How are decisions made and what bearing do they have on us? Does the worst option always produce the worst outcome and vice versus?
These are questions that have been examined by economics professor Calvin Blackwell in respect to global climate change and the voting process. His research examines decisions made in situations involving uncertainty and strategic behavior.
He has published papers in academic journals like the National Tax Journal, Public Finance Review and the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. For the past three years, along with Peter Calcagno, Professor Blackwell has produced the Office of Tourism Analysis' Yearly Hotel Occupancy Rate Forecast for Charleston.
Blackwell used environmental issues in his research on global climate change as an application for the decisions of policy-makers when situations involved uncertainty.
"Scientists can simulate many different scenarios for potential climate change, but they have a difficult time assigning probabilities to their scenarios, " Blackwell says. "Scientists can describe a good scenario, bad scenario, or worst case scenario, but they cannot place a percentage on which one is most likely to occur."
Blackwell's method of research was similar to that of psychologists. Using students at the college, Blackwell created situations in which a student's decision had bearing on what happened to them. Hypothetically, students were asked to pull a bean of one color out of a jar with beans of many colors. Each color bean has a different value that is unknown to the student. Students were paid for their participation, but compensation depended on the choices they made.
Blackwell's experiments represent global climate change. "With the information of change, there is the possibility of many outcomes," Blackwell said. His goal is to develop better preferred policies concerning decisions of global climate change. This would give policy makers a better idea for avoiding costs and to be more conservative in expending costs to prepare for change.
Blackwell used a similar methodology in his research concerning decisions of strategy in voting situations. These situations involve choosing a candidate in primary elections. Who votes in a primary differs from state to state, and the same rules do not always apply. "How these rules generate an outcome is very important," Blackwell says.
The goal of Blackwell's voting research is to help policy makers understand why the structure of these elections are the way they are. Do the best choices always produce the best outcome? Are there strategic efforts to sabotage a candidate? Blackwell observed that people did not act terribly strategic. "The act of voting is not cost free. People have to go out of there way to stand in lines. Most people want to vote for something and not against something," Blackwell said.
Blackwell earned his B.A. in economics and history at the University of Virginia, and then his Ph. D. at the University of New Mexico. He says his teaching methods follow the guidelines of "The Seven Principles For Good Practice" that are posted on his personal website.
"These principles are distilled from years of research and reflection on the art of teaching," Blackwell says. "I believe that following these seven practices is an effective approach to reaching my primary teaching goal of enhancing students' critical thinking abilities."
He says he oftens ponders the question: "Did I get my students to put in enough practice to do well?"
Blackwell, who grew up in Louisiana, has become very comfortable living in Charleston for nine years. "The town has grown in some very positive ways. I laughed when we first moved here because my wife was upset that there was not a Target. Of course, now there is," he said.
Blackwell says he was drawn to the College of Charleston for numerous reasons, most importantly his family. "I liked the small college feel of the College of Charleston," Blackwell says. "My wife and I both felt that Charleston would provide a good quality of life."
He has a son, born in 2005, and another child on the way. "There are a lot of things to do with family here. We take walks with my son," he said.
Throughout his teaching career, Blackwell’s primary teaching goal has been enhancing students’ critical thinking abilities. "Although I learned many facts and skills, as the years pass these fade away. What I am left with, what has not blurred over the years is my ability to think. This ability was given to me, and it is my duty to pass it along to my students," Blackwell says.