Never mind open access – let’s make science really accessible!

By Siouxsie Wiles 29/05/2012

As a publicly funded scientist, I’m a firm believer in the public having a right to access the research they pay for, and being willing to talk about what I do and why to any audience that is curious. It’s one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to talk at Pecha Kucha in Auckland earlier this month. Pecha Kucha is an amazing format, first started in Tokyo almost a decade ago as a means for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. The event takes the form of a series of short presentations of just 20 slides, with each slide being shown for 20 seconds. This gives each presenter just 6 minutes and 40 seconds to enthuse about their topic of interest. The format has proven so successful, events are now hosted in 528 cities around the world. Here in NZ we have a very active PK network with events held in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hawkes Bay, Whangarei, Raglan, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Queenstown, Gore, Nelson, and Palmerston North.

The night I took part, there were another 12 speakers and the topics were incredibly diverse. From how not to start a bike company and fair trade, to Art in the Dark and sustainable coastlines. I talked about glowing poo, which I think I can honestly say no one was expecting. I found the experience exhilarating and terrifying, and I think the terror showed in my voice! I think the worst bit was not having control of how fast my slides progressed. My ‘performance’ is up on vimeo for any who want a giggle.


I am also committed to publishing my research under an open access model so that it is available to anyone interested without them having to either have a journal subscription, or pay ludicrous amounts to download a copy of the paper. But it has struck me on several occasions that if I really want the public to understand my research, I’m going to have to do more than just let them read my published papers. Let’s face it, they are awash with jargon. So I was delighted to see those lovely folk over at the 21st Floor have come up with a great idea to really open up research papers. The 21st floor wiki project aims to be a repository of plain language summaries of scientific research. In their own words:

If you have written or read anything that has been published in the scientific literature then we would like to invite you to create a page which summarises the work for a lay audience. We would like to invite you to summarise your research, or research you feel is important, in a way that can be easily understood by those outside your field. We would hope that we could then develop these contributions into a resource that spans all disciplines and makes science more accessible and understandable to both non-scientists and scientists in other fields alike.

I’m really looking forward to contributing and seeing the wiki grow into a fantastic resource for everyone.

0 Responses to “Never mind open access – let’s make science really accessible!”

  • Ah, pecha kucha – great fun & hysterically funny. I did one a couple of years ago at an Academy symposium – with the twist that I found out what the topic was just before I spoke, and had absolutely no idea what the slides were going to be. Talk about thinking on your feet!

  • The links I’ve been sent for pecha kucha talks don’t normally enthuse me topic wise. They enthuse a couple of my friends though. This was the first one that I was actually tempted to go and see – only found out 2 days beforehand though and had other plans 🙁

    There was a maths talk that looked interesting, your talk, one on beer, the sustainable coastlines, fair trade and one on Japanese swordsmanship.

    • Hi Ben

      Sorry to hear you couldn’t make it. The Japanese swordsmanship one was quite interesting. It was two guys doing a demonstration of the set pieces. Hopefully all the talks will be up on Vimeo soon so you can catch up on the ones you would have liked to have heard.


  • I’m not sure sure that many lay people would benefit from lay summaries of individual articles. Ensuring that the related Wikipedia entries are all up to date would probably give you a LOT more impact.

  • I’m pretty sure scientists use WP too. 😉
    21st Floor sounds a lot like a collection of press releases. Something many scientists write for their better articles anyway. An archive of these would be useful.