Below: Two Biographical Sketches for the Provost Professor induction ceremony: The one Kruschke wrote and the one they wrote.
The sketch Kruschke wrote and submitted when they requested:
Kruschke grew up in northern California, and during his teenage years he dreamed of a career in astronomy. Despite that dream, he declined a scholarship to study astrophysics at Michigan State University because he was afraid of moving to the Midwest. While an undergraduate at Berkeley, he decided he would be disappointed by a career in astrophysics because he would be spending all his time staring at computer screens instead of gazing at the stars. He ultimately shifted his studies to cognitive psychology, which, it turns out, requires spending all his time staring at computer screens to analyze what people do when staring at computer screens. In 1989, after six years of graduate school with no publications and no dissertation, the IU Psychology Department made the audacious move to interview him. On the airline flight returning from the interview, Kruschke read an article that had been handed to him by an IU professor, and before the plane landed Kruschke knew he had to create a completely new dissertation project, which he produced during his first year as a lecturer at IU. The IU Psychology department convinced Kruschke that the Midwest is not such a scary place after all.
Aside from fear, another major motivator for Kruschke has been annoyance: annoyance at shoddy explanations. The urge to explain stuff has been lifelong, from a demonstration of Saturn‑V rocket stages using cardboard tubes when he was in the fifth grade (unfortunately no flames were involved), to self-designed tutorials in linear algebra while he was an undergraduate (no flames there either), to a YouTube video explaining a cup-passing game when he was supposedly a mature adult (still no flames). The lifelong temerity to presume he could explain stuff without using pyrotechnics continued into his teaching of statistics at IU. But the more he taught traditional statistical methods, the more annoyed he became, and the more convinced he was that science needed Bayesian statistics. He wished someone would write an accessible book on Bayesian stats, and he realized that “someone” would have to be him. After only several thousand hours of relentless effort, there emerged two editions of the book, Doing Bayesian Data Analysis, which is notable for the doggies on its cover and the doggerel that begins each chapter. Finally flames can be involved, as some critics have wished the book to be burned.
In a desperate effort to avoid burn out, Kruschke has changed his research focus over the years. In the early years, he created a series of mathematical models of attention in learning. Computer simulations of the models mimicked aspects of human behavior, such as what people learn to pay attention to. Kruschke then completely shifted his attention to Bayesian statistical methods. A strong impetus for the shift was a moral emotion, a feeling of being lied to by traditional methods (“perfidious p values and the con game of confidence intervals”). Moral motivations have now become the focus of his research. The research asks questions such as, What is going on in people’s minds when they make judgments of right or wrong action? How do people mete out appropriate punishments? And, How do people judge good or bad character? By pondering these questions now, Kruschke hopes he can lead a life of wisdom in retirement. But he’ll probably just be staring at computer screens, wishing he were gazing at the stars.
The sketch they subsequently created and published:
John Kruschke is professor in the Department of Psychological and Brian Sciences, adjunct professor in statistics, and a core member of the cognitive science program. He received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1990 and has been at Indiana University since 1989.
Kruschke is known for his substantive and methodological contributions to the fields of cognitive science and cognitive psychology. In particular, he has made monumental contributions to research in experimental psychology in two major areas: attention in learning and Bayesian data analysis. He made a theoretical breakthrough by creating a new theory of attention and category learning, formalized as a connectionist learning model, based on rigorous mathematical as well as computer simulation methods. The models implement specific psychological principles, such as, learning driven by maximizing improvement in accuracy and memory represented by exemplars of learned items. His work on this topic has been published in the premier theoretical journal of psychology, Psychological Review. In particular, his 1992 article is considered to be a classic and has been cited almost 2,000 times. His colleague Robert Nosofsky notes of this work: “The resulting models are among the most elegantly formalized and impressive ones in the field today. The psychological principles are formalized in a conceptually clear and parsimonious fashion, and models yield outstanding quantitative fits to intricate and challenging sets of experimental data.”
Kruschke’s other major contribution has been his advancement of Bayesian statistical analysis methods in the psychological sciences. The methods that have dominated the field for many decades are based on null hypothesis statistical testing (NHST). Kruschke has been the leader in his field to draw attention to the deep flaws in the logic that underlies NHST as well as the inappropriate procedures by which these methods are generally applied. He has advocated for the use of Bayesian statistical analysis as a remedy for many of the prevalent flaws in statistical analysis. This line of research has resulted in many influential articles as well as the 736-page textbook, Doing Bayesian Data Analysis, 2nd Edition (Elsevier, 2015), which has been cited more than 1,500 times and is considered an instant classic.
Kruschke has taught an undergraduate course in cognitive psychology for eleven years, courses in models of cognitive sciences for fifteen years, and courses in statistics for twenty-four years. Students have consistently rated him an excellent teacher, and his devotion to teaching has earned him Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards from the IU Trustees eight times. He has also received four different teaching development grants and fellowships, including the Instructional Development Summer Fellowship in 1993 and 2006 and Grants to Enhance Active Learning in 1997 and 2005. Since 2010, he has presented 45 tutorials and extended workshops, most resulting from invitations.
In honor of his scholarly contributions, Kruschke was elected a fellow of the prestigious Society of Experimental Psychologists in 2006. He also won the highly competitive Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 2002 and a First Award Grant from NIMH from 1994 to 1999. His stature in the field has been recognized in the form of his service on prestigious editorial boards and grant review panels.