APA Releases Draft of “Good Practices Guide” for Comment (reposting)

[Note, added 8/3/2017: I’m moving this post about the APA’s “Good Practices Guide” up on the main page as it did not appear to get much attention when first posted, especially considering the potential importance and influence of the document. Amy Ferrer has continued posting about the guide at the Blog of the APA—with entries on its sections on teaching and supervising, professional development and placement, interviewing, implicit bias, and social events, alcoho, and accessibility—but there hasn’t yet been much discussion there, either. I encourage members of the academic community to look over the various sections of this guide and speak up with support, suggestions, criticisms, and so on, either here or there. This is a chance to have a say in the future of the profession.]

The American Philosophical Association (APA) has published a 77-page document, the “Good Practices Guide.” While some parts of the guide overlap with the recently issued APA Code of Conduct, it is “not intended to play the same role in regulating the conduct of academic life.” Rather, the guide is

a set of recommendations based upon the accumulated experience of faculty, administrators, and students, intended in part to address some of the underlying conditions that can give rise to the problems with which a Code of Conduct deals. More positively, these recommendations are meant to suggest policies and practices that may help

us to realize the sort of academic community we aspire to—a community of mutual respect and fairness, of commitment to scholarship and learning, of open-mindedness and inclusivity, and of concern for nurturing the next generation of philosophers and members of the society at large.

The current version is a draft. In its preface its authors write that

We view this draft Good Practices Guide not as an attempt at a definitive statement, but as a starting point, and as a basis for continuing discussion and development of good practices. Similarly, this draft guide does not purport to be comprehensive. Rather, it focuses upon a number of areas where special challenges arise in the promotion of mutual respect, fairness, and inclusivity, and where experience and research indicate effective ways of meeting these challenges.

The Guide was developed by a special APA task force comprising of Peter Railton (Michigan), who served as chair, Mi-Kyoung “Mitzi” Lee (Colorado), Diane Michelfelder (Macalester), and Robin Zheng (Yale-NUS).

The topics covered in the guide include:

  1. Communication and implementation of these guidelines for good practices
  2. Teaching, supervising, and mentoring students
  3. Professional development and placement for students
  4. Interviews and offers of employment
  5. Countering implicit bias
  6. Social events, alcohol, and accessibility
  7. Professional communication
  8. Mental and emotional health and safety

The authors note that the list of topics is not comprehensive, and write that “it is important in sustaining a living Good Practices Guide over time that others enrich, revise, or extend these guidelines.”

In a post at the Blog of the APA, APA Executive Director Amy Ferrer announces that the task force is seeking feedback on the guide. The idea is to get comments on only some parts of the guide at a time, starting with the Preface, List of Topics, and Section 1 (that is, the first eight pages of the document). Feedback can be shared by email to [email protected] or in the comments section on Ferrer’s post—and of course discussion is welcome here, as well.

In Section 1, which covers how to communicate and implement good practices, the authors write:

We would encourage departments and other academic units to circulate this guide to faculty and students and hold open discussions of the issues herein. The governing idea of such guides is that it is not enough for a department to affirm values or goals—there must be a continuing commitment to developing and implementing policies and procedures that can give these values or goals reality. Since faculty change, new challenges arise, improved research emerges, and policies and practices must be monitored for their effectiveness, meetings to discuss the issues in this and similar guides should be held on a periodic basis. Department chairs should make it clear that participation in such meetings is as much a responsibility as participation in meetings for hiring, promotion, and graduate review—indeed, good practices for the conduct of such meetings and deliberation are among the central concerns of this guide.

If the guide or posts about it have not been shared among the members of your department, I encourage you to send around the relevant links so that we can get a good number of philosophers providing constructive comments and helpful suggestions.

Let me stress constructive and helpful. A document such as this guide is not easy to develop. It takes time, research, and a variety of skills to put together, not to mention a willingness to brave professional controversy. We should be appreciative of the work that went into this, and we can show that appreciation by reading the guide, offering criticisms respectfully, making suggestions thoughtfully, and not neglecting to let the authors know when you think they’ve got something right.

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Paul Prescott
6 years ago

Overall, I find the proposed guide sensible, prudent, and well-articulated (though I have my minor quibbles and concerns, of course)

But I’m stuck by the lack of comments, both pro and con. And I suspect many others are also.

The document strikes me as an important attempt to address longstanding issues in the profession, thereby moving us collectively forward. But I’m open to being mistaken.


6 years ago

I’ll have a closer look soon, but this stood out:
“If they have not already done so, students approaching the time at which they will go onto the market should be encouraged to become members of the APA…”

Especially after warning students how expensive the market is. A lot of their website/literature seems to be designed to ask you to give them your money.

6 years ago

Does the section on implicit bias and the IAT accurately reflect the current weight of evidence, and the growing controversy over conceptual and empirical matters among researchers?

“Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not”

“Jumping to Conclusions: Advocacy and Application of Psychological Research”

“Examining the Facts on Implicit Bias”

Joshua Knobe
6 years ago

Just chiming in to agree with Rob. I worry that the implicit bias section of the guide encourages philosophers to give their students a relatively one-sided portrayal of the existing empirical debate. As educators, our aim should presumably be to give students an accurate understanding of multiple theoretical perspectives (IAT boosters, IAT skeptics) and to facilitate a discussion in which students wrestle with the difficult empirical questions and the philosophical implications of each possible view.

I wonder if people here have some positive proposals about how to go about doing that. If we want to give students an accurate understanding of the existing empirical debate, what papers should we assign? And are there any good techniques we can use to ensure that we have a helpful, substantive class discussion?

(One quick additional note: although I disagree with many of the substantive recommendations in this section of the guide, I am very grateful to the authors for all of their work on it and for sparking valuable discussion of these important pedagogical issues.)

Paul Whitfield
Paul Whitfield
6 years ago

I read the current draft as taking into prudent account the debate over implicit bias (and IAT), and in particular with the section’s closing focus and the laundry list of 7 studies provided (which is appropriately large in comparison to the number of studies provided for other facts in the section).

Joshua Knobe
6 years ago

Hi Paul,

Thanks for this thoughtful comment. In response, I wonder if it might be helpful for me to say just a little bit more about my concerns regarding the present version of the text.

In the present version, the guide suggests that students should be encouraged as part of their coursework to take the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It describes the IAT as providing a ‘more objective’ measure of implicit bias, and it claims that the IAT has been found to ‘have predictive value for biased behavior in a range of contexts—a value that is independent of, and sometimes greater than, measures of explicit bias.’

Readers who are familiar with the relevant empirical literature will recognize that this is a fairly extreme view. Even among researchers who regard the IAT as a valuable tool, it is widely believed that the IAT does not have this kind of predictive value. Thus, it might be helpful to tell students that some researchers hold this relatively extreme view, but I think it would be a mistake for us as educators to explicitly instruct students that their IAT scores are highly predictive of their tendency to engage in biased behavior.

An alternative view, held by some researchers, would be that the IAT does not provide a valid measure of implicit bias at all. On this view, if a student takes the IAT and receives a score indicating high levels of implicit bias, she should not conclude anything at all about her actual level of bias. (It might be the case that she has high levels of implicit bias, but the IAT is not itself diagnostic of such bias.) In our role as educators, it seems that we should be helping students to understand this view and to evaluate the evidence for and against it.

You are quite right to say that the guide includes toward the end a brief passage that cites some papers arguing for the view I describe here (e.g., Oswald et al. 2015). However, I worry that the presentation of these issues is a bit misleading. The guide says: “To be sure, the Implicit Association Test and the implicit attitude research program in general are based upon empirical findings, and these always carry with them an element of uncertainty.” This makes it sound as though existing empirical findings strongly suggest that the IAT is a good predictor of biased behavior but that there is still some lingering uncertainty, as there would be for any empirical claim. But this is not accurate. Independently of the question as to which view is ultimately the correct one, it should be uncontroversial that there is a very large amount of evidence in the existing literature against the view described in this guide.

For a recent meta-analysis of existing studies on this question, see:


You may well disagree with this meta-analysis, but it will give you a sense of the alternative view to which I think students should be exposed.

(Many thanks to the authors of the guide for posting it in this way and soliciting comments. This is exactly the right thing to do, and I really appreciate the approach you have taken to this process.)

Wesley Buckwalter
Wesley Buckwalter
6 years ago

So in light of the state of the science what policy would it be responsible for the APA to establish? This is after all primarily a policy guide, not a literature review or seminar session.

Joshua Knobe
Reply to  Wesley Buckwalter
6 years ago

Hi Wesley,

Good question. My concern is not with the part of the guide that deals with combating implicit bias in our own hiring and promotion practices; it is only with the part of the guide that deals with what we should be doing when we explicitly take up the topic of implicit bias in our classes.

