R. Duncan Luce (1925-2012)

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Jan 172015

Eugene Galanter
Columbia University

I met Bob Bush at Dartmouth at the Social Science Research Council Mathematics meeting, in the summer of 1953. I also met Fred Mosteller, Leon Festinger, and Paul Lazarsfeld there; a mighty triumverate. Bush, soon a close friend, introduced me to Duncan at a meeting in New York in 1954. Later, Bob and I worked on some experimental problems when I was at the Psychoacoustics Laboratory at Harvard from 1956-58. I stayed there for the 1956-57 term, but by then Bob had moved to the New York School of Social Work at Columbia University. Duncan was already at Columbia, and this was when we all began meeting together routinely. The general topic was choice behavior—learning, psychophysics, and preference.

During the middle of that year Duncan accepted a position at Harvard, which spread our trio out along the northeast coast. To continue our meetings as well as to run some experiments we were designing, we needed financial support. The three of us applied for and shortly received a grant in the sum of $10,000 from the American Philosophical Society. They sent a checkbook. When we had spent all the funds they simply asked us to return the check stubs. Hi-ho a simpler life.

At least one of those meetings had interesting consequences. A train trip to Boston on Thanksgiving weekend gave Bob and me time to discuss the problem Penn’s Department of Psychology was having finding a new chairman. Penn was beginning to shift from its postwar concentration on training clinical psychologists towards a commitment to a strong experimental program in several fields of psychology. By the time Bob and I arrived at Duncan’s Cambridge apartment, we had hatched the idea of proposing Bob’s name as chairman. Among its advantages would be the establishment of an Eastern haven where mathematical psychology could be fostered. The idea appealed to us, but the political realities were formidable. Just how realistic was it for an assistant professor (me) to propose as chairman of one of the oldest departments of psychology in the United States, a recently converted physicist who was then an applied mathematician in a School of Social Work, especially when one of his first proposed appointments would be Duncan, an MIT graduate with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

During the first two years of Bob’s chairmanship at Penn, the academic year ended with two months of close collaboration when Duncan, Bob, and I rented a house in Pigeon Cove, near Rockport, MA. We were joined there for part of the time by Fred Mosteller. While there work was completed on four papers—one by Bush and Estes’ (1959); one by Bush, Galanter, & Luce (1959); one by Bush & Mosteller (1959); and Galanter & Bush (1959), That fall Duncan joined the Penn faculty and further travel became unnecessary. The three of us became so close that we were like family in our thinking and planning.

Ultimately when all three of us settled in Philadelphia, we bought houses near each other. We socialized together, made decisions about the development of the department, and even though Bob was the Chairman, decisions were made by the three of us. At Penn, we began working on the Handbook of Mathematical Psychology and the Readings in Mathematical Psychology.

During a year at the Stanford Center, I took flying lessons, and became so centered on flying that I bought my first airplane. Duncan often went flying with me. We traveled together to various meetings in America (by plane) and Europe, but always returned to Penn, until I received an invitation from the University of Washington. I was asked to come there to be Chairman and hopefully to perform the same transformation there, that we had put together at Penn.

I visited Seattle in the spring of 1962, and arrived for the fall term. That Christmas Patricia and I were married. We bought a 55 foot yacht, the Gloria, and after unhappy residential efforts, decided to put our furniture in storage and live aboard. On Duncan’s frequent visits, he used his U.S. Navy seamanship handling the lines, steering the Gloria, etc. On one of our cruises on Lake Washington, he took the dinghy for a bit of rowing taking other guests including Richard Rose and Don Norman. We always had a good crowd on those cruises. We would often go through the locks to Puget Sound and then up to Victoria, Canada, docking at the Empress Hotel. Bob and Duncan took that Canadian trip several times.

At that time I was called to various NSF site visit committees, so Patricia and I would often be on the east coast. We always took time to visit Philadelphia, and would stay in Duncan’s house, which was much like the house that I had owned when I was in Philadelphia. Duncan was always a gracious host—always concerned that we were comfortable. On a later visit, Duncan had moved to a larger house. It was quite elaborate with a bathtub that was almost as large as a swimming pool. Here I saw how community-minded Duncan was, for he always had a basket of oranges outside the gate for neighborhood children.

Around this time Duncan decided to take flying lessons, and ultimately bought a Cessna 172. In December 1965 on a visit all over the east coast, Duncan told us about what had happened on November 9,1965. He had taken off from LaGuardia at 5:20 p.m. and looking back only saw black. Not a single light anywhere. It was the night the whole New York area had a massive “black out.” Fortunately Philadelphia had not lost power, so he landed safely. I don’t think he continued flying much after that, as I don’t recall him discussing planes anymore.

