The Ramsey Medal and the Decision Analysis "Duck Test"

The Decision Analysis Society of INFORMS awards the Frank P. Ramsey Medal each year. “The Ramsey” is the highest honor given by the DAS, and receiving it is a sign of a superlative Decision Analysis career. In Minneapolis this past October, the award was given to Peter P. Wakker.

Wakker’s career has indeed been extraordinary, and vigorous congratulations are in order to him. Nonetheless, as I was watching his taped acceptance presentation, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was primarily a decision analyst (a term I don’t attempt to define – “know ’em when I see ’em”), or a strong researcher of an adjacent discipline whose work had made a (substantial) contribution to DA in passing. I told myself that after the conference I would take a look at recent Ramsey recipients, and count how many passed my “DA Duck Test”.

Let me say before I go on that I absolutely mean no disrespect to the non-ducks, be they econometricians, statisticians, behavioral psychologists, risk analysts, geese, swans, or what have you. Science is vast and all of these things are worthy pursuits (indeed, one non-duck is a Nobel laureate). Moreover, it’s both oddly appropriate and ironic to apply such a duck test to the Ramsey award: Frank P. Ramsey, more than anyone else, defined the decision theoretic point of view (see Who Was Frank P. Ramsey), but he was a mathematician and probably not a duck himself. With all that said, let’s count ducks.

The list of Ramsey awardees has gaps prior to 1999, so I only went back 15 years. I have placed a duck (duck) next to each awardee I believe is primarily a decision analyst.

  • 2013. Peter P. Wakker duck
  • 2012. Robert T. Clemenduck
  • 2011. Don N. Kleinmuntz duck
  • 2010. Elisabeth Paté-Cornell fish
  • 2009. Rakesh Kumar Sarin duck
  • 2008. James E. Smith duck
  • 2007. Craig W. Kirkwood duck
  • 2006. Daniel Kahneman/Amos Tversky fish
  • 2005. Lawrence D. Phillips duck
  • 2004. Carl S. Spetzler duck
  • 2003. R. Duncan Luce fish
  • 2002. James S. Dyer duck
  • 2001. David E. Bell fish
  • 2000. Detlof von Winterfeldt duck
  • 1999. John W. Pratt duck

So there you have it, 10/15 ducks. Your count will likely vary, but by my reckoning, about 2/3 of recent Ramseys pass the duck test.