UO's Paul Slovic elected to National Academy of Sciences

Paul Slovic at his desk

Walk down the hallway of Decision Research in Eugene and into the office of Paul Slovic, a UO psychology professor, and you'll encounter layers of shelves filled with academic papers and scholarly books.

Behind a desk piled with more papers and virtually surrounded by full bookcases, you'll find Slovic, the latest UO faculty member to be elected into membership of the National Academy of Sciences.

Former UO geologist Katherine Cashman, now at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, also was elected into the academy.

"I hope that this recognition from the National Academy of Sciences will help me to have more influence with the work that I do," said Slovic, president of Decision Research, an independent, nonprofit research corporation. "People need to be sensitized to the reality of some of the genocidal and mass atrocities actions that are happening all too often. They've never really stopped since the Holocaust."

Slovic, a UO faculty member since 1986, is an internationally known expert on the psychology of risk and decision-making, behavioral economics and human rights. He is often cited in the media for the latter, particularly in the framework of mass violence and atrocities.

Slovic's research has found that people react strongly when urged to save a single identified victim, but as the numbers of victims multiply people become insensitive. The phenomenon is known as psychic numbing.

"It's important to point out that I don't work alone. I have had more than 200 co-authors on my papers," he said. "I've had hundreds of people work with me over the years, and they have done a good share of the work."

Slovic and Cashman were among 84 new members chosen by the academy, which was founded in 1863. Another 21 foreign associates also were chosen for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Members of the National Academy of Sciences provide science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations. The private, nonprofit academy was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Chicago-born Slovic came to Eugene in 1964 to join the Oregon Research Institute after completing a doctorate in psychology at the University of Michigan. In 1976, he founded Decision Research. A decade later, he became the organization's president and joined the UO's Department of Psychology.

Initially, he taught part time and continued his research. He remains with the UO psychology department as a research adviser and occasional career counselor to master's and doctoral students — a role, he says, he loves.

Cashman’s election was good news to Becky Dorsey, head of the UO Department of Geological Sciences. Cashman, who led the department in 2007-10, is known for her research on the nature and predictability of volcanic eruptions.

“Kathy is a good friend and a highly valued colleague, and she maintains close ties to many faculty members in our department and across campus,” Dorsey said. “She made many wonderful contributions to graduate education, research and interdisciplinary collaborations while she was here, and she continues to thrive in her faculty position at Bristol. We extend our congratulations”

Cashman arrived at Mount St. Helens just months after the 1980 eruption as a member of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cascades Volcano Observatory. She served on a St. Helens monitoring team before completing a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. In 1991, after five years at Princeton University, she joined the UO and was named a Knight Professor.

Cashman went to the University of Bristol in 2011 on a three-year research fellowship funded by AXA, an international insurance and financial group. In December 2013, she accepted the AXA Endowed Chair in Volcanology at the institution and left the UO when the position began in 2014.

In addition to her election into the National Academy of Sciences, Cashman recently was elected as a research fellow of the Royal Society, a scientific society formed in the 1660s.

Seven current or retired UO faculty members — Frank Stahl, Peter von Hippel, Michael Posner, Brian Matthews, Geri Richmond and Eric Selker — are active members of the academy. An eighth UO faculty member, psychologist Helen Neville, a native of Canada, was elected as a foreign associate in 2014.

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications

UO EXPERTS

Paul Slovic is an Oregon expert on human judgment, decision-making, risk perception and psychological factors contributing to apathy toward genocide. Learn more about UO experts on the Media Relations website.