Howard Raiffa

January 24, 1924 – July 8, 2016

Brief Biography

Howard Raiffa is an influential decision scientist and operations researcher. Raised in Depression-era New York, Raiffa was encouraged to do well in school and was the captain of his high school’s basketball team. With World War II under way, Raiffa went to the tuition-free City College of New York to prepare for a noncombat, research position with the U.S. Army. He took mathematics classes and enlisted in the Army’s Air Corps special meteorology program.

Raiffa struggled through basic training and, upon completing program’s courses at the University of Iowa, was informed that the Air Corps already had a surplus of meteorologists. He therefore joined the Ground Control Approach Program to become an officer with special radar training. After the war, Raiffa went to the University of Michigan to receive a degree in actuarial mathematics. He remained with the university for his graduate education, earning an MS in 1947 and a PhD in mathematics in 1951. Raiffa supplemented his studies with a research assistant position for an Office of Naval Research-sponsored program.

Graduating too late to accept a teaching position for the 1951-1952 academic year, Raiffa participated in an postdoctoral, interdisciplinary seminar on mathematics and psychology. It was here where he was introduced to decision theory and the statistical study of making choices. In 1952, he joined the Department of Mathematical Statistics at Columbia University and further pursued the study of games and decision analysis. Five years later, he co-wrote Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey with R. Duncan Luce. To this day, the book remains a classic source for the basic concepts and results of game theory and decision making under uncertainty.

Raiffa moved to Harvard University in 1957 and shortly after published  books on statistical decision theory with Robert Schlaifer and John Pratt. The trio set out to prove (in Raiffa’s words) “that whatever the objectivists could do, we subjectivists could also do – only better.” In 1964, they authored a paper that jointly axiomated utility and subjective probability as a prescriptive theory. Raiffa incorporated this into his 1968 Decision Analysis, the first book to widely present the subject’s foundation.

Much of what Raiffa brought to the classroom developed into important decision theory educative topics and techniques. Though his business students were incredibly bright, they were not mathematically sophisticated. Raiffa therefore formulated most problems in terms of decision trees, which later became the standard of decision analysis education. Many of his books are built upon his course material. Decision Analysis was presented as a series of “lectures” not unlike those he gave his students. Raiffa’s 1982 book on negotiation stemmed from an MBA course he developed on competitive decision making.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Raiffa served as the first Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and published a number of important articles and books. He and Ralph Keeney were jointly awarded the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize in 1976 for Decisions with Multiple Objectives, an instrumental book in establishing decision analysis as an approach for “normally intelligent people who want to think hard and systematically about some important real world problems.” In 1998, Raiffa, Keeney, and John Hammond wrote Smart Choices to provide a road-map for effective decision making to the public at large. It has since been translated into over sixteen different languages.

Raiffa has received a number of honors and awards for his contributions to OR and decision analysis. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. In 2005, he was inducted into the International Federation of Operational Research Societies’ Operational Research Hall of Fame.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Howard Raiffa
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Wikipedia Entry for Howard Raiffa

Keeney R. L. (2005) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame: Howard Raiffa. International Transactions in Operational Research, 12(6): 631-634. (link)


University of Michigan, BS 1946

University of Michigan, MS 1947

University of Michigan, PhD 1952 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS


Oral Histories

Feinberg S. E. (2008) The Early Statistical Years: 1947 - 1967, A Conversation with Howard Raiffa. Statistical Science, 23(1): 136-149. (link)

Harvard Kennedy School Oral History: Howard Raiffa. YouTube. Uploaded November 6, 2013. (see embedded YouTube video below)


Memoirs and Autobiographies


Raiffa H. (2002) Decision Analysis: A personal account of how it got started and evolved. Operations Research, 50(1): 179-185. (link)

Raiffa H. (2011) Memoir: Analytical Roots of a Decision Scientist. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Amazon: Seattle, WA. 


Gavel, D. (2016) Harvard Remembers Howard Raiffa The Harvard Gazette (July 16). (link)

Roberts, S (2016) Howard Raiffa, Mathematician Who Studied Decision Making, Dies at 92. New York Times (July 18) A20. (link)

(2016) Prof. Howard Raiffa, Giant in Game Theory and Decision Analysis, Dies at 92 Harvard Business School (July 12) (link)

Awards and Honors

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Member 1972

Frederick W. Lanchester Prize 1976

Frank P. Ramsey Medal 1984

International Society for Multiple Criteria Decision Making Gold Medal 1998

Decision Analysis Publication Award 2001

Saul Gass Expository Writing Award 2002

International Federation of Operational Research Societies' Operational Research Hall of Fame 2005

National Academy of Engineering 2005

Selected Publications

Luce R. D. & Raiffa H. (1957) Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Raiffa H. &Schlaifer R. O. (1961) Applied Statistical Decision Theory. Harvard Business School Division of Research: Cambridge, MA.

Pratt J. W., Raiffa H., & Schlaifer R. O. (1964) The foundations of decision under certainty: an elementary exposition. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 59(306): 353-375.

Pratt J. W., Raiffa H., & Schlaifer R. O. (1965) Introduction to Statistical Decision Theory. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Raiffa H. (1968) Decision Analysis: Introductory Lectures on Choices under Uncertainty. Addison-Wesley: Reading, MA.

Keeney R. L. & Raiffa H. (1976) Decisions with Multiple Objectives: Preferences and Value Trade-Offs. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Raiffa H. (1982) The Art and Science of Negotiation. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Raiffa H. (1985) Back from prospect theory to utility theory. Grauer M., ed. in Decision Processes, 100-113. Springer: Heidelberg.

Hammond J. S., Keeney R. L., & Raiffa H. (1999) Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Harvard Business School Press: Cambridge, MA.

Raiffa H. (2002) Negotiation Analysis. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA. 

Additional Resources

Howard R. A. et al. (2014) Part One: The History. Presentation. 50 Years of Decision Analysis Conference. November 7. Decision Education Foundation. (video). 

Howard R. A. et al. (2014) Part Two: The Future. Presentation. 50 Years of Decision Analysis Conference. November 7. Decision Education Foundation. (video). 

Wikiquote for Howard Raiffa