Neuroeconomist Colin Camerer wins MacArthur genius award

The MacArthur genius fellows for 2013 were just announced and one winner was neuroeconomist Colin Camerer:

Colin Camerer came to Caltech in 1994 with an MBA in quantitative studies and a doctorate in decision theory from the University of Chicago’s business school, a place he described as “the temple of beliefs in highly rational people who make really good decisions and take into account the future.”…

Those questions have led to pioneering research into how the brain works while making decisions about such things as whether to participate in an economic “bubble,” when prices accelerate. Last week, Camerer published a study that suggests participants in a bubble – such as the increase in housing prices – are not reckless or rash, but have a highly developed “theory of mind” that allows them to consider what others would do, and use that to guide their risky decisions.

The study was not published in the major economics journals, but in Neuron, a highly regarded neuroscience journal. That, said Camerer, was validation enough.

Any reader of this blog knows that I am a firm believer that neuroscience will have a lot to say to the field of economics so it should be unsurprising that I am excited that Colin Camerer won this award. Here are some papers of his that are worth reading.

The other neuroscientist who won a genius award was Sheila Nirenberg who I have admired for a while. Here is a TED talk where she describes the work she has done on retinal prosthetics. That is great but I have to admit that every time I hear about her I am reminded of a series of hilarious rebuttal papers between her and Bill Bialek (and back again!) about the proper way to use information theory to decode neural responses. They are just arguing in circles about whether it is more proper to look at encoding or decoding strategies, but you really get a sense of anger from the papers.

C. Kevin Boyce is an ecologist who should also be mentioned though I don’t know anything about his work! Here is the description from the Nature blog post: “a paleobotanist at Stanford University in California, examines extinct and living plants to link ancient and present-day ecosystems. He has deduced that the evolution of flowering plants influenced the water cycle in the ancient tropics, giving rise to the rainfall patterns and rich biodiversity characteristic of modern rainforests.” Sounds cool to me.


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