Andie Leonard Knutson, Public Health: Berkeley


1911-1985
Professor of Behavioral Sciences, Emeritus

Andie Knutson was born on a homestead in a remote area of Minnesota. He worked his way through the University of Minnesota, from which he was graduated in 1938 with a major in social psychology. Upon graduation, he worked in the field of opinion research. When the United States entered World War II, he went first with the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C., and subsequently to the Navy. He learned Japanese and was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence. Following the war, he enrolled in graduate study at Princeton. Here he worked most closely with Hadley Cantril, one of the outstanding early scholars in the field of public-opinion research.

Knutson was a pioneer in application of psychological- and behavioral-science techniques to the study of health beliefs and practices. While in graduate school at Princeton, he served as Associate Director of the Office of Public Opinion Research and, immediately after he received the Ph.D., he was recruited by the Public Health Service to head its Research and Evaluation Branch. Subsequently, he became Chief of the Behavioral Studies Section, where he directed an influential program that developed several outstanding research workers as well as providing invaluable information on the acceptance of sound health practices.

The solution to public-health problems frequently resides in the behavioral rather than the medical area. Faculty in the School of Public Health perceived a need in the curriculum for greater emphasis on the behavioral sciences. They learned also that the Russell Sage Foundation supported special programs for training in the application of the behavioral sciences to the health field. The Foundation regarded Knutson as one of the very top behavioral scientists working on health problems in the United States, and in 1957, enthusiastically awarded the University a grant for his appointment to the faculty of the School of Public Health.

When he arrived at Berkeley, there was no program in Behavioral Sciences for public-health graduate students directly identified with this area. He


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began such a program by instituting two courses in behavioral research methods for MPH students in 1960. By the time of his retirement in 1977, the Behavioral Science Program was well developed. A curriculum was in place that included courses in health-relevant behavioral theory, behavioral research methods at the master's and doctoral level, community mental health, substance-abuse prevention, and special seminars for master's and doctoral students.

In 1964, Knutson received a Career Research Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, which permitted him to allocate more of his time and effort to research. He became affiliated with the Institute of Human Development, where he began a new series of studies pursuing his long-term interest in the relationships among beliefs, values, perceptions, and behaviors. He served for a year as Acting Director of the Institute, bringing to this role a quiet, calm competence that enhanced its research atmosphere.

Knutson authored many papers that appeared in refereed scholarly journals. He is best known for his research in the evaluation of public-health programs and in beliefs and perceptions regarding the beginning and completion of human life. With regard to the former, his penetrating and incisive evaluation research was based upon the premise that investigators must first carefully and specifically define the goals and objectives of the program and then the fundamental reasons for the evaluation sought. Methodology must then be developed that suits these reasons, and clearly elucidates whether or not the objectives have been attained and the goals reached. His insistence on a well-developed conceptual base for evaluation has led to many influential studies and has had an impact upon the field of public health, in which too often evaluation has been merely a mechanical process of data collecting and record keeping.

Later in his career, Knutson completed a series of studies dealing with perceptions and beliefs about the beginning of life and about human life and personality, and the socio-demographic correlates of these perceptions and beliefs. Issues that currently evoke violent controversy are such topics as contraception, abortion, capital punishment, organ transplantation, euthanasia, and technologically advanced life-support systems. His research clarified the major belief-systems people hold regarding these issues, the usual correlates of each of the belief systems, and how seeming inconsistencies within a particular belief system are rationalized. He identified and elucidated the social criteria people use for deciding when life begins, continues, and ends. These criteria form the basis of present social policy and denote the root causes of the extensive conflicts that surround these matters today. He will be long and appropriately remembered for the clarifying concepts he contributed to our understanding of these urgent social issues.

Knutson was a devoted husband and father. He met his wife, Ruth, when both were enrolled in a graduate class in propaganda analysis at


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Teachers' College, Columbia University, just before he went to the Office of War Information. Their daughter, Ann, is an artist, and their son, Alan, a professor of psychology. This sociable and congenial couple opened their Berkeley home to students and staff, and they were warmly received by former students wherever they traveled around the world.

As a boy in Minnesota, Knutson learned the art of dry-fly fishing and in his adult years he liked nothing better than the chance to practice that art, knee-deep in the upper Yuba River. The Knutson freezer was almost always well stocked with trout. But he would wax equally enthusiastic about a computer printout that confirmed an hypothesis or validated a carefully devised scale. He was a consummate craftsman in his research, and he took a craftsman's delight in its product.

W.H. Bruvold J.A. Clausen W. Griffiths