|As remembered by Vernon Quinsey|
Back in 74, I was looking for someone to fill a one-year
contract on a research grant. There were a number of applications but one from
a recent graduate from the University of Toronto caught my eye. There was a
problem, however, the applicant stated that he was a member of the Young
Conservatives. I dithered about whether I should interview a person with such
reactionary inclinations until another member of our team rightly pointed out that
fairness required an interview.
The interviewee turned up spectacularly bearded and clad
entirely in denim. Clearly, he would fit in! I found out much later that the
applicant, Grant Harris, had signed up with the Young Conservatives in a vain
attempt to woo a girl who was already a member of this nefarious organization
and had thought that his membership in it would give him a leg up when applying
for a provincial government job. Grant’s “membership” in the young
conservatives would remain a standing joke for the rest of his life—to my
I soon discovered that Grant’s scientific acumen was razor sharp;
in fact I had never met anyone with intellectual abilities superior to his.
Grant was later accepted by McMaster University where he studied memory but at
the time he graduated, there were few academic jobs in his somewhat arcane
specialty. Shortly before his graduation, however, I had engineered a position in
the Psychology Department at Oak Ridge and encouraged him to apply.
Grant was first a psychologist heavily involved in designing
and implementing behaviorally oriented treatment programs at the maximum
security Oak Ridge Division of the Mental Health Centre, Penetanguishene. A few
years later, he joined the Research Department, ultimately becoming its
Director in 2002 upon the semi-retirement of Marnie Rice (who had succeeded me
Being smarter and better informed than most, Grant often
found himself explaining things. Sometimes, however, he misjudged his listeners
and explained things to them that they already knew. His friends therefore
teased him about his “keen grasp of the obvious”.
Grant did indeed have a keen grasp of the nature of
scientific inquiry. He understood that science is able to inform advocacy but
not the reverse. The business of science is to accurately understand the world
as it is—scientists ought rigorously to attempt to falsify theories, not to
support cherished ideas. He observed that the mixing of empirical inquiry with
advocacy typically results in an intellectual muddle that supports the status
quo or passing fads.
Because of this understanding, he accurately detected and
despised cant, defined both as “hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically
of a moral, religious, or political nature”, and as “denoting temporarily
fashionable phrases or catchwords”. This trait did not endear him to those
bureaucrats and clinicians who dispensed it, particularly because Grant was
outspoken and fiercely protective of his scientific program. Grant also
understood that applied science or engineering (in which one attempts to
optimize some desired result) could sometimes yield theoretical insights.
Indeed, the creative use of the results of applied science to evaluate basic
scientific theories was his greatest strength.
As everybody in the business knows, Grant was a supremely
successful scientist. He had 231 publications, many of them heavily cited.
ResearchGate, for example, calculates his scientific reputation among its
members as at the 98th percentile. At the time of his death, Grant
was awaiting the galley proofs of his magnum opus: Harris, G.T., Rice, M.E.,
Quinsey, V.L., & Cormier, C. (2015). Violent
offenders: Appraising and managing risk, 3rd edition.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Grant was a big guy with a proportionately sized heart and
brain. He was proud of and close to his children, Anne and Thom, and his wife
Emily. Sadly, Emily predeceased Grant by some eight months. Grant was also
proud of his Research Department team—he was a patient mentor and a bureaucratic
protector who fostered an academic-type atmosphere in the department and knew
how to get the best out of his staff.
Grant always loved athletics. He lifted weights,
cycle-toured, canoed, played tennis, rowed, and practiced Goju-Ryu karate. In
his later years he became an avid fisherman. Grant was also an experienced
camper. For more than thirty consecutive years, Grant, his friend, George
Varney, and I went on a yearly camping trip. These trips became somewhat less
strenuous and adventurous over the years. Sadly, within less than an hour of
returning from our last trip, Grant had a major stroke. It is at least some
comfort to think that Grant would have chosen to spend his last days fishing a
beautiful autumn river.
A well-lived life cut too short.