Donald Dorfman joined the Department of Psychology in 1968 after having spent six years as a faculty member at San Diego State University. A 1961 Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, he was a member of one of the more esoteric subfields of psychology known as mathematical psychology. However, his reputation extended well beyond this specialized group, even beyond the borders of psychology proper. He is acknowledged as a pioneer in the development and application of Signal Detection Theory, an account of how patterns are recognized under conditions of interference and uncertainty, which has both theoretical and practical importance to many fields.
During the latter part of his career, Don had a joint appointment in the Department of Radiology and worked in collaboration with Kevin Berbaum of that department on the problem of improving the accuracy of x-ray diagnosis. This was only one of many applications of his early theoretical work, the importance of which is best reflected by the fact that one of his articles has been cited well over 500 times and continues to be cited about 30 times a year with little signs of diminishing impact even three decades after its publication.
As a colleague, Don was the kind of person who is often described as living life with a passion although it might be more appropriate to say that he lived life with tenacity. He was a man of high standards, strong convictions, and remarkable stamina in pursuit of that in which he believed. This applied equally to fundamental issues of life and science as well as to more everyday matters. He required evidence and reason in order to be convinced of something, but once convinced, he was a tireless supporter of individuals and initiatives. In this regard especially, he served as a model to both his students and his colleagues.
Don died in April and is survived by his wife, Lorraine Dorfman, Professor of Social Work at Iowa, two children, Jonathan Dorfman of London, England and Dr. Jennifer Dorfman of Chicago, IL, and two sisters, Laura O'Neill of Deptford, NJ and Beverly Frisina of Miami, FL.