Science Directions

At the turn of every century, it is customary to look back over the past 100 years and to look forward to the next. APA did its share in celebrating the remarkable progress of psychology during the course of the 20th century. Of course, taking stock of past accomplishments is always easier and more certain than predicting the future. We know that new opportunities and new challenges await us. If the science of psychology is to remain a vibrant and cohesive discipline, strong and effective leadership is needed to embrace those opportunities and to prepare for those challenges. It is only fitting that APA--the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States--stands ready to lead the charge.

Over the past two years, the Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) has been considering how APA can best support and promote the science of psychology. The emerging consensus is that APA can be most effective by enhancing the context in which psychological science is done. Following the lead of BSA, the Science Directorate has developed an ambitious new initiative called "PSY21: Psychological Science for the 21st Century." Built around three interlocking areas of emphasis, PSY21 provides the foundation on which APA will help to advance the science of psychology.

Responsible research

The science of psychology carries with it numerous responsibilities. Many of these we share in common with other fields of science: monitoring research misconduct, training and mentoring of students and colleagues, avoiding professional conflicts of interest, managing and sharing data, and publishing. Other responsibilities are relatively unique to psychology, especially those that concern the participation of humans and the use of animals in research. In these areas especially, psychologists are facing increasingly complex regulatory systems that need to be understood and navigated.

One area of scientific responsibility that psychologists need to take more seriously is the translation of their research results. Rather than leaving it to others, psychologists should participate actively in translating their scientific knowledge into a form that is understandable and usable by the general public and by policy-makers. Indeed, as I suggested in this space last June, psychological science can be simultaneously motivated by and offer answers to the questions that society and policy-makers want to know. This is an awesome responsibility.

Culture of service

One of the key issues BSA identified centers on the participation of psychological scientists in the governance of APA. A long-standing concern has been that too few of our scientists are active in the APA Council of Representatives, committees and boards. One goal of the PSY21 initiative is to broaden such participation--to nurture a culture of service to the discipline.

Stepping beyond APA, the science of psychology depends on people to take leadership roles. Our colleges and universities need deans, provosts and presidents who support and promote psychological science. The federal agencies--which both fund and regulate our science--need to represent psychology at the highest levels. Federal advisory committees, National Institutes of Health institutes and National Science Foundation directorates will function more effectively with psychologists at the table. It can happen, but it depends on psychologists stepping forward and heeding the call to action.

Infrastructure for the science of psychology

A sign of the growing maturity of psychological science is the emergence of significant infrastructure--shared and costly resources that support the work of scientists across the discipline. A good example is in the area of cognitive neuroscience, which depends on the availability of magnetic resonance imaging facilities and expertise. Another example is the growth of large-scale, sometimes longitudinal data sets. The PSY21 initiative will help to identify the infrastructure needs of psychological science and will provide much-needed advocacy for support by federal funding agencies.

Taking the lead

These are ambitious goals for an ambitious science. It is clear that strong and effective leadership will be needed. APA can help here, too, by hosting an annual Science Leadership Conference. This conference would convene science leaders, foster the development of science networks, provide a forum for the development of new program ideas in service of psychological science and create a venue for discussing future trends and opportunities.

Our discipline depends on our success in these areas. APA's Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives have offered their support, and the Science Directorate is ready to devote its full attention to leading psychological science into the 21st century. Join with us, and our success will be that much greater.

Further Reading

Watch the Science Directorate Web site,, for more information forthcoming on the PSY21 initiative.