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A Science of Decision Making

A Science of Decision Making: The Legacy of Ward Edwards

Edited by Jie W. Weiss and David J. Weiss

New York: Oxford University Press, 2009

Ward Edwards is well known as the father of the field of behavioral decision making. Edwards’s pioneering 1954 Psychological Bulletin paper on decision making brought psychological ideas into what had been the province of economists. One can trace a direct path from Ward’s work to the development of prospect theory, which brought Daniel Kahneman the 2002 Nobel Prize. Indeed, this linkage was noted in the Nobel Committee’s announcement. Edwards brought Bayesian statistics to the attention of psychologists in a 1963 Psychological Review paper; the continued proliferation of Bayesian ideas is a testament to the importance of that perspective. In a 1962 IEEE paper, he foresaw how systems in which humans provided (subjective) probabilities and machines provided computational power could transform the world of intelligence gathering and analysis. And in a 1986 book written with Detlof von Winterfeldt, Edwards showed how multiattribute utility analysis could help real-world decision makers to generate satisfactory solutions to complex problems. In this volume, we reprint 29 of his most important papers, a sufficient selection for the reader to see how the field was shaped by its father. We have divided the papers into four problem areas: (1) Behavioral Decision Theory; (2) Statistics and Methodology; (3) Diagnosis; (4) Multiattribute Utility. Ward dipped into these areas recurrently over the forty years of his career as a professor and researcher.

It is perhaps less well known that Edwards made substantial contributions during the years after his retirement. Illness reduced his public appearances, but Ward continued his incisive thinking behind the scenes. Those who collaborated with him in those last years found that he continued to be a source of exciting new ideas. By that time, he positioned himself as a guru, ready to appreciate a problem and bring his still-keen intellect to bear on the central issues. Ward was the great partitioner, structuring a domain into pieces that he thought were understood and those that the field had not yet dealt with effectively.

Along with the earlier works, we include 7 papers on which Edwards collaborated during the last few years of his life. Ward was not the first author on any of the papers, but his ideas were central in all of them. The papers present theoretical arguments rather than empirical demonstrations, proposals rather than completed projects.

Each paper is preceded by a short introduction written by the editors. The introductions incorporate our renditions of Ward’s reflections on the content or impact of the older papers, and of conversations we had with him as the recent ones were being written.

The book includes a complete bibliography of Edwards’s publications, consisting of almost 200 references. Also, we include three obituaries, written with humor and affection for the newsletters of professional associations of which he was a member.

The book is available at Amazon.com (if you cannot see an Amazon link, you need to disable AdBlocking for this site).