Tuesday, November 30, 2004

With the airing today of the Jeopardy show (filmed in September) on which Ken Jennings had his winning streak snapped at 74, I feel compelled to point out that among the all-time Jeopardy greats is Chuck Forrest, who appeared on Jeopardy while attending the University of Michigan Law School in the mid-1980s (1985 or '86, if I had to guess).

I suspect that relatively few people nationally -- outside of the hardest of hardcore Jeopardy fans -- would have heard of Chuck or would remember him if they had seen him play. In addition to the passage of time, another likely factor preventing Chuck from achieving the kind of status reached by Jennings is that during Chuck's run (and indeed for most of Jeopardy's history), contestants had to leave after five consecutive wins. Also, of course, there was no Internet during Chuck's run, so that websites celebrating Jennings's streak (such as Andy Saunders's compilation of Jennings-related statistics) could not have helped fuel a similar Jeopardy mania for Chuck.

As noted in the web document linked above to Chuck's highlighted name, he was the show's all-time leading money winner at one point, amassing over $100,000. That, of course, pales in comparison to Jennings's final cumulative total of $2,520,700. However, in addition to Jennings's not having any limit on the number of shows on which he could appear, dollar values for the Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy rounds were doubled within the last couple of years.

Don't get me wrong. For Jennings -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to win 74 straight games is an enormous, mind-boggling feat. No question about it. The point I want to make, however, is that the five-show limit of yesteryear did not allow Forrest and other previous greats the opportunity to see how astronomically far they could potentially take their winning streaks.

I never knew Chuck Forrest during the time we were both at Michigan. However, given the extensive media coverage he was receiving at the time (locally, at least), he almost certainly would have been very well known in the UM/Ann Arbor community. And now, at a time when Ken Jennings and Jeopardy are being lauded nationally (with no less than tonight's ABC Nightline being devoted to the show), I feel a welling up of Maize and Blue pride for a Jeopardy giant of two decades ago.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The recently arrived issue of the Michigan Alumnus magazine included some poll results taken from online surveys at the UM Alumni Association website. I don't know how representative the samples were compared to random cross-sections of Wolverine alums, but the findings comport with what I would have expected.

One question asked about the alums' favorite season of the year in Ann Arbor. Not surprisingly, fall (81%) won overwhelmingly. On most college campuses around the nation, each fall brings the "buzz" of a new academic year, students returning to campus (or first arriving), pleasantly cool autumn temperatures, and (if you're a fan) the start of the college football season. At Michigan, this means action at the "Big House" (the 100,000-plus-seat Michigan Stadium).

In addition to these aspects of fall that are pretty uniform around the country, there are, of course, aspects that are unique (or relatively unique) to Ann Arbor. First on my list are the fall colors, which are more pronounced in some regions of the country than in others (and virtually non-existent in some). I found an excellent slide-show on the web of Ann Arbor fall colors at a site called "Phlog" (above each photo, there's a heading that says "next >>" that you can click to advance the slides; the heading may be hard to see on some screens). Having grown up in Los Angeles, which has little change of season, the Michigan fall colors were a major treat (now if we could do something about those winter temperatures...).

Another poll question inquired into alums' favorite UM sport. Naturally, football (74%) was a runaway winner. The second-place finisher -- ice hockey, with 21% -- may be a surprise to some, given that men's basketball is usually among the top two favorite sports on a college campus (the generic "basketball" finished third among Wolverine grads with 4%). Michigan's hockey program is, however, the most successful one historically in the nation. Also, whether by rules, custom, or some combination of both, college hockey (like that in the Olympics) has remained a game of speed and finesse, avoiding the gratuitous violence characteristic of professional hockey.

Talking about gratuitous violence, this Saturday is the annual Michigan-Ohio State football game, considered by some the greatest rivalry in college football. Though they have been away from the sidelines for quite some time, the rivalry almost certainly would be embodied in many people's minds in the coaching match-up of UM's Bo Schembechler and OSU's Woody Hayes. Schembechler retired as Wolverines' coach shortly after I finished up at Michigan.

Though football was one of my favorite sports for many years, starting around 1993 I decided that the sport's violence and injuries overshadowed the athleticism, in my mind. I have not attended a football game for over a decade. If I'm at home and one of the schools with which I'm affiliated is playing on TV, I may peek in a little for short stretches. That's probably what I'll end up doing on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The November 2004 APA newsmagazine Monitor on Psychology includes an article on a July conference held at the University of British Columbia (UBC) that brought together evolutionary and cultural psychologists. Several current and former University of Michigan professors participated in the conference and were mentioned in the article.

In fact, one can trace the origins of much of this research to the mid-late 1980s at UM. Consider the following scholars mentioned in the Monitor article...

Hazel Markus, who as a graduate student and faculty member was at Michigan for approximately 20 years before moving to Stanford in 1994, progressed through different stages of studying processes related to the self-concept during the years I was in grad school (1984-89).

Hazel appeared to be moving from self-schematicity (Markus, 1977; Markus, Crane, Bernstein, & Siladi, 1982; Markus, Smith, & Moreland, 1985) to possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Cross & Markus, 1991; Ruvolo & Markus, 1992) to cross-cultural differences in self-conceptions. I saw Hazel give some talks at Michigan on her early ideas in the cultural area, ideas that came to fruition in publications such as Markus and Kitayama (1991, 1994). In my February 2, 2004 entry, I summarized Hazel's Presidential Address at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference, in which she presented her continued cross-cultural research (February archives).

