From the President

A Message From Division 6 President Gordon Burghardt

President Gordon Burghardt thanks officers, committee chairs, and others for the work they have accomplished

By Gordon M. Burghardt

As my term as president of Division 6 is winding down I want to thank the officers, committee chairs, and others for what they have accomplished amid the continuing challenges facing the division and our research fields. Incoming President Papini has assembled a fine group of folks in a most timely fashion and the transition should be smooth. Here I draw attention to several issues and end with some comments on essays in the last newsletter that may stimulate more interactions through The Behavioral Neuroscientist and Comparative Psychologist, our main formal vehicle for keeping contact with all members and friends of Division 6.

The APA Convention, Newsletter, and Graduate Student Preparation

Elsewhere in this issue you should find the excellent program assembled by Jesse Purdy. We have taken advantage of the proximity of the meeting to the National Zoo both to have sessions involving topics relevant to captive animal research and welfare at the meeting but also to have an event on ape cognition research at the zoo for Division 6. I hope that many of you will attend this meeting, in spite of the August in DC setting. It should be especially valuable for graduate students as they survey options in the ever changing world of professional opportunities. Major science publications have recently discussed what many of us know all too well – graduate and postdoctoral programs are often failing to prepare students for the new world of non-academic/research careers they will be entering. Not only are research grants in traditional fields drying up, but the days of Senator William Proxmire attacking 'foolish' behavioral research are back, with attacks not only on specific research projects but also on the very need for government funding of behavioral and social science research. The APA Convention is an excellent way for students to sample, for good or ill, the current and future state of the profession in a rich and diverse venue.

In the program you will note that we moved up the Hebb award winner talks to the year in which they are made. Thus, this year there are two Hebb talks including this year's winner, Ed Wasserman. We have also instituted talks by winners of the best paper awards for Behavioral Neuroscience and the Journal of Comparative Psychology. These may always be a year behind due to the time delay in determining the winners after all the issues from the previous year are published and the contents digested. I have proposed to the Newsletter editor that recipients of Division awards should be expected to contribute an article to the newsletter, which will serve to introduce our eminent members to the Division as a whole, inform us of current excellent work that may be outside our areas of current expertise, be useful in courses and for graduate students, etc. I would see these articles as mixtures of personal experiences in pursuing programmatic research and specific findings presented in a more informal manner than found in journal articles. I think building this into the expectations when awards are made will encourage participation by major speakers at the convention and also enrich the newsletter.

Finally, all members of the division should feel free to suggest symposia topics, special events, etc. as well as submitting papers and posters. The office of divisions at APA has embarked on several initiatives to make both the divisions and the convention more useful, accessible, friendly to both graduate students and early career professionals. Please contact the chairs of the program, membership, student, and early career committees and representatives with your ideas, suggestions, and offers to be involved. The division should not be a top down organization but one that actively engages all of us.

American Psychological Foundation

In the last issue of the newsletter I wrote an impassioned plea for some senior members to step forward to establish a fund with the APF to ensure the future of the division and enhance achieving our goals. Sadly, I must report that I received only a couple of comments and only one financial commitment. In spite of my willingness to invest a substantial amount toward the $20,000 needed to be raised to get started, we cannot yet go forward. If any people out there would be willing to commit funds of $1000 or more over several years (which only need to be paid when the target is reached), it is still possible to proceed. Several divisions have or are establishing funds to provide convention travel, research, and other awards, for example. I hope that some members out there have resources they are willing to provide as legacies for the fields in which we have been privileged to work and play. For more information, do see the December newsletter, which is on the website or contact me individually by email.

Need for Dialogue

I have reread some of the previous president columns by my predecessors and found many thoughtful, insightful, and stimulating comments. I also found many of the other contributions most informative. I also note that there are few responses in subsequent issues of the newsletter and a certain amount of redundancy and repetition. Some of this is due to the nature of the academic discourse as new people enter and elders fade out. Some is due to the enduring questions we have not yet answered. Still, the historian side of me finds this troubling. I will end my last column as your president with some brief reactions to three of the provocative essays in the last issue of the newsletter (BNCP, Vol 25(2) -Fall/Winter 2010). I would like to encourage members to submit to the newsletter editor comments on these and other issues you feel our fields should be discussing.

