2019 James McKeen Cattell Fellow

Robert J. MacCoun
Stanford Law School

Robert J. MacCoun has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to conduct outstanding scientific work in the domains of individual judgment and small-group processes. His extraordinary research has also extended into issues related to public policy and politically sensitive topics, including illegal drug use, gays in the military, and tort law, as well as the ways that biases can color how scientists and lay people interpret evidence.

MacCoun’s pioneering book Drug War Heresies: Learning From Other Vices, Times, and Places (with economist Peter Reuter) is among the most influential analyses that exist on the subjects of drug legalization, and it is widely cited by individuals on both sides of the policy debate.

In addition, MacCoun’s analysis of cohesiveness in military units and the distinction between social cohesion (how well people get along) vs. task cohesion (how committed people are to the same mission) influenced the Pentagon’s recommendation to repeal the US “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that permitted discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the military. That analysis included data from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Israel showing that allowing gay people to serve in the armed forces had no ill effects on military culture.

MacCoun’s research on social issues cuts across levels of analysis, from basic cognitive processes to group dynamics to institutional and political systems. The field is fortunate to have him as a contributor to the scientific literature and as a thoughtful ambassador to policy makers who want their decisions to be informed by the best possible science.