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International Science Policy - What are the Issues?

There are ever-increasing opportunities for interaction with psychologists from around the world. And, with international events more and more at the forefront of our daily news, there is also an increased awareness of the important role that psychology and other behavioral and social sciences can play in the international arena.

By Merry Bullock, PhD

Returning from Beijing, China, and the International Congress of Psychology held this summer in August, I was thinking about the vibrant group of scholars attending the congress, the broad array of issues addressed, and musing about how international psychology interacts with international science, and international science policy. For most of us, international psychology means contacts and colleagues from other countries -- whether it is reading articles, attending conferences, meeting colleagues, or collaborating on research projects. There are ever-increasing opportunities for interaction with psychologists from around the world. And, with international events more and more at the forefront of our daily news, there is also an increased awareness of the important role that psychology and other behavioral and social sciences can play in the international arena.

But just as the opportunities for more global interaction are increasing, there are challenges as well. Most of these are not unique to psychology -- but APA and other organizations with which APA works are important voices in making sure that science concerns are heard as policy is set. Following are just two of these concerns and a summary of some of APA's international activities.

Travel Restraints
Perhaps the strongest concern, at least from the international side, is over visas. Exacerbated since 911, stronger and stronger constraints on the ability of foreign scientists and students to travel freely across US borders is now beginning to affect US scientists at home as well. The primary issue has been one of timeliness - new visa processing rules have meant that it is very difficult for scientists from a number of countries to obtain a visa in a timely manner - to attend (or give!) lectures, attend conferences, participate in scientific exchanges. It has also meant that the number of foreign students and post docs electing to study in the US is declining, and that those who are here are restricted in their abilities to travel freely in and out of the country. One unintended consequence of this is that the US now is less favored as a Congress venue for international science events -- because attendees will have a harder time coming to the event, and because there are concerns that these visa restrictions are threats to the free circulation of scientists - a credo that the US has strongly supported in the past. The APA International Office works individually with psychologists traveling to and from the US, and, along with other science organizations, works with the National Academies' International Visitors Office.

Sharing Research Resources: Intellectual Property, Data Sharing, Infrastructure
Another concern as science becomes more global is how to foster sharing across borders. This gives rise to a host of issues -- countries have different definitions about what is and is not in the public domain, and what should therefore be subject to trade regulation or not; countries place different sorts of restrictions on the movement of information, especially personal information, which heavily impacts behavioral science data; and countries support or constrain international collaborations to differing degrees. An excellent resource for public domain issues is at the National Academies' intellectual property website.

The promotion of collaboration and data sharing is a resource, training and policy issue, that intersects with the call for open (and free) access to data. On the one hand, probably no one would disagree that science progresses best when there is free sharing of resources of all types - data, publications, ideas, human resources. On the other hand, national and organizational interests, both entrepreneurial and individual, promote restricting access to some degree. The complex issues are evident from discussions stemming from the World Summit on the Information Society concerning how to ensure equitable access on a global level to the current controversy in the US on open access and meeting the needs of the public, the science, and the science publisher.

Who Represents Your Needs?
APA addresses international issues in several ways. The Office of International Affairs serves as a clearinghouse for contact with other psychology associations and psychologists worldwide, as well as for international organizations, and coordinates information about international activities across APA. The Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) focuses on the development of international psychology, with projects on human rights, education, and publications. CIRP also provides governance oversight to APA's special non-governmental consultative status with the United Nations, and oversees APA's volunteer representatives to the United Nations.

APA's Division 52 has members devoted to international psychology, and is engaged in a number of programs to foster international collaborations and information exchange.

Beyond its own activities, APA is involved with international science issues through a number of coalitions, memberships and organizations devoted to representing the US in the international science arena. The USNC (US National Committee) for Psychology is a group that is constituted to represent the voice of American psychological science in the international level. Staffed by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, the USNC is composed of 9 members appointed from nominees from APA, the American Psychological Society, the Society for Research in Child Development, Psychonomics and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The mission of the committee is to develop psychology internationally and to contribute to the US voice in the international science program and policy arena. The USNC does this in two ways. First, it is itself the National Member for the International Union for Psychological Science - an organization with National Members in close to 70 countries. IUPsyS is the sponsor of the International Congresses of Psychology that occur every 4 years, and supports a number of training, networking, and infrastructure development projects. The USNC is also one of the many National Committees across the sciences, and works within the US to provide input into US activities and policy positions.