Dr. Ruby Takanishi, Founding Executive Director of FABBS – In Memoriam

September 10, 2020

With heavy hearts, we mourn the passing of Dr. Ruby Takanishi, the founding Executive Director of FABBS.

As we commemorate 40 years of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, we will be asking the former FABBS Executive Directors to reflect on their time in the role.

We lost Dr. Takanishi before we had the opportunity to speak with her directly. Reflections for this profile were drawn from: SRCD Oral History with Ruby Takanishi

Dr. Ruby Takanishi led a full and illustrious career focusing on how research on children’s development can inform public policy and programs, and left an enduring legacy in behavioral science advocacy as a whole.

Takanishi was the Founding Executive Director of FABBS, then called the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences (FBPCS).

In 1980, Takanishi left her position at UCLA Graduate School of Education to take a Congressional Science Fellowship in the Senate Appropriations Committee, sponsored by the Society for Research in Child Development and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. At that time, Takanishi was one of the few behavioral scientists in the program. Takanishi worked for the subcommittee with jurisdiction over Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) and Labor; it also included the National Science Foundation. As a fellow, she did not have much power, but was able to “observe what was going on, and to see how advocacy occurred, how effective it was, how ineffective it was”.

Ronald Reagan was elected several months into her internship and by the spring, the new administration had challenged the value of federal funding for behavioral and social science research. According to Takanishi, these attacks led to the need for behavioral and social sciences to become more politically involved and engaged in advocacy. At that time, many of the sciences, non-behavioral sciences, had decades of experience and lobbyists and associations working to sustain their levels of funding.

Shortly after her time on Capitol Hill, she became the founding executive director of FBPCS, which according to Takanishi “was a group of the smaller experimental psychological science organizations who wanted to get together to have advocacy for research support at the federal agencies in Washington”. Under Takanishi’s guidance, FBPCS worked in science policy, tracking funding through the Department of Defense, and creating Congressional Science Seminars, luncheons for  50 to 60 congressional staff to hear about the contributions of behavioral, cognitive, and neuroscience research and its uses or applications to topics such as children’s programs or health issues. FABBS continues to fill this important role today, connecting behavioral and cognitive scientists to Congressional staffers to inform policy decisions and educate staffers about the importance of the federal investment inthese disciplines.

In addition to her role at FBPCS, Takanishi left long-standing impacts for the behavioral sciences, with other positions including Assistant Professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education; Director of the Office of Scientific Affairs at the American Psychological Association; Executive Director of the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development; Assistant Director in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy for Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; President of the Foundation for Child Development; and her most recent position, Senior Research Fellow with the Early and Elementary Education Policy program at New America. She will be sorely missed.

If you would like to honor Dr. Takanishi through a donation, you may do so here.