People are talking a lot about open access. Most often, the discussion devolves into one about free access to the full text of published scientific journal articles. What gets lost in the conversation is the ultimate goal of open access — making research results available and edifying to the widest possible audience.
Sometimes original journal articles will satisfy the goal. But more often, people want and need a lot more than that. They want to know about the broader context, other related results, and how it all connects to their own lives and experiences. People want to learn and be educated. That is what open access is really all about.
The good news is that science is more accessible now than ever before. Information technology has created a wealth of resources and opportunities for education. Websites, blogs, digital magazines (including the Monitor on Psychology), apps, news feeds and video streaming put the results of science within everyone's reach.
When it comes to educating the public about science, the National Science Foundation is leading the way. NSF produces a regular series of articles featuring discoveries that began with NSF support. The series is freely available on NSF'sDiscoveries website, via email updates and an RSS feed. These articles represent the leading edges of science. They are engaging and interactive. Among the hundreds of discovery articles are ones on language, visual perception, social cognition, stress, eyewitness identification, emotions, conflict resolution, and other topics relating to people and society.
NSF also supports the Science 360Network, which offers a large library of videos, radio shows and articles with the latest, breaking news from science. In addition to the website, the Science 360 resources are available through RSS feeds, a Facebook presence, Twitter announcements, smartphone and iPad apps, and widgets. With Science 360, everyone can be surrounded by science.
A great illustration of the Science 360 resources is based on the work of APA Fellow Irene M. Pepperberg, PhD. Her research in comparative cognition, including that funded by NSF, is published regularly in leading scientific journals. It is also the subject of a well-produced video featuring her work with African gray parrots. This small piece of public education is what creates the best open access.
The National Institutes of Health also engages in public education to help make the results of NIH-funded research more readily accessible. The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) offers its Spotlight on Research, featuring the results of NIH-funded work in the behavioral and social sciences. OBSSR also makes available a compendium of success stories that highlight health-related breakthroughs based on social and behavioral research.
APA's own successful public education campaign is now expanding to better emphasize psychological science and its role in understanding mind/body health. By developing multi-media materials, press releases and partnerships, this campaign helps to make the results of research open and accessible to broad and diverse audiences. Earlier this year, these resources were expanded to feature research on willpower and self-control. Expect to see more in the coming months.
Ultimately, the success of public education depends on the contributions of researchers themselves. It is up to each of us to make our work accessible to the widest possible audiences. A sustained effort in public education is how open access is truly achieved.