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Volume 18, Issue10October 2005

Presidential Column

Michael Gazzaniga
Michael S. Gazzaniga
University of California, Santa Barbara
APS President 2005 - 2006
All columns

In this Issue:
Worse than Creationism: Evolution, Neuroscience, and the Responsibility of Psychologists

About the Observer

Published 6 times per year by the Association for Psychological Science, the Observer educates and informs on matters affecting the research, academic, and applied disciplines of psychology; promotes the scientific values of APS members; reports on issues of international interest to the psychological science community; and provides a vehicle for the dissemination on information about APS.

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Up Front


  • Should We Rank Ourselves?

    Quick: Name the top five psychology departments in the world. Is that too hard? Well, what about North America? Is that any easier? What are five top departments in industrial/organizational psychology? In developmental psychology? In social psychology? Americans love lists of ratings of practically anything. However, when we come to the upper reaches of academia, valid rankings of departments and programs are hard to come by. In fact, there are none. Of course, there are rankings of psychology departments, just not any that most of us would consider methodologically sound. Several offerings appear on the home page of the Psychology Department at the University of California at San Diego (http://psy.ucsd.edu). The first listing of psychology departments is a "Faculty Citation Impact Ranking" in which — guess what? — UCSD ranks No.1. I rather like that ranking, because my department came in second. However, the UCSD Web site provides other rankings using other criteria with different results.

  • Worse than Creationism: Evolution, Neuroscience, and the Responsibility of Psychologists

    Reality often clashes with common sense. Sometimes reality wins — most people believe that the world is not flat, although it certainly seems to be — and sometimes it does not. There are two important cases where common sense leads to popular beliefs that scientists tell us are demonstrably false. The first concerns the origins of species. A poll conducted in July found that 42 percent of the respondents believe that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time." Many of the rest said that evolution occurred, but was guided by a supreme being. Only 26 percent claimed to believe in natural selection. My own sense is that such a poll actually overestimates scientific literacy. Many people who say that they believe in natural selection do so only because this is what educated people are supposed to say. If pressed, they often have no idea what the theory actually is, frequently confusing it with the notion that some mysterious force drives species to be increasingly complex and better adapted to their environments. As the biologist Richard Dawkins put it, it is almost as if the human brain is designed to misunderstand evolution.

Practice


  • Should We Rank Ourselves?

    Quick: Name the top five psychology departments in the world. Is that too hard? Well, what about North America? Is that any easier? What are five top departments in industrial/organizational psychology? In developmental psychology? In social psychology? Americans love lists of ratings of practically anything. However, when we come to the upper reaches of academia, valid rankings of departments and programs are hard to come by. In fact, there are none. Of course, there are rankings of psychology departments, just not any that most of us would consider methodologically sound. Several offerings appear on the home page of the Psychology Department at the University of California at San Diego (http://psy.ucsd.edu). The first listing of psychology departments is a "Faculty Citation Impact Ranking" in which — guess what? — UCSD ranks No.1. I rather like that ranking, because my department came in second. However, the UCSD Web site provides other rankings using other criteria with different results.

  • A Self-Correcting Approach to Multiple Choice Tests

    When you were a student, did you have any of the following experiences? You dreaded taking multiple-choice tests. You thought of the right answer after you had handed in the test. You never went over the exam questions in much detail when it was returned. As an instructor, have you had any of these experiences? Students complained they were not good at taking multiple- choice tests. The average class grade on an exam was much lower than anticipated. Students did not understand fully material they just studied and it was relevant to upcoming class work. You are not alone. The bright, engaging, and committed students I teach repeatedly declare that they hate multiple-choice tests and suspect that instructors design them just to trick students. I had the same attitudes as a student. Nevertheless, during my 15 years of teaching I have used multiple-choice tests extensively despite their "dubious" reputation. However, by appreciating students' concerns, considering the goals of my tests, and thinking more broadly about the test-taking experience, I believe I have learned some valuable lessons about how to enhance the learning potential of my multiple-choice tests.

First Person


  • LD Students in Your Class: Who Are They And What Do We Do With Them?

    A learning disability is "...a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations." – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997) More people with learning disabilities are choosing college than ever before. According to Vogel, Leonard, and Scales (1998), the number of college freshmen with a learning disability tripled between 1985 and 1995. As graduate teaching assistants we are often expected to be solely responsible for teaching undergraduate courses. As novice teachers, most GTAs have little or no experience dealing with learning disabled students.

More From This Issue


  • Bushman Named Associate Editor for PS

    Brad Bushman, professor of psychology and communication studies at the University of Michigan, and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, is the newest associate editor for Psychological Science. He has been an associate editor and consulting editor on a number of journals including Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Methods, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Bushman joins two other associate editors: Peter C. Gordon, University of North Carolina; and Reid Hastie, University of Chicago. Bushman's collegiate studies didn't begin with psychology.

  • Psychological Science Meets the World of Faith

    My contributions to the psychology-religion dialogue reflect my interests as a liberal arts professor who enjoys relating psychological science to other fields, including religion. In some essays and trade books I have danced on the psychology-religion boundary by: relating big ideas about human nature found in psychological science and in religious literatures; reporting on links among religiosity, prejudice, altruism, and well-being; and explaining to people of faith the informative and sometimes challenging insights of psychological science. Like most people of faith, I start with two axioms: 1) there is a God, and 2) it's not me and it's not you.

  • It Didn’t Bother Descartes

    A week before beginning my graduate studies in psychology, I happened upon a two-day workshop on the cantorate. Growing up in an observant Jewish home and attending synagogue every week, I certainly knew what a cantor was: the clergyman responsible for the chanting of the liturgy. I had trained with a cantor for my bar-mitzvah, and I even had a few cantors in my extended family. But up until that point, I had never seriously considered pursuing the cantorate as a profession. Years later a Fulbright Young Scientist Award brought me to Tel Aviv University to continue my research on number-processing impairments in brain-injured patients.

  • Faculty Experiences at Religious Institutions

    Nowhere is the intersection of science and religion more evident than in psychology programs at religious institutions of higher learning. APS Members at religious colleges and universities around the country were asked about their research and teaching duties and their experiences in straddling these domains. Bringing in the 'Faith' In general, it appears that religious institutions influence the teaching of psychology more than the research. At the more religious schools, faculty members are expected to incorporate religion into their psychology classes, or at least not discourage a religious discussion if a student raised the subject.

  • Observations

    Mischel Festschrift Inspirational scientist, prolific artist, skilled thumb wrestler, unskilled Citröen driver, demanding advisor, supportive friend. These are parts of the multi-faceted portrait of Walter Mischel provided by colleagues, friends, and family who attended a Festschrift in his honor on June 11, 2005. Although the event included a personal look at one of psychology's leading investigators — who emphasized that he is NOT retiring — its primary purpose was scientific.

  • Common Ground Helps Reduce Stereotyping

    In the wake of repeated bombings in the London subway system this summer by Muslim extremists, representatives from London's large Muslim community repeatedly condemned the acts, declaring that the city's Muslims shared the general sense of outrage and revulsion felt by non-Muslims. Muslim clerics and community leaders stood shoulder-toshoulder with Christians, Hindus, and representatives of the countless other religions whose followers call Great Britain home to denounce the attacks.