It is with great pride and excitement that I write my first report as Policy Coordinator. I take up my position at a time of remarkable social and political change in many parts of the globe. The challenges to social issues advocacy are big, but there are also real opportunities for psychologists to have a growing impact on dialogue and collective action.
As I write this, a number of Middle Eastern states are either in the midst of revolt or negotiating new constitutions. The insights drawn from SPSSI work and tradition lead me to ask, ‘why have economic interests been put above mitigating group conflict?’ and, ‘what interventions will meet human needs?’. Similarly, as Congress debates its 6th version of a continuing resolution to fund government spending for the remainder of 2011, I ask, ‘how can we ensure that the most needy in society aren’t left further behind’, and ‘why are some values upheld to the detriment of equality and freedom?’. While bringing questions to the attention of other policy makers I have been struck by the appetite for SPSSI-style answers: social issues concern coupled with academic scholarship.
Recent examples are our work with two coalitions: the Coalition to Promote Research, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Human Rights Coalition. In the former we have been educating members of the U.S. Congress about SPSSI member expertise on the peer review system, and to raise the profile of impartial research in a legislature that is paralyzed by partisan division. In the latter we are building the capacity of the scientific community to implement human rights programs and advocate for the rights of science worldwide.
The potential for SPSSI to help build this capacity was brought home in March 2011 with the U.S. Government’s response to the Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UPR with a total of 228 recommendations was unprecedented in its size and range. Countries around the world voiced concern at issues centered on classic SPSSI topics like the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, capital punishment, and the detention of undocumented immigrants without proper access to legal counseling. Twenty-four of the recommendations were about immigration rights issues in U.S. domestic policy. In our continued efforts to address immigration problems, I am working with several organizations from the APA to the American Immigration Council and the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity at the national and local level to improve attitudes and policies relating to the most vulnerable parties of immigration: women, children, families, and undocumented workers. There is much to do but also good reasons to believe in change. Politicians are increasingly realizing that border enforcement and deportation are not solutions. In Nebraska and Kentucky, Arizona-modeled bills have been stalled in order to consult experts more widely, and the Utah legislature passed a bill that would create guest worker programs. We will be continuing our efforts to mobilize SPSSI’s grassroots and bring member research into the immigration policy debate.
In the U.S. response to the UPR it was disappointing to see calls to ratify the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights rejected out of hand. Article 15 of the ICESCR makes direct reference to science as a human right, saying parties must protect citizens’ rights “to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications [and] to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production”. It is evident that academic freedom and scientific integrity are too often shoved aside by other political goals. Moving forward in 2011 we will be engaging with AAAS and our other like-minded organizations to meet these shortcomings, be they misinformation on the science of climate change, the erosion of peer review and research funding, or the loss of scientific resources to the ills of political and economic strife internationally.
Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you would like to learn more or contribute to SPSSI policy initiatives. It is invaluable to hear ideas and suggestions from members. My weekly blog for news summaries, and current affairs and behavioral science discussion is available at www.spssi.org/policynewsfeed, and also on our Member Forum at www.spssi.org/memberforum. Our Facebook and Twitter pages are packed with a wealth of news items and announcements.