Consensus on the Future of Psychological Science
When representatives from more than 90 of the world’s leading behavioral science organizations convene a few years before the new millennium, you can expect talk to center around the future. What you may not expect, though, is for there to be such a strong consensus among so many organizations on what it will take to further the science, application, and communication of psychology in the coming years.
But that is just what happened when, for a few days in the beginning of May, more than 150 representatives of more than 90 organizations and institutions met at the University of California-Santa Barbara for the 1998 Summit of Psychological Science Societies. Charged with “Advancing the Scientific Base of Psychology: Achievements, Obstacles, and Opportunities,” Summit participants created and approved a resolution (see end of this article) at the conclusion of the Summit. The resolution not only pledged to help psychologists, legislators, and society at large better understand, communicate, and use behavioral research, but-to ensure that the recommendations developed at the Summit do just that-created a post-Summit steering committee to implement and track recommendations that came out of the convocation.
Said Summit Co-Chair Milt Hakel: “You are present at the creation of efforts to support psychological science and advance it into the new millennium.”
Finding Common Ground
“A hundred years ago when our founders were starting their first labs and creating their first organizations, I am sure they could not have imagined that there would ever be so many organizations that have psychology or behavioral science as part of their mission,” said APS President Kay Deaux, welcoming participants to a reception on the eve of the Summit. “But here we are today with that complexity in our field. Most of the time we let that diversity spread us apart in our own separate agendas, turfs, and boundaries. That is why it is such an exciting prospect to-every once in a while-come together and see what our common ground is and where we have mutual goals and missions that we can all accomplish better by working together. It makes the next two days a challenge and a potentially rewarding experience for all of us.”
Acknowledging the progress of the field so far, the Summit agenda strove to determine how to capitalize on that progress.
What will the field look like in five or 10 years when so many areas now are ripe for expansion; when disciplinary boundaries are changing rapidly; and when new theories, methodologies, applications and practices are emerging at an unprecedented rate?
How do we identify and pursue the most promising research directions?
How do we ensure that there will be a next generation of psychological researchers?
These were the questions the planning committee (chaired by Hakel and Jim Blascovich) considered when organizing the 1998 Summit. The goal they established was to develop strategies, recommendations, and ideas that can be pursued by the field as a whole, regarding such things as research resources, training and infrastructure, grant review, the public image of scientific psychology, and the transfer of knowledge from theory to application and practice.
This is the fifth in a series of APS-facilitated summits, which have provided a forum for discussion of scientific and educational issues in psychology. Those discussions have led to consensus within the field on topics ranging from a national behavioral science research agenda to PhD program accreditation, as well as action plans for pursuing initiatives in those areas.
In addition to APS, this most recent Summit was supported by its host, the University of California-Santa Barbara, federal and private research agencies, as well as by the individual participating organizations.
“The Summit was such a remarkable event with so many perspectives represented from behavioral neuroscience to health services research, from those studying organ systems to those studying whole industries-social, developmental, clinical, cognitive-all were present,” said APS Executive Director Alan G. Kraut. “They came from psychology departments, medical schools, schools of public health, schools of communication, but at least for one weekend, all of us brought those very different perspectives to bear on one overarching question: How can we advance the science of psychology? Yes, it was a truly remarkable event.”
Take on the Toughies
Before diving into the topics at hand, Summiteers were treated to motivating keynote addresses by National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Alan I. Leshner, and APS Past-President and Ohio State University Professor Marilynn Brewer.
“We are about to move into a new area and it is time to think about those issues that are particularly pressing,” said Leshner, who spoke of developing a higher sense of unity and finding more areas of commonality within the field and within science as a whole.
“We have to move in a more focused way to integrate biology and behavior,” he said. “We fear that we will be consumed by neuroscience or molecular biology but the truth is that we are integral to the relevance of both and we should be embracing that integration.”
In this vein, he discouraged differentiation between behavioral and biomedical research and encouraged the study of the mind in a non-dualist way, noting that “We have a tendency to put things into one category or another to study.”
Leshner also challenged Summit attendees to take on the “toughies,” such as issues of craving in drug abuse, and what thought processes are during a psychotic state.
“We have to ask tougher questions of ourselves and of others,” he said. “What does genetic/environmental interaction really mean? How do we get behavior out of biology?”
Leshner also encouraged the Summit audience to think about something that became a recurrent theme throughout the meeting: educating the public about psychology’s role and accomplishments.
“We still need to make clear what it is that we do,” he said. “We need to learn to translate it so that it does not appear to be confirmation of the common sense.”
Brewer inspired Summiteers with a look at where it is that psychology comes together. She gave her perspectives on past achievements and future directions in psychology as a multilevel scientific discipline. She also offered that psychology was a science that stood in the center of all life sciences, and discussed understanding the role of psychology as such.
