In Memoriam

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Lyle Vincent Jones ’44

Lyle was born in Grandview, Washington, and was admitted to Reed in 1941, but deferred for a year to earn money to supplement his scholarship. In 1942, he enrolled at Reed, but left after one year to join the Army Air Corps. The Air Corps put him into the Army Pre-Meteorology Program (AMP) and assigned him to Reed for a year! Mustered out after the war, he obtained a PhD from Stanford in psychology and statistics in 1950. After brief stints at the Universities of Chicago and Texas, he arrived at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1957, where he was an alumni distinguished professor, director of the psychometric laboratory, and for 10 years vice chancellor and dean of the graduate school. 

Lyle became a psychologist in an era when reputation in that field was gained by concocting a theory of human behavior; most such theories were some combination of arcane and minuscule, and of little if any applicability. He rejected that path and instead was one of the pioneers in using a combination of scientific psychology and sophisticated statistical analysis to guide and assess social progress. In his presidential address to the Psychometric Society in 1963,  titled “Beyond Babbage,” he foresaw the coming impact of computers on both science and society; his laboratory was an early user of then-small computers in highly innovative ways. He anticipated the work of Nate Silver in applying statistical models to polling data to have a better idea of how elections would turn out, and served as a consultant to television networks on election nights over a span of many elections. He was an early and frequent contributor to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and was a main author of the NAEP’s work in the 1980s demonstrating the positive effects of Project Head Start; he regarded this extended effort as his professional legacy.

Lyle was an avid reader, Carolina basketball fan; tennis, bridge, and poker player; traveler; author; editor; collaborator; and political adviser. He was a lifelong supporter of Reed, where he endowed the Lyle Vincent Jones scholarship, and of Doctors without Borders. His daughter, Susan Edison Jones Hartley; son, Tad Jones; and granddaughter Shawna Hartley of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, survive him. 

Written by Jim Kahan ’64

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2016

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