in the digital age
BY DR. STEVEN J. BRECKLER • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE
This month’s launch of the Monitor’s digital edition provides a good
opportunity to take stock of how recent technological advances affect
psychological science. Technologies such as email, mass storage, electronic
publication, Internet surveys and social networking websites are ubiquitous
these days, though none of these technologies were widely available just 30
years ago. In many ways, this sea change has revolutionized the
way we conduct and disseminate research.
Online surveys and questionnaires have almost completely
replaced the paper-and-pencil measures on which we relied
for most of the past century. It’s easier than ever to reach large
numbers of potential respondents, with professional-looking
This method of collecting data carries many advantages. It
is fast, inexpensive and allows access to diverse populations.
It is accompanied by new tools for structuring surveys and
managing large datasets. In many ways, Internet survey
technology has improved research in psychology.
Along with the advantages come significant disadvantages.
Many potential participants receive a glut of survey requests.
Some of those surveys are important, others are silly. Some are
well-structured and polished, others are poorly assembled and
confusing. As a result, people have become less responsive. It
can be a struggle to achieve a response rate over 10 percent.
Internet survey methodology is surely here to stay, and
psychology must take some responsibility to address the new
challenges it creates.
Over the past century, we have relied on printed journals and
books to communicate and archive research and scholarly
activity. Through this system, institutional and individual
subscriptions and advertising underwrote the costs of managing
the review process and copyediting, typesetting, printing and
These days, many people prefer to read studies online
or via email, where they are inexpensively and rapidly
distributed. Scholarly publishing seems easier, cheaper and
more accessible than ever before. As a result, many people
are quick to dismiss the old economic model in favor of free
access to studies online.
Yet few are taking a critical look at how online publishing
may change a system that has been enormously productive for
scientific scholarship. The value of scholarly publishing has not
been its format, but rather the submission and review process.
We depend on that process to make judgments of scientific
merit and to engage the scholarly community in collectively
advancing a discipline. Supporting change and evolution in
that process can be good, but it should be done thoughtfully
and in a way that enhances science.
As I noted in the April Monitor, data are also caught up
in digital evolution. Our ability to generate data in vast
quantities carries with it significant challenges in managing
and archiving those data. Additionally, digital technology
has made data sharing easier than ever, yet psychologists are
among the most reluctant of scientists to share their data
We often have good reason to be cautious in this regard,
especially when it comes to protecting research participants.
Excessive caution, however, may impede scientific progress.
This is an issue that clearly demands greater scrutiny.
As I peruse the Monitor’s digital edition, I’m reminded of
the many advantages digital technology offers. We can access
these pages from desktop computers and mobile devices.
Embedded links get us quickly to related content, and it’s easy
to share that content with our far-flung colleagues. In many
ways, digital technology offers a vastly improved platform for
publications such as the Monitor.
The potential for advancing science, however, is still a work
in progress. n