Science Directions

My professional life in 2000 is dramatically different from when I was a doctoral student from 1972­76. At that time, I was very proud of my grasp of the literature in psychobiology, and I spent a lot of time staying current. My first stop when I arrived on campus everyday was the library, where I reviewed the most recent journal arrivals. I entered each article of interest on a 3" x 5" card and filed each one alphabetically by author in small metal boxes on my desk. I then sent off reprint requests instead of photocopying the entire article. (Note: I could spend so much time in the library because I never had to rush to my PC to read e-mail. There was no PC and, oh yeah, no e-mail either.)

My dissertation data were kept on 4" x 6" cards, and I completed all of my analyses on an electronic calculator that had less memory than today's coffee makers. Last, but not least, I typed my dissertation the old-fashioned way--on an IBM Selectric typewriter. I even prepared the figures in my dissertation using press-on numbers and letters.

And then everything changed...

I entered the computer age in 1984 with the purchased of an Apple IIe and a dot matrix printer. I thought I had died and gone straight to heaven. E-mail became a regular feature of my life in the late 1980s as I made the move from Macs to PCs. As a department chair in the 1990s, I came to appreciate the power of the crazy thing called the World Wide Web in making our department better known to prospective students and others within and external to our university. About the same time, APA was developing its significant presence on the World Wide Web, and my compliments to the wise person who quickly registered the domain name before others did.

A few short years later, we are in the midst of a revolution in the way psychological research is conducted, data are shared, information is accessed, collaborations are formed, and research findings are disseminated. This "tangled Web" of information resources provides unprecedented opportunities as well as significant challenges.

Looking ahead

There are many exciting developments that are shaping the future of psychological science. A major breakthrough occurred last year when the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded six grants of 122 submitted to support research infrastructure projects in the behavioral and social sciences. This funding initiative represented a conceptual leap for NSF--the recognition that behavioral and social scientists have infrastructure needs that are expensive and critical to future advances in the various disciplines, including psychology. Big-ticket infrastructure needs had for many years been the exclusive domain of the physical and biological sciences (telescopes, mass spectrometers, atomic microscopes, etc). Look for this program of infrastructure grants at SBE to expand dramatically in future solicitations. The driving force behind this historic change at NSF is the World Wide Web.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), with support from the Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR), recognized early on the rapid changes occurring in the way behavioral and social scientists conduct research. AAAS convened a conference last June to explore "Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research on the Internet." Every psychological scientist who is conducting research on the Internet or is contemplating a move in that direction should read this report. It is available at Research on the Internet presents significant challenges to researchers, human participants, members of institutional review boards (IRBs) and policy-makers. At the moment, there are many more questions than answers with regard to ethical concerns. However, one thing is clear. Internet-based research in psychology is here to stay. It is firmly established and rapidly expanding. APA'S Board of Scientific Affairs is taking a serious look at the opportunities and special challenges presented by Internet research and will present its views on this area to members of the research community in the coming months.

My thoughts are drawn from the perspective of psychological science, but the challenges posed by the Internet have far-reaching consequences for all sectors of APA, including education, public interest, practice, communications, advocacy and member relations. The challenge ahead for all of psychology will be to exploit the full potential of the Web without becoming entangled in it.