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Otis Dudley Duncan Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Otis Dudley Duncan Dies
Author(s): 
Otis Dudley Duncan (adapted)
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
26–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The eminent sociologist and long-time NCSE member Otis Dudley Duncan died on November 16, 2004, after struggling with advanced prostate cancer for two years. His article "The creationists: How many, who, where?" (p 26), coauthored with Claudia Geist, is his last contribution to the literature of quantitative sociology.

Born on December 2, 1921, in Nocona, Texas, Duncan completed a BA degree at Louisiana State University in 1941 and an MA at the University of Minnesota in 1942 before serving three years in the United States Army during World War II. After the war, he completed his studies for the PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago in 1949. He began his career of teaching and research in quantitative sociology at Pennsylvania State University and continued at the universities of Wisconsin, Chicago, Michigan, Arizona, and California. He was a professor on the University of California at Santa Barbara faculty for three and a half years, retiring in 1987.

He was author (often with coauthors) of several major books and numerous professional articles. Best known is The American Occupational Structure (New York: The Free Press, 1967), with Peter M Blau, which was awarded the Sorokin prize of the American Sociological Association. In his own estimation, his best book, the only one likely to be of enduring and not merely historical value, was Notes on Social Measurement (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1984). He was also proud of his most fully developed mathematical–theoretical article, published in Synthese, which presented a solution of a problem that had vexed some of the leading social scientists of the time (1986): Why do people’s verbally expressed attitudes so often seem unrelated to their actions?

Among other awards and honors, Duncan was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1973. He served on a wide variety of committees involving social science expertise. He was a member of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, chaired by John D Rockefeller III, and was president of the Population Association of America in 1969. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the universities of Chicago, Arizona, and Wisconsin. But of all his achievements, he was most proud of the record of outstanding achievement in quantitative sociology racked up by so many of his former students.

In retirement, Duncan spent his time in researching and performing music, working with computer graphics, and writing articles on such topics as the prevalence of creationism, the rising public toleration of atheists, the increasing number who specify "none" as their religion, the increasing public approval of euthanasia and suicide for terminally ill persons experiencing great pain, the inefficacy of prayer for political undertakings, and the irrationality of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Along with his wife Beatrice Farwell, he was a loyal and active member of the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara, to which memorial donations may be made: PO Box 30232, Santa Barbara CA 93130.

[Adapted from the obituary — written by Duncan himself — in the Santa-Barbara News-Press (2004 Nov 20). See also the obituary in The New York Times (2004 Nov 28).]