Feature Article

APA Div. 28 president's column

The division president looks to the year ahead.

By William W. Stoops

Div. 28 is starting out 2015 on great footing. We have an outstanding scientific program for the annual convention, thanks to our program chair, Matthew Weaver, PhD. This includes three collaborative symposia co-sponsored by our division, as well as a number of sessions more specific to psychopharmacology and substance abuse. The acceptance process for collaborative symposia is very competitive, so it is a mark of distinction to have that many in the program from our division. Some details about the program are in this issue. More information is forthcoming over the next few months. This issue also highlights our three, very deserving award winners: Allison Kurti, PhD, for the Dissertation Award; Kelly Dunn, PhD, for the Young Psychopharmacologist Award; and Mark Sobell, PhD, for the Med Associates Brady-Schuster Award. Congratulations Allison, Kelly and Mark. I am looking forward to seeing your presentations and celebrating with you in Toronto.

We also start off the year with new members of the Executive Committee. Stacey Sigmon, PhD, is president-elect. Anthony Liguori, PhD, transitions from past president to council representative. Mark Smith, PhD, begins his three-year term as member at large. Catherine Stanger, PhD, will be taking over as Awards chair, beginning her service after the Toronto meeting. John Roll, PhD, will serve as our new Fellows chair. Hendree Jones, PhD, has agreed to serve as our liaison to APA's Office of International Affairs. Mollie Miller, PhD, has joined as the Program chair for the 2016 meeting. Justin Strickland is our new student representative. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for your service.

The division also partnered with Div. 50 to renew the proficiency in “Treatment of Alcohol and Other Psychoactive Substance Use Disorders” with APA's Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology. This proficiency provides training for professional psychologists to evaluate drug use in their patients and identify an appropriate course of evidence-based treatment based upon each patient's specific needs. It is exciting to me that Div. 28 can have a direct impact on treatment delivery in this way.

Working on the proficiency renewal reminded me that, in addition to being an outstanding group of researchers, members of Div. 28 are also educators. We teach about psychopharmacology and substance abuse across many levels from high school to college to graduate and professional school. Our work in the laboratory and classroom can change lives for the better, which is something I must admit I do not always think of when a new, exciting finding comes out of one of our basic studies.

In my role as an associate director of a T32 training grant at the University of Kentucky, I recently developed a module on scientific social responsibility. Much of the literature on scientific social responsibility focuses on how to deal with discoveries that can be harmful to society (i.e., research findings that have a “dual use”). Principles of beneficence, justice and paramountcy are balanced against one another, with public safety frequently being of utmost concern. Examples of scientific social responsibility impacting scientific dissemination and education of the public abound, including the Asilomar Conference and the more recent moratoria on publishing research on H5N1 mutations at Science and Nature . The clear risks posed by recombinant DNA or dangerous mutations to the flu virus required that scientists be thoughtful regarding how to manage, disseminate and educate about the work they have done. I do not think that research findings in psychopharmacology and substance abuse pose as obvious a threat to society, but our work can also have a dual use. In efforts to identify individual differences and better target treatments, are we stigmatizing certain groups who might be at risk for developing a substance use disorder? By evaluating cognitive deficits in drug users that we hope to remediate, are we perpetuating commonly held stereotypes of the addict who does not have the capacity for choice or change in his or her life? These negative outcomes are certainly unintentional, but when we publish our work, the public reads them, perhaps misunderstanding our aims or misusing our findings.

So, how can we combat the dual use of our work? This leads me back to education. Many of us conduct research that is funded through taxpayer dollars. We also work at institutions that rely on student tuition payments that can also come through grants or loans backed by taxpayers. Thus, we have a social responsibility to educate the public about what they are paying for us to do. This is a side of social responsibility that I believe receives too little attention. We all work very hard to disseminate our findings to our peers and to educate our students. I would argue that, as a field, we can do a better job of talking to the public in lay terms about our findings and how they can positively impact people's health. This is a skill that most of us did not learn in graduate school. The European Higher Education expects that its graduates are able to engage in discourse about their work with a general audience; I would like to see a similar expectation built into graduate programs in the United States.

I encourage you to consider ways to better inform the public about psychopharmacology and substance abuse, in addition to publishing your work in high quality scientific journals, presenting your research at conferences and teaching your students. This could include contacting your institution's public relations office to set up media interviews when your laboratory makes an important finding, presenting your work to a civic group or even speaking with local, state or federal government representatives about what you do. If you are interested in the last option, please contact APA's Science Government Relations Office. They have a wonderful, skillful staff that would be happy to help you advocate for psychological science! With these outreach efforts that build on the dissemination and education in which we are already engaged, we can teach the public about what we do and remain visible, relevant and vibrant for the coming years. Thank you for your consideration of this call to action, as well as for your efforts so far.