An APA task force is examining how an uptick in funding from industry and other private entities may affect APA and what the association can do to protect its integrity and that of the field.

The 10-member group, the Task Force on External Funding Sources for APA, was launched by Stanford University psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, during his 2002 APA presidency to address concern about the growing trend toward corporate funding of research and practice. It is made up of psychologists from diverse backgrounds, including industry, public policy, academe, private practice and schools of medicine.

APA is concerned about the issue because it could potentially affect all aspects of the association and the profession, notes L. Michael Honaker, PhD, APA's chief operating officer.

"In general, there's the fear that an increasing dependence on any funding source could lead to the perception or reality that it will somehow improperly influence what you're doing," Honaker says.

That concern is fueled by several factors, he adds, including the trend toward industry funding of large portions of other associations' operating budgets; data linking industry funding to research results that favor the sponsor; and the growing likelihood that psychologists will gain prescription privileges, which will place them under the same pressures as their psychiatric colleagues to prescribe certain medications, he says.

It is a good time for APA to examine the issue because the association currently receives only a small portion of its income from external funding--less than 1 percent in 2002, says task force co-chair Ronald E. Fox, PhD, executive director of The Consulting Group, a division of Human Resource Consultants, a North Carolina-based group mental health practice consortium.

"This is a good preventive effort," Fox says. "It's not a big problem yet, and that's a good reason to act now."

The task force will examine nine overlapping areas of potential concern: journals, conventions, continuing education, association income, research, education, practice, public policy and ethics. Members will discuss problems that could arise in each area and recommend policy strategies to help stem those concerns. Their recommendations will then go to APA's Board of Directors and Council of Representatives, which will likely assign working groups to follow up on the ideas, Fox says.

The task force plans to sketch out the broader issues speedily, says Zimbardo. But given the magnitude of the issue, it may take some time for different sectors of APA to develop specific policies, he comments. "This started as a presidential initiative," he says, "then we realized it was probably a long-term project."

Task force co-chair Wendy Pachter, PhD, JD, notes that psychology isn't alone in facing this issue. "Scientists and professionals who apply science are in a much different environment now than they used to be," says Pachter, a psychologist and attorney in Washington, D.C., and an expert on professional ethics. "The money is much bigger now, and in many cases, scientists are either working for businesses or are seen as businesses."

Given these changes, it's vitally important that psychology balance its need for income with strategies to protect its professional identity and integrity, she says.

The aim of the task force is not to ban external funding entirely, emphasizes Honaker, but to determine ways to accept it judiciously.

"Ultimately," Honaker says, "we want to come to some happy medium where we can decide under which circumstances we will or won't accept this funding."

Other task force members include APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD; David Antonuccio, PhD, University of Nevada School of Medicine; Charles Schuster, PhD, Wayne State University School of Medicine; Maxine Stitzer, PhD, Johns Hopkins University; Jalie Tucker, PhD, University of Alabama at Birmingham; APA President Robert Sternberg, PhD, Yale University; Elliot Valenstein, PhD, University of Michigan; and Morgan Sammons, PhD, Naval Medical Clinic, Annapolis, Md.

--T. DeANGELIS