WASHINGTON—The pending sale of Psychology Today to the owners of American Health marks more than the end of a costly and divisive episode in the life of the American Psychological Association. APA’s experiences with the magazine, according to its new owners and several psychologists closely connected to it, offer valuable lessons to any scientific association thinking about educating the public through a commercial magazine.

“We have a better chance of serving the vision of APA if they don’t own us,” said T. George Harris, who is joining with publisher Owen Lipstein to purchase a magazine that Harris first edited 20 years ago. “A reader must feel about a magazine that ‘This is a friend who will level with me.’ It’s much harder to do that if you own the store.”

APA purchased the magazine in January 1983 from Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. for $3.75 million plus the assumption of $4 million...

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