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Volume 21, Issue8September 2008

Presidential Column

Walter Mischel
Columbia University
APS President 2008 - 2009
All columns

In this Issue:
Our Urban Legends: Publishing

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


  • Our Urban Legends: Publishing

    The realization that writing these columns is expected from an APS President triggered fears I trace to a conversation with my fondly remembered Stanford colleague, Amos Tversky. About 30 years ago, Amos commented over a drink that for every 10 years of scholarly labors, one might possibly earn up to about 10 minutes of “pontificating time” (i.e., advice giving, ruminating about the good old days, bully pulpit sermonizing, etcetera). Needless to say, self-respecting academics who have earned those 10 minutes would rather tango in public than ever use them and risk sounding like Polonius giving advice to his son. I agreed with Amos, as usual. My presidential columns phobia got worse when I saw how my predecessors in these columns had thoughtfully addressed every topic I might have had something to say about.

Practice


  • Helping Students Improve Their Writing

    When a student paper states that performance anxiety can lead to sexual impudence, we might laugh. When a dissertation uses the expression It is argued more times than we can count, we might cry. High-quality written communication is important at all levels of psychology education and in most fields of employment related to psychology. Accordingly, the APA’s Task Force on Undergraduate Major Competencies (2002) named effective writing skills one of the top goals for undergraduate psychology education. Despite the importance of written communication, the quality of student writing in psychology courses, even at the graduate level, is often so low as to make academics despair. Although writing skills are not usually the focus of psychology courses, we believe that instructor efforts to improve student writing can be beneficial regardless of the course topic.

First Person


  • On Becoming a Theorist in Psychology

    Theory construction is essential to any field of science. Within psychology, theory is at the center of the scientific method. Research is conducted on the basis of theory, and it is the results of that research that advance theory. As a theory develops, the understanding of the world that is produced can be applied to predicting and changing the natural world in which we live, hopefully for the better (Randolph-Seng, 2006). Therefore, solid, well thought-out theory is a necessary link in solid, well thought-out research. Because theory is so vital to the science of psychology, how does a student become a theorist? More importantly, given the number of established theories that currently exist in psychology, why should a student want to become a theorist? What is a Theorist? In order to answer the how and why of theorizing, one must first understand what a theorist in psychology is. Psychology has “a long past but only a short history” (Stagner, 1988, p. 1). The reason for this dichotomy is the relatively recent differentiation (compared with the other major sciences) of psychology from philosophy.

  • 2008-2009 APS Student Caucus Executive Board

    President Kelli Vaughn-Blount York University Kelli Vaughn-Blount completed her Master’s in experimental psychology in May, 2008, at the University of Central Oklahoma and is a first year doctoral student in history and theory of psychology at York University in Toronto. Her primary research areas include the history of women in psychology, feminist psychology, social support of bereavement, and the teaching of psychology. Kelli’s current research projects include an ongoing discourse analysis of benevolent and hostile sexism over 107 years of History of Psychology textbooks, and a collaborative web archive, Feminist Voices, that will encompass a broad spectrum feminist psychologist histories. The Feminist Voices project will also include a history of women in psychology archive. Kelli previously served on the APSSC Board as the 2007-2008 Student Notebook Editor, as well as serving as grant and research award reviewer during several prior years. In addition to her APSSC work, she is the managing editor of the web based Journal of Scientific Psychology (psyencelab.com).

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  • APS = GPS: Global Psychological Science, That Is

    Twenty years ago, APS was established by a small group of intrepid researchers to advance scientific psychology and its representation in Washington and the public arena. Over the last two decades, their vision has been realized. Our journals are among the top publications in the field, our convention is a foremost venue for the exchange of scientific ideas and discourse, and we are the leader in bringing psychological science to the public and policy makers. At the start of our 20th anniversary celebration, APS set a goal of reaching 20,000 members in our 20th year. We called it our 20/20 Vision. On August 1, 2008, we met our goal. Today, APS is over 20,000 members strong...

  • Measuring Well-Being in the United States

    Americans are stuck in a cycle of chronic disease.  In October 2007, the Milken Institute reported that the economic impact of the most common chronic diseases in this country is more than $1 trillion and threatens to reach $6 trillion by mid-century (DeVol & Bedroussian, 2007). Our recent survey of American residents 18 and older indicates that two-thirds are suffering from one or more disease condition and the same proportion are overweight or obese. One in five suffer from three or more disease conditions (Gurley & Harter, 2008). Although these numbers are staggering, actions can be taken to put this nation on a path to health and well-being.

  • Finding Our Minds: An APS Award Address by David Meyer

    In his seminal 1890 masterwork, Principles of Psychology, William James wrote: “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. … An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” It is fitting, then, that in part for his efforts at investigating the faculties of human multitasking, APS Fellow David E. Meyer received this year’s APS William James Fellow Award.

  • Richard Bootzin Wins Outstanding Educator Award

    Past APS Board Member Richard Bootzin was recently awarded the Mary A. Carskadon Outstanding Educator Award by the Sleep Research Society for his work as a professor at the University of Arizona. “Coincidentally, given the title of the award,” Bootzin says, “I got interested in sleep research through my role as an educator.” When one of his students asked him about treatments for her husband’s insomnia, Bootzin became interested in using operant learning-based treatments to help him. He developed stimulus control instructions for insomnia, looking to studies on weight and smoking control methods for guidance.

  • Plous Wins Brewer Award

    APS Fellow and Charter Member Scott Plous has been awarded the APA Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award, recognizing a career of significant contributions to teaching psychology. Plous has influenced the teaching of psychology around the world through his Social Psychology Network (SPN), a set of pioneering websites he founded in 1996 (see www.socialpsychology.org). Now encompassing eight partner sites ranging from a site dedicated to understanding prejudice and its consequences to a web-based tool for random sampling and assignment, SPN pages are viewed an average of 70,000 times per day by web-users in over 100 countries.

  • APS Welcomes New Board Members

    The new APS Board of Directors is set for 2008-2009. Walter Mischel takes the helm as APS President, succeeding John T. Cacioppo who, after guiding APS through its 20th anniversary celebrations, begins a term as Immediate Past President. Linda M. Bartoshuk joins the Presidential triumvirate as APS President-Elect. Anne Treisman has been appointed to the Board as APS Secretary, succeeding Bartoshuk in that post. Elected to the Board for three-year terms are APS Board Members-at-Large Susan Goldin-Meadow and Elke Weber. APS wishes to thank outgoing Immediate Past President Morton Ann Gernsbacher and Board Members-at Large Patricia L. Devine and Douglas L.

  • NIH Grants: Trust But Don’t Verify

    Senator Charles E. Grassley wants universities to enforce the rules regarding conflicts of interests by scientists holding grants from the National Institutes of Health. And he wants NIH to crack down on scientists who go astray. Good luck, Senator. Certainly, no one will excuse the suspicious academic-industrial dealings that have aroused Grassley’s ire, such as unreported payments linked to favorable reports on pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices. But, among all the parties involved, there’s no desire to add cops to the beat, or, as Grassley chillingly suggests, to subject offenders to philanthropy’s equivalent of capital punishment: cancellation of grants.