Obituary for Ida R. Hoos
By KATIE HAFNER, New York Times, May 5, 2007
Ida R. Hoos, a prominent critic of assessing technology solely on the basis of mathematical models that failed to take account of societal factors, died on April 24 in Boston. She was 94 and lived in Brookline, Mass.
The cause was complications of a lingering case of pneumonia, said Judith Hoos Fox, her daughter.
Dr. Hoos, a sociologist, was widely recognized as an outspoken critic of systems analysis, which came to prominence after World War II. The approach used mathematical models to perform cost-benefit analyses and risk assessments on complex technologies like radar systems and military aircraft.
With the concept strengthening in the 1950s and ’60s, when the use of computers to assess technology grew more popular, she wrote widely on a need to balance it with other considerations like effects on the work force.
“A kind of quantomania prevails in the assessment of technologies,” Dr. Hoos wrote in 1979 in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change. “What cannot be counted simply doesn’t count, and so we systematically ignore large and important areas of concern.”
Dr. Hoos urged national decision makers to take such assessments “with a large measure of skepticism lest they lead us to regrettable, if not disastrous, conclusions.”
Harold A. Linstone, emeritus professor of systems science at Portland State University and longtime editor in chief of Technological Forecasting and Social Change, said Dr. Hoos was in many ways the intellectual conscience in the field of technology assessment.
“She basically pointed out that in a lot of complex social and technical systems, a reliance on these systems analysis approaches couldn’t always do the job,” Dr. Linstone said. “She would not accept the superficial answers or phony arguments.”
Dr. Hoos also questioned the usefulness of systems analysis when evaluating public policy. Her 1972 book, “Systems Analysis in Public Policy: A Critique,” cast a critical eye on the prevailing methods for evaluating education, waste management and health care.
“These technical-think-tank types were riding high,” and Dr. Hoos “wasn’t averse to pointing out that the king was naked,” said Louis Feldner, an engineer who worked with her on several technical committees over the years. “And she was respected for it.”
Ida Simone Russakoff was born on Oct. 9, 1912, in Skowhegan, Me., the middle of seven children. Her parents were immigrants from Russia, her father a jeweler.
She graduated from Radcliffe in 1933. While studying for her master’s degree, which she received from Harvard in 1942, she founded Jewish Vocational Services in Boston, to help Jewish women who were working in the city’s garment district find better jobs.
In 1942, she married Sidney S. Hoos, an economist. The couple later moved to Berkeley, where Mr. Hoos taught in the agricultural economics department at the University of California.
Ida Hoos began to pursue her Ph.D. there and became interested in the effects of automation and technology on workers. She received her doctorate in 1959, and her dissertation was published in 1961 as “Automation in the Office.” Another book, “Retraining the Work Force,” was published in 1967.
Dr. Hoos remained at the University of California as a research sociologist, first at its Institute of Industrial Relations, then at the Space Sciences Laboratory. At the laboratory, where she was the lone social scientist, she expressed concern over the effect of satellite surveillance on individual privacy.
She retired from the university in 1982. Over the years, she also served on committees at the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and the Department of Energy.
In addition to her daughter Judith, of Boston, she is survived by another daughter, Phyllis Daniels of Goldendale, Wash.; a brother, Philip Russakoff of Skowhegan; three granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren.
Dr. Hoos was largely unfazed by being a woman in what was seen as a man’s field. In an unpublished memoir, she wrote of serving in the 1980s on a high-level committee at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. The committee had a preponderance of aerospace industrialists.
“I was the only woman,” she wrote, “and thoroughly used to the Happy Hour salutation of ‘Hey fellas — oh, excuse me, Ida!’ ”
On Jan. 1, 1984, Dr. Hoos was called by National Public Radio and asked for her thoughts on George Orwell’s predictions of universal surveillance, now that the year had actually arrived.
“On that subject,” she later recalled, “I could only say that thanks to the dramatic developments in information technology, we had already been here a long time.”
UC Berkeley was an important step in the way sociology influenced my career. My undergraduate years at Radcliffe, under the wonderful inspiration of Gordon Allport, had already provided the template to guide me. thus, 5 years out of Radcliffe, I founded and ws director of a then-unique social service organization, Jewish Vocational Service, which is still flourishing and is still a major force in occupational guidance, training, and placement in the Boston area. With many branches and myriad activities, it is recognized for its service to the entire community.
Marriage to Sidney S. Hoos, on leave from UC Berkeley to the War Department OQMG in Washington, put a temporary end to my work in Boston along with my part-time graduate program at Harvard. My main focus was Fannie Farmer and Dr. Spock, with Kuchen and Kinder all-important, while our two daughters grew up and Sid kept the armed forces in the far-flung theatres of war supplied. After the war, we returned to Berkeley, Sid much honored for his service and greatly advanced on the academic ladder.
A sabbatical at Harvard for Sid meant a refresher at the Pierian Spring for me. A return to ivy-clad Emerson Hall inspired me to desert Girl Scout cookie sales. Gordon Allport exhorted me: You just mustn't stay graduated. Herb Blumer smoothed all the administrative hurdles. My thesis, 'Implications of Electronic Data-Processing for the Clerical labor Force', became a book, Automation in the Office, published by Public Affairs Press and was translated into German. I wrote and delivered the series 'Office Automation in America' for the Voice of America. My sister commented that if only I had titled my work 'Sex and Automation', it would have attracted more attention!
With our two daughters now 12 and 16, we took our first sabbatical abroad, this time a year (for Sid) under the joint sponsorship of the Ford Foundation, the Italian government, and UC. Our year in Naples was a high point. When we returned to Berkeley in September 1961 I was considering another PhD in Romance Languages, just for the fun of it but but the Institute of Industrial Relations, under Art Ross and Peg Gordon, invited me to join their research program, 'Unemployment and the American Economy' and, always interested in adjustment to technological change, I designed a study of retraining programs. My book, Retraining the Work Force was published by the UC Press and ran through two editions.
Technological advance was evident on every front. Not only the more mechanical aspects of handling data but the very process of managerial thinking were becoming subject to new concepts and theories. The 'dominant paradigm' embraced only the quantitative. What you could not count did not count. The social and human aspects were systematically avoided in the rush to be 'scientific.'