Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Michael Smithson

Michael Smithson

My research interests are in the following areas: (1) ignorance, uncertainty, and risk assessment; (2) quantitative methods; (3) fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic; and (4) social dilemmas.

I've been working in the area of ignorance and uncertainty for a number of years. I have a background in mathematics, sociology, and psychology, so I take an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of ignorance and uncertainty. My major work is a book, Ignorance and Uncertainty: Emerging Paradigms (NY: Springer-Verlag, 1989), in which I've attempted to provide an overview of what seems to be the greatest creative ferment over uncertainty since the decade of 1650, when probability was invented. Recent works include a chapter in a book on "Agnotology," the study of the social production of ignorance, and a co-edited volume (with Gabriele Bammer) on multidisciplinary perspectives on uncertainty.

Why "ignorance"? Uncertainty is rather fashionable these days, but ignorance is a broader, more profound, and more challenging concern. My view is that we often are really dealing with ignorance even when we claim that it's uncertainty.

My interests in social psychology grew out of my background in sociology, and thereafter my work with psychologists. In the early 80's I conducted research on prosocial behaviour, and since then I have worked on topics in decision science, social dilemmas, and status characteristics theory.

My work on quantitative methods has included the development of techniques for modeling proportions (beta-regression, with Jay Verkuilen), software tools for noncentral confidence intervals, and applications of Bayesian techniques. Mine was one of the first introductory statistics textbooks in psychology to orient completely towards confidence intervals, and I wrote the Sage "little green book" on confidence intervals.

I wrote the first book published on fuzzy sets devoted to the human sciences (Fuzzy Set Analysis for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, New York: Springer-Verlag 1987), and recently I've co-authored (with Jay Verkuilen) a Sage monograph on fuzzy set theory applications in the social sciences.

Primary Interests:

  • Applied Social Psychology
  • Group Processes
  • Interpersonal Processes
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Research Methods, Assessment
  • Social Cognition
  • Sociology, Social Networks


Journal Articles:

  • Smithson, M. (2009). How many alternatives? Partitions pose problems for predictions and diagnoses. Social Epistemology, 3-4, 347-360.
  • Smithson, M., & Baker, C. (2008). Risk orientation, loving and liking in long-term romantic relationships. Journal of Personal and Social Relationships, 25, 87-103.
  • Smithson, M., Gracik, L. & Deady, S. (2007). Guilty, not guilty, or… ? Multiple verdict options in jury verdict choices. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 20, 481-498.
  • Smithson, M. J. (1999). Conflict aversion: Preferences for ambiguity vs. conflict in sources and evidence. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 79, 179-198.
  • Smithson, M. J., Bartos, T. G., & Takemura, K. (2000). Human judgment under sample space ignorance. Risk Decision and Policy, 5, 135-150.
  • Smithson, M., McFadden, M., Mwesigye, S.-E., & Casey, T. (2004). The impact of illicit drug supply reduction on health and social outcomes: The heroin shortage in the A.C.T. Addiction, 98, 340-348.
  • Smithson, M., & Verkuilen, J. (2006). A better lemon-squeezer? Maximum likelihood regression with beta-distributed dependent variables. Psychological Methods, 11, 54-71.

Other Publications:

  • Smithson, M. (2008). Social theories of ignorance. In R. Proctor & L. Schiebinger (Eds.), Agnotology: The cultural production of ignorance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Smithson, S. Schneider, & M. Hogg (Eds.), Resolving social dilemmas: Dynamic, structural, and intergroup aspects (pp. 17-32). Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

Courses Taught:

  • Quantitative Methods in Psychology
  • Research Methods and Statistics (2nd Year)
  • Research Methods and Statistics (Honours Year)

Michael Smithson
Department of Psychology
Faculty of Science
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200

  • Phone: (61-2) 6125-8356

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