Methodology

Michael Beran (2010) discusses the problem of inadvertent cueing of animals in cognition experiments. This is set in the context of recent visible and very pubic controversies (such as that involving the research of Marc Hauser), and the possible consequences both ethical and scientific. Michael sets up his analysis using the familiar story of Clever Hans. He makes two important points. One is that testing or scoring of responses of animals by experimenters or observers blind to the 'correct' response is still too often lacking, in spite of a century since the Clever Hans fiasco. The second is that replication is needed more often, not exact replication but 'conceptual replication' in which different methodologies are used to demonstrate or investigate the same cognitive capacity.

These are certainly valuable points and ones too often neglected, even if discussed in laboratory and methodological courses. But I would extend the analysis even further. The issue of 'conceptual replication' is akin to the approach to science of strong inference that John Platt espoused in a paper, still highly relevant, that came out when I was in graduate school (Platt, 1964). I think it should be digested by every graduate student and periodically reread by professionals in any area of science. It is readily available on-line. The issue of blind testing also is, I feel, applicable to many areas of behavioral and neuroscience research, not just comparative cognition. Couple this problem with the lax reporting of interobserver reliability and the potential for future problems in the research enterprise, including the ability to trust much current published research, are multiplied many times. The infamous studies on students testing rats they were told were from bright or dull strains and the thorough documentation of observer effects decades ago (Rosenthal, 1979) have not had nearly the impact they should have had. A recent review of papers published in Animal Behaviour, 30 years after Rosenthal's book, documents this sad situation (Kaufman & Rosenthal, 2009). Recently, I and Todd Freeberg and his students at the University of Tennessee looked at 5 decades of research in several leading behavioral journals and found very low levels of controlling for observer bias and reliability. Although recent volumes of the Journal of Comparative Psychology have much higher levels of blind testing and observer reliability information than the other journals analyzed, levels are still too low. To remedy this situation, both I as current JCP editor and Josep Call as incoming JCP editor, are making more explicit our expectations for such methodological rigor. Neuroscience journals are also not exempt from these problems in presenting behavioral, histological, and other kinds of quantitative data. Psychologists are known for their methodological and quantitative skills, yet we do not seem to have inculcated the lessons that we often teach, perhaps because we too often do not demand, or report, implementation of such safeguards in our own research.

The History and Future of Comparative Psychology

There were also two essays in the Fall 2010 issue jousting, in a way, for similar conceptual space in comparative psychology (there were no explicitly behavioral neuroscience essays). Gary Greenberg, Division 6 Historian, discussed Comparative Psychology and Ethology based on a forthcoming contribution to the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Greenberg's essay (Greenberg, 2010) is certainly interesting and presents a point of view, centered on the contributions of Schneirla, Gottlieb, and Lehrman. My attention was aroused since the essay contrasts with my short encyclopedia entry on a similar topic that also appeared late in 2010 (Burghardt, 2010). Perhaps most telling, however, is that Greenberg's essay largely leaves out many aspects of comparative psychology as discussed in the books and writings of his predecessor as Division 6 Historian, Don Dewsbury (e.g., 1984a,b ), whose work is not even cited. There is also available the comprehensive and quite even-handed history of ethology by Richard Burkhardt (2005). This is not the place to comment on Greenberg's claims that ethology was "hard nosed biological determinism," that "with evolutionary psychology instincts are once again in vogue," or that it is necessary to draw a sharp line between psychology and biology. As a product of undergraduate and graduate programs in 'biopsychology,' and viewing the interdisciplinary mission of our division, I think we need to be wary of erecting walls and emphasize, as Danny Lehrman did himself in his later years, the seeking of common ground, along with careful experimental studies, to resolve empirical and theoretical questions.

