Luce Earns Nation’s Top Scientific Award

R. Duncan Luce, professor emeritus of cognitive sciences and economics, joined a select group of UCI professors when the White House announced that he will receive the National Medal of Science.
One of eight U.S. scientists and engineers selected last week, Luce is only the third UCI faculty member to receive the nation’s highest scientific honor, joining evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala and the late physicist and Nobel laureate Frederick Reines.
‘Obviously, I’m elated. I’m surprised,’ Luce said. ‘You can hardly anticipate it because it is such a rare event and there are so many other good people. I certainly didn’t expect it. I thought it was in the realm of possibility but not very likely.’
Luce is regarded as a pioneer in the field of mathematical behavioral sciences and he has significantly influenced the fields of psychology and economics. His work is a blend of mathematical theory and experiments designed to explore human behavior.
‘I’m trying to figure out if there are regularities that people exhibit that can lead to certain kind of predictions, but not the kind of predictions that people want,’ Luce said. ‘People seem to want to know exactly who will do what and why. We’re not successful in that kind of predicting. It’s hard to give a lot of surface appeal, but it is systematic work, mixing mathematical modeling with experiments.’
Luce explained that his work is still laying the foundations in his field.
‘The kind of thing I’m doing in terms of human behavior is somewhat analogous to what people were doing in the 16th and 17th centuries in the physical sciences. … They were sliding balls down incline planes and they were trying to characterize the laws that described that behavior and … if someone had said, ‘Is there any application?’ undoubtedly, the answer would have been, ‘Not really.”
Established in 1959, the award was originally designed to recognize scientists in the physical sciences, but has recently expanded to honor those in the social and behavioral sciences, as well.
Two other UC faculty members were among the eight awarded the National Medal of Science J. Michael Bishop, Nobel laureate in medicine and chancellor of UC San Francisco, and John M. Prausnitz, UC Berkeley professor of engineering. President Bush will honor the new medal winners in a ceremony at the White House on March 14.
Luce, 79, came to UCI in 1972 but left for Harvard University in 1975, where he eventually became chair of their Department of Psychology. Luce returned to UCI in 1988.
Barbara Dosher, dean of the School of Social Sciences, praised Luce and his work in a UCI press release.
‘Luce is one of the giants of the social and behavioral sciences