Government Relations Update

Social psychologist presents research on police lineups to members of Congress

Margaret Bull Kovera, PhD, is APA’s featured scientist at Capitol Hill event aimed at strengthening congressional support for NSF.

By Heather O'Beirne Kelly

At a time when funding for social and behavioral sciences faces renewed threats in Congress, it is particularly important to showcase superb psychological science on Capitol Hill. On May 7, APA sponsored a research presentation by Margaret Bull Kovera at the 19th annual Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) exhibit and reception for members of Congress and their staffs. Kovera is a social psychologist and professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

More than 280 legislative and executive branch staff attended the event. Among those stopping by to speak with Kovera and other researchers supported by the National Science Foundation were Reps. Howard Coble, R-N.C., Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., Bill Foster, D-Ill., Rush Holt, D-N.J., Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, Walter Jones, R-N.C., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., David Price, D-N.C., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

CNSF is an alliance of over 125 organizations united by a concern for the scientific enterprise in the United States and a commitment to the nation’s investment in the NSF. This year more than 35 scientific associations and universities brought scientists to Washington for both a day of meetings with their congressional delegations and the evening exhibit. 

A major current concern of CNSF member organizations is proposed legislation by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to either eliminate federal funding for social and behavioral science at NSF (House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.) or significantly interfere with the NSF merit review process (Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Lamar Smith, R-Texas). These threats were discussed in many of the meetings that scientists held with congressional delegations.

Kovera is a member of APA’s Division 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology) and a fellow of Divisions 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) and 41 (American Psychology-Law Society).

She has received consistent grant support from NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate to conduct studies of jury decision-making and eyewitness identification. In her CNSF presentation, “Psychological Science: Helping Law Enforcement Improve Eyewitness Reliability,” Kovera shared results and policy implications of her research on police lineups and photo arrays. Her research shows that double-blind conditions, in which police administrators do not know who the suspect is, can improve the accuracy of witnesses’ identifications. Comments from members of Congress and their staffs indicated that they recognized the scientific significance of Kovera’s research program and the potential impact of applying her findings to law enforcement procedures used around the country.

The APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations staff will continue to collaborate with psychological scientists, members of the larger scientific advocacy community and allies in Congress to work against federal legislation detrimental to the social and behavioral sciences and to the conduct of science more broadly.

 From left to right: (Photo 1) Philip Rubin, PhD, Principal Assistant Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talks with Margaret Bull Kovera, PhD, APA's featured CNSF Exhibit presenter. (Photo 2) Margaret Bull Kovera, PhD and APA Science GRO's Heather O'Beirne Kelly, PhD listen as House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) describes her response to harmful legislation proposed in the House of Representatives. (Photo 3) Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight of NSF and strong champion of the Administration's neuroscience initiative, discusses Kovera's NSF-funded research on the fundamental science underlying police line-ups and eyewitness reliability.

From left to right: (Photo 1) Philip Rubin, Principal Assistant Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talks with Margaret Bull Kovera, APA's featured CNSF Exhibit presenter. (Photo 2) Margaret Bull Kovera and APA's Heather O'Beirne Kelly listen as House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, describes her response to harmful legislation proposed in the House of Representatives. (Photo 3) Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight of NSF and strong champion of the administration's neuroscience initiative, discusses Kovera's NSF-funded research on the fundamental science underlying police line-ups and eyewitness reliability.

Heather O’Beirne Kelly, PhD is a Senior Legislative & Federal Affairs Officer in the Government Relations Office of the Science Directorate at APA.