SAFS Newsletter Masthead


Banner photos (left to right): Jackie Carter, Jeremy Monroe, Amanda Phillips, Jonathan Moore

Faculty Feature: Chris Anderson

PhD, 2001, California Institute of Technology
Behavioral Models of Strategies in Multi-armed Bandit Problems

Anderson Website

Chris Anderson

Photo courtesy of C. Anderson.

Associate Professor Chris Anderson is our newest faculty member. He is the second faculty member to be hired through a cooperative agreement between SAFS, NOAA Fisheries, and the College of the Environment designed to enhance the School’s strong quantitative science focus (the first hire was Trevor Branch, who specializes in fishery economics).

Chris was born in Seattle, a University of Washington “dissertation baby.” When Chris was 18 months old, his dad finished his PhD in English and they moved to Oxford, Ohio, when he got a job at Miami University.

MD: What influenced you to pursue the academic track you did?

CA: As a child, I was surrounded by professors—my dad, my friends' parents—and I really liked the academic lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle, not a job). Because of my environment, I knew I wanted to be a professor before I knew what I wanted to profess!

But economics found me. My high school economics course was reputedly so hard that it would not always attract enough enrollment to offer it. Early in my senior year, the teacher and two of my friends begged me to take the class so they'd have enough students to offer it. As a favor to them, I switched, and I immediately found it was a fascinating and—to me—natural way to organize the world and describe behavior.

MD: How did this carry over into your college studies?

CA: I did my undergraduate work at Brown University. The curriculum and the environment encouraged academic exploration, pushing personal boundaries, and working to understand our natural and social world from diverse disciplinary perspectives. I devoted a lot of my extracurricular effort to editing a campus-wide publication of quantitative and qualitative student course reviews, and to running my co-ed literary fraternity (I still chuckle to think I was a voting member of the Greek Council…very Revenge of the Nerds.)

MD: What led you to Caltech for your graduate work?

CA: I wanted to study experimental economics, where human subjects play the role of economic agents in making decisions games I design to test predictions of an economic model, or to evaluate alternative policies, in a simplified economic environment; subjects who make more profits in the game are paid more money for participating.

I was lucky enough to spend a summer working in 2002 Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith's lab at the University of Arizona. At the time, Arizona and Caltech were the two places to study experimental economics (and the two places with "economics labs"), and I chose Caltech for a greater emphasis on game theory and behavioral economics, and because they didn't require macro-economics.

MD: You returned to Rhode Island as an assistant professor in the University of Rhode Island's (URI) College of Environment and Life Sciences. Tell us about this.

CA: I was hired in URI's Environmental & Natural Resource Economics group to establish one of the first labs that applied experimental economics methods to policy. Despite little experience in environmental or natural resource economics, my game theory, behavioral, experimental, and panel data tools made me a great collaborator. I quickly learned that fisheries was a great source for the types of problems I like to analyze because of the wide variation in management and market structure.

I am most interested in problems where a possible response to a well-intended policy will lead to a bad outcome, or where a systematically suboptimal individual response will lead to better outcomes. I've investigated using leases to facilitate price discovery and reduce speculation in new Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) markets; distributional effects of alternative auction formats for sale of public resources, such as fishing quota and oil exploration leases; mechanisms for attracting public contributions toward ecosystem services; and the structure of competitive investment in container-port infrastructure.

MD: What attracted you to SAFS?

CA: I think fishery management is at an important crossroads. In many fisheries, stock assessment has helped curtail overfishing, but sustainable stocks do not reliably lead to sustainable incomes for fishing communities. In other fisheries, economic and distributional considerations impede effective management despite scientific evidence that additional measures are needed.

SAFS' leadership in regional and global fishery science makes it a great place to be, and I see this position as an opportunity to develop interdisciplinary collaborations, and to have greater influence in shaping the domestic and global discussion about how to achieve our social goals for our fishery resources.

MD: What research will you be pursuing here?

CA: Besides the projects I brought with me from URI, a colleague at The World Bank and I are applying a rapid assessment instrument we designed for measuring wealth generation in developed and developing country fisheries. Several SAFS faculty have similar interests and projects, and I am excited about possible synergies. I recently started a project on how risk pools manage quota for limiting bycatch in multispecies fisheries. I'm learning more about interests here every day, and I’m open to any problem with an interesting behavioral dimension.

MD: What courses will you be teaching?

CA: I'll teach a course for SAFS and the School for Marine and Environmental Affairs, introducing the economic tools used in analyzing fishery policy; and a graduate seminar in fishery statistics and bioeconomic modeling for SAFS and ECON PhD students. I'll also teach a large lower division natural resource economics course; I really enjoyed the similar course I taught at URI.

I also taught my son's kindergarten class about overfishing on their recent tour of UW, using an experiential game with a breeding population of M&Ms. It was chaotic and a lot of fun, but I have a bad feeling about the next M&M stock assessment.

MD: You're an economist surrounded by ecologists, biologists, and the like. What do you think they can learn from you?

CA: An economic perspective I hope to spread is attention to the behavioral response to policy: it is important to ask how people would respond if they weren't allowed to do the ecologically destructive thing that motivates your research anymore. Would their alternative choices lead to other, even worse ecological or social problems, locally or elsewhere in the world?