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McFadden shines in the Nobel limelight
11 Oct 2000

by Jeff Holeman, Berkeleyan editor

A modest Daniel McFadden faced the cameras and the rest of the world early Wednesday as the newest winner of the Nobel Prize in economics.

At a campus press conference, the Berkeley economics professor talked about his research and about suddenly finding himself in the limelight at the most unusual of hours.

"I was raised to be modest, so it's a bit shocking to be thrust into a position of prominence," he said, facing a roomful of photographers, reporters, and beaming colleagues and students.

McFadden, who said he had gauged his odds of winning the Nobel at "slim to none," said the 2:30 a.m. phone call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences caught him and his wife, Beverlee Tito Simboli McFadden, a little off guard.

"Beverlee was jumping on the bed before I knew what was going on," he said. "It took a while for it to register. My immediate response was 'Rats, I should have cleaned my office yesterday.'"

The award to the College of Letters & Science professor marks the 17th time a Berkeley professor has won a Nobel prize. McFadden is Berkeley's third recipient in economics.

"Not only is this a marvelous moment for Professor McFadden but also for UC Berkeley," Chancellor Robert Berdahl told the reporters. "This is yet another example of how our world-class faculty make up the very foundation of our excellence, and of how our faculty scholarship continues to address important societal issues."

McFadden, 63, was recognized for his development of statistical methods relating to the economic theory of "discrete choice," tools that have been used to determine how people and organizations make choices from a distinct set of alternatives.

His work has been used in decision making on energy, health, environmental and transportation issues. One noteworthy study - his National Science Foundation-funded study forecasting demand for mass transit - advised the developers of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

"I did not invent BART, and I did not invent the Internet," McFadden joked, but his economic tools have figured into the equation around the world in planning mass transit.

McFadden considers himself a "designer of machinery, which other scientists can use." He builds models, he said, that other economists use to affect economic policy.

The Nobel Prize in economics, which McFadden shares with his friend James Heckman of the University of Chicago, provides an award of $915,000. McFadden has not decided how he will spend his half of the money. Outside of his teaching and research, McFadden spends his time working on the small Napa Valley farm and vineyard he shares with his wife.

McFadden grew up on a farm in North Carolina, where, he said, he read a lot of books, was taught to be modest and dreamed of becoming a farm agent or novelist. Looking back at the career path he eventually followed, he told reporters he was satisfied.

"I've gotten more than I dreamed," he said.

McFadden will accept his award at a formal ceremony this December in Stockholm.

>>>Daniel L. McFadden wins Nobel Prize in Economics