(Many of you who are familiar with these lines of research, as well as others mentioned later in this entry, can recognize the articles in question; if you want more information such as the journals they appeared in, just e-mail me.)

Hazel's frequent collaborator, Shinobu Kitayama, was also mentioned in the Monitor article. Shinobu received his Ph.D. in 1987 from Michigan (where he was my office mate for about two or three years). After serving on the faculty at the University of Oregon and then at Kyoto University in Japan, Shinobu recently returned to UM as a professor.

Dick Nisbett, who is approaching 35 years on the UM faculty, appeared in the mid-late 1980s to be transitioning from his longtime concentration on reasoning and cognitive processes (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Nisbett, Krantz, Jepson, & Kunda, 1983; Nisbett, Fong, Lehman, & Cheng, 1987) to cultural studies. One of Dick's first major lines of cultural research (with then-graduate student Dov Cohen) involved the southern "Culture of Honor," culminating in a 1996 book by that name. More recently, Dick has blended cognition with cross-cultural studies, probing thought processes in Eastern and Western cultures. That work produced the 2003 book, The Geography of Thought.

Ara Norenzayan, a 1999 Michigan Ph.D. who is on the faculty at UBC, was also mentioned in the Monitor article.

On the evolutionary side, the Monitor article mentioned University of Texas, Austin professor David Buss, who served on the UM faculty in personality psychology from 1985-1996. A prolific author, Buss, along with his students and collaborators, has published numerous books and articles on evolution-related topics, focusing on mate-selection and related topics. Also mentioned in the Monitor article was UM psychiatrist Randolph Nesse. He spoke in the psychology graduate proseminar when I was in school.

The spread of culture is also a major interest of mine. It would have been great to go see the aforementioned (and other) speakers, but it just didn't fit within my travel plans last summer. I maintain a website on the spread of culture.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention two people featured elsewhere in the same Monitor issue with UM ties. Personality-social psychologist David Winter, who has been on the Michigan faculty since around 1988, was mentioned in an article about presidential personality traits. Finally, Steve Behnke, a UM clinical psychology Ph.D., regularly writes in the Monitor on ethical issues in psychology, in his capacity of APA Ethics Director (profile of Steve from when he began at APA).

Thursday, November 04, 2004

This past spring, when I was teaching an advanced graduate statistics course at Texas Tech University on structural equation modeling, I wrote a tribute to the late Frank Andrews and Laura Klem (who is still active at UM), who taught the same course to me at UM in 1988 (April 13 entry, April archives).

Right now, in the Fall semester, I am teaching introductory statistics at the graduate level. Accordingly, I thought I'd say a few words about the professor I had for intro stats at Michigan during my first year of graduate school (1984-85), the late J.E. Keith Smith.

Keith was always very friendly with a quirky sense of humor, but he taught intro stats very rigorously, deriving formulas and attempting to document their theoretical background. In all candor, the material was complex and sometimes difficult to follow.

However, if you went to Keith's office with a specific data-analysis question (either while in his class or even several semesters after you'd had him), he was as clear as could be. He would instantly grasp the type of analysis you'd need to do given your research design, and his instructions for how to implement the analysis on the computer were easy to follow. I know that several faculty members and graduate students would consult Keith on various statistical and experimental-design questions and his advice was always valued.

(As an aside, I still have my textbook that I used in Keith's class, Statistics [3rd ed.], by William L. Hays. Hays, who passed away in 1995, had himself been a faculty member at Michigan until 1973 and finished his career at the University of Texas, Austin. My Hays book was bound so poorly that within a year of my purchasing the book, chunks of pages were falling out; I've had to scotch tape these pages back in over the years. Although I do not teach with the Hays book, I continue to refer back to it for formulas and explanations.)

In my second year of graduate school, I sat in on a categorical data analysis course Keith was teaching. Essentially, this latter course covered more advanced and sophisticated variations on the basic chi-square test. Given a table showing, for example, how many people fell into each of the six cells created by the combinations of gender (male/female) by party identification (Democrat/Republican/Independent), we would typically compare the frequencies in the table as a whole to what would be expected by chance. Keith was working toward facilitating tests of how the frequencies in one (or more) cell would compare to the frequencies of other cells.

When I remarked during one class that the technique he was showing looked very similar to contrasts in Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), which we had learned about in intro stats, he replied, "You've been with me long enough to know that eventually everything will look like a contrast!"

At the time, there was a famous categorical data analysis program called ECTA (Everyman's Contingency Table Analysis). Keith said he was working on a program called VECTA (Very Easy Contingency Table Analysis), which, Keith also noted, was how a New Yorker would pronounce "Vector."

Keith died in 2002. His obituary is available here (you have to scroll down once the page comes up).

To this day, I have a love of numbers and statistical analysis, as exemplified not just in my teaching of research methodology and statistics, but also in fun endeavors such as my hot hand website, which applies probability and statistics to the analysis of sports streaks. I think this represents, at least in part, a legacy of my having learned statistics from Keith.