Alex C. Michalos: Pioneer of Quality of Life and Social Indicators Research
Bruno D. Zumbo
) Department of ECPS, The University of British Columbia
, Scarfe Building, 2125 Main Mall,
, Canada V6T 1Z4
When I think of pioneers I imagine a hardy people traveling from a former life to a
new unsettled place full of unknowns. My image of pioneers is influenced by John
Wayne movies and the TV show Bonanza. These pioneers are, of course, not starting
from nothing because they bring with them their tools, ideas, and beliefs from their
earlier lives. I imagine life as a pioneer to be risky, exhausting, and chalk full of
These images capture some of the main features of what I imagine to be my friend
and longtime research collaborator Alex C. Michalos pioneering life in quality life and
social indicators research. He traveled from the comforts of a well-established and
highly successful life well known for his work in philosophy of science, logic, and
ethics to break new ground in social indicators and quality of life research. He brought
with him his tools of theorizing and formalism as well as a love for data, surveys,
evaluation and decision making, data analysis and a deep foundation in philosophical
Pragmatism that can be evidenced in all of his work.
Although I will focus on Alexs work in quality of life and social indicators, his
influence continues to be felt in academic philosophy where he is well known as the
founder and Editor in Chief of the oft-cited Journal of Business Ethics. When I first met
Alex, I knew him as a philosopher having read his Principles of Logic (1969), and The
Popper-Carnap Controversy (1970). His reviews in philosophical journals were always
incisive and very interesting to read, and a gold mine for graduate students interested in
broad perspective on philosophical problems.
Alex is currently Emeritus Professor in Political Science at the University of
Northern British Columbia, where he taught from 1994 to 2001 and served as
Chancellor from 2007 to 2010. He was Professor of Philosophy at University of
Guelph from 1966 to 1994, and Assistant Professor at State University of New
York (19641966) and at State College, St. Cloud (19621964). Alex earned
his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science (1965), B.D. in history of religions and
M.A. in logic (1961) all from the University of Chicago, and his B.A. from
Western Reserve University (1957).
One can imagine how precarious it feels to try and capture such a productive and
influential scholarly life as Alexs in a limited number of words so I will relieve myself
of any such aspirations and give you what I believe are his most impactful contributions
to quality of life and social indicators research and make him an unprecedented pioneer
in the field.
His creation and ongoing editorship of the journal Social Indicators Research.
Alex, and a small band of fellow pioneers, founded the journal in 1974. Alex has
remained at the helm of the journal through its 114 volumes and 3149 articles
published to date. The journal is important in the history of the discipline because it
gave scholars an identity as well a place to publish (and read) work in the field. The
journal, like Alex himself, takes a broad view of the field and includes empirical,
philosophical and methodological studies.
His 1985 paper introducing, describing, and empirically testing Multiple
Discrepancies Theory (MDT) is developed with an eye to conceptual detail and is an
exemplar of solid theory building and testing. In the paper, Alex clearly states six
basic hypotheses, extensive supporting evidence, and how the basic hypotheses
yield five derived hypotheses that lend themselves to empirical test. The clarity and
rigorous account, including the historical antecedents, is what makes the paper a
required reading, and a lovely exemplar of how a seasoned philosopher of science
builds and empirically tests theories in the social sciences.
His comprehensive 1991 four-volume Global Report on Student Well-being. The
data are rich and the analyses are detailed.
His embracing of a life well lived that includes scholarship that impacts the
community. There are many examples of this but my personal favorite is our joint
creation of the University of Northern British Columbia Institute for Social
Research and Evaluation. The institute is a partnership with the community to
gain greater understanding of the social issues of central British Columbia.
His work with emerging scholars locally, nationally and internationally. Alex is
well-known for his support of emerging scholars by way of working with them to
publish their papers and encouraging them to contribute to conferences and