BSA: Advancing psychological science in a bad economy

Report from the fall 2011 meeting of the APA Board of Scientific Affairs.

By Jalie A. Tucker, PhD, MPH

The Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) held its fall meeting November 4-6 in Washington, DC as part of the consolidated meetings of the American Psychological Association’s governance groups.  The meeting took place shortly after the Scientific Leadership Conference (SciLC), also held in Washington, DC, which is a joint annual endeavor of BSA and the APA Science Directorate.  After receiving advocacy training at the SciLC, BSA members and psychologists who conduct research on substance use visited Congressional offices to advocate for federal funding for psychological research and training in substance use and related behaviors.

Advocacy for research funding has taken on new urgency during the continuing economic downturn, which is having spreading adverse effects on universities, faculty researchers, and science education.  The APA Science Directorate is providing leadership in addressing these challenges, and many items on the fall BSA meeting agenda were shaped by and responsive to the same forces.  Three themes apparent across multiple agenda items were:  (1) Advancing the participation of psychologists in interdisciplinary “team” science; (2) Effectively disseminating psychological science to APA members, students, scientists in other disciplines, and the public; and (3) Educating the next generation of scientists and facilitating their career development in a period of diminished resources for research and shifting university performance expectations for faculty members.

These inter-related issues converged most forcefully during discussions of the report from a work group on training psychologists to participate in multi-disciplinary team science that had been convened by BSA and the Board of Educational Affairs (BEA), with support from the APA Board of Directors.  In a joint discussion, BSA and BEA accepted the recommendations of the work group as an important first step toward developing a broad agenda for activities aimed at fostering effective multi-disciplinary training for psychologists.  In particular, the two boards focused on the recommendations to:  (1) Produce a repository of information about successful multi-disciplinary research and training opportunities and strategies to guide the development of programs that advance team science for psychologists; and (2) Address barriers to multi-disciplinary research and research training, such as APA accreditation requirements and university tenure and promotion criteria that historically emphasize independent scholarship.  These recommendations will be taken up next by the Board of Directors.

Several other agenda items collectively aimed to expand and enhance the sound dissemination of psychological science.  BSA met with Rhea Farberman, APA’s Executive Director for Public and Member Communications; Gary VandenBos, APA’s Executive Director for Publications and Databases; Jennifer Crocker, Chair of the Publications and Communications Board; and Sara Martin, Editor of the Monitor on Psychology. Discussion focused on strategies used to choose journal articles for press releases or coverage in the Monitor. BSA recommended broadening the scope of press releases to include more basic science articles; establishing routine communication with journal editors and divisions to identify articles suitable for coverage; and forging a proper balance of coverage of findings that are variously intuitive vs. counter-intuitive.

Finding creative ways to advance psychological science through advocacy, team science, and dissemination during the economic downturn were central themes in the fall BSA and SciLC meetings. BSA recognizes that these activities take psychologists outside their familiar realm of research and scholarship. Nevertheless, initiatives in these areas would benefit from the greater participation of informed individual scientists.

Jalie A. Tucker (University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health) is a member of the Board of Scientific Affairs, the primary APA governance body concerned with the advancement of psychology as a science.