Feature article

Moving Forward as an Organization and as a Field

A message from Dave DeMatteo, President, American Psychology-Law Society.
By David S. DeMatteo, JD, PhD

The 2017 American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) conference was a tremendous success. With an outstanding program put together by Kathleen Kemp and Derek Hess, and the incomparable support provided by Kathy and Clyde Gaskey, the 2017 AP-LS conference in Seattle, Washington, attracted 1,023 registrants, making it one of the largest conferences in our organization's history. Those in attendance can attest to the high-quality programming, unique and timely plenary talks, outstanding special sessions, well-attended poster sessions and social events. At least a dozen first-time conference attendees approached me with complimentary thoughts about their conference experience. In particular, several people attending our annual conference for the first time commented on how accessible the big names are in our organization. They were surprised and delighted that well-established and highly accomplished people in AP-LS were willing to spend time talking with them, even though, as one person put it, “I'm only a student.” One of the attributes of our organization that makes me most proud is the willingness and openness of our more senior and established members to be inclusive of students and early career professionals.

As my presidential term is nearing an end, I'd like to offer some thoughts on how we can move forward as an organization and as a field. In my presidential address, I outlined five challenges facing AP-LS and the field of psychology-law, which I'll briefly summarize.

  • Psychology, like several other areas of science, is facing a crisis in terms of what we actually know. The replication crisis, in particular, suggests that a good deal of what we think we know is likely false. With the push to publish and various “researcher degrees of freedom,” our science is subject to numerous threats to validity and reliability. This should not be surprising given that the field of meta-science – the study of science itself – has uncovered many threats to efficiency in knowledge accumulation. There are, however, several ways that we can effectively address this challenge, including placing more focus on training, engaging in team science, encouraging transparency among researchers, focusing on replication studies and meta-analyses to consolidate what we know, examining the generalizability of our findings and increased self-monitoring of our research efforts.
  • Various field studies have shown that several well-validated and widely-used assessment measures do not function in the real world as they do in more sterile research contexts. This important line of research has obvious implications for forensic practice and the thousands of offenders, inmates and civil litigants who are affected by our forensic work because it exposes threats to legally-relevant assessment validity, reliability and credibility. As we continue to engage in tens of thousands of forensic mental health assessments each year, we need to examine how big of a problem this actually is because it strikes at the very core of our forensic assessment enterprise.
  • People are earning advanced degrees in psychology at a historically unprecedented rate, so we need to examine our training paradigms. This raises several questions. Do we have a strong, solid system in place for training new psycholegal scholars, researchers and practitioners? Are employment options keeping pace with our graduation rates? Are there sufficient employment opportunities for those with terminal master's degrees? Is there convincing evidence that joint-degree programs have sufficient utility to justify their continued existence? Are doctoral training programs adequately preparing students for employment in our current political and economic climate?
  • I believe the purpose of research is to influence practice and policy, but we need to disseminate research for it to have an effect. As an organization and field, we are doing well in some aspects of dissemination. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has utilized the expertise of several AP-LS members to write numerous amicus curiae briefs submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, which illustrates a very direct way to influence policy/law. As a field, we publish hundreds of articles per year and give thousands of presentations, but are they being seen by the right people — i.e., people who can actually influence policy and practice? One way we can most assuredly not effectuate wider change is to keep talking to ourselves. To echo the sentiment of Past-President Jen Woolard, we need to widen our net and talk more with legislators, policy-makers and other people who can effectuate broad change.
  • To have continued relevance and utility as an organization, we need to enhance our responsiveness. In particular, we need to improve our abilities to adapt and respond in a timely manner. Given our current political, economic and scientific climate, we need to be proactive in promoting good science, addressing the needs of our members, advocating for social justice and improving our ability to communicate with our members and stakeholders.

I take tremendous pride in being an AP-LS member. We are an organization of intelligent, energetic and highly capable people who are in positions that can effectuate change for the better. To play your part, periodically ask yourself if you're making the best use of your talents in this regard.

A reminder that the APA Convention will be held in Washington, DC, from Aug. 3-6. Our division co-chairs, Monica Miller, JD, PhD; and Twila Wingrove, JD, PhD, have worked exceptionally hard to put together an outstanding program that features many collaborative sessions. I look forward to seeing you there.

Before ending, let me express my deep thanks to Matthew Huss, his staff and the many people who have been involved with the AP-LS newsletter over the years. This may be the last issue of the newsletter as we move to an eNews format. The newsletter has taken amazing strides under Matt's stewardship, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Thank you for the privilege of serving as your president.

— Dave DeMatteo