APS Members have spoken. And they have, overwhelmingly, voted to change our name to the Association for Psychological Science. The new name went into effect January 1, 2006.
A record number of members cast their ballots in the election, and of those, over 86 percent supported the move. “I am pleased as punch that APS has changed its name to the Association for Psychological Science,” said APS Fellow and Charter Member Carol Tavris, who first suggested the name change in 1998, in a letter to the APS Board. “At the time I suggested the change, I felt it was crucial to both distinguish ourselves from the APA … and to identify our fundamental mission — educating the public as to why ‘psychological science’ is not an oxymoron. This is an uphill battle under the best of circumstances, but especially now, when all the sciences are under attack from political and religious ideologues who often seek to censor research they find threatening — and psychological research is often at the top of their hit list.
“I hope the name change will give us a clearer public persona, and help make APS the place for science writers and journalists to find resources for their work, as well as the place for scientifically minded psychologists in all of the field’s subdisciplines,” Tavris added.
APS President Michael S. Gazzaniga noted that “the American Psychological Society was formed to develop a sustained message about the importance of science in people’s daily lives and to emphasize the role of basic science research in the study of behavior. As the Association for Psychological Science, that mission becomes clearer.”
In the Name of Science
As APS Treasurer Roberta Klatzky wrote in an April 2005 Observer column, APS “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.”
The then-new organization turned out to be an overwhelming success (not that we’re biased). The American Psychological Society began with 500 members, but attracted 5,000 by its second year. In less than two decades we’ve swelled to more than 16,000 members, with nearly 2,500 attending the 2005 convention in Los Angeles and, if early signs are any indicator, significantly more people attending this year’s Association for Psychological Science convention in New York.
Whatever the name behind the initials, APS has successfully represented the interests of behavioral scientists in the halls of power. APS was the acknowledged force behind the NSF separate directorate for behavioral and social science in 1991. We protected psychological review in the move of NIMH to NIH in 1992. We crafted the mission of the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research at NIH in 1993. We were instrumental in creating the Behavioral Science Track Award for Rapid Transition (B/START) model for funding small-scale, exploratory behavioral science research (now used at NIMH, NIDA, and NIAAA) in the mid- 90s. And we continue to influence the emergence of psychological science at NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences today. Immediate Past President Robert Levenson noted in the September Observer that “APS has emerged as the primary advocate for the scientific aspects of our discipline. The APS position in this regard has been clear, coherent, and consistent.”
Although it didn’t include the word “science,” the original name of the organization was chosen to signal this mission. APS Fellow and Charter Member Milton Hakel argued the case for the original name at a New Orleans meeting in 1988. The name, he explained, was chosen not simply to conflict with APA but to “identify our direct lineage to G. Stanley Hall, William James, James McKeen Cattell and other psychological scientists who founded and led the APA. It made clear our claim to the intellectual heritage they created, and suggested that we might be more substantial and enduring than a mere grousing rabble.”
Changing Public Perception
But despite APS’s successes in shaping policy, in journal publication, and in its other activities, its name, “American Psychological Society,” fell short of reminding the public that there is a vast and important scientific side to psychology. In the public’s mind, the word “psychology” still evokes images of Dr. Phil or Sigmund Freud (or even Bob Newhart).
In 1999, when the Board first proposed the name change, a number of members sounded the common frustration that our identity had been blurred by having such a similar name to the APA — an organization that, despite its diversity of interests, continues to be associated mainly with clinical practice and not so much with science.
As Tavris put it six years ago [Observer, February, 1999]: “I am often called upon to describe the differences between APS and APA — a distinction without a difference to most of the public. … Who could possibly remember which is the organization of researchers and which is largely the guild for practitioners? Imagine if there were an American Medical Association and an American Medical Society. What possible difference could the public see between them?”
Levenson echoed this frustration this past September: “During my term, I often found myself needing to explain to the non-cognoscenti that APS was not the same as APA, and that APS was not the organization that had said or done a particular thing.”