Interestingly, while Greenberg seems to agree that evolutionary psychology is "seriously flawed," the essay following his by Jennifer Vonk and Todd Shackelford (2010) makes a vigorous case for a new field melding comparative and evolutionary psychology, a field they call Comparative Evolutionary Psychology. They draw attention to their forthcoming Oxford handbook on this topic. Their primary point seems to be that comparative psychologists needs to return to the objectivity of the behaviorists, broaden the diversity of the cognitive processes studied, and infuse their work with the more sophisticated understanding of evolution exemplified by evolutionary psychologists. The latter point could not contrast more with Greenberg's claim that it is how evolutionary psychologists apply evolution that is the problem! As Vonk and Shackelford have organized a Division 6 symposium on comparative evolutionary psychology for this year's APA convention, members who attend can evaluate this initiative and the research being conducted. I hope that future issues of the BNCP will contain summaries and integration of the contributions or this and other sessions at the convention.

Ethology and instincts are not mentioned at all by Vonk and Shackelford, nor are many of the issues that have concerned comparative psychologists of the past such as motivation, development, emotion, perception, hormones, and so forth. Yet new attempts to refine and revisit the nature and goals of comparative psychology are welcome and indeed necessary if research areas are to flourish rather than languish. What I do find unfortunate is that the special issue of the JCP (Hirsch, 1987), published shortly after the JCPP divided into BN and the JCP, containing contributions by many leading figure, some still active, is not cited by virtually anyone these days, something I hope to address in the future. This is not the place for detailed analysis of the historical and conceptual issues at play in these three BNCP essays. However, as an admitted old hand who has witnessed many of the developments in our field, and who has been critical of some aspects of Dewsbury's writings on comparative psychology (e.g., Burghardt, 1986), the Schneirla school (Burghardt, 1973), the animal cognitive/consciousness revolution (Burghardt, 1985), and evolutionary psychology (Burghardt, 2008), I find that too often we (and I do include myself) view historical claims and new insights through blinders, frequently ideological, that ignore relevant sources, prior research, and alternative interpretations. Of course, such problems are often non-intentional and are products of our own backgrounds and experiences. But think back to the writings of Beran, Platt, and Rosenthal: do we have an obligation to try, as best as we can, to apply similar methodological rigor to avoid bias when construing the origins, history, and potential of scientific fields and the claims we make about them as we do in supporting a new scientific finding? If so, is there any alternative to trying to be as objective and thorough as we can? Is it sufficient to wait for others to replicate and confirm, or not, our evaluation of the phenomena being studied rather than apply strong inference ourselves.

References

  • Beran, M. J. (2010). BNCP, 52(2), 11-12.
  • Burghardt, G. M. (1973). In J. A. Nevin & G. S. Reynolds (Eds.), The study of behavior: Learning, motivation, emotion, and instinct (pp. 322-400).
  • Burghardt, G. M. (1985). American Psychologist, 40, 905-919.
  • Burghardt, G. M. (1986). Ethology, 73, 78-84.
  • Burghardt, G. M. (2008).. The General Psychologist, 43(2), 6-11.
  • Burghardt, G. M. (2010). M. D. Breed & J. Moore (Eds.), Encyclopedia of animal behavior, Vol. 1 (pp. 340-344). Academic Press: Oxford, UK,
  • Burkhardt, R., Jr. (2005). Patterns of behavior. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
  • Dewsbury, D. A. (1984). Comparative psychology in the twentieth century. Hutchinson Ross: Stroudsburg, PA.
  • Dewsbury, D. A. (Ed.) (1984b). Foundations of comparative psychology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  • Greenberg, G. (2010). BNCP, 52(2), 6-7.
  • Hirsch, J. (Ed.). (1987). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 101(3).
  • Kaufman, A. B. & Rosenthal, R. (2009). Animal Behaviour, 78, 1487-1491.
  • Platt, J. R. (1964). Science, 146, 347-353.
  • Rosenthal, R. (1979). Experimenter effects in behavioral research. New York: Halsted Press.
  • Vonk, J. & Shackelford, T. K. (2010). BNCP, 52(2), 8-9.