A Closer Look at PsycCRITIQUES®

APA has been reviewing psychologically relevant books since 1904, but since 2004, we've been doing so in PsycCRITIQUES, our review database. PsycCRITIQUES editor Danny Wedding gives us an inside view of the database and accompanying blog.

By Danny Wedding, PhD

PsycCRITIQUES®, APA's online database and weekly journal of book, film, and media reviews, grew out of reader feedback about its predecessor, Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books (CP), a bi-monthly paper journal that began publication in 1956. The journal was initially edited by Harvard psychologist E. G. Boring, and it grew out of a tradition of reviewing psychologically relevant books in the journal Psychological Bulletin that dates back to 1904.

Surveys of CP subscribers revealed that both readers and librarians wanted more timely reviews (books were often 2 to 3 years old before a review could be published in CP) and more of them (CP only offered about 300 reviews per year, and many of these were quite short). In response, publisher Gary VandenBos conceived of APA's first online weekly journal, a journal that would release approximately 500 reviews per year into a database containing all previous CP reviews.

The newly named PsycCRITIQUES focused on reviewing books within their copyright year, whenever possible, bringing the idea of "contemporary" back to the fore and making the journal much more useful for librarians and others making purchasing decisions. I was privileged to be asked to be editor for this new incarnation of CP, and we decided to expand the review coverage to include popular films and other media (primarily educational videos).

PsycCRITIQUES was launched in late 2004, and the full collection of CP reviews was added to the database shortly thereafter. We now publish approximately 500 book and film reviews each year. The addition of film reviews has been especially well received (and it brings back a tradition E. G. Boring had instituted in early CP releases with reviews of psychologically relevant films like the 1948 film The Snake Pit).

PsycCRITIQUES retains the breadth of coverage across all psychology specialties that CP had, and extends it with its greater volume. The content of our reviews is still based on the original guidelines E. G. Boring first articulated in 1956. We strive to have reviews that will be pertinent to our broad international readership, which includes clinicians and all mental health professionals, academicians, librarians, interested lay readers and students.

Moving the journal online and creating a searchable database that accompanies the other APA databases made PsycCRITIQUES a 21st century resource and research tool. Reviews almost always include hyperlinks from the References section to primary source documents. Since 2004, they have also included links to biographies of the reviewers.

My six Associate Editors and I work hard to identify and recruit the world's most prominent psychologists to review especially important books. These reviewers have included many of the most eminent figures in psychology, and we try to review any book that substantially advances the science or practice of psychology (e.g., Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect, Martin Seligman's Flourish).

We also review popular books that psychologists and other social scientists are likely to find interesting and relevant (e.g., Freakonomics¸ The Secret Life of Pronouns), as well as other social science titles likely to be interesting to psychologists (e.g., Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 or Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother).

To broaden our outreach even more and offer an international public forum for the discussion of contemporary issues in psychology, APA launched a PsycCRITIQUES blog site in the fall of 2008. Each week I or one of my Associate Editors post a discussion topic based on a recently published review. Visitors can read the related review and comment, share, or tweet the discussion. We had over 14,600 visits to the site in 2012, and our visitors came from over 70 countries (about one-third of our visitors are from outside the United States). The blog extends both the journal's and APA's international presence, and we welcome comments from librarian readers.

Blog topics range from very serious ("The Death Penalty: No Resolution in Sight") to professionally relevant ("Dissociative Identity Disorder: Legitimate or Faddish Diagnosis?") to intellectually engaging ("Are We Dumb to Worship Intelligence?") to whimsical ("What Films Would Win If Psychologists Gave Out Academy Awards?"). Some of the most spirited exchanges on the blog were generated in response to a book arguing that there is no connection between creativity and mental illness (The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius).

Four previous editors of PsycCRITIQUES have gone on to become APA Presidents: E. G. Boring, Gardner Lindzey, Janet Taylor Spence and Bob Sternberg. These four individuals have all made important contributions as psychologists and scientists. It's been 60 years since CP was initiated, and as the 9th editor of APA's only review journal, I feel I'm carrying on a core mission that has not changed: PsycCRITIQUES will continue to review films that are psychologically relevant and every important book that substantially advances the science or practice of psychology.