It’s been an incredible year, one that I could never have imagined. We’ve accomplished a great deal together: a new brand, industry meeting, podcast, grand rounds series, successful journal migration, and important work to better integrate ethics and diversity into our administrative structures. But I’m most proud of our members’ heightened energy, activation, and commitment to improve the public’s health.
It was a great honor to deliver a presidential keynote at the recent Society of Behavioral Medicine meeting in New Orleans. Forgive the video quality (you’ll hear why it’s so bad towards the end of my talk).
From Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics (technically the The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) and originator of the field of behavioral economics (a.k.a., hottest thing going these days).
I’d like to observe that the term “behavioral economics,” as it is used today…that’s really social psychology… It’s principles about how to affect behavior. And it is remarkable, and some people find it sad, that social psychology had to disguise itself as economics before it had an impact on the culture.
And that’s because economics has a better brand than psychology.
Maybe Justice Roberts might rethink his view of sociology as “sociological gobbledygook” if we just decided to call it socio-statistical finance?
This is a critical time for the field to extend its reach beyond the bounds of our profession. In the current popular context, our science is at best unrecognized, and at worst, devalued. This is perhaps best exemplified in the efforts to reform and repeal the Affordable Care Act; despite the clear long-term economic benefits of broadly implementing behavior change solutions, prevention has been all but ignored (except for defunding the Prevention and Public Health Fund). Similar efforts have been undertaken to reduce the federal funding that supports the majority of our research. It is particularly timely to engage with industry; they are a primary dissemination channel for our innovations, an increasingly common employer for our trainees, and always a potential source of research funding. In just the past decade, multi-billion dollar markets have emerged—most notably in digital health—with little inclusion of behavior change science. Given the field’s historical challenges with dissemination and its increasing interest in the area, it would be folly to ignore the primary conduit of health innovations to the public. Without greater public engagement, Americans will remain challenged in their ability to discern good behavior change information from bad. As was well demonstrated in the 2016 presidential election, it is particularly important for the field to communicate with segments of the public that have been traditionally uninterested in, or suspicious of, our science. When we disengage from those who reject menu labeling or beverage taxation policies with cries of, “nanny state,” we neither win the battle nor the war. We are not ignorant as to the challenges we face and we do not believe that engagement alone will solve these problems; however, it is undeniable that our disengagement will confer no benefit.
We scientists [should] spend a lot of our time thinking about how to convey information in a manner that will activate an audience. Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone is a master class in giving a compelling talk. Jobs wasn’t a perfect orator — he had a odd cadence, was a little stiff at times, and wasn’t as warm as the best speakers. But Jobs had passion and you feel that in the iPhone keynote. It’s best passage:
This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. … One’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.