2009 Science Leadership Conference

Science Leadership Meeting Sends Psychologists to Capitol Hill

As part of APA’s 5th Annual Science Leadership Conference, more than 100 psychological scientists reached out to nearly 160 members of Congress from 31 states.

By Pat Kobor

As part of APA’s 5th Annual Science Leadership Conference, more than 100 psychological scientists reached out to nearly 160 members of Congress from 31 states. The objective: to educate members of Congress about the importance of sufficient funding in Fiscal Year 2011 for the National Institutes of Health, the importance of protecting the peer review process from political interference, and the need to include behavioral interventions in health care reform legislation aimed at increasing comparative effectiveness research.

Participants also heard about the broader federal science policy agenda from executive branch officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Mental Health, National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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At the opening dinner on Saturday night, November 14, participants heard a keynote address by Philip Wang, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, about the NIMH Strategic Plan.  Then the Chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs, Toni Antonucci, presented the 2009 APA Champion of Science Award to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). Antonucci noted Senator Harkin’s leadership in building up the budget of the National Institutes of Health and his support of prevention and wellness initiatives. Senator Harkin’s chief appropriations aide, Erik Fatemi, accepted the award on Harkin’s behalf, and received a standing ovation from the conference participants.

About the following day’s agenda, APA’s Executive Director for Science, Steven Breckler, said, “We felt it would be useful to arm our scientists with the latest information, and a broad perspective, about federally funded behavioral research on health. So we planned two panels, one on prevention research and one on treatment and intervention research, to cover some of that ground.”   Christine Bachrach, Acting Director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, moderated the panel on various aspects of federally funded prevention research.  Vickie Mays of the Board of Scientific Affairs moderated the following panel on treatment and intervention research. See the agenda to read more about speakers and their talks.

One of Sunday’s highlights was a keynote address from psychologist Baruch Fischoff: “Giving Psychology Away—To Sometimes Reluctant Audiences.” APA President James Bray then awarded three presidential citations: to Washington Post columnist Shankar Vedantam, and to psychologists William Howell (Arizona State University) and Deborah Boehm-Davis (George Mason University).

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After lunch the microphones were passed to Science Government Relations staff persons to brief participants about their three main talking points for the Monday congressional meetings.  “We chose these issues for their broad importance to psychology,” explained Science Government Relations Office Director Geoff Mumford.  “Everyone is worried about NIH funding for Fiscal Year 2011, because that is the year the two-year stimulus funding runs out. NIH funding has been nearly flat for six years. It’s imperative NIH get a significant budget increase.  Likewise,” he said, “explaining how the peer review system works is an important job for psychologists to do, so if amendments are offered attacking one or more grants, congressional offices have information about how the funding decisions have been made.”  The final talking point concerned Comparative Effectiveness Research, an important source of funding in the new Health Care Reform legislation.


Christopher Kush, who heads the Washington-based advocacy firm Soapbox Consulting, walked the Science Leadership participants through a typical Hill visit and led a role-playing exercise. Participants then met in their state delegation groups to discuss details for their Hill appointments.  The following morning, with their talking points in mind, the participants met with congressional staff and made the case for psychological science.  See [SciLC Voices article] for views and reviews of how those visits went. Thanks to all the psychologists who carried those important messages to their federal representatives!