Graduate students making science accessible
Non-technical research summaries and an open website spread research results
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” It’s a question philosophers have debated for hundreds of years. Researchers may be interested in a related question: If a scientist publishes a result, but only experts understand the paper, how much knowledge has been produced? This is the challenge that two Northwestern graduate students have taken up. They founded Open Science DataBase (Open Science DB), a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to make federally funded research more accessible to the general public by providing easy-to-understand summaries of peer-reviewed publications.
Open Science DB is the brainchild of graduate student Alexandra Edelbrock, a member of Samuel Stupp’s research group based at the Simpson Querrey Institute, and Dr. Suji Jeong, a Northwestern alum of John Kessler’s group in Neuroscience. Jeong and Edelbrock’s partnership began during a collaboration between their two labs. Their joint research focused on understanding the mechanisms behind spinal cord injuries and developing therapies to treat them. Outside of her lab work, Jeong wanted to find a way to help the general public overcome the paywall that blocked access to the peer reviewed scientific research which their tax dollars funded. The overarching goal was to take research articles and distill them down to short, easy-to-understand summaries the size of a conference style abstract. Jeong developed a collection of article summaries and reached out to Edelbrock to create a virtual version – that’s when Open Science DB was born.
Open Science DB is primarily driven by graduate student involvement. The research summaries are either written by Open Science DB staff (Edelbrock is Editor in Chief) or are supplied by the author of the original peer-reviewed publication. Open Science DB staff will often work with the authors to translate the key discoveries into language for a broad audience. “We wanted Open Science DB to solve two accessibility issues – the use of highly technical jargon and the physical paywall restriction blocking access to peer-reviewed journals. As researchers, we take our subscriptions for granted, but it’s rare for the general public to read articles that require an additional payment to download” says Edelbrock. Open Science DB currently contains over 100 summaries and is available to anyone over the internet.
Open Science DB saw a large uptick in support and article summaries following the March for Science in 2017. The non-profit had members present at the marches in Chicago, Seattle, and Washington DC. Open Science DB also saw a surge in likes and followers on their Facebook page. Participation has slowed somewhat since 2017 but is holding steady. Even though she plans to defend her thesis in November 2019, Edelbrock intends to stay involved. “It’s really rewarding to work with an organization that shares what scientists are doing with the public and advocates for science. We needed this in 2017, and we’ll need it going forward too.” Learn more at www.opensciencedb.com.