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Campus honors McFadden at reception
12 Oct 2000

by Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

"I'm a little bit ambivalent about this," the co-winner of this year's Nobel Prize in economics, Berkeley Professor Daniel McFadden, told a large crowd of campus well-wishers at a reception in his honor Oct. 11, the day the prize was announced.

"I've gotten 45 calls today about choice theory," he said. "It's the first time in 35 years."

A toast to McFadden
Daniel McFadden, left, receives a toast from Don McQuade, Vice Chancellor of University Relations. Peg Skorpinski photo.

A modest man known for his decency as well as brilliant contributions to his field, McFadden named mentors, colleagues, students and research assistants who had contributed to his career - saying "no scientist works alone." When a small gift, wrapped in Cal blue and gold, was presented, McFadden quipped that it must be "the coveted parking pass" - a reference to the lifetime reserved parking space that the Berkeley campus traditionally awards its Nobelists.

Colleagues, grad students, research assistants and office staff who work with McFadden had words of admiration for both the mind and the character of the man they had come to fête.

Fellow economics faculty praised his outstanding contributions to the College of Letters & Science's Department of Economics.

"He's as modest as he appears and has provided so many things to the rest of us," said Economics Professor John Quigley.

In mid career, McFadden returned to Berkeley after an 11-year stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Where others typically seek the best hiring package for themselves, Quigley said, McFadden negotiated for "a lab that was for everybody else. That's extraordinary."

Quigley counts himself among the beneficiaries of the world-class econometrics lab - equipped with state-of-the-art technology and access to vast data sets that McFadden brought to the department and directs. "It's the way I do my research," he said. "I have more computer power on my desk than in all of Cambridge, Mass. five years ago."

Colleagues in related social sciences praised the ways that McFadden's work in economics has changed their own fields.

Henry Brady, professor of political science and public policy and director of Berkeley's Survey Research Center, had McFadden as a thesis adviser at MIT. The statistical tools that McFadden had recently developed were "an inspiration for thinking about (social science) problems in a new way," he recalls.

Tools McFadden developed help economists analyze how people choose between complex alternatives in their lives and is "relevant in a whole lot of fields where you're making choices between a finite set of alternatives, each of which is very complex," Brady said. Students at the reception praised McFadden's talents as a teacher.

"He always takes time to explain things that you don't understand," said research assistant Tiago Ribeiro, while grad student John Bluedorn said he never feels bad about himself around McFadden "even though you know he's really brilliant."

Those who have known the new laureate longest were likewise full of praise. "Everybody says 'what a great mind.' Everybody talks about his academic achievements," said econometrics lab computer resource manager Grace Katagiri, who has worked with McFadden for 29 years. But what stands out the most for her, she said, is his warmth and generosity.

Only now, after the deluge of faxes that arrived in the wake of the big prize - inviting McFadden to events with fellow Nobel laureates, the King of Sweden and the president of the United States - is the significance of winning the Nobel Prize sinking in for her.

"You go along very flippant," Katagiri said. "I've been saying for 20 years, Dan's gonna win the Nobel Prize anytime now."

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