If anyone thinks that the taxpayers who underwrite tens of billions of dollars of scientific research don’t care about getting access to that research, they’re not paying attention. A U.S. petition asking President Obama to extend the Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health to all federal agencies that fund research got nearly 4,200 signatures in less than 24 hours. It was up to 26,602 as of June 11.
Removing access barriers–like subscription and per-article fees–to published science is critical for enhancing scientific communication and discovery. But making the scientific literature a true public resource, the heart of PLoS’s mission, requires removing intellectual barriers as well. Giving nonscientists the tools to grasp not just what researchers discover but how they do it is increasingly important as the pace of scientific discovery triggers more and more complex public debates, from the ethics of using human cells for unspecified downstream research without prior consent to the risks of genetically modified plants. From the start, PLoS Biology provided resources to further scientific understanding of the research articles we published with synopses of the published work written for a general audience to provide non-experts with insight into the significance and implications of the research.
Because anyone with an Internet connection can access what PLoS publishes, educators for students of all ages can incorporate cutting-edge research into their lesson plans. Middle school science teacher Barbara Stebbins was excited that she could play ultrasonic sounds of male mice (from a PLoS Biology paper exploring song production and perception in an established genetic model organism) to her students to stimulate their thinking about how scientists design experiments and test their hypotheses.
And enterprising educators at Arizona State University have taken advantage of our open access license—which allows unrestricted use of materials as long as the original author and source are cited—to teach undergrads how to write about research articles through their PLoSable initiative. Students learn not only how to explain complex concepts and techniques in simple English but also to see their work posted for all to see on the popular Ask A Biologist site. So far, students have posted more than 20 articles about PLoS papers on subjects ranging from tiger conservation to brain-machine interface technology.
Thanks to students’ work on PLoSable entries, anyone with an interest in science can read about current discoveries in biology and how they advance scientific knowledge.
We encourage educators to share their efforts–both formal and informal–to help students of any age understand biology by contributing to our Education Series. The series aims to marry the open education movement, where teachers freely share lesson plans, resources, and innovative teaching tools, with the open access movement to showcase educational initiatives that build on the latest science.
We’re always looking for initiatives, resources, and programs that help students grasp concepts and methods in biology, from fundamentals of genetics to the basics of BLAST. Read the author guidelines for the series to see if your lessons, initiatives, or resources jibe with the goals of the series and can help other busy researcher/educators train the next generation of life science citizens.
Don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to offer a suggestion for the series.
And, of course, feel free to use the comments to share your thoughts right here. Have you any pet peeves about the way biology is taught? Any ideas on how to improve science education? Start a discussion!