David Harold Krantz

David Harold Krantz, of New York City and Nashville, TN, died of cancer on May 20, 2023. He was 84.

Dave was born to Arthur and Cele (Sodikman) Krantz of Buffalo, New York. He developed a fierce independence by age 3 ½ when his grandfather–one of his main caregivers–died, and his sister was born. The same year, his father had to take a second job at a defense plant during WWII. As he grew older, Dave worked for his father’s soda pop company, Hi-Grade Beverages, and was an avid participant in his Jewish Boy Scout troop. He attended Hebrew School and Bennett High School where he got to know his first wife, Ellen (Adler) Krantz.

Dave often said that the first glimpse of his eldest child, Rachel, taught him what love really was, and parenting was a big part of his life. Dave read aloud Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, and other classics to his five children. He maintained lengthy packing lists for family camping trips, where he taught his kids scouting skills like building fires, splitting wood, and tying knots, as well as his father’s saying, “Leave the campsite cleaner than you found it.” He helped them with math homework, taught them chess and how to ride bikes, running along beside the bike instead of using training wheels. He himself biked to work in all manner of weather and encouraged his kids to do the same. He discussed issues of feminism and social justice with his children, and modeled participation in activism and mindful philanthropy. For nearly 39 years, he had at least one child under the age of 18, and for the rest of his life he continued to support and advise his children through their education, careers, and love lives (when they would let him).

Dave’s love of cooking had early roots in Boy Scouts, where his efforts to earn the cooking merit badge included making scrambled eggs in a meatloaf pan. He also learned by helping with Friday night dinners at the synagogue in Ann Arbor, MI. Later, with Beth’s encouragement, he began to cook much more. He explored the Vegetarian Epicure and became proficient enough at cooking to run an Indian foods booth, and eventually the entire food program, at the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine annual Spring Fair in Upper Manhattan. Not least of all, he created delicious family dinners several nights a week as his youngest children grew.

While he grew out of his childhood penchant for practical jokes (dead fish in a fellow camper’s trunk?!), Dave maintained a robust sense of humor throughout his life, making his hospice nurse laugh out loud the day before he died. Over the years he also had bouts of anxiety and depression, which he came to name as such only recently.

Dave graduated from Yale University with a BA in Mathematics (summa cum laude) in 1960, and from the University of Pennsylvania with a PhD in Mathematical Psychology in 1964. His childhood love of science, first inspired by Doctor Doolittle, became an enduring passion. From the time he made his first “science friends” in high school, his companions in scientific exploration were the source of many deep and lasting friendships. It was also through his intellectual work that he met the greatest love of his life, Beth Shinn. They married in 1981 and he shared the remainder of his life with her.

It is said that some academics know everything about some narrow subfield, while others know a little bit about everything. Dave had deep knowledge about nearly everything; he was a true polymath. On one search committee where he and other colleagues interviewed candidates from a wide range of disciplines, Dave alone read papers from all of them. Over his career, Dave contributed to many fields, including perception and color vision; measurement theory; the application of statistical methods in everyday life; decision-making models; and climate decision-making.

In an era when most scientists studying color vision collected piles of data, then searched for theories to explain them, Dave turned this approach on its head. Starting as a young professor at the University of Michigan in the 1960s, he derived theories from first principles, then used mathematics to discover predictions that he could test in his laboratory. The rigor of his approach remains a fundamental influence that echoes loudly today, well beyond the field of color vision, and in the laboratories of the generations of scientists he inspired and trained.

Another of Dave’s important scientific contributions was his work with distinguished and beloved colleagues on measurement foundations. It had long been thought that fundamental measurement is impossible in the behavioral and social sciences due to the lack of an identifiable unit of measurement. In a three-volume tour de force titled The Foundations of Measurement (1979, 1989, 1990), plus additional journal articles, Dave and his co-authors provided an original mathematical analysis built on first principles that extends fundamental measurement to the “softer sciences.” The resulting methods, often referred to as conjoint measurement, have been widely influential in many areas of research.

In addition to being a skilled scientist and writer and an inspirational intellectual mentor, Dave was an effective and trusted leader of departments and interdisciplinary programs. As second-wave feminism took hold, Dave advocated for the promotion of women from adjunct positions to professorships at the University of Michigan. During a stint in the private sector at Bell Labs in the early 1980s, he ably stepped in as Acting Department Head when the friend and colleague who had recruited him took a leave of absence. After returning to academic psychology at Columbia University in 1985, Dave agreed to chair the Statistics Department in 1990 in order to rebuild it. As a senior faculty member at Columbia, he was deeply respectful of clerical and janitorial staff, and actively supported their efforts to unionize. He was also an advocate for junior faculty and researchers when their voices were more likely to be stifled or their interests forgotten.

In 2004, Dave’s desire to “leave the campsite cleaner than he found it” led him to co-create the Center for Research in Environmental Decisions. CRED was supported for fourteen years by the National Science Foundation, with researchers from around the U.S., Europe, and Latin America and located at Columbia University’s Earth Institute to bring theory and insights from psychology, anthropology, and other social sciences to understand and support environmental decisions. Dave’s vision was central to CRED’s design and development, and his steady support guided researchers there at every career stage. His deep commitments to foresightful and socially-inclusive decision making, to carefully planned, executed, and analyzed experimental research, and to collaboration across academic disciplines and geographic locations meant these topics and methods of research became second nature to the generations of colleagues and students he trained and mentored there. The feeling of community at CRED is as great an element of Dave’s legacy as its widely-recognized research outputs.

In 2015, Dave retired to Nashville, where he followed chess tournaments and read voraciously: Five newspapers daily in three languages; fiction, especially romance novels (!); and a broad array of nonfiction, including science, history, and German Wikipedia articles. He kept in touch with family and several lifelong friends by phone until the end. On the last day of his life he got to meet, hold, and make his trademark faces at his 5-week-old granddaughter Mara, reminding us of his deep love and care for children and future generations.

David was predeceased by his ex-wife Ellie Krantz and his daughter-in-law Kerstin Arusha. He is survived by his wife Beth Shinn, who lovingly cared for him during his illness, and by his sister Ellen Zucker (Irving), his children Rachel Krantz (Andy Fire), Rebecca Krantz (Don Katz), Ari Krantz (Margot Kushel), Dan Shinn-Krantz (Melinda Hood), and Marc Shinn-Krantz (Sarah Klauer); grandchildren nc and Avery Krantz-Fire, Kaja and Tavi Arusha, and Mara Klauer, and step-grandchildren Sam and Sarah Katz.

Dave’s ashes will be interred in a family plot in Oakland, CA on May 28th, 2023, followed by a Zoom Celebration of Life.

The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the American Geophysical Union, which is on the forefront of research on climate change.