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Economist Charles Manski has always been a skeptic. His refusal to take accepted views for granted led him to give up the Jewish religious training of his boyhood at 16; less than a decade later, it placed him among the pioneers of a new kind of economics, one with a more nuanced view of how people choose.
Using discrete choice analysis-a mathematical method for determining how people decide between alternatives-Manski has studied issues ranging from how government grants affect a student's choice to go to college to whether drug laws actually work. He's also tackled the thorny fundamental problem of "partial identification": how does someone deciding between two courses of action know which is better, when only one outcome will ever be known? Doctors studying the effects of a choice of treatments on a group of patients, judges handing down sentences for offenders, and other decision-makers must choose one alternative without ever knowing or "identifying" the outcome of the other. Manski's research has focused on resolving this and other complicated problems of decision and expectation, always with an eye toward helping society make better choices.
Manski is a professor of economics at Northwestern University, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2009.