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202007Volume 20, Issue2February 2007

Presidential Column

Morton Ann Gernsbacher
Morton Ann Gernsbacher
University of Wisconsin, Madison
APS President 2006 - 2007
All columns

In this Issue:
Presidential Column: On Not Being Human

About the Observer

The Observer is the online magazine of the Association for Psychological Science and covers matters affecting the research, academic, and applied disciplines of psychology. The magazine reports on issues of interest to psychologist scientists worldwide and disseminates information about the activities, policies, and scientific values of APS.

APS members receive a monthly Observer newsletter that covers the latest content in the magazine. Members also may access the online archive of Observer articles going back to 1988.

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  • Thumbnail Image for Disaster Response and Recovery

    Disaster Response and Recovery

    Disasters like Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut draw massive media coverage, trauma interventions, and financial donations to victims. But psychological research shows the efforts don’t always yield the intended benefits.

Up Front

  • Presidential Column: On Not Being Human

    Around the time I took office as president of the Association for Psychological Science, Wray Herbert, Public Affairs Director of APS, began e-publishing his now syndicated blog, “We’re Only Human.” Although I won’t pretend to be privy to the inner workings of Wray’s mind, I’m guessing that Wray chose his blog’s moniker to allow wide berth for our diverse curiosities, eccentricities, and proclivities. We might do this, we might even do that, because, well, after all, we are human. But are we? Do we all agree that all humans are indeed, human? The anonymous tract, Disputatio Nova Contra Mulieres, Qua Probatur Eas Homines Non Esse (A New Argument Against Women, in Which it Is Demonstrated That They Are not Human Beings), first published in 1595, was reprinted prolifically during the 17th and 18th centuries.

APS Spotlight

  • A Scientific Love Affair

    We like to think that ours was the first romance between psychologists fomented by mathematics, by probability theory to be precise. We met at a scientific conference in Boston; introduced by a mutual friend — Phil Salapatek, of happy memory — after having just missed each other a few weeks before in Minneapolis. One of us had just written a hefty tome that applied ergodic Markov chains to probability judgment, while the other was deep into experimentation on people’s understanding of probability terms. The result was an instant meeting of the minds, revolving around aspects of psychological theory that both of us had been thinking heavily about and culminating in a conversation in which we finished each other’s sentences. Clearly, this was a marriage made in heaven. It took quite a while to figure that out, of course. Our cultural backgrounds could not have been more different — Valerie is a sophisticated big-city girl from the east and Chuck is a farm boy from the mid-west — and that may have contributed. Then, too, we lived a few thousand miles apart, which is hardly ever a good thing for romance. Somehow, though, we had the good sense to collaborate on some projects.

  • Fighting Truthiness with Critical Thinking

    The term truthiness, coined by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, means “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” It was chosen as the word that best sums up 2006 in an online survey conducted by the dictionary folks at Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster’s president, John Morse, says that many people believe that truth is “up for grabs.” Unlike the doctrine of relativism, though, in which truth is not absolute but varies by culture or social circumstance, truthiness propounds that absolute truth is what we feel. Colbert’s “truth from the gut” is inimical to good critical thinking. Surprisingly, however, it is very hard to get most of us to think beyond our gut feelings. When we have a visceral reaction to something, we assume that we have discovered a truth. However, as psychologist David Levy, Pepperdine University, pointcogs out in his book Tools of Critical Thinking, feelings and truth are conceptually unrelated. In a risk assessment exercise last year, one of my students refused to switch positions even though the class had demonstrated conclusively through a series of trials that the new position was twice as favorable as the position he held.


  • Teaching Students with Disabilities: A Proactive Approach

    Perhaps you have found yourself in the midst of a conflict like one I faced in my introductory psychology class. A student with a documented disability e-mailed me on the day the required, five-page research paper was due. She said that, because her accommodations letter required that I provide her with extra time to complete written assignments, she would be submitting her paper late. How could I reconcile her request for extra time with my policies regarding late work? The conflict was ultimately resolved with the help of the head of my college’s office for students with disabilities, but it left me regretting that I had not addressed the issue at the beginning of the semester. Such situations underscore the need for making preparations for serving students with disabilities. 1.

First Person

  • From Science to Practice: Bridging the Gap with Translational Research

    In introductory courses on research methodology, basic and applied psychological research is often dichotomized. Recently however, researchers at all levels of academia, as well as public and private research institutes, have been turning to translational research in an effort to bridge the gap between laboratory and clinic. Translational research involves literally translating basic research findings to applied settings — practice informed by science. This approach is by no means a new idea. Translational medicine became popular in the mid-to-late-twentieth century as advances in “bench” research informed medical science, a relationship that has been strengthened in recent years by the advent of new technology in biomedical research (Ioannidis, 2004).

More From This Issue

  • Hunger for Money

    “Will work for food.” Scrawled on a piece of cardboard those words are a painful reminder of life’s fragility. They also pluck a deep chord in our psyche, because they reduce life to our most fundamental and oldest needs. The sentiment behind those poignant words can be traced all the way back to the African savannahs, to a time when our earliest ancestors did indeed do just that. In the eons before minimum wages and credit cards and 401(k) plans, the closest thing to earnings and savings was bounty from the hunt. Food was more than nourishment; it was an asset.

  • Congress Reauthorizes NIH

    After 13 years, Congress finally reauthorized the National Institutes of Health under the National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006, setting priorities for the restructuring and funding of the $30 billion agency. NIH was last authorized under the 1993 Public Health Service Act and since then there has been much waxing and waning of updated authorization bills. Last year, however, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the 109th Congress, decided that the NIH reauthorization was going to be his legacy and spent more than a year negotiating with various health and research advocacy organizations.

  • Bashing Science: It Could be Worse

    Others have done it, too, but has President Bush exceeded his predecessors in twisting and abusing science to suit his political purposes? Indeed he has, even allowing for Richard Nixon, who angrily abolished the White House science advisory apparatus when some of its distinguished members publicly opposed two of his most cherished objectives, the supersonic transport and missile defense. The Bush administration’s reputation for science bashing is well deserved and widely deplored, a frequent topic of irate commentary in the general press and professional journals.

  • Silver Appointed to Homeland Security Committee

    APS Fellow and Charter Member Roxane Cohen Silver has been a regular face in Washington since 2003, when she was appointed to the Academe and Policy Research Senior Advisory Committee at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This prestigious national panel advises the DHS Secretary on a broad range of issues, and Silver has capably briefed DHS staff on such topics as the psychological impact of terrorism and effective communication strategies during a crisis. The federal government has once again called upon Silver to share her expertise on national security, this time with the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee (SBODAC).