The Case for Changing Our Name

At its December 2004 meeting, the APS Board of Directors was unanimous in its support for changing the Society’s name to the Association for Psychological Science. In keeping with our bylaws, such a change needs to be decided by a future vote of our membership. On behalf of the Board, Treasurer Roberta Klatzky makes the case in the following column. Members are strongly encouraged to weigh in on this issue. Please send your comments to apsobserver@psychologicalscience.org. Unless you request otherwise, any comments received will be considered for publication in future issues of the Observer.

A little more than five years ago, the membership of the American Psychological Society narrowly rejected a proposal to change its name to the Association for Psychological Science. The Observer headline, fittingly enough, said, “APS Still APS.” The majority (60 percent) of voting members was in favor of the change, but that fell short of the two-thirds required to alter the bylaws.

Echoing Oliver Twist, I would like to suggest we have another go-round. I believe the Society’s name should be changed, because it will strengthen the scope and direction of the organization in three very important ways — it publicly defines, by name, psychology as a science; it embraces the international nature of our membership; and it demands respect for our science — all of which I will describe below.

But first, the history: The previous name-change initiative began with a proposal to the APS Board of Directors by APS Fellow and Charter Member Carol Tavris in the Fall of 1998. The proposition was formally put to the membership in February 1999, using the Observer as a forum, and a spirited public debate soon emerged.

Here are the arguments in order of decreasing consensus, as I review the documentation:

In Favor:

  1. It emphasizes that APS is a scientific organization, not a guild.
  2. It will differentiate APS from APA.
  3. It is more internationally inclusive.
  4. It promotes a closer association with the journals.

Opposed:

  1. We have an identity as the American Psychological Society; a change will create confusion.
  2. It suggests a conflict between science and practice.
  3. Those that need to proclaim they are scientific aren’t.

Other opinions (thankfully, a small minority):

  1. Suggested name changes that eliminate the acronym (my favorite being AABGRRRSRSRRSGPS, where the R’s are variants of “real” and “really” and the S’s are variously Science or Scientific — the BG is “by God,” of course).
  2. Rejection of the idea that psychology is in any way a science.
  3. It will confuse us with a board or committee of APA.

So what has changed since 1999? Obviously, not our name. There are, as I see it, three compelling reasons to revisit the issue.

First, time has passed, and we are nearly two decades old. APS was founded on August 12, 1988. It grew out of an interim group, numbering about 450, called the Assembly for Scientific and Applied Psychology. The motivation behind that group was to promote science within APA. When they deemed the effort a failure, APS was born.

It’s no secret, then, that APS and its name grew out of disenchantment with the fate of science within another organization. The name itself was chosen to resemble, but naughtily conflict with, its origin. Let’s face it, that’s hardly any basis on which to name a society. The passage of time should allow us to have a cooler perspective on what we should be called.

More importantly, in those two decades, APS has emerged with a solid identity of its own. It’s no longer “the other Ay-Pee thing,” but itself. Whatever one’s opinion of science at APA (and be careful what you say to me: I am the current chair of its Board of Scientific Affairs), it’s hardly relevant. We should be named for what we practice and how we educate. Our address on the Web already is.

Second, we are represented internationally more than ever, but our name doesn’t adequately represent our members outside of the United States. Thanks to energetic activities by Board members over the last several years, particularly Rochel Gelman, APS has developed an illustrious list of foreign members and fellows. But we are still undersubscribed, while outstanding psychological science thrives outside our borders. Why? My own experience, from talking to nonmembers on this continent and abroad, indicates that international membership in APS is undermined by our exclusionary name.

Third, clout. To be sure, clout doesn’t result from a change of name, but the added leverage among those who don’t understand psychological science could be significant. And we need it. At a time when the scientific community is struggling for a position among national funding priorities, psychologists are particularly disadvantaged. The two-year budget decline at NSF and the new priorities of NIMH, which particularly targeted basic psychological science, are hardly small signals that we need all the respect we can get on the Hill. It’s not just funding we should be worried about, but having an influence on education and application. Science in our name says science is our game.

So, I respectfully submit, let’s look again at the name Association for Psychological Science. At its meeting in December, the Board did just that, and to our collective surprise, the group was unanimously in favor of the change. Think it over, members, and decide.

Send your thoughts on a name change for APS to apsobserver@psychologicalscience.org.

Observer Vol.18, No.4 April, 2005

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