Professor Phil Levy: Psychologist who aided the academic expansion of his discipline

Every profession needs a fixer, who generates and sees through new and effective policy ideas. Philip Levyperformed this function on behalf of academic psychology during theperiod when the discipline was expanding dramatically in universities and schools. He could do this because he was highly numerate and had a penchant for unpicking research designs and solving statistical problems from first principles.

Always a dapper Yorkshireman, Philip Levy, always known as Phil, attended Leeds Modern School, and read psychology at Leeds University, graduating in 1955. While there, he worked on the student newspaper, where he met Gill Harker, whom he married in 1958, just as he was about to graduate with a PhD in psychology and education from Birmingham University.

In his doctoral research Levybecame an expert in the science ofpsychological-test construction and analysis, and his PhD in this specialist area meant he was much in demand. Even during national service he was recruited by the air ministry toperform research into the psychological tests that the Royal Air Force had designed to select its pilots. After his service he was kept on as a civilianemployee for a year, and he won the Sword of Honour for his services. He went on working for the Air Force, but as an academic, first at Birmingham from 1962 and then as founding professor in psychology at Lancaster University from 1972. He was active in a wide range of government and other applied research projects.

Throughout the 1960s Levy worked closely with the National Children's Bureau providing statistical advice to Mia Kellmer Pringle, then its director. I joined the Bureau in 1972 and we both quickly realised that we shared similar views, not only about how to analyse and present data, but also about the theoretical underpinnings of educational research and psychometrics. As a young and inexperienced researcher, I benefited enormously from his patient and encouraging wisdom.

Because he had a deep understanding of the technicalities Phil never allowed himself to be caught making claims that went beyond the assumptions built into the statistical models people were using. As editor, for many years, of the British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, he had a wide knowledge of what was being done and a fine nose for detecting both misunderstandings and the posturings sometimes adopted by those advancing a particular claim.

In 1984 he and I collaborated on Tests in Education, a set of critical reviews of psychological tests being used in the educational field. Phil was keen to contextualise the reviews within their likely educational settings and set out clear judgements about not only the traditional concerns of validity and reliability, but also how educationally relevant they were, how they were standardised and how open publishers were about their construction. Thanks to Phil's prestige, over 50 reviewers gave their services freely. The result was an informative and entertaining description of the good, the mediocre and the (large number of) really bad tests.

During this time I visited Phil and his family frequently at their house in a rural area near Lancaster. For most of the 1970s and early 1980s Phil was at the top of his profession, and had an international reputation. He also became a highly skilled policymaker within higher education. From 1979 to 1989 he was chair of three consecutive Social Science Research Council (today's Economic and Social Research Council) research committees.

His advice was sought in both academic and political circles and he often had the task of effecting policies that universities were reluctant to see the need for. In 1986 he co-chaired the psychology panel for the first Research Assessment Exercise and he foresaw the emergence of the "full economic costing" model some 20 years before universities adopted it.

In their retirement Phil and Gill moved to Winchester to be near their elder daughter, Lucy. After Gill's death in 2003, he and Lucy took Open University degrees in mathematics and statistics. He was a diligent but difficult pupil, asking at every opportunity what the underlying principles were to any proof that was introduced – most tutors responded "You don't need to know that", which made Phil even more eager for the answer. He also continued to play bridge and was known as "the machine" as he could work out with a high degree of accuracy what cards each hand contained. In his professional as well as personal dealings Phil was always courteous and cheerful, even though for 30 years his eyesight was failing and he was finding work difficult.

Philip Marcus Levy, psychologist: born Redcar, Teesside 4 February 1934; senior research fellow, lecturer, senior lecturer, Birmingham University 1962–72; professor of psychology, Lancaster University 1972–94, then Emeritus; married 1958 Gillian Harker (died 2003; two daughters); died Winchester 23 January 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape