Evan Nesterak ’09 was working on his senior thesis in Psychology when he first noticed a distinct gap between the research produced in the field of psychology and its applications in the public sphere.
“Psychology research says one thing, and what is enacted says another thing,” he said. “That got me thinking about this gap between research science in psychology and what it can inform.”
This gap is what The Psych Report, a new web-based news organization founded by Nesterak, aims to fill. The content published on The Psych Report will be an “entry point for people to begin to make more informed decisions based on science,” Nesterak said.
“The hope, of course, is to eventually get enough attention that it starts to be a player in policy conversations,” Barry Schwartz, the chair of the advisory board for The Psych Report, said.
Nesterak fully fleshed out his plan for a new psychology news source in the spring of 2012, a few years after graduating. He then sent it to three trusted Swarthmore psychology connections: Schwartz, who is also Swarthmore’s Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Special Theory and Social Action, along with Paul Thibideau ’06 and Yoi Tibbets ’09. When he received positive feedback, Nesterak decided to move forward and “make it happen.”
Schwartz supports the project because he believes in the role it ultimately hopes to take on: “To create a vehicle for translating important work being done in psychology into a language that non-professionals can understand with an eye on what the policy implications might be,” he said.
Similar to Nesterak’s aspirations, Schwartz has also searched for ways to connect psychology and policy.
“For the last several years I have really focused my energy on the need to get important ideas from psychology into the policy arena because it kills me that the only people who get listened to when it comes to policy are economists,” he said. “Psychology has a lot to offer and it mostly remains hidden. “
Nesterak, the editor-in-chief, has teamed up with his brother Max Nesterak ’13, who is serving as managing editor abroad in Berlin while pursuing research as a Fulbright Scholar, as two of the project’s founding team’s most central members.
Thibodeau and Tibbetts, along with Schwartz, round out the founding team. Thibodeau is currently an assistant professor at Oberlin College after earning a Ph.D. studying how language shapes thought, while Tibbetts is currently working towards a Ph.D. in social psychology, researching academic achievement among other topics.
The staff of the Psych Report includes four current Swarthmore students – Jenni Lu ’16, Antonia Violante ’16, Brennan Klein ’14, and Cameron French ’14.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of different disciplines from Swat’s great psychology department, “ Klein, a Psychology and Cognitive Science double major, said. “So this sounded like a perfect fit for me to get a lot of experience consolidating psychology ideas into a popular journalism form.”
Violante got involved at the start of summer 2013. “I think my official title is ‘intern,’” she said, “but it is still so much in the building process that my role varies depending on what needs to be done. I think eventually I will be helping to maintain the research lead.”
The research lead, a round up of recently published psychology research, is “a cool feature of the Psych Report which we are hoping will be a cornerstone for the website,” said Violante. “We are going to feature the latest research in psychology and organize it in a way that is easy to read, so a quick summery of…seven stories that we thinking are worth people’s while.”
In addition to the research lead, content on the site will include articles written by the staff and experts in the field, organized into clear categories. Nesterak laid out the goals of The Psych Report’s content as threefold.
“We essentially designed out content to achieve a few goals,” he said. “One, we want anyone who reads our content to feel like they’ve learned something. Two, we want people to feel confident in the information they read – providing good, solid sourcing, having experts in the field write the articles. Third, we want people to be able to use the information that they get. “
For the students working at The Psych Report, producing content offers a different kind of writing experience.
“So often at Swat, we write papers or articles for our professors knowing that they will keep reading until the end,” said Klein. “Publishing stories online is totally different – your readers aren’t obliged to finish reading what your write. I’m learning a good balance between keeping the reader interested and presenting rigorous psychological theories and data.”
Schwartz noted that the general direction of psychology is moving towards research that is more applicable and usable to improve peoples’ lives. However, most available psychology publications give flimsy content like “Ten ways to _____,” aimed at what are perceived as popular concerns and based in questionable science.
“There is a more rigorous, more honest way to go about presenting evidence,” Nesterak said.
The Psych Report is still in its beta-stage of launching, with an official release set to take place in the near future. With this end-goal in mind, Nesterak is currently looking to hire more staff, people interested in writing, psychology, web design, or the business side of the organization.
As the future unfolds, The Psych Report hopes to continue to grow and reach its full potential. For the long term, the team hopes to establish themselves “as a more prominent journal with a large readership,” according to Nesterak.
“But at the same time, we have a solid core belief and core vision. Sticking to that vision and sticking to that mission make it easy to make decisions as they come up. If you carry that with you on a daily basis, it will grow itself,” he said.