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Volume 19, Issue9September 2006

Presidential Column

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

In this Issue:
Presidential Column: Reaching for Relevance

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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    Myths and Misinformation

    How does misinformation spread and how do we combat it? Psychological science sheds light on the mechanisms underlying misinformation and ‘fake news.’

Up Front


  • Archival Publication: Another Brick in the Wall

    Despite the profound changes in scientific publishing wrought by technology, many of us cling to the belief that the archival publication of primary journal articles remains the bedrock of our field. APS publications, and particularly Psychological Science with its 1200+ submissions per year, are outstanding journals and among the most impactful in all of psychology. But will such archival journals remain preeminent in the future? Recent developments in the internet bring seemingly unlimited electronic access to everything ever written about a particular topic. The amount of information that can be brought up in an instant on Google Scholar is remarkable, even for the most esoteric bits of psychological jargon. (I just got 41 hits on synergistic ecphory, for example). Such search engines don’t distinguish between something written in one of our archival journals from something written in the popular press, and if blogs are better linked to the internet in the future, the democratization of knowledge (as in Wikipedia) may continue. Everyone’s opinion on a topic may be seen as counting.

  • Presidential Column: Reaching for Relevance

    Twenty-five years ago, when I was in graduate school, my advisor received a phone call from a newspaper reporter. My advisor had just received a large grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to support his basic research on language comprehension and the reporter, alerted by the university’s press bureau, had developed his own curiosity surrounding what language comprehension had to do with mental health. My advisor adeptly addressed the conundrum, ably explaining the critical importance of basic research, and we all went back to the lab. A couple of years later, when I was writing my own first NIH grant, I consulted my senior colleagues about what I should write for those last two lines of the face-page description — the lines that specifically request the applicant to “mak[e] reference to the health relatedness of the project (i.e., the relevance to the mission of the agency).” My senior colleagues, pioneers and mainstays of the cognitive revolution, persons for whom a fifteen millisecond effect could adjudicate a complex theory, explained simply that I need only make allusion to the potential for future application.

APS Spotlight


  • Some Cautions About Jumping on the Brain-Scan Bandwagon

    My interest in neuroscience and neuroimaging is primarily as a teacher and textbook author. Like any teacher, I want students to appreciate the astonishing progress being made by neuroscientists. But I also want students (and teachers) to think as critically about findings from brain-scan studies as about findings from any other domain of psychology. The public has a tendency to equate technology with science, but PET scans and fMRIs are only tools; some people do great science with them, others do poor science with them. And many findings are less solid or meaningful than they first appear to be.

  • Do We Need To Study The Brain To Understand The Mind?

    The brain is the most complex object in the known universe. Some 100 billion neurons release hundreds of neurotransmitters and peptides in a dynamic spanning timescales from the microsecond to the lifetime. Given this complexity, neurobiologists can spend productive careers studying a single receptor. Might psychologists more productively understand the mind by ignoring the brain altogether? Marr (1977) suggested that mental processes may be studied at three levels of analysis: computational (the goals of the process), algorithmic (the method), and implementation (the hardware).

  • Freedom, Flexibility, and Never Finished

    DYNAMIC DUOS Step aside, Survivor. Time’s up, 24. Get lost, Lost. This season’s hottest reality series is right here in the Observer! Okay, now that we have your attention: the truth is, we invited a number of distinguished couples to co-author a memoir about their lives together – anything from how they met, to other major personal and career milestones, to how they juggle careers and home. Their articles will appear as a series in the Observer over the next several months. In generously sharing their lives with us, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the human side of science and a record of the events that shaped some of the most productive and influential careers in our field.

  • No, I Can’t Fix Your Dysfunctional Family

    It is a scene that has occurred repeatedly since I began studying for my PhD in cognitive psychology: I am talking to a friend of my parents or a high school friend I haven’t seen in years, and the person finds out that I am a graduate student. I involuntarily cringe as they ask me, “What are you studying?” When I answer, a slightly uneasy look crosses their face and they take a step back while laughingly nervously and saying something about not wanting to be analyzed so they should stop talking to me. And once again, I explain that I do not analyze people, I cannot help them or their strange relatives, and I am not opening a practice.

  • Teaching Matters: The Truth About the Job Market in Academic Psychology

    Every year thousands of undergraduates apply to psychology doctoral programs. And every year, doctoral programs accept a select and relatively small subset of these students. A while later (sometimes a long while later) most of these students will enter the job market. A sizeable portion of these new PhDs will apply for academic positions. These job seekers have two universal questions: What does the market look like, and do I have the preparation necessary to land a position? Regarding the latter, it turns out that teaching experience and skills are critical—something that aspiring doctoral students should keep in mind when deciding where to apply.

Practice


  • Technology is not a Toy!

    Star Wars’ producer, George Lucas, and former Illinois Governor and presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson would surely have had a lively conversation if able to discuss the place of technology in education! They would be at opposite ends of the love-hate relationship that teachers of all levels experience as they try to incorporate the newest technological innovations in their classrooms. Lucas, by virtue of his colossal Hollywood success and his dedication to utilizing the best of that world in the world of education, has contributed enormous amounts of money and resources to schools interested in enhancing learning with technology. Stevenson, on the other hand, was so averse to technology that in a 1954 speech at Columbia University, he once described it this way: “Technology, while adding to our physical ease, throws daily another loop of fine wire around our souls.” (1955, p. 156). Even the most common educational technology, presentation software, yields similarly mixed reviews.

