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You may have heard the news at convention -- APA is embarking on a new initiative to provide resources, tools and information for psychological science. The initiative is called "Psy21: Psychological Science for the 21st Century" to reflect its forward look at the needs of the discipline. The input of Division 3 members will be crucial to defining the specific tasks of this new initiative and your participation in its activities are essential to making it successful. We'd like to begin a dialog in this column, to invite you to help us articulate the issues and the solutions.
The issues that Psy21 addresses are not new - they will be familiar to all of you, and have no doubt been on the Board of Scientific Affairs' and Division 3's agendas countless times. But what is new is APA's commitment to providing the resources to develop tools, support and products.
Psy21 will pursue activities in three interlocking areas of emphasis. Roughly, the areas include (a) helping researchers understand and navigate the increasingly complex set of activities comprising professional responsibilities (we call it RCR or "responsible conduct of research" - it includes research ethics and IRB issues as well as authorship, mentoring, conflict of interest, translation of science for the public, and the like); (b) increasing the value accorded to service to the discipline (we call this part COS or "culture of service" - it includes developing motivation and incentives to individuals and departments in support of service and advocacy ); and, (c) the focus of this column, identifying and supporting psychology's infrastructure needs (we need an acronym for this one!). You can read more about the initiative on the Science Directorate webpage (www.apa.org/science/psy21.html).
Some of Psy21 activities will be providing resources, training, and materials for activities we already have pretty well articulated, such as ways to negotiate IRB interactions, authorship or mentoring, peer review. But some of it will be thinking about our discipline and needs in new ways. One of those is defining psychology's infrastructure needs.
Why is this an issue? Identifying infrastructure needs for behavioral researchers is not an easy task. Although psychology has always relied on an infrastructure of equipment and personnel, we have not typically had splashy needs for machines or equipment that are so large or costly that they require massive funding or sharing. Put another way, the infrastructure needs of psychology are not defined in the same ways as those of physics, or space sciences, or biology or chemistry.
Magnets. Of course, some of our infrastructure needs are pieces of equipment that are relatively easy to identify and justify (even if not easy to fund). For example, cognitive neuroscience requires the availability of magnetic resonance imaging facilities and expertise, and growth in cognitive neuroscience requires building an infrastructure that includes the magnets, staff to maintain them, and training for students and faculty.
Are there other areas of our science that require large and costly resources? Or are there other areas of infrastructure that are not well supported? We would really like your input in helping to identify these. Here are some examples to salt the pot:
Data Bases. Others of our infrastructure needs are less obviously tangible. For example, large-scale developmental studies require the acquisition and maintenance of large-scale, sometimes longitudinal data sets. The costs and planning required to generate and maintain such data sets are often not appreciated by those who provide money, space and personnel. Data sets require space: for computing facilities, to store accompanying manuals and information, for personnel. Data sets require personnel who manage and massage the technical aspects; and data sets require long term commitments of funds to maintain them and keep them accessible as a research tool over the long run. And data sets require training -- although there has been much progress in thinking about how to develop and preserve data sets, we have yet to develop consistent standards or guidance on how to preserve, share, and combine such data, nor on how to make using them a part of our normal science.
Human operators. Some of our infrastructure needs are even less tangible still, because they are needs for human infrastructure, not equipment. Anyone who has conducted video-based studies of parent-child interactions, or of facial expressions, or language and communicative interactions knows that the research cannot go forward without a large cadre of well trained coders to get from image to number. Yet it is the rare project that can enjoy professional coders or experimenters.
Creating the multidisciplinary, multifaceted studies that funders and the public are increasingly demanding requires human management and coordination. Yet it is much more difficult to justify a professional lab director to deans and funders than to justify a measuring device. We have heard from researchers that a deep advocacy need is to make the importance of professional positions for behavioral research labs clear - where the position is not to maintain or service a machine but to maintain and service knowledge and expertise.
Where you come in
The categories above offer only a few rough ways to think about infrastructure needs -- we will need your help and your expertise in identifying and articulating others, especially in those arenas where psychological science is a participant with other disciplines in "big science" projects.
In addition to identifying needs and working to achieve them, Psy21 also has an advocacy role - to be sure that funders, decision makers and the public understand the value of psychological science and what it takes to maintain that value. We will count on you to help with that as well, to help us identify important decision makers and to help us craft a message to deliver to them.
If you go to the Science Directorate web site and read about Psy21, you will see that although it is very broad in scope, it is focused in its goal - to equip psychological science with what it needs to meet new challenges as a discipline. We hope to continue a conversation on what that will entail in this column in the issues to come. Please comment, please let us know how we together can let Psy21 reach its potential. And to offer a peek at the next one: the topic of the next column will be on one of the RCR topics -- data sharing, secondary analyses, and open access.