Reflections on Prospect Theory by Prof D. Kahneman

Keynote address at the 23rd Subjective Probability, Utility and Decision Making (SPUDM) conference (2011).

Image credit: Photo by Jan Genge on Unsplash

This post showcases a video of the keynote address by Professor Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The video was shot during the 23rd Subjective Probability, Utility and Decision Making (SPUDM) conference, which I chaired and was held in August 2011 at Kingston University, London.

Danny is my research hero. His work with Amos Tversky on heuristics and biases inspired my PhD research work. Among my favourite quotes is this lecture was:

The theory itself blinds you to its flaws. (…) Theories very often are mistaken by what they omit, not by what they say (…) but that’s very difficult to see.

He manages yet again to ask deeply thoughtful questions as he makes us reflect on what makes a good theory. He ponders on how different academic backgrounds makes us see the world in very different ways, building upon his own experience of conflict between his view of the world, anchored in psychometrics and psychophysics concepts, and that of his friend and colleague, Amos Tversky, whose background was in mathematics and expected utility theory. Meanwhile, he shows us how these different points of view can, when the collaboration is fruitful, lead to radical changes in how many people view the world. It’s an hommage to the power of diversity in Academia and more generally on how we need to keep an open mind even when it seems that others do not live in the same conceptual world as we do.

Organising SPUDM, my “home” conference since 1999 and succeeding in convincing him to deliver a keynote was one of the highlights of my career. And yes, people say (and some have actually said it to me directly), organising a large conference does nothing for your career. It’s publish or perish afterall, isn’t it? You have a choice, it is true. You can aim to write many (average) papers or you can aim to write a few good papers and in the meantime, contribute to your field in other ways. We need to start valuing research rigor and significance more than originality. It is also time to revalue collegiality, mentorship, and research citizenship, or as Amos used to tell Danny:

We need to go out and shake the trees.

If you are an early career researcher in a junior position, take a stand for fewer, better quality papers. Take the time to attend research seminars to show gratitude to those who took the time to talk with you about their ideas, discuss your ideas with whoever would listen, take the time to think and reflect on the ideas people share. Showcase the quality and impact of your research. Showcase your reviews on publons. Those in a position to hire junior academics, take a stand to value academic citizenship and engagement. Reward academics who publish fewer, more rigorous and significant articles, those who contribute and seek to impact your field and the world at large, through publishing excellent papers but also in other, more considerate ways. The more we write, the less time we have to read, reflect, discuss, and learn. There should be a balance. We should all take a stand!