In 1966 Patricia and I decided to leave Seattle. We arrived in New York on Labor Day weekend and spent the year at Columbia. We decided to stay at Columbia. Duncan decided to go to the Princeton Institute, and continued to visit often in New York. However, one fateful day, he visited and told us he was accepting a position at Harvard. He seldom traveled down to New York anymore, and we were spending more time in Europe by then. But, we did get together at a meeting in Syracuse in 1989 to discuss Stevens’s impact on psychology. Duncan told us that he had met someone very special, and that they were planning to be married. He and Carolyn Scheer were married, and subsequently moved to UC Irvine where Duncan spent the rest of his academic life.

I have been visiting with him at Irvine for the past few years. We had planned to do some experiments together this spring. He was one of my oldest and dearest friends, and I miss him.


John C. Baird (June 24, 1938 – June 8, 2011)

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Jan 172015

 Timothy Hubbard

John C. (“Jack”) Baird received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth in 1960 and his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1964. He served as a Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College from 1967 until he retired in 2000, and from 2000 until his death served as an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Jack was one of the founding members of the International Society for Psychophysics in 1985, and he participated in and contributed to the success of the society during the early years. In his long career, he had a significant impact through his own research and through his influences on colleagues and students.

Jack viewed the world with a psychophysical eye, and his curiosity was wide-ranging. For Jack, psychophysics was not something apart from the world of everyday life; rather, psychophysics reflected and informed the world of everyday life. A short list of his interests and the areas in which he made significant empirical and theoretical contributions includes geometries of visual space, sequence effects, properties of magnitude estimation, the moon illusion, environmental memory, pattern recognition, imagery, memory psychophysics, and medical psychophysics. Early in his career he focused more on basic issues (e.g., the use of numbers in scaling, cognitive effects on spatial representation). Later in his career he focused more on applied issues (and founded Psychological Applications, LLC), often using psychophysics to assess and improve the quality of life (developing more accurate assessments for pain, breathlessness, and the effectiveness of hearing aids; assessment of environmental quality [e.g., “sick buildings”]).

Jack combined the empirical and the theoretical in his scientific work. He was not afraid to “think big”, and he was equally highly adept in dealing with the smallest methodological details, the largest theoretical implications, and in developing simulations and models of potential mechanisms. He embraced new technologies whenever they could aid his scientific curiosity, but his scholarly activity was always driven by the asking of fundamental questions rather than by fads or gadgetry. He published over 150 empirical and theoretical articles in peer-reviewed journals, and he published five books including Psychophysical Analysis of Visual Space (1970), Fundamentals of Scaling and Psychophysics (1978, with Eliot Noma), Mind, Child, Architecture (1982, with Anthony D. Lutkus), The Inner Limits of Outer Space (1987), and Sensation and Judgment: Complementarity Theory of Psychophysics (1997).

Jack was more than a brilliant scientist; he was also a generous and giving teacher. He mentored many undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs, and I feel fortunate to have had Jack as my graduate advisor. His mentoring style was Socratic and idiosyncratic, but also very effective. For example, Jack would often take an afternoon break in which he would walk across campus for coffee, and he often asked me to accompany him on those “spontaneous” breaks. It was during such breaks that much of our research was designed. Indeed, the broad outlines of my dissertation research were designed while we skipped stones off Occam pond on the Dartmouth campus during such a break. Jack lived the idea of “pay it forward” before that idea became a cliché, and after an act of kindness, he would just say “do the same thing for your students someday…”. I’ve tried to take his example to heart and to be the type of scientist, mentor, and teacher he best exemplified.

Joseph Charles Stevens (1929-2014)

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Jan 172015

Larry Marks
John B. Pierce Laboratory and Yale University

A leader in sensory psychophysics during the second half of the 20th century, Joe Stevens died unexpectedly but peacefully at his home on February 7, 2014, three weeks shy of his 85th birthday. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Joe attended Calvin College, where courses in psychology and philosophy, as well as in his major subject, biology, sparked an indelible interest in human sensation and perception. After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1951, Joe studied vision with S. Howard Bartley, taking a masters degree in psychology at Michigan State University in 1953 before moving on to doctoral studies at Harvard. This move marked the start of a thirteen-year collaboration with S. S. (Smitty) Stevens, first as a student and later as a faculty colleague in Harvard’s psychology department.

Arriving in 1953, Joe was present at the creation, so to speak, for it was in that year that Smitty first proposed a power function to describe how the magnitudes of sensory experiences in both hearing (loudness) and vision (brightness) relate quantitatively to the physical energy level of the external stimulus. Working in Smitty’s lab, Joe assiduously expanded on these early results, reporting his own findings on brightness and loudness in his doctoral dissertation of 1957 and in a series of major articles published between 1958 and 1966. During this period, Smitty and Joe also worked on a monograph, The Dynamics of Visual Brightness, which focused the lens of the new psychophysics on visual perceived intensity. They completed a draft of the manuscript in 1960 but – alas! – never published it, although they distributed it to researchers in vision and in psychophysics. According to a Google search (December 2014), the unpublished manuscript was cited more than 30 times, most recently in 2004.

