Executive Director's Column

A Rose by Any Other Name

The American Psychological Society (APS) has renamed itself the Association for Psychological Science. The APS was formed to develop a sustained message about the importance of science in people's daily lives and to emphasize the role of basic science research in the study of behavior.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

The new year brings with it important news from the American Psychological Society. APS has renamed itself the Association for Psychological Science (the acronym remains the same!). The membership of APS voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new moniker, and it is wonderful to see the excitement it has brought.

I suppose I am taking a risk in mentioning the subject of APS. It will raise some eyebrows. Yet, from the day I joined APA, people have asked me what I think about APS. The question is never asked in a very public way. It tends to be asked in a lowered voice, or in hushed hallway conversation. But people are interested - they want to know how things are going between APA and APS. Does one still foster animosity toward the other? Do we get along? Do we compete? Do the activities of one somehow threaten the other?

I decided to greet the APS news by moving this conversation in a more open direction. Let me start by expressing my own attitude: I like APS. I am a member (even a fellow) of APS. I serve on the editorial board of one of its journals (Psychological Science in the Public Interest). I value APS' contributions in the areas of advocacy and publishing. I greatly admire Alan Kraut - the long-time executive director of APS. And I think the new name is a good one - it better fits the character and mission of the association.

From name to identity

The APS homepage proclaims that "APS changes its name but not its identity." APS President Michael Gazzaniga said in an accompanying APS Observer article, "the American Psychological Society was formed to develop a sustained message about the importance of science in people's daily lives and to emphasize the role of basic science research in the study of behavior. As the Association for Psychological Science, that mission becomes clearer."

Indeed, the focus on science really does define the identity of APS. Its journals focus on science, and its annual meeting focuses on science. Yet APS is also defined by contrast, by the omnipresent comparison with APA. In the same APS Observer article, APS treasurer Roberta Klatzky points out that APS "grew out of disenchantment with the fate of science within another organization." And APS member Carol Tavris, who is credited with first suggesting the change in name, explains that the rationale is partly to "distinguish ourselves from the APA."

In many ways, the change in name reflects the maturing of APS. This year marks its 18th year, and as an adolescent approaching adulthood, APS is growing more certain and confident in its own identity. Yet, I worry about a professional scientific association that continues to derive a large part of its identity through contrast with another. Perhaps the scars will always be there, but I hope that the new name signals the beginning of an era in which APS derives its identity from its own unique talents and accomplishments, and not from its comparison with APA.

Let a thousand flowers bloom

Even together, APA and APS do not define the totality of societies and associations that serve and promote scientific psychology. Dozens (perhaps hundreds) of other organizations represent numerous aspects of our science. Some publish journals, some engage in advocacy and lobbying, and all of them provide a voice for psychology. In this sense, a thousand flowers bloom - and it is a glorious thing. All are able to thrive, and even join together in forming a beautiful bouquet.

APA treasures its association with other organizations. We support the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) and the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences. The garden in which these flowers grow is one marked by mutual respect, collaboration, and cooperation. We celebrate our accomplishments together, and we fight our battles together.

By defining its identity through contrast, I worry that the APS flower is not a part of this garden. The same January, 2006 Observer article highlights an often-repeated set of APS accomplishments:

"APS was the acknowledged force behind the NSF separate directorate for behavioral and social science in 1991.

[APS] protected psychological review in the move of NIMH to NIH in 1992.

[APS] crafted the mission of the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research at NIH in 1993."

It is true that APS was instrumental in making all of these things happen. But APS was not the only one. Other societies, associations, consortia, and federations played a similarly instrumental role. It is the only way in which these outcomes are truly achieved.

I hope that with its new name, APS is able to achieve greater comfort with its own identity, and as a result enjoy all the benefits of joining the many other flowers that also bloom in celebration of psychological science.