Of course, the APA does not necessarily have to take any position about how instructors should discuss implicit bias in the classroom, but if it does take a position, I think it is pretty clear, at least in broad outline, what that position should be.

These are difficult empirical questions, which researchers are still actively debating. The present version of the guide emphasizes one specific answer to those questions. Though it briefly mentions a remaining ‘element of uncertainty,’ it clearly encourages instructors to focus on helping students to understand that one view and to explore its implications. This does not seem to me to be a good recommendation. Although it would certainly be valuable to expose students to that one answer, it would not be appropriate for instructors to give students the impression that existing research is converging on it. (To the extent that existing research is converging, I would say that it is converging on exactly the opposite view about the predictive power of the IAT.) Thus, the approach that makes most sense pedagogically would be to introduce students to multiple views and to expose them to some of the empirical evidence for and against each.

Importantly, the points I am making here are not directly relevant to the APA’s policy recommendations concerning hiring, promotion, graduate admissions, etc. You are right to draw attention to the very important distinction between these different issues.

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
Reply to  Joshua Knobe
6 years ago

I was very happy to read your first and second comments, Joshua, though not your last one. In my view, the preoccupation with implicit bias and under-representation in philosophy has obscured structural, discursive, and institutional factors that don’t get addressed in the liberal framework that the almost singular focus on implicit bias in this literature has reproduced.

The work on implicit bias and under-representation in philosophy has focused exclusively on gender and race , mostly the former, enabling the perpetuation of discrimination against and exclusion of disabled philosophers in the profession.

Most (nondisabled) philosophers don’t know how to begin to address ableism in the profession or even what it comprises.

Paul Franklin
Paul Franklin
6 years ago

I hope you can forgive me, Joshua, but you made me think of this, and it’s not entirely an aside:

Reconciling Fate & Self Determination in Real Life

A girlfriend once described a profound enlightenment, which took the form of an anecdote used to describe her which was so accurate she’d made much useful application of it through a large part of her life.

We ought to bear in mind Shirley was an ‘achademic’ for whom the classroom with its incumbent teacher was a familiar environment, she was in fact studying to become a teacher, one of the most treacherous of identities?
But then, I should also point out that, one of her quests to prove herself was to plow through a heavy tome upon logic, and failing by her own industry to agree with one of its statements, she wrote to the author for help. Who kindly replied, thanking her for noticing the book’s long unnoticed error, and congratulating her upon her singularity among its readers!

Anyway, one day, one of her English professors, with more frustration this time, answered another enquiry by saying, “You know, the trouble with you, Shirley, is you can’t see the wood for the trees!”

“That’s it!” Thought Shirley, “At last I know the nature of the obstacle that faces me, and I might make progress!”
“Thank you, Sir,” she said. “I see exactly what you mean, Sir!”
Except, Shirley had heard the perfect opposite of what her teacher had pointed out – that she looked too deeply into things – and taking the saying to mean she looked too superficially at them she determined to look more deeply from now on!

How much further communication between teacher and student was managed at such cross purposes I don’t know, but Shirley graduated, became employed, and it wasn’t until after many years fruitful application of her touchstone, that she discovered its perfect opposite meaning. Demonstrating in a most incontrovertible manner not only the truth of what her teacher had told her but what partnerships may exist between industrious self determination and fate!

The flaw – its remedy in particular for she had been compensating for the flaw! – had all the time been working on her like the Witches’ predictions upon Macbeth – adding a sardonic emphasis and changing absolutely nothing!

Macbeth was not more deceived by the truth, nor disillusioned watching Burnham Wood marching on Dunsinane, than Shirley to see her ‘wood’ make such a sudden reverse in her direction!

And overlooking the definition of wood, ‘a large collection of trees likely to be of ones acquaintance’, and choosing it to mean ‘useful lumber’, could hardly be excused of her habitual urban confinement when studying English literature, where the distribution of those definitions is the reverse in some genres?

Her ignorance had that magnitude of the blind spot which assures we arrive in other places than those we’d aimed at; or, even when those are ‘our heart’s desires’ they might still be what we had coming!

Shirley left teaching, she said a hidden under current of politics too often appeared too superficially, and went into journalism!

I hope she forgives me remembering her story out loud. I would have changed the name but that seemed to corrupt it.