Joe’s research during this early stage of his career took two main directions: One was to apply the methods of psychophysical scaling to a variety of sensory systems: not only vision and hearing (the subjects of his doctoral dissertation), but other modalities as well, including warmth and cold. Importantly, Joe created a method of cross-modality ratio-matching, reported in his dissertation and cited by Smitty in the same year, 1957, one year before Smitty began his own initial efforts at (conventional) cross-modality matching.

The second direction, and arguably one of his most important contributions, was to use methods of psychophysical scaling to illuminate fundamental sensory processes. This is evident in early findings first reported in his doctoral dissertation and then expanded in a seminal article (J.C. Stevens and S.S. Stevens, 1963) showing how light adaptation affects the perception of brightness. Joe and Smitty quantified the effects of adaptation in terms of changes in the three parameters (exponent, multiplicative constant, and threshold) of a generalized power equation. Demonstrating the utility of psychophysical scaling methods as tools for understanding sensory processes would leave an indelible mark on many subsequent researchers, including this biographer.

In the fall of 1966, Joe left Harvard to establish and lead the psychology-psychophysics division at the John B. Pierce Laboratory, an independent, non-profit institution affiliated with Yale University. Joe held the title of Fellow at the Pierce Laboratory and, at the time of his death, Senior Research Scientist in psychology at Yale. Under Joe’s leadership, the division quickly grew, as Larry Marks and then Ellie Adair, Bill Cain, Linda Bartoshuk and others joined the research group. Over the years, some stayed, some left, but by 1999, when Joe published the last article bearing his name, the number of publications from the division that he had created surpassed 500.

In 1966, when Joe arrived at the Pierce Laboratory, much of its multidisciplinary research focused on body temperature regulation, and Joe quickly began to expand his early work on warmth and cold by studying thermal perception, especially the roles of spatial summation, temporal summation, and adaptation. But, taking another lesson from Smitty, Joe continued to think of himself as a ‘sensory generalist,’ working from time to time on issues in vision and hearing, and expanding his main research endeavors to include taste and smell as well as warmth and cold.

Over the last two decades of his career, Joe’s research increasingly emphasized changes in sensory systems as people age, much of it conducted under a 10-year Merit award from the National Institutes on Aging of the NIH. Hearing tends to worsen with age. So too can vision. But aging takes a toll on other senses too: on touch, taste, and, especially, olfaction – the sense of smell – this being evident both in the great decline in sensitivity to odorants that are sniffed (orthonasal olfaction) and to volatile chemical components perceived as flavors when foods and beverages are taken into the mouth (retronasal olfaction). The consequences of olfactory decline can be serious. Joe showed, for instance, that older individuals, and older men especially, often cannot detect the malodorous agent that is added to natural gas to serve as a warning in gas leaks.

A leading figure in modern psychophysics, Joe was teacher and colleague to many. Those fortunate enough to study with him or work with him benefited not only from his intellectual acuity and creativity, but at least as much from his mentorship, his friendship, and his generosity of spirit.

May 302014

letterispThe Membership; ISP:

As the oldest member (I conjecture), and least likely to be refused a hearing if only because of age, I tender the following suggestions to the ISP membership and its leadership for their deliberate consideration.

We are, in fact, slightly too small to constitute a viable source of publically recognized science. Our publications are large but their distribution is limited to redirecting our contributions to secondary publication, after our own commitment to the vitality of our work. The way to overcome this limit is twofold; 1) increase by a significant amount our yearly dues (nasty idea, just ask Mimi T) or take commercial advantage of an increase in membership by say a factor of three; from the current ± 300 to ± 1,000.

Are we justifiably proud of a scientific tradition over 160 years old; but we should not be too proud to invite new members, and so generate new fellows by personally inviting those we respect in their own disciplines to join us.

Ah! Disciplines; who are we? I say we are those who engage in a form of psychological science that renounces textbook categories of e.g., learning, perception, motivation, and the like, in support of a science that employs model building, experimentation, and the estimation of parametric values of the controlling variables of human nature. In this mode we are not alone in the exploration of mind. At least two other psychological disciplines use similar methods: Psychometrics, and Psychobiology.

A new construction; ISPPP, note the added P’s justify adding perhaps 300 members a year for the next 2 years that would bring us up to strength, and enable the full-time employment of a membership and meeting organization manager on a full time basis. She/he would be responsible for the three ISPPP discipline yearly publications, organization of meeting locations, negotiations for space and collaboration with local meeting groups.

I hear it now, “This will dilute our contributions and collaborations”…not so. The meetings would continue as they have, and we would expect all of the members to attend all of the presentations; in this way broadening our own exposure to topics intrinsically related to our own enterprises. After all the new members are drawn in by the existing membership, and I would suggest, the average IQ of ISPPP would not decrease. We already have members acquainted with or engaged in research of the sorts such new members would add. Remember we would be able disburse a yearly expenditure of ± $100,000.

Hi ho and away!





Eugene Galanter.