[visionlist] Sad news of George McConkie's passing - Virtual memorial service on Monday 4/26

Tai, Yu-Chi ytai at pacificu.edu
Mon Apr 26 11:12:54 -04 2021

In honor of Dr. George McConkie, a memorial service for him will be held on Monday, April 26, 2021, at 1 pm in Salt Lake City, Utah. Friends are invited to join the service virtually on Zoom at the same time.

Please click the link below to join the service: https://zoom.us/j/98926248775 (April 26, 2021, 1 pm, US Mountain Time).

Thanks, Lester and Francoise, for the nice depiction of George's contributions. George is a humble, genius giant, a great instrument in the growth and flowering of eye movement research and vision science. He is a highly respected scientist, a wise advisor, a loving mentor, and a true friend to generations of students and fellow researchers. Many have benefited immeasurably from his wisdom and warmth. I am lucky to be one of his students. I can't enumerate George's endless accomplishments, but what I’ll miss the most and will never forget is how truly kind he is. And I am not alone. His gentleness and kindness have touched and changed the lives of so many for so many years.
George, you are invincible.
With love, respect, and admiration. ~ Yu-Chi Tai

From: visionlist <visionlist-bounces at visionscience.com> On Behalf Of Francoise Vitu
Sent: Friday, April 23, 2021 10:34 AM
To: visionlist at visionscience.com
Subject: Re: [visionlist] Sad news of George McConkie's passing

Thanks a lot, Lester, for this very nice tribute to George.
George McConkie was indeed an exceptional scientist, humble, honest, generous, meticulous, and inventive. I had the honor to work with him for several years, first as a postdoc, and then as a visiting researcher at the Beckman Institute in Urbana-Champaign. We collaborated and stayed in contact for many years, and it was a great pleasure for me to last organize a symposium in his honor at ECEM 2011, here in Marseille, and allow him to get together with several of his former Phd students and postdocs, and many of his friends. Unfortunately, this is when we last saw each other.
It would take too long to list all the things I learned from working with George, but he certainly did inspire me a lot; he helped me putting all my ideas together and making them grow, always reminding me to see the other side of things. George also contributed to make me grow personally by teaching me wisdom, simplicity, and humbleness.
George is a huge loss for our community. However, his unmissable and incommensurable contribution to vision, eye-movement, and reading research will make him eternal. And we will always remember the gentleman he was.
Françoise Vitu

Le 22/04/2021 à 04:54, Lester Loschky a écrit :
Dear Colleagues,

It is with great sadness that I share the news of George McConkie's passing on April 17, 2021.  He had been battling Parkinson's disease for over a decade, and was also battling cancer.  He died at home surrounded by his family members.

George will be remembered for a long time for his contributions to the study of reading, visual cognition, and the critical roles played by eye movements in both.  His career spanned roughly 30 years, from the early 1960s to the mid 2000s.  I was lucky enough to have him as my mentor towards the end of his career.

In the mid 1970s, George and his graduate student Keith Rayner developed the gaze-contingent methodology and measures of the perceptual span in reading, and their results revolutionized our understanding of the processes of reading.  They showed that readers of English extract information asymmetrically around the point of fixation, from 8-12 letters to the right of fixation, and 4-6 to the left, or, more generally, from the upcoming word to the right.  Further work by George, Keith, and their colleagues and students, used this methodology to further delineate precisely what sorts of information the reader is able to pick up from the to-be-fixated word.

Later, in the 1980s, together with his graduate students David Zola and Gary Wolverton, George showed that the theory of the visual integrative buffer could not explain perceptual stability across fixations.  George first showed that by having people read text written in alternating upper and lower case letters, and gaze-contingently changing the case of every letter (e.g., WoRd -> wOrD), each time readers made a saccade. This complete change of all perceptual information in the text across fixations did not cause the predicted catastrophic disruption of reading.  Far from it, readers didn't notice the perceptual changes across fixations at all, suggesting that rather than perceptual information being carried across saccades, it was identity information.

In the early 1990s, George then decided to test the same idea with scenes, by changing pairs of photographs that differed in key details (e.g., in a photo of two men, swapping their heads).  He made those changes during viewers' saccades, and asked them to press a button if they noticed any changes.  To everyone's surprise, many people completely missed the changes for long periods of time. When George's graduate student John Grimes presented their results at a Cognitive Science conference in Vancouver, a low-tech demonstration without eyetracking during the talk caused a great stir among the audience.  From that work, the phenomenon soon after to be named "Change Blindness" was born.

George and his graduate student Chris Curry followed that up by developing the Saccade Target Theory of perceptual stability across saccades.  To test that theory, when viewers made a saccade towards a target object in a complex natural scene, they would either move the entire scene image, the entire scene background, or just the target object, a bit further away in the direction of the saccade.  They found neither moving the entire scene, nor the entire background were commonly detected, but that moving only the saccade target was.  This suggested that the saccade target has a special status in maintaining visual stability across saccades.

Towards the end of his career, George and his graduate student Shunnan Yang also caused a stir in the eye movements and reading community by showing that for a moderate population of relatively short duration fixations, the recognizability of a fixated word seemed to play no role in determining readers' fixation durations. They showed that by having people read pages of text, and occasionally, for a single eye fixation, changing all of the letters on the page to random letters (among other various manipulations).  They found that for fixations < 200 ms in duration, fixating on a word composed of random letters had no impact on that fixation's duration.

George also influenced a much larger group of graduate students, post-docs, and colleagues, around the world, from the US, to Europe, and China. He played a key role in generating greater interest in using eye movements to study perceptual and cognitive processes.  George was always a soft spoken, kind, and patient mentor, colleague, and friend.

George was also an important and caring member of his religious community, which was always very important to him.  And most importantly to him, he was a devoted father, grandfather, and great grandfather to a large and loving family.

George will be sadly missed by all who knew him.


Les Loschky

Lester Loschky
Associate Director, Cognitive and Neurobiological Approaches to Plasticity Center
Department of Psychological Sciences
416 Bluemont Hall
1114 Mid-Campus Dr North
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS  66506-5302
email: loschky at ksu.edu<mailto:loschky at ksu.edu>
research page: https://www.k-state.edu/psych/research/loschkylester.html
lab page: http://www.k-state.edu/psych/vcl/index.html
Pronouns: he, him, his


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Françoise Vitu-Thibault,

Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive,

CNRS, Aix-Marseille Université,

Centre St Charles, Bat 9, Case D,

3 Place Victor Hugo, CS 80249,

13331 Marseille Cedex 03, France.

Francoise.Vitu-Thibault at univ-amu.fr<mailto:Francoise.Vitu-Thibault at univ-amu.fr>
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