Running Commentary

I had the pleasure of attending the Second National Multicultural Conference and Summit (NMCS),Jan. 25­26. More than 800 people filled the hotels and the meeting rooms to overflowing, requiring the organizers to close registration.

Four APA divisions hosted the NMCS, and their representatives, all with long histories of APA leadership, were the conference organizers: Rosie Phillips Bingham, Div. 17 (Counseling); Melba Vasquez, Div. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women); Steven E. James, Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues); and Derald Wing Sue and Lisa Porché-Burke, Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues.)

You will get a lively account of the substance of the meeting in the articles by Tori DeAngelis beginning on page 26. I will only comment that the quality of the papers presented was outstanding and I have rarely seen conference participants with a greater sense of mission and optimism. In 1999, as the first Asian-American APA president, Dick Suinn focused the attention of the association on the importance of recruiting and retaining ethnic minorities and the tremendous benefits of diversity to psychology and APA. That spirit, which raised the hopes of the ethnic-minority psychological associations for Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians and Asian Americans, pervaded the NMCS. Joe White's comment, in his lively retrospective on surviving and thriving as one of the first African-American psychologists, could have been the theme of the conference: "If you believe it, you can achieve it."

Honoring national treasures Dr. Herbert Simon

On Feb. 9, we lost one of our most distinguished colleagues. Herbert Simon, a member of APA for 43 years, a Fellow of Div. 3 (Experimental) and Div. 8 (Society for Personality Social Psychology), and professor of computer science and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University died at age 84, of complications after an operation for a malignant abdominal tumor.

Herb Simon was a man of remarkable intellect and versatility. He was a political scientist, an economist, a computer scientist and a psychologist as well as a painter, pianist and mountain climber. In 1978, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics for his work in economic decision-making, one of only two psychologists to receive that honor. He was a pioneer in the use of computers and is considered a father of artificial intelligence. He saw himself as a lifelong student of human problem-solving and decision-making.

Just after learning of his death, I read a column in the Washington Post that illustrates the powerful impact his psychological theories have had on the field of economics. The columnist, Fareed Zakaria, observed: "But what we will discover in the next few months is that economics is a human science, full of uncertainty, intuition and psychology."

Bill Howell, former APA executive director for science, commented in a note to the Council of Representatives: "His work laid the foundation for the Tversky and Kahneman revolution in decision behavior, and the modeling of human cognition, which had a lot to do with the "cognitive revolution" in psychology and the emergence of artificial intelligence. It is doubtful that any psychologist in modern times, including Skinner, had a more profound impact on psychological science (along with economics, management science, computer science and decision theory) and through it, and his students, on the practical applications of psychology than Herb Simon."

It was impossible not to be awed by Herb Simon's brilliance, but his kindness, decency and humanity were no less impressive. Twenty years ago, I was lucky enough to be included in a group of psychologists who traveled to China at the invitation of the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Science. The group included Herb Simon, Neal Miller, Florence Denmark and Harold Stevenson, among others.

In those early days of the "opening" of China to U.S. visitors, we were warmly welcomed and escorted by the Institute staff to centers of psychological study and research. Herb Simon and Neal Miller, in particular, were almost venerated by the Chinese psychologists who had studied their work despite their 40-year isolation from the West. The industrial psychologists were particularly drawn to Herb's seminal work on administrative behavior.

One of my most enduring memories of the trip is of the grandfatherly Nobel laureate sitting on a park bench practicing his Chinese on a group of small children who crowded around him, giggling at his mispronunciations and trying hard to teach this great teacher their difficult language. Herb Simon was a national treasure and he will be missed.