Presidential Column

The Role of the Generalist In a World of Specialists

As in previous years, the APS Board of Directors held its winter retreat meeting in early December, a time well suited to reflecting on the activities of the year just past and looking toward the future. Any discussion of long-term planning for our society necessarily involves assessing the role of a generalist organization working on behalf of a discipline that encompasses the study of behavior from the molecular to the social levels of analysis. What is the mission of the generalist in this world of scientific specialization?

APS Niche

Although the differentiation of scientific disciplines evolves gradually over time, APS entered the scene at a point when subdisciplinary specialties in psychology were already well established and represented by existing scientific societies at both national and international levels. Most of these societies serve well the functions of scientific communication and community building that are vital to the continued development of the field. But the question faced by the founders of APS was who is looking after the interests of the enterprise as a totality? The niche to be filled was not another organization structured around the established specialties but an organization whose sole purpose was the promotion of the discipline as a whole.

Growth, Function, and Mission

The growth of structure and function of the APS has kept faithful to this pan­disciplinary mission. Our highly effective advocacy efforts in Washington represent all of the behavioral sciences; our annual convention is designed to provide a forum for cross-specialty communication; and our journals (including the newly proposed journal, Teaching of Psychological Science) are discipline-wide in their coverage. In reviewing these most visible manifestations of the activities and purposes of APS, the Board reaffirmed its commitment to this generalist perspective. I, for one, am convinced that this is the vision of the role of the American Psychological Society that should carry us into the next century.

APS and a National Agenda

Nothing epitomizes our pan-disciplinary efforts like the Human Capital Initiative (HCI), a framework for a research agenda in the behavior sciences that crosses all areas and levels of analysis in our field. As an advocacy effort on behalf of basic and applied research in the psychological sciences, the HCI has been wildly successful. It appears in report language in both the budget appropriations and authorization reports of the U.S. Congress, has been the focus of a meeting among heads of major private foundations, and has been embraced and instituted by the National Science Foundation as a Foundation-wide initiative. (See story on page 1 on the National Science and Technology Council.)

But the Human Capital Initiative is more than a political document; it is a scholarly achievement as well. Its content demonstrates that a cloth can be woven from the many threads of psychological science, and that the whole can, indeed, be more than the sum of its parts. I encourage all members of APS to read the Human Capital Initiative document itself, as an internal communication reminding us of our common purposes, shared perspectives, and disciplinary identification. This is what APS will try to represent on behalf of the generalist in all of us.

Happy New Year!

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