And by dummies I mean us. Psychological scientists. This post will tell you how I think we should engage in tailoring scientific messages to the tax-paying public. Many scientists I highly respect have been pushing for Open Access to do so. But in fact, this is wrong, all wrong.
Simply lifting the financial barriers does little to communicate science. What’s worse, psychology probably has the most to tell society through the taxpayer’s money, but we still do so little to help solve major societal issues. But how can we dedicate ourselves to interacting with the public? In an earlier post, I promised to talk about In-Mind. Let’s discuss the In-Mind view how to share knowledge here. At the end of this piece I will share all the exciting possibilities for scientists and non-scientists alike to engage in ongoing interactions.
Let’s be clear. I want Open Access as much as any of you. There are many excellent reasons why we should push for it (for an excellent summary, see Steven Harnad’s deliberations), but science communication is not one of them. Pushing Open Access as a means to science communication is nothing less than intellectual laziness (though others tend to disagree, see here, here, and here). Frontiers even uses it as an argument by stating that “, being such knowledge enabled by societies, its fruits should be returned to all without any price barriers”. Though I appreciate the sentiment, some fruits are just not that ripe.
As any professional, we tailor our messages to whoever wants to listen to us. How do you communicate your research at a conference to your peers? And how do you tell your students about psychological theories? Or perhaps even more challenging – what is the one-liner you give that one journalist? Even the kind of conference (interdisciplinary vs. specialized) changes our message dramatically. In the same way we adapt our communication to the level of knowledge or expertise of these audience we need to tune it to non-scientists – something researchers in social cognition call audience tuning. Because will the broader audiences be interested in that one particular covariate or that mediated moderation in Experiments 2 through 4? Probably not. But how can we create common ground with smart folks outside of our discipline?
There are many excellent ways in which scientists have been doing some tuning to those smart folks that would like to listen to us. Think of for example some fascinating blogs at Psychology Today (such as Travis Carter or Amie Gordon). Or think of those who provide meta-commentary about our discipline (David Nussbaum’s Random Assignment is one of my favorites). And one that has had an excellent track record is The Situationist, which provides excellent posts at the intersection of Psychology and Law. One of the hippest ones to date right now is Science of Relationships. But can we not do this audience tuning in a unifying way, and offer the audience different levels at which we communicate?
We think we can. In fact, we’d like to pride ourselves that we have made a pretty good start in unifying different levels of audience tuning. At In-Mind Magazine (an Open Access journal for 6 years now!), we systematically engage in audience tuning to people outside of our discipline through our inverted-inverted pyramid of knowledge sharing. We like to think we have only just begun with making psychological science happen for those who matter most. For the newest students of social psychology, we have just released our Android and iPhone apps with daily social psych research statements. And what better ways to motivate students than to have them compete? While these offer gross oversimplifications of the human mind – they pull people in through attractive, yet thoroughly reviewed statements, explanations, and references. For those who seek a little more background, Job van Wolferen blogs for our headlines section. We also have many new bloggers to come (psychological scientist, and interested in blogging for us? E-mail us at email@example.com!).
So how can we start mixing ourselves in societal discourse? The one project that we are most excited about now is our Big Questions Project, which will be led by Terri O’Sullivan (and check out our Facebook page for the newest developments). Our task is to invite 103 scholars to answer the audience’s Big Question. How’s that for debunking the myth that social psychologists are analyzing people?
And finally, the most prominent section of our magazine and the foundation of our pyramid is the peer-review article section, which is a truly global endeavor, with our English, German, Portuguese, Italian, and Dutch versions. Expert scientists are enabled to share their work and passion through peer-reviewed articles, with expert scientists judging the quality of the science, while expert writers such as Wray Herbert and Robert Goodier comment on the writing style. What better way to build a global and lasting database of social psychological knowledge?
We hope that fellow psychologists and non-psychologists will challenge each other through our open access sharing of knowledge. Because we’re not at the point to solve those important major societal issues. Are you a psychological scientist? Submit your article to get your work read! Are you interested in psychological science? We need you to challenge our scientists on what they write. Oh – and do you want one of these apps? Shoot us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: PT APP. The first five responders get one free!