By Paul Martin FAPS, APS President

A STUDY published this year in the Review of General Psychology by Steven Haggbloom and colleagues rank-ordered the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th Century using three different techniques: (a) a survey of 1725 members of the American Psychological Society; (b) the most frequently cited in professional journals; and (c) the most frequently cited in introductory psychology textbooks.

The results would not have been a great surprise to most academic psychologists with the top five from the survey being B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, Sigmund Freud, John B. Watson and Albert Bandura. Freud topped both the citation lists with Skinner, Piaget and Bandura also achieving high rankings. There were hardly any names in the lists that would not have evoked some memories, although in many cases dim and distant ones dating back to undergraduate days.

I searched the three lists for Australian psychologists but to no avail. I should add that if I have missed identifying an Australian psychologist, I do apologise. I have only had access to a web summary of the paper.

On a similar theme, the 2002 President of the American Psychological Association, Philip Zimbardo, established as his major presidential initiative, development of a compendium of research findings that have been demonstrated to be effective in improving outcomes in health, longevity, education, organisational effectiveness, safety, justice and child care. Parenthetically, Zimbardo himself was ranked 46.5 on the list of psychologists most frequently cited in introductory textbooks. Will Australian research feature in Zimbardo’s compendium?

Australia does have a strong record of research performance in psychology, and is sometimes referred to by authorities such as the National Health and Medical Research Council as ‘punching above its weight’. In 1993, an independent panel, including international consultants, carried out an evaluation of the outcomes of Australian Research Council Large Grant funding in psychology and concluded that: “The state of psychology in Australia can be viewed very positively in terms of its impact and reputation.”

A Working Group for the Academy of Science’s National Committee for Psychology completed a review of psychological science in Australia in 1996, and reported that Australia produced 2.5% of the world’s psychological research in the period 1992-94, up 50% in the period 1974-76. Considering publications in the high-impact journals only, the Australian contribution was even higher at 2.8%. To place these figures in context, the Australian population constitutes 0.3% of the world population.

So why are there no Australian psychologists in any of the three lists in Haggbloom’s article? No doubt there are many reasons and some merely reflect biases. For example, surveying American psychologists is bound to favour Americans appearing in the list due to proximity. Similarly, the textbooks searched for citations were American textbooks, again biasing outcomes towards American researchers. Nevertheless, psychologists other than Americans featured prominently in the list, particularly those from Europe, and a survey of Australian psychologists would probably yield a similar outcome. Other reasons for Americans dominating the lists probably include the much larger grants available for supporting research, a higher education sector that is more inclined to facilitate ‘star’ researchers by minimising their teaching and administrative commitments, and higher salaries that help attract and retain leading researchers.

The APS Vision Statement includes the goal of ‘promoting the advancement of the scientific discipline’, which it seeks to do in many different ways including the publication of a number of journals, organising generalist and specialist conferences, providing awards and prizes for outstanding performance, and lobbying on behalf of psychological science. But could it do more to stimulate Australian research achieving even higher levels of impact? For example, should the Society be exploring ways to bring together researchers from different institutions in Australia and overseas to work on major projects? Are there particular initiatives that the Society should be pursuing with Federal and/or State governments, such as founding research centres consistent with national research priorities? I would be very interested to hear any suggestions with respect to how the Society could contribute more to increasing the impact of Australian psychological research.

Visits to Branches

The Executive Director and I decided that the two of us, and for some visits the Treasurer, would visit Branches in all States this year. We chose to do this because we both feel that one of the major problems of the Society is inadequate communication between the Board, the National Office, and the many constituent units within the Society (Branches, Colleges and Interest Groups). The purpose of the visits was for us to meet with office holders and as many members as possible. The agenda was for us to talk about APS initiatives, and to engage in dialogue with respect to concerns members had, suggestions for change, and so forth.

We have now completed most of the visits and have enjoyed our discussions with members. We were impressed by the enormous amount of voluntary work carried out by office holders. We were struck by the diversity of our Branches in terms of the vocational backgrounds of office bearers and the issues in which they invested most effort. We are considering how we can encourage Units to pick up some of the more successful initiatives of other Units.

Psychology Week in the Hunter

In late August, I attended Psychology Week in the Hunter, an initiative of the Newcastle Branch. I would like to comment that I was extremely impressed by this event. Again, referring back to the APS Vision Statement, the opening sentence says that the APS ‘will raise the profile of psychology and enhance its standing, as a discipline and a profession, throughout all sections of the Australian community’.

I cannot imagine a more effective way of achieving this in a region than through an event such as this. It was an inspired idea asking Gary McDonald to speak, as his presence attracts so much interest among the media and the public.

It was also good to see the postgraduate conference convened as part of Psychology Week, as the APS does have an ageing profile and hence needs more young psychologists to join and play an active part in pursuing the strategic goals of the Society.

Involving holders of important offices such as the Vice-Chancellor of the local university and the Director of Mental Health Services, as well as local politicians, is exactly the way for psychology to gain a more influential role.

Well done Newcastle, I hope other Branches will consider following in your footsteps.