Sidebar: The four Rasmuson Chairs

November 20, 2013

This year, UAA celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Rasmuson Chair in Economics. In that time period, four professors—all but one an economist—have held the position. What did each bring to the campus?

To get at the answer, we tracked down Jim Murphy, the second of the four Chairs, to learn a little about each one. Here’s what we learned.

Vernon Smith, Rasmuson Chair 2003-2006

Vernon Smith

Vernon Smith

Dr. Vernon Smith, the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics and UAA’s first Rasmuson Chair in Economics, spent the 2003 summer working with students and engaging in intensive discussions with faculty and community members about Alaska issues, from fisheries management, rural electrification, the looming state budget crisis and growth in the Railbelt.

In June of that year, the portable experimental economics lab from Smith’s center at George Mason University Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science (ICES) arrived at UAA. It is used for research and education.

Smith met weekly with Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) and economics faculty to explore experimental economics research principles as they related to ongoing research initiatives. He also participated in three roundtable to explore the experimental economics research potential for resolving issues important to Alaska: the Electricity Roundtable regarding capacity planning for the Railbelt; the Municipal Land Use Roundtable on land allocation and value assessments; and the Oil and Gas Roundtable, which addressed facilities access, investment and risk.

Smith is considered a key founder of experimental economics. Although experiments date back to the 1700s, the work picked up momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Murphy said. After Smith won the Nobel Prize in 2002, interest spiked. The field is considered to be about 50 years old.

Jim Murphy, Rasmuson Chair 2006-2011; later joined UAA faculty

Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy

In the Fall of 2006, UAA welcomed Jim Murphy as the second distinguished Rasmuson Chair. Murphy is an accomplished experimentalist and resource economist who joined UAA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Murphy is actively engaged in using experimental methods in his research and teaching.

Of his research, Jim writes:

My primary research interest is in using laboratory experiments to address environmental and natural resource issues. I am particularly interested in topics that have public policy implications. My current areas of research include compliance behavior and enforcement of emissions trading programs, hypothetical bias in environmental valuation techniques, local governance of communal resources in developing nation, and the design of computer-assisted water markets.

Robert Kurzban, Rasmuson Chair 2012-2013

Rob Kurzban

Rob Kurzban

Rob Kurzban is a distinguished faculty member in the  Psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania. More information about his research can be found at his website.

His areas of interest are:

  • Decision Processes
  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Social and Cultural Psychology

His specific research focus is evolutionary psychology. He writes:

My research focuses on the nature of evolved cognitive adaptations for social life. This includes processes such as those involved with cooperative decision-making, punishment, morality, close relationships and mate choice. I use methods drawn from experimental economics and cognitive psychology to address these questions.

Kurzban is the author of the book, “Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution & the Modular Mind,” in addition to research publications. He also founded the Penn Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology—or PLEEP—at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003.

Jim Murphy, who has remained a touchstone for Rasmuson Chair activity, noted that although Kurzban is not an experimental economist, but an evolutionary psychologist, “The questions he asks are the same questions economists are thinking about. Why do people cooperate in groups? How do you enforce cooperation in groups?”

Murphy said he knew Kurzban from doing his own post doctorate work at the University of Arizona.

“Psychology runs experiments, but psychologists do them differently than economists. We pay people, they don’t. We believe that the nature of decision-making if you put money on the table is different than if you don’t put money on the table.

“Rob is interested in improving the quality of his scientific methods, but he is not interested in becoming an economist.”

Nonetheless, his arrival at UAA provided a cross-disciplinary influence and showed how experimental economics methods could be used in different academic arenas.

Todd Cherry, Rasmuson Chair, 2013-2014

Todd Cherry

Todd Cherry

Todd Cherry is an economist from Appalachian State University and a senior research fellow with the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research—Oslo. He works in environmental economics and policy areas.

Cherry arrived in Alaska during the summer of 2013 and enjoyed some summertime opportunities to visit rural Alaska. He was invited to Barrow by the Rasmuson Foundation during their visit to the community’s new hospital, where the foundation had recently provided support for equipment in the eye clinic.

Cherry was also able to visit some rural Alaska villages with Jim Murphy and Lance Howe. This fall, he  invited colleagues from Norway to visit UAA and present their research. He is collaborating with UAA faculty on some of their own research ideas. He regards his time at UAA as the opportunity to share the good work going on at UAA with his network, and to bring scholars to the campus to share their work.

Read more on his thoughts about experimental economics and his own personal research interests here.

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