A sparkling, diverse mix of speakers will offer plenary addresses at APA's Annual Convention in Boston, Aug. 14-17. Here are just a few:

 Law professor takes on racial disparities

America has made great progress in eradicating racial discrimination, but the country has yet to deal with issues of white superiority, says University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham, JD. It's evident in our textbooks and classrooms, where we choose to live and how we fund our schools, he says.

Author of the forthcoming book "Ghosts of Jim Crow," Higginbotham will discuss these ongoing disparities and his suggestions for how psychologists can help develop policy recommendations to address them at APA's 2008 Annual Convention. He says it's up to the government to facilitate "truth and reconciliation" and change the "hearts, minds and values of the American people" with regard to racial equality.

"We've come a long way in dealing with racial issues," Higginbotham says. "But we still have a divide, and my research is designed to take us through to that final step."

Public-safety pioneer to share his story

Three decades ago, lead was a common ingredient in house paint and gasoline--and poisoning children's developing brains and nervous systems. But in 1979, pediatrician and researcher Herbert Needleman, MD, began to change that by publishing a landmark New England Journal of Medicine study revealing a link between children's exposure to lead and reduced IQ.

The article incited the ire of the lead industry and the disbelief of the scientific community: Lead industry scientists accused Needleman of scientific misconduct, and the controversy prompted a full investigation into his National Institutes of Health-funded research by his employer, the University of Pittsburgh.

His studies eventually prompted the U.S. government to mandate the removal of lead from gasoline and paint.

"The paint and lead industries tried to destroy him professionally, but he stuck to his data," says Washington University's Barry Hong, PhD, a member of APA's Board of Convention Affairs who asked Needleman to speak about his research at APA's 2008 Annual Convention. "He is inspirational to young scientists."

Needleman's later studies revealed links between lead exposure and developmental delays in children and aggressive behavior in teenagers. He continues to educate parents and policy-makers about the dangers of lead--still a major public health concern, especially in urban areas.

Asperger's syndrome: Difference or disability?

John Elder Robison, a best-selling author with Asperger's syndrome, wants psychologists to help children diagnosed with the condition to thrive by teaching them the communication skills that come easier to people not on the autism spectrum.

The older brother of "Running with Scissors" author Augusten Burroughs, Robison wrote his own book, "Look Me in the Eye" (Crown Publishers, 2007), a memoir of growing up with Asperger's.

Psychologists weren't much help when he was a kid, he recalls. They labeled him a sociopath, or lazy and defiant. But he had better luck with psychologists later in life when they taught him how to read people's expressions and emotions and understand sarcasm.

"A young person can learn to behave in ways that give him success in life," Robison says. "That's the great gift that psychology has to offer people with Asperger's."

He credits some of the traits associated with Asperger's as having helped him make his way in the world, giving him a fascination with figuring out how machines work that helped him design the fire-breathing guitars made famous by the rock band KISS and run a successful foreign-car repair and restoration business.

We vote with our hearts, not our minds, psychologist says

Last year, Emory University psychology professor Drew Westen, PhD, made headlines with his research on voting behavior. In fact, his book, "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation," (Public Affairs, 2007), is on many politicos' recommended reading lists. This summer, Westen will present his findings at APA's Annual Convention, including research showing that emotion centers of the brain, not higher cortical areas, activate when people hear political messages. What's more, Westen will share his thoughts on the presidential primaries. "Candidates who have authored a narrative rather than a laundry list--and authored a narrative that has resonated with the public--have been the ones who have prospered in this election," Westen says.

Sociologist to critique race studies

Tukufu Zuberi, PhD, comes to APA's 2008 Annual Convention with a controversial message: Psychologists' empirical and statistical techniques are laden with meaning and slants, leading to biased findings.

"Empirical research does not operate in a way in which the data tells us anything because data does not talk," says Zuberi, the University of Pennsylvania's sociology department chair. "Data is mute."

