UCT hosts country's first A-rated commerce scholar

12 December 2012

Prof Harold KincaidBringing his A-game: New A-rated researcher, Prof Harold Kincaid.

South Africa has its first A-rated scientist from a commerce faculty, this after recent appointee to UCT's School of Economics Professor Harold Kincaid was awarded an A-rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF) in its latest round of evaluations. That marks Kincaid as an international leader in his field

Equally impressive is that Kincaid managed this rating on his first application, following his recent move to UCT from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, US, where he had been professor of philosophy.

The rating shouldn't come as much of a surprise in light of Kincaid's scholarly résumé and his international standing; his writing serves as a "touchstone" in some areas of study, noted one reviewer.

Broadly, he has focused on the methodologies of social science and has published on a whole host of related topics, including causal modelling, the philosophy of social science, the role of explanation as a concept in social sciences, and the medical models of addiction.

Right now, he says, his interest is in how social scientists infer causes and correlations.

"My main focus has been on trying to sort good science from bad science."

That last category reflects some of Kincaid's recent work at UCT. He has contributed to a few projects with the Research Unit in Behavioural Economics and Neuroeconomics (RUBEN), an interdisciplinary group of researchers in the School of Economics that uses economic experiments to examine the role that social, cognitive and emotional factors play in economic decision-making. (In 2011, he also acted as a mentor on UCT's Visiting and Retired Scholars Mentorship Project.)

At RUBEN, Kincaid has been involved in studies looking at the prevalence of gambling in South Africa, and at problem gamblers and at-risk gamblers. (He starts off his Monday Paper interview with amusing anecdotes of gamblers, both here and in the US, who wear adult nappies just so they don't have to abandon their slot machines at what they imagine to be crucial times.)

There are particular dynamics to local gambling, explains Kincaid. In South Africa, it's by and large the poor who have serious gambling problems. And shying away from casinos, instead they stake their money on informal and illegal enterprises like dice and card games, and the lotto-like numbers game called iFafi.

He's also working on a project, funded by the NRF, that looks at the risk behaviour of fruit farmers, this with an eye on encouraging innovation in the industry.

Kincaid's lead collaborator on these studies has been longstanding associate Professor Don Ross, Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and the one who lured him to UCT. Together, the scholars have worked on a sweep of books, reports, papers and chapters, notably around addiction and decision-making.

He didn't think too hard before deciding to make the trek to South Africa, says Kincaid, who joined the university in June this year. The appeal included the School of Economics' focus on practical problems, UCT's international profile and its concern with development and equity issues (an area in which he has an ongoing interest).

"And Cape Town is a beautiful place," he adds.

Ross is particularly pleased to be hosting the country's first A-rated commerce scholar.

"The ratings outcome is testament to the faculty's and the university's ability to draw top international talent," he says. "And of course we congratulate Prof Kincaid in addition to ourselves!"

Stop press: Another new NRF A-rating has been confirmed for Prof Heribert Weigert and a new P-rating for Dr Andrew Hamilton, both of the Department of Physics. These A ratings were re-confirmed under the current cycle: Profs Doug Butterworth (A2); Gert Gade (A2), Lionel Opie (A1), Clifford Shearing (went up from A2 to A1), and Dan Stein (A2).

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