  • Archival Publication: Another Brick in the Wall

    Despite the profound changes in scientific publishing wrought by technology, many of us cling to the belief that the archival publication of primary journal articles remains the bedrock of our field. APS publications, and particularly Psychological Science with its 1200+ submissions per year, are outstanding journals and among the most impactful in all of psychology. But will such archival journals remain preeminent in the future? Recent developments in the internet bring seemingly unlimited electronic access to everything ever written about a particular topic. The amount of information that can be brought up in an instant on Google Scholar is remarkable, even for the most esoteric bits of psychological jargon. (I just got 41 hits on synergistic ecphory, for example). Such search engines don’t distinguish between something written in one of our archival journals from something written in the popular press, and if blogs are better linked to the internet in the future, the democratization of knowledge (as in Wikipedia) may continue. Everyone’s opinion on a topic may be seen as counting.

First Person


  • Champions of Psychology: Paul E. Spector

    This is an ongoing series in which highly regarded professors share advice on the successes and challenges facing graduate students. Paul E. Spector is a professor of industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology and the I/O doctoral program director at the University of South Florida. His more than 100 journal articles have appeared in many journals, including Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Personnel Psychology, and Psychological Bulletin. At present he is the Point/Counterpoint editor for Journal of Organizational Behavior, and is on the editorial boards of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Organizational Research Methods, and Personnel Psychology. In 1991, the Institute For Scientific Information listed him as one of the 50 highest impact contemporary researchers (out of over 102,000) in psychology worldwide. APSSC: What led you to choose psychology as your career path?

  • Tips for Back to College: What I Wish I Knew

    What I found when I went to graduate school, is that while it met my expectations, it definitely requires some life adjustments. Remember what it was like to go to college as a freshman, in a new place, with new people? Well you are doing it all over again, and it isn’t as easy. After you meet your new friends, you suddenly have no time to spend with them. There are definitely times when you have plenty of occasions to have fun, but more often then not you are at home, studying, and so is everyone else you know. This too takes some adjustment, but as you go on, you learn what things to look for in your readings, and what things you can and cannot skip over. I wish that I had put more effort into learning time management while I was an undergraduate. When you have articles to read for every class, research teams to work on, and a job, your time suddenly becomes very precious. The best advice I think I could give is to make sure that you remember to take time for yourself. A few moments of relaxation could mean the difference between frantically trying to get everything done and calmly prioritizing and scheduling your obligations.

More From This Issue


  • Kids Are the Champs at Learning Language

    It’s a given that some kids are better than others at throwing a baseball or memorizing a Shakespearean soliloquy.  Whether it’s due to inherent talent or education, or some combination of both, might be open to question.  But there is one thing that all children are amazingly good at, no matter how good or bad their teachers are: learning language.

  • Benbow Appointed to National Science Board

    APS Fellow Camilla P. Benbow has been appointed by President Bush to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board (NSB). As a board member, Benbow will counsel the President on scientific issues, as well as oversee the National Science Foundation, a federal agency created in 1950 that promotes and funds research in science and engineering. Benbow joins a prestigious assembly consisting of twenty-four academic and community leaders, including university presidents, distinguished professors, and CEOs. Benbow is the Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.

  • Hollander Wins IAAP Award

    The International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) recently honored APS Fellow Edwin P. Hollander with an Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions.

  • Style and Substance: Twelve Tips for a Better Job Talk

    The one-day interview that is a rite of passage for all academic job candidates can feel more like an endurance test than anything else. The key event in this day is the dreaded “job talk” – one hour in which you must speak cogently about your research while showcasing your public speaking and teaching skills. Despite its importance, however, many candidates approach this talk unprepared and unfocused. Having served on recruitment committees and listed to dozens of such talks, we have some practical pointers on preparation, style, and substance. Before the Talk 1. Know your audience. Your audience is not a random assemblage of listeners.

  • Research on National Character Dispels Personality Stereotypes

    How many Americans does it take to replace a light bulb? None—they just ask a Canadian to do it. For many, this punch line elicits a few chuckles (from the Americans), or at least a small smirk of why it could be funny (from our Canada readers), due to a common understanding of national stereotypes: the compliant Canadian versus the pushy American. But are these ‘national characters’ really true? Do the people from these countries actually exhibit docile and bossy personality traits, respectively? In an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, co-authors Robert R.

  • APS Welcomes New Officers

    The conclusion of the 18th Annual APS convention not only represented an achievement in the sharing of psychological science, but it also marked the induction of new APS officers. Morton Ann Gernsbacher began her term as President for 2006-2007 as Michael S. Gazzaniga becomes the Immediate Past President (replacing Robert Levenson in that post).  John T. Cacioppo serves as President-Elect and Barbara L. Fredrickson and Diane Ruble embark on three-year terms as Members-at-Large of the APS Board. Linda Bartoshuk begins her term as Secretary; she was appointed to that position and replaces Abigail Baird.