“If we are going to be the center, we do have some responsibilities,” she said. “We have to recognize our place, so to speak, in the world. And I think one of the things it means is thinking in some different ways about our own discipline. Now is the time to start embracing the idea of psychology as an integration of the neurosciences, social sciences, cognitive sciences, and health sciences-an integration that has been adopted by the National Institutes of Health and its Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. I think it is something that we should take seriously.”
Part of the conceptualization, she said, includes new combinations of multidisciplinary and intradisciplinary study.
“The generation of these kinds of neologisms that reflect compound intersections of different aspects of our domain are, along with integrative compound research programs, the future of our science,” she said.
Brewer also challenged the audience to “think big.”
“If we realize we are at the center of the life sciences, and we think about the importance of the questions that we ask, we should be past the stage of science as a cottage industry,” she said. “We have got to change the culture of psychology to think more broadly in terms of ambitious questions, and multi-investigator, large-scale, big instrumentation investigations, research programs, and projects. One of the things I would like us to think about when we are looking at opportunities, constraints, and barriers are what have been barriers toward ‘big science’ in psychological research. What is it about our training, our culture, and our approach to our science that still focuses so much on the smaller investigator? Think about our training practices, our publication practices and our practices within the departments.”
“These summits are, in part, about getting to the right questions,” said Hakel, who offered his own statement of faith to help not only generate the right questions, but to illustrate the larger issues: “Research is the most important social institution since the development of representative government. Research is indeed the glue that binds us as individuals, as scientists, and psychologists, and as a community of researchers. We are convened here to talk about how to advance the scientific base of psychology, particularly to review our achievements, to identify obstacles, to further progress, and then to set our sights on the opportunities.”
To that end, Hakel outlined the nine categories of discussion that emerged from preliminary breakout sessions attended by all Summit participants:
- The Human Capital Initiative: The Next Generation
- A New Look at Giving Psychology Away
- Psychology + X: Interface with Other Disciplines
- Santa Barbara Projects (the Summit version of the Manhattan Project)
- Building our Constituency Through Undergraduate Education
- Training the Next Generation of Psychological Scientists
- The Science of Evaluating
- Reviewing Review Panels
- IRBs: All Checks and No Balances
The Summit participants authorized the establishment of a Steering Committee whose members would identify groups of individuals to pursue the recommendations on the topics above that were presented in the final session of the Summit. Once developed, this steering committee, to be co-chaired by Hakel and Blascovich, will be responsible for the follow-up and oversight of activities to implement these recommendations.
The Human Capital Initiative (HCI): The Next Generation
The Summit looked at both the first generation of HCI topics (developed by the second and third Summits held in 1990 and 1991) and possible directions for the next phase of the initiative. The sense of the discussion was that the HCI should proceed along two tracks: initiatives should be pursued in areas from the original HCI that have not been developed (i.e. literacy, drug abuse), but there should also be new reports where psychological science is the central focus. The next generation of projects, it was said, should resemble the first generation in important ways (i.e. relevance to society at large) and should add to it a proactive and positive flavor. An example of a next generation HCI topic would be “Enhancing Human Performance,” which was suggested as a possible report. Other proposed new topics include: diversity; psychology and law; human/technology interfaces; the changing family; emotion; and the mind.
A reconstituted HCI coordinating committee will specify goals and evaluation criteria for the new projects, determine a conceptual framework for the reports to be generated, and articulate the basic/applied research relationship.
A New Look at Giving Psychology Away
Summit attendees who addressed this issue suggested the establishment of a consortium dedicated to the effective communication of psychological science. In addition to training psychologists to communicate more effectively, it was agreed that efforts are needed to encourage better media coverage of behavioral research. This group would focus on putting psychological science in the public eye, with the following specific initiatives suggested as possible actions: creating a Distinguished Speaker series; media training for psychological scientists; a new journal geared toward a broad audience; setting up an informal council to serve as a media resource; new curriculum modules; teacher workshops; educating science writers; and the development of internet resources and webpages to establish better communication of behavioral science research.
Psychology + X: Interface with Other Disciplines
Summit participants also addressed how to encourage interdisciplinary/ multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary research. The creation of a working group was suggested to develop initiatives to promote this kind of research. These initiatives may involve addressing structural barriers at universities, identifying interdisciplinary models, and creating interdisciplinary presentations that would bring psychological researchers to conferences in other disciplines and feature them in a reciprocal dialogue with researchers from those disciplines.
Santa Barbara Projects
Summit attendees discussed potential “Santa Barbara Projects” (the Summit version of the Manhattan Project)-large-scale initiatives, many of which deal with the infrastructure of psychology research-and proffered a number of possibilities, including:
- initiating a longitudinal study of human development;
- establishing a council of behavioral and social science advisors to advise legislators on contemporary issues in psychological science;
- organizing a self-study of the discipline;
- improving the infrastructure via a large-scale infusion of instrumentation, software, and training resources;
- establishing a network for providing summer training institutes and other opportunities for continued development and updating of research skills;
- starting a human diversity project;
- developing new imaging centers not affiliated with medical settings;
- developing centers for the study of cognitive processes;
- initiating archival projects;
- studying the effects of information technology;
- studying the challenge of change;
- and creating centers for the study of violence and conflict.
