From the Science Directorate

Get the latest information about APA's climate change report, Task Force on Psychology as a STEM Discipline and a meeting with NIH's directors.
  • APA Releases Report on Psychology and Climate Change
  • New APA Task Force on Psychology as a STEM Discipline
  • APA Staff Meet with NIH Directors Raynard Kington and Christine Bachrach

APA Releases Report on Psychology and Climate Change
By Howard Kurtzman and Nicolle Singer

The APA Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change has released a report and set of recommendations that lay the foundation for future research, practice, education, and policy addressing the psychological aspects of climate change.

The report synthesizes current scientific literature and thought on how people understand the risks of climate change, the psychological and contextual determinants of human behaviors that affect climate, the psychosocial impacts of climate change, how people adapt to and cope with threats related to climate change, psychological factors that drive and limit action on climate change, and the roles of psychologists in responding to climate change.

The recommendations produced by the task force include specific suggestions for the development of research, training, and public education programs on psychology and climate change. The task force also offers strategies for community and political engagement by individual psychologists and APA on climate change issues, proposes changes in APA governance to enable it to respond more effectively to climate change issues, and encourages APA to make its own operations more environmentally friendly. Many of the recommendations emphasize collaborations with other organizations and disciplines.

Since their release on August 5, the report and recommendations have received widespread coverage in news outlets and blogs, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Reuters, National Public Radio, and the Huffington Post.

The task force was established in 2008 by the APA Council of Representatives and Board of Directors. The members of the task force, appointed by former APA President Alan Kazdin and representing a broad range of expertise, were: Janet Swim (Pennsylvania State University), chair; Susan Clayton (College of Wooster); Thomas Doherty (Sustainable Self, LLC); Robert Gifford (University of Victoria); George Howard (University of Notre Dame); Joseph Reser (Griffith University); Paul Stern (National Academies of Science); and Elke Weber (Columbia University). The work of the task force was supported and managed by the APA Science Directorate. In order to reduce its own energy use, the task force decided not to travel for face-to-face meetings and conducted all its work through conference calls and web-based collaborative writing.

The report was formally received by the Council of Representatives at its August 2009 meeting. It is expected that a number of the task force's recommendations will be offered by APA governance groups as resolutions and action items for Council consideration over the next year. The Science Directorate's government relations office has already begun to make use of the report in advocating in support of proposed federal legislation that would establish an office of social and behavioral science research within the Department of Energy.

New APA Task Force on Psychology as a STEM Discipline
By Howard Kurtzman

APA President James Bray has established a Task Force on the Future of Psychological Science as a STEM Discipline. STEM - which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - is a term that is frequently used in discussions and efforts aimed at improving science funding and education in the United States. Psychology faces the challenge that it is not consistently categorized as a STEM discipline and thus is often excluded from federal and private initiatives to advance STEM research and training.

The aim of the task force is to examine why psychology is not always considered to be a STEM discipline, articulate the arguments for inclusion of psychology among STEM disciplines, and develop an advocacy strategy for putting forward those arguments to relevant leaders and institutions.

The members of the task force, appointed by President Bray, are: John Dovidio (Yale University), chair; Frank Durso (Georgia Tech); David Francis (University of Houston); David Klahr (Carnegie Mellon University); Jennifer Manly (Columbia University); and Valerie Reyna (Cornell University). The APA Science Directorate and Education Directorate are jointly supporting the task force's work. A report and recommendations from the task force are expected in early 2010.

A session at the APA Convention in August, led by Dovidio, served as a forum for initial discussion between the task force and the broader psychological community. Attendees of the session, who included researchers, teachers, and academic and government administrators, talked about the need for research and graduate training in psychology to become more fully interdisciplinary and for psychological practice to become more evidence-based. They went on to discuss the merits of such ideas as labeling departments "psychological science," locating them within colleges of science, and offering the option of B.S. and B.A. tracks to undergraduate psychology majors. Also addressed were the goals of making high school and undergraduate psychology curricula more rigorous and of enhancing the scientific expertise of high school teachers of psychology.

The task force invites further comments and suggestions. Please send your thoughts to Howard Kurtzman of the Science Directorate.

APA Staff Meet with NIH Directors Raynard Kington and Christine Bachrach
By Pat Kobor

Several APA Science Directorate staff met with Raynard Kington, Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Christine Bachrach, Acting Director of NIH's Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), at APA headquarters on August 17. The meeting was part of a conference call organized by the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS), formerly the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, of which APA is a member organization.

The conversation took place on the day that Francis Collins was sworn in as the new Director of NIH. Kington, who held the role of Acting Director of NIH for nearly a year, and is serving as Deputy Director under Collins, was upbeat about the possibilities for science in general, and behavioral and social sciences in particular, with the new NIH leadership team. He noted that Collins mentioned behavioral and social science in his first-day "town meeting" with NIH employees, referring to behavioral interventions that work well in preventing and treating disease and to the importance of social and behavioral factors in understanding health disparities.

Kington also discussed a legacy of his tenure as Acting Director, an initiative to enhance NIH support of basic behavioral and social sciences research (see April PSA). Modeled on the Neuroscience Blueprint (an already established plan for joint action of the NIH institutes that fund neuroscience research), the new initiative, called OppNet, will be co-chaired by Jeremy Berg, Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and Richard Hodes, Director of the National Institute on Aging. Several institutes will contribute funds to the initiative, which will be managed by OBSSR. Details about the initiative are expected to be released in the fall.

Kington, a former head of OBSSR, and Bachrach, the current Acting Director of the Office, encouraged behavioral and social scientists to apply for the OBSSR Director position, which is open through September 30th. Bachrach said "It's a great job," because the director is able to influence the growth and direction of the behavioral and social sciences across the entire NIH.