The confusion exists not only among the public but also among students in our field. According to APS Student Caucus President Jennifer Thorpe (New York University), “Many of my student colleagues, sad to say, asked me, ‘So what’s the difference between APS and APA?’ … Most students, I think, just assume that APA — because journals are in ‘APA-style’ — is the foremost scientific organization in psychology.” The name change will, she says, “make APS much more attractive to students doing research.”
In the Monty Python ancient-world spoof Life of Brian, members of an upstart rebel cadre called the People’s Front of Judea sit in a stadium grousing about their bitter rivals, the Judean People’s Front. If in its rebellious youth APS held that kind of reactionary attitude toward the bigger, similarlynamed rival that overshadowed it, there is now a consensus that APS has established itself as the leading advocate for science-based psychology and should bear a name that defines that identity. The organization turns 18 this year, after all — the age of maturity.
“Now, we are substantial and enduring, and it is time to look forward,” said Hakel, who supported the name change (despite having lobbied for the original name in 1988). Retired Member Mildred E. Katzell, in a letter in the June 2005 Observer, also stressed that, at nearly two decades old, APS is “mature enough to move on” from a name that was originally chosen partly out of mischief. Katzell remembered being ambivalent about the name change when it was proposed six years ago, but said she felt much more positively about it this time around.
The first name-change referendum in 1999 lost, but not by much: Sixty percent of voters were in favor of the change, but shy of the two thirds required. In her April Observer editorial, Klatzky posed the question: What has changed since 1999? The results of the election provide the answer: There is increased consensus about who we are and what we do. APS Presidentelect Morton Ann Gernsbacher commented, “I was delighted to see the enthusiastic response by the membership; it is rare that we as a field agree with 86 percent concordance on any topic.”
Not Just American
If anything else has changed since 1999, it may be a growing awareness of the fact that psychological science is an international endeavor and that the name of its leading organization should not have an America-only connotation. Already, 10 percent of APS’s membership is outside the United States, and a high percentage of journal contributors work in other countries.
Hakel noted: “Paging through the December issue of Psychological Science, I noticed several authorships from outside the US. … Clearly our science is international. Our membership and reach ought to be so too.”
APS Past President Henry L. Roediger III agreed: “The new name should facilitate our efforts to become an international voice for scientific psychology. The Association for Psychological Science will welcome membership and participation from scientific psychologists around the world. Over time, APS may become the strongest voice for scientific psychology in the world, just as it is today in the US.”
Gernsbacher echoed this view: “The new name better reflects our international scope and the important role that psychological science plays around the world. We are hopeful that our change in name will garner more of our international colleagues to join our ranks and appreciate both the benefits and responsibilities of our scholarly society — er, association.”
There are numerous mundane implications for APS changing its name, like what to do with the old letterhead. But the most interesting effects may be behavioral. The potential confusion caused by an organizational name change is something that only psychological scientists could embrace as a sort of living experiment.
As Roediger said six years ago: “We would be putting APS into a classic paradigm to study interference in experimental psychology: The A-B, A-D interference paradigm where two different responses are hooked to the same stimulus term — APS in this case. So, we know from the literature that everyone will become hopelessly confused by a name change for a little while.”
Executive Director Alan Kraut agreed: “There will be cognitive dissonance at first — that’s a guaranteed reaction. It will take a while for the new name to sink in and for people to become comfortable with it. But we’re still APS, whatever the name. We’ll continue as before — there will be no change in our mission or our commitment to promoting our science.”
And as for the letterhead, Kraut was initially adamant: “No new letterhead until the old is used up. There are reams and reams of the stuff. Our Washington staff will work overtime if need be, crossing out the old name on each sheet with pencils, and writing in the new one.”
Kraut has since relented, and allowed a stationery order to be placed. “Okay, but we keep the same fight song.” We think he’s joking. We don’t even have a fight song. Do we?