The problem is especially acute when researchers look at race issues, he notes. Researchers typically treat race as a static category and an independent variable. However, race is a "social construct," Zuberi says, and researchers need to recognize that it's influenced by people's social context and personal history.

That means, says Zuberi, psychologists may need to reassess one of their favorite statistical techniques: regression. The process of taking two variables, looking at their relationship and predicting where future data may fall may seem unassailable. But, if you take a category like "race" and analyze it in isolation of its social context, you're likely to come up with findings that simply reinforce your assumptions, says Zuberi.

"This variable analysis has been massively applied to understanding racial differences, and it has ... prevented researchers from really understanding the problems of race in the world," he says.

And more

  • "Up Close and Personal," an interview with Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, Yale University.

  • "Dialogue on Gender and Leadership: Personality Characteristics for Success," with Pamela Trotman Reid, PhD, of Saint Josephs College; Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD, Spelman College; Lisa M. Porche-Burke, PhD, Phillips Graduate Institute; Martha Ellis, PhD, Lee College; and Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, Indiana University.

  • "New Frontiers in Teaching with Technology," with Elizabeth Yost Hammer, PhD, Xavier University of Louisiana; Donelson R. Forsyth, PhD, University of Richmond; Beth A. Messner, PhD, Ball State University; Suzanne C. Baker, PhD, James Madison University; and David B. Daniel, PhD, University of Northern Colorado.

  • "Addressing the Mind, Body and Spirit in HIV Interventions with Women," by Hortensia Amaro, PhD, Northeastern University.

  • "Predicting, Preventing and Confronting the Aftermath of School and Campus Violence," a discussion with Dorothy L. Espelage, PhD, University of Illinois; Michael J. Furlong, PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara; Christopher Flynn, PhD, Virginia Tech University; Russell T. Jones, PhD, Virginia Tech; Elizabeth M. Vera, PhD, Loyola University Chicago.

  • "An Innovative, Unified Treatment Approach to the Emotional Disorders," by David H. Barlow, PhD, Boston University.

  • " New Frontiers in Diagnosis and Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders," a discussion with Catherine E. Lord, PhD, University of Michigan; Geraldine Dawson, PhD, University of Washington; and Lisa Gilotty, PhD, National Institutes of Mental Health.

  • "Multisystems Model: A Treatment Approach for a Multicultural World," by Nancy J. Boyd-Franklin, PhD, Rutgers University.

  • "How to Ensure Mentoring Miracles and Academic Success: Solving the Puzzle of Underserved, ADHD, Learning Disabled Students," by Geraldine Markel, PhD, of Managing Your Mind Coaching and Seminars, Ann Arbor, Mich.

  • "My Students Believe WHAT!? Psychological Myths and Sound Science in the Underground Classroom," with Kenneth D. Keith, PhD, University of San Diego; Bernard C. Beins, PhD, Ithaca College; and Mary E. Kite, PhD, Ball State University.

  • "Choreographing Genetic Explanations for Psychoses Without Stepping on Psychology's Toes," by Irving I. Gottesman, PhD, University of Minnesota.

  • "War, Terrorism and Trauma: New Models and Methods of Treatment," by Terence M. Keane, PhD, VA Boston Healthcare System, Mass.

  • "Racial Bias, Communication, and Trust: Implications for Clinical Encounters and Interventions," by John Dovidio, PhD, Yale University.

  • "The Invisible Face of Racial Micro-Aggressions: Small Slights or Macro Harm?," by Derald Wing Sue, PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University.

  • "Causal Inference in Multi-Level Settings," by Stephen W. Raudenbush, EdD, University of Michigan.

  • "Doing More with Psychology: Having the Career You Imagined," by Chris E. Stout, PsyD, Center for Global Initiatives.

  • "Voice Lessons: 10 Steps to Clarity and Courage in Relationships," Harriet Goldhor Lerner, PhD, independent practice, Lawrence, Kan.