Uniting science

Editor's note: The following letter was written in response to a President's Column that appeared in the July/August issue of the APS Observer, the newsletter of the American Psychological Society. Since the content applies to both APA and APS audiences, the author requested that it be published concurrently in identical form in both the Observer and the Monitor. Our responsibility, of course, extends only to the latter; hence we are publishing it in the form in which it was submitted. The author, William C. Howell, is a fellow of both APA and APS, and former executive director for science for APA.

IN HIS RECENT PRESIDENTIAL column, American Psychological Society (APS) President Bob Bjork presented a compelling case for "one world of psychological science" which, he concluded, "can only invigorate our field." Clearly this is a timely and laudable message. However, it's also somewhat ironic. How can we Americans--generally conceded to be the largest, most influential body within the world's psychological science community--effectively promote a "one world" philosophy while staunchly maintaining the "house divided" mentality within our own psychological science community? By failing to confront the barriers that prevent APA and APS from working together harmoniously in pursuit of shared goals (and virtually all the scientific ones are shared) we present a rather poor model for international cooperation--rather like Northern Ireland calling for global religious tolerance. And in the process, we are not giving our respective members maximum return on their investment.

I realize that the "shooting war" between our two organizations abated some time ago, and to our collective membership, the atmosphere appears more civil and serene. On rare occasions, usually when forced by circumstances, we have even engaged in a nominally collaborative effort or two. But those of us who have been directly involved know that the relationship remains an uneasy one beneath the surface, and that the calm has been preserved mainly by avoiding contact--in essence, by sustaining a costly cognitive/emotional demilitarized zone rather than a constructive alliance through which the impact of our independent efforts would multiply. There's virtue in maintaining two independent organizations; I don't question that. I'm absolutely certain, however, that nothing is gained--and a lot is lost--in maintaining the strained, competitive, duplicative, quasi-adversarial climate under which we now operate. Not only is it costly financially, it creates implicit pressure for individuals to show preferential allegiance to one, and to feel disloyal when serving the other. And it's pretty hard to explain to students, the public, policy-makers, and yes, to our colleagues around the globe.

Never has the time been more conducive to addressing this dysfunctional situation than it is today. We've got a Decade of Behavior initiative to unite us, exciting new APS publications to stimulate us, and new APA science initiatives that will add nearly $1/2 million annually to the Science Directorate's current $4­plus million budget. (Incidentally, the latter, which Council passed unanimously, should dispel any remaining doubts concerning APA's commitment to science). Most of all, we have in Bob Bjork and APA President Pat DeLeon leaders who recognize the potential of a genuinely collaborative working relationship between America's two leading psychological science organizations--leaders who are capable of getting past a troubled history and laying the foundation for a bright future.

If they seize the moment, as I trust they will, they will be taking a giant step toward the "one world of psychological science" that Bob so convincingly advocates in his column. I'm sure he realizes that like charity, true cooperation begins at home.

Arizona State and Rice Universities


I AM WRITING WITH RESPECT to Jamie Chamberlin's July/August article, "E-Dissertations." I am a graduate student in clinical psychology conducting research on online mental health services. I have already been asked by commercial sites to publish my results online.

However, I must still write a dissertation. I must defend my work through an oral defense, and engage in the challenging process of discovery and information synthesis that will culminate in an academic work that will hopefully be worthy of being added to the lexicon of knowledge in psychology. While I commend Drs. Ghiselli and Price for creating invaluable public resources, I would argue that such work on its own is not equivalent to a traditional dissertation. While difficult and at times onerous, a doctoral dissertation is part of what hones our abilities to study behavior and critically evaluate the results of those studies. And while it has been argued that psychological research is often inaccessible to the public and even goes unread by most of practitioners, that does not mean we should forgo dissemination of results to the scientific and academic communities.

Toronto, Ontario

All letters to the editor must be 250 words or fewer. Send them to APA Monitor on Psychology.