Executive Director's Column

Looking Ahead in 2009

President-elect Obama has already demonstrated a deep appreciation for the value of science and its role in solving society’s greatest challenges.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

steven-brecklerThis new year brings with it great hope and a long list of goals and objectives. With a new administration in the White House comes the opportunity for fresh leadership on the hill and in the federal agencies.

All indications are that the changes will be good for science. President-elect Obama has already demonstrated a deep appreciation for the value of science and its role in solving society’s greatest challenges. Science is clearly a high priority now.

That new priority should be well-understood by the leaders already named by the transition team. Over the next several months, key appointments will be made at the next level down – heads of agencies, deputies, and others who will be in positions to effect change.

APA will continue to press the value of including psychology and behavioral science as part of the agenda. All of us should continue to seize the opportunity – educate, disseminate, and agitate for all that psychology has to offer toward the solution of human and social challenges.

The economy will figure prominently in all of this. It will drive decisions about funding levels and priorities of the federal agencies. An investment in science needs to be understood as an investment in our economy, as one component of a stimulus package. For some disciplines, this is evident. For others, it is not. Where does psychology stand? Can we make the case that an investment in psychological science is a wise one for the economy? I think we can, but it needs to be made clearly – and quickly.

Economic stress is also creating challenges for the scientific, academic, and research infrastructure. Colleges and universities suffer greatly, and the result is a diminution of support for research. Faculty lines are being cut, salaries are stagnant, and entire Departments are being closed down or merged with others.

Psychology is often the target of draconian efforts by college and university administrations to save money. It is short-sighted and ill-conceived. But if psychology does not stand up for itself, who will? Now, more than ever, psychology – by itself and in concert with others – needs to assert its value and centrality to the academy of the 21st century.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it is the best of times and it is the worst of times. Fresh new opportunities on the horizon are accompanied by ominous threats and obstacles for psychology. In 2009, our discipline is more relevant than ever, but we must rely on ourselves to spread the word. Let’s make that our new year’s resolution.