The Steering Committee will be seeking additional project ideas.
Building our Constituency Through Undergraduate Education
In tune with the Summit theme of advancing the scientific base of psychology, undergraduate psychology education was examined in terms of its role as a gateway to a career in scientific psychology, and as a major point of contact between the public and psychology. Suggested actions include: encouraging active inquiry in psychology education; developing a web-based quality lab course for use in multiple settings; strengthening undergraduate research in psychology; reemphasizing the relationship between teaching and research; establishing and maintaining a centralized basis for disseminating research on undergraduate education; and developing and disseminating materials on careers for psychology majors.
Training the Next Generation of Psychological Scientists
The Summit recommended that a working group be formed to identify possible initiatives across the range of psychological education and training. As a starting point, the group should look at existing information-such as reports from past conferences on education and training-and consider whether another conference or meeting is needed, or to pursue initiatives in other directions, such as curriculum development, improving mathematics training for psychology majors, precollege and public education programs; specifying learning outcomes and assessment goals, etc.
The Science of Evaluating
Another topic addressed by the Summit was the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the evaluation of psychological interventions, and enhancing human performance. The creation of guidelines for evaluating training and treatment interventions was recommended. These guidelines would include information on types of interventions and measures of effectiveness, and would reinforce the principle that empirically-based evaluation is a central view of psychological science.
Reviewing Review Panels
The Summit heard from several federal agency representatives concerning the integration of the grant review systems of the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism into the peer review system of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Those three institutes joined NIH a few years ago, but the merger of their review systems was delayed in order to allow a systematic transition to the NIH system. The merger has triggered a reorganization of NIH’s review in behavioral science (as well as in Neuroscience, AIDS, and clinical research), and NIH is actively seeking input from the psychological science community about the structure and process of review as well as the composition and jurisdictions of peer review groups. The Summit provided substantial feedback on the reorganization of NIH’s behavioral science review, which will be formally conveyed to NIH.
Other review-related issues addressed at the Summit included expanding representation of behavioral scientists on advisory boards of federal agencies, and effective recruitment of senior behavioral scientists to serve on peer review panels.
IRBs: All Checks and No Balances
The discussion on the impact of institutional review boards (IRB) on psychological research included suggestions for: improving the process at the local level; regularization of IRB activities; clarifying investigators rights and the appeal process; better education of researchers as to what an IRB is and does; and creating White Papers for possible use by federal agencies, legislators, researchers, and IRB members.
“We wanted to get IRBs to refocus protection on subjects and not worry about design or legal risks to the university,” said Summiteer Bruce Overmier, a member of the Summit planning committee who will lead the effort on IRBs.
Taking Psychology Back
“What struck me at the Summit was the broad consensus on the issues, obstacles, and opportunities that confront psychological science as we look to the next century,” said Robert A. Bjork, a member of the Summit planning committee. “What was particularly encouraging to me was the unwavering commitment to rigorous standards of research and evaluation.
“I was also struck with the sentiment that we should not only do a better job of giving psychology away, but that we should also focus on taking it back-that we should not let talk shows and the pop-psychology shelves of large bookstores define our field,” he added. “Rather than attempting to define ourselves with other names-by, for example, renaming our departments-we should embrace, not shy away from, the challenge of educating our students, and the public, as to the reality and the potential of psychology as a science.”
Resolution of the 1998 Summit of Psychological Science Societies
Santa Barbara, California
April 30-May 2, 1998
Representatives from more than 90 organizations concerned with scientific psychology met to discuss the future of the discipline at the 1998 Summit of Psychological Science Societies. They reached consensus on many critical areas for continued progress in the field. These include: increasing government and public awareness of psychological science; using psychological science to develop human potential; encouraging the interface of psychological science and other scientific disciplines; encouraging education and training; launching new large-scale projects in psychological science; and assessing the impact of scientific and regulatory review.
Summit participants also demonstrated unprecedented unity when they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the following resolution. This resolution is a broad statement of principles intended to guide the implementation of specific recommendations that emerged in the areas above, and the development and implementation of other discipline-wide initiatives that promote the future of the scientific psychology.
The 1998 Summit of Psychological Science Societies:
- affirms the importance of psychological science to understanding behavior and experience;
- affirms the importance of evidence-based practice in assisting individuals and society;
- calls upon government and society to take greater advantage of existing psychological science;
- calls upon psychological scientists to equip themselves and their students and to educate the public to address the issues of importance to society;
- shares a commitment to the breadth of scientific psychology; and charges the 1998 Summit Planning Committee to appoint a post-summit Steering Committee to prioritize and implement the recommendations developed by the various Summit working groups.
Adopted May 2, 1998
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