomez, “Typical retail is only one way that people will buy now, rather than the only way. We have to find ways to make it more attractive.”

A committee of the House of Commons is reviewing the documents Gomez submitted. Her hope is to get government funding for pilot neighborhood experiments.

Rethinking High Street is only one project of Gomez’s, whose business savvy has led her to create several ventures.

Cybersalon is a website Gomez built in 1997 but relaunched in 2011 in conjunction with a monthly speakers’ series at a London storefront. Gomez brings together top thinkers to discuss all things cyber, from Bitcoin to cybersecurity and terrorism to 3D printing.

This spring, Gomez recounted her journey to find some of Bitcoin’s coders in London, who were squatting in an abandoned temple, in Wired UK.

The digital, non-governmental currency intrigues Gomez.

“I realized how political the whole thing was,” Gomez says. “Some alternative currencies come out of wanting real independence – from governments and from banks.  The Bitcoin hackers I met are anarchists, but not all Bitcoiners are. A lot of people in suits are taking it seriously too! It’s still to be seen whether this interest is as a commodity – buying into the innovation of the idea – or really as a currency, as you still can’t buy that much with Bitcoins.”

When not working on Cybersalon, Gomez does independent consulting work. Her clients have included a global fitness brand, IBM, Samsung and Godrej, one of India’s largest conglomerates, for who she developed Gojiyo.com, a Second-Life like virtual game. She is also at work on a luxury-line of digitally printed saris.

 

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TR35MIT Technology Review recently announced its annual TR35—the Top 35 Innovators Under 35. And similar to past years, the MIT community has a strong presence on the always-anticipated list.

Christine Fleming '04 (photo via TR)

Christine Fleming ’04 (photo via TR)

At least seven MITers—including five alumni, one graduate student, and two Institute assistant professors—were named to the thirteenth annual roll call of the world’s best young innovators who are driving the next generation of technology breakthroughs.

The MIT names listed below represent varied backgrounds including developing-world technology, nuclear power, and body-machine interfaces.

  • Leslie Dewan ’07, PhD ’13, chief science officer and co-founder, Transatomic Power, has designed a nuclear “waste-annihilating molten-salt reactor” that may be able to consumer nuclear waste and never melt down.
  • Christine Fleming ’04, assistant professor, Columbia University, has created a device that shows real-time, high-resolution images of a beating heart during cardiac procedures.
  • Roozbeh Ghaffari ’01, MEng ’03, PhD ’08, co-founder and director, MC10, is an expert in the science and technology of body-machine interfaces and body-integrated devices.
  • Rebeca Hwang ’02, MEng ’03, CEO, YouNoodle, connects entrepreneurs through YouNoodle-organized technology competitions.
  • Steve Ramirez, doctoral student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, is a “brain inceptor” focused on finding where memories are located throughout the brain.
  • Amos Winter SM ’05, PhD ’11, assistant professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, focuses on technology in the developing world and has developed a wheelchair sturdy enough for uneven outdoors terrain.
  • Feng Zhang, assistant professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, is using genomic research to dispel misconceptions and inaccuracies about mental illness.
Amos Winter SM ’05, PhD ’11

Amos Winter SM ’05, PhD ’11

According to the magazine, the TR35 is a nearly year-long process where hundreds of candidates (who must be younger than 35 on Oct. 1, 2014) are first narrowed down to 100 finalists. A panel of judges rate each finalist’s originality and scope of impace, and the editors take the judges score into account when selecting the list of 35.

The panel of 15 judges who rated the finalists includes six MIT alumni: David Berry ’00, PhD ’05, a partner at Flagship Ventures; MIT Associate Professor Edward Boyden ’99, MEng ’99; Professor Yet-Ming Chiang ’80, ScD ’85; Jennifer Elisseeff PhD ’99, a professor at Johns Hopkins; John Rogers SM ’92, SM ’92, PhD ’95, a professor at the University of Illinois; and MIT Senior Lecturer Ken Zolot.

Did we leave any MIT community members off our list? Are there any other MIT alumni or faculty that should have made the TR35? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Five years ago, Paul Antico ’91 took an early retirement from the financial industry and found himself with an empty calendar. Retirement meant spending more time with his children, and out of this blessing came another one: a new business idea.

Each Friday, Antico took his family out to dinner. But since his kids had a variety of allergies–egg, dairy, and nut among them, Antico often ended up on edge as plates arrived, having no way of knowing which restaurants catered best to allergy sufferers.

Paul Antico '91.

Paul Antico ’91.

Out of this quandary Antico created AllergyEats, a website and mobile app for parents like him. Modeled much like Yelp and other restaurant-review platforms, AllergyEats gives patrons a way to quickly search a database of 600,000 local restaurants that offer the best allergy-free foods.

“We’re filling a niche that no one else is filling at the moment,” says Antico.  “We’re thrilled to see an increasing number of restaurants responding to the growing concern about food allergies and intolerances. Increasing numbers of restaurants are training their staff about food allergies and publishing allergy information on menus.”

Five years after launch, AllergyEats is now hosting an annual food allergy conference, partnering with reservations site OpenTable, and creating sub-communities specific to vacation spots like Disneyworld.

Ever the economist (Antico was a course 14 major), the hope now is to make AllergyEats profitable. “We finally have–in my opinion–the critical mass to kick in the revenue model and should do so this month,” Antico says. “You won’t see banner ads–I can’t stand those.  We will partner with restaurants who want to enhance their listings on our site to hopefully draw more business.”

The site will remain free to consumers, who create accounts, contribute reviews, and rate restaurants based on their allergy-free experiences there.

With more than one in twenty-five Americans suffering from some sort of food allergy, Antico’s service is likely to be in demand for some time.

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