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2008 Science Leadership Conference Looks to the Future of Scientific Communication

The theme of the conference was Designing the Future: Innovations in Knowledge Dissemination for Psychological Science.

By Howard S. Kurtzman, PhD

The fourth annual APA Science Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Science Directorate and Board of Scientific Affairs, was held on Oct 2-4, 2008, in Tempe, Arizona. The theme of the conference was Designing the Future: Innovations in Knowledge Dissemination for Psychological Science. Organized in collaboration with the APA Publications and Databases Office, the conference explored the changing landscape of publication and sharing of scientific information and the new opportunities that arise for the dissemination of psychological science.

The 125 conference participants included not only psychologists but also library and information scientists, publishers, and scientists in other fields who have pioneered new approaches to disseminating research. The conference agenda featured presentations and discussions on such topics as:

  • Implications of the growth of interdisciplinary and translational research for the contents and formats of journals

  • Open access to publications and data, including the development of academic and government-sponsored research repositories

  • The impact of new technologies on how scientists access and communicate about research

  • How scientists' career stages, research specialties, and home institutions influence the ways they contribute to and use publications

  • The challenge of making research accessible and useful to practitioners, policymakers, and the general public

Leading off the conference were presentations by scientists whose work exemplifies the growing trend towards interdisciplinary and translational approaches within psychological science. Liliana Lengua (University of Washington) provided an overview of her multi-level approach to investigating the development of self-regulation and risk factors for psychopathology in young children, while Susan Cochran (UCLA) discussed the interface of psychology and public health with examples from research with sexual minority populations. These presentations framed questions about how research can be most effectively reported and disseminated to audiences that span multiple scientific and clinical fields. (Another scheduled speaker, Kevin Ochsner of Columbia University, was not able to attend but shared his slides, which describe the rapidly developing fields of social-cognitive and affective neuroscience and the types of journal formats that are most appropriate for reporting work in those areas.)

Two speakers offered perspectives from the publishing community. Michael Mabe, the CEO of STM (International Association of Scientific, Technical, & Medical Publishers), reviewed the scientific, financial, and political issues surrounding calls for open access to research articles over the Web and described a recently initiated study of over 300 European journals that is assessing the impact of implementing various models for open access. Linda Beebe, of the APA Publications and Databases Office, discussed recent developments in APA's journals and books programs and indexing and database services as well plans for future expansions, including incorporation of social computing ("Web 2.0") applications.

Other speakers addressed the various ways in which scientists are using the Web for scientific communication. Carol Tenopir (University of Tennessee) presented data on the evolving patterns of scientists' use of electronic and print journal articles. Noriko Hara (Indiana University) reviewed her research on how geographically dispersed scientists engage in interdisciplinary collaboration over the Web and the factors that determine the success of their interactions. Hakon Heimer, the executive editor of Schizophrenia Research Forum, discussed how Web-based moderated forums can be designed to serve the information needs of scientists with particular shared interests and facilitate greater communication among them. And Roberta Spalter-Roth (American Sociological Association) described an ongoing study examining the relation of university faculty's social networks to their patterns of usage of digital science education resources.

Several innovative forms of journals and reporting were highlighted at the conference. Stephen Anderson (Yale University) described the Linguistic Society of America's eLanguage initiative, which provides linguistics researchers with a straightforward infrastructure for establishing new electronic journals in specialized and emerging research areas. Philip Bourne (UCSD) reported on efforts such as SciVee that enable the integration of traditional research reports, such as journal articles and conference posters, with databases and video material. In a related presentation, Moshe Pritsker, founding editor of the online Journal of Visualized Experiments, spoke about the advantages and challenges of producing peer-reviewed research reports in video format.

A major focus of the conference was the role of academic institutions in scientific dissemination. Rebecca Kennison (Columbia University) examined the planning and management of institutional digital research repositories, which collect all of the publications, data, and related materials produced by researchers at an institution. Karla Hahn (Association of Research Libraries) discussed the emerging role of universities as publishers and disseminators of research and as developers of new digital instruments for presenting and communicating about research.

In the last formal session of the conference, a panel of university administrators considered the challenges facing academic institutions as disciplinary boundaries become less rigid and new forms of scientific dissemination emerge. The panelists, all psychologists, were Jeffrey Alberts (former Associate Vice President for Research, Indiana University), Elizabeth Capaldi (Executive Vice President and Provost, Arizona State University), Bernadette Gray-Little (Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, University of North Carolina), and Alexandra Logue (Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost, City University of New York). They identified a number of issues that the academic community will need to address in coming years, including: how to encourage and build productive interdisciplinary research teams while also recognizing the contributions of individual team members; how to evaluate new forms of scholarship (websites, blogs, video, etc.) in making tenure and promotion decisions; and the funding and management of digital research repositories and their integration with traditional libraries and university presses.

Much time at the conference was also devoted to general discussions among the participants. These discussions both built on and extended beyond the points raised in the presentations. Participants offered a large number of suggestions for new approaches and initiatives for disseminating psychological research that can be implemented by APA, academic institutions, publishers, funding agencies, and individual scientists. A report of the recommendations generated at the conference is in preparation and will be released in early 2009. Coverage of the conference will also appear in the December 2008 issue of the Monitor on Psychology.

The annual APA Science Leadership Conference brings together established and emerging leaders in psychological science and related fields to address major research and policy issues in psychology. Previous conferences have focused on the sharing of psychological science with the public, career development of psychological scientists, and advocacy for federal support of psychological science. Planning will soon begin for the 2009 Science Leadership Conference.