Senior Director's Column

Access to the world of psychology

Dr. Merry Bullock discusses how psychologists can help build a global discipline by broadening access to psychology resources and opportunities.

By Merry Bullock, Senior Director, APA Office of International Affairs

Merry Bullock, PhDAs psychology works to build a global discipline that embraces and understands perspectives on behavior from multiple cultures, histories and peoples, mobility and accessibility become important currencies. Although similar, these two terms refer to different aspects of international interchange. Mobility refers to the ease with which we can engage in multiple professional roles across borders and requires understanding and agreement on educational systems, professional training, regulations, titles and the like. Accessibility in this context refers to the ease with which we can engage in activities important to the discipline — be it finding and reading the literature, attending meetings and conferences, finding training, and the like. This column is the first of two on these important aspects and focuses on access.

What would a world of perfect access look like? It would be a world in which opportunities for professional activities, collaborations and exchange were not limited by geography or resources. It would include flexible ways to find and read the literature relevant to psychology — scientific studies, policy papers, briefs, brochures and reports. It would also include ways for psychologists from around the world to meet — at conferences, congresses, small working meetings — and to collaborate in research design, implementation and analysis. It would also include ways to overcome language barriers so that literature is available regardless of the writer‘s native language.

How close are we to this world? Although psychologists around the world read the literature, attend meetings, share data and find ways to meet and collaborate, access across the globe is far from uniform. Specific barriers to access include distance, finances and language. To move beyond these barriers, we, as a discipline, might think of embracing broad access as one of our goals. APA does this already through its databases, which provide access to abstracts from nearly 2,500 journals with English language abstracts. Redalyc, an Ibero-American consortium provides databases covering more than 60 Spanish language journals. Other examples include the virtual libraries of psychology developed in Latin America. Psychologists are increasingly contributing to data archives, making data available to others for re-analysis or meta-analysis. APA and other publishers also participate in programs to provide psychologist in developing countries with access to these databases (HINARI, under the auspices of WHO). In addition, APA and other organizations provide grants to enable international colleagues to attend scientific meetings. Organizations are developing plans for making conventions virtual, increasing access through webinars or streaming video. Other organizations increase access by providing resource information (e.g., Psychology Resources Around the World) or capacity building activities (such as those by IUPsyS, IAAP and IACCP).

As a discipline, psychology is not doing so well with language. Ninety-plus percent of the literature is still in English, and English speakers have little access to the thriving publications of other countries, which are largely not in English. And few psychology programs require a second language proficiency for graduation.

Probably the greatest barrier to discipline-wide access is resources. In many countries, libraries are understocked, and Internet access is expensive or unavailable. In others there are few resources to support conference attendance or exchange. We as a discipline need to develop strategies for finding funding to support access broadly, and we need to convince our funders that supporting a broad international agenda will also benefit researchers at home.

What are your barriers to access? Please help begin a dialogue by sending your thoughts to International with "Access" in the subject line. We promise an open door for comments!