About the presenter: Peter Howell is Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University College London, England. He has a long-standing interest in research into diagnosis and treatment of stuttering. He has recently established the journal 'Stammering Research'. This is an on-line publication that offers access to various forms of data, software and other facilities for research into stuttering. You can access the journal free through the pages of Stammering Research (visit http://www.speech.psychol.ucl.ac.uk). His recent research interests involve phonological analyses of children's speech to establish how early nonfluency arises."

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2005.

Wider access to Stammering Research

by Peter Howell
from England

Anyone looking around the scientific literature who finds articles on stuttering may consider that they deal with very narrow topics, do so to an incredible level of detail (the reasons for which are abstruse) and that the studies draw such guarded conclusions that make the practical implications hard to determine. The process of publishing scientific papers has, quite rightly, had to develop such standards for reporting studies. Authors have to conduct a fairly comprehensive survey of what has been done previously on the topic, the issues that the study investigates have to be clear and how the results will or will not confirm expectations needs to be explicit, the methods have to be described in sufficient detail so independent researchers can reproduce the findings, the results have to be analyzed rigorously to ensure any conclusions are not due to fluke.

A new journal called Stammering Research has been started in the UK that has sought to, on the one hand, maintain these scientific standards and, on the other, attempted to involve wider groups of people interested in the implications of research into stuttering. Stammering Research is intended to offer wider access to science by making extensive use of the internet and by adopting a peer commentary process for articles that can involve a broad range of people.

The internet allows rapid publication of articles and has the potential for making extensive data sets available relatively cheaply. Client confidentiality and data protection are potential stumbling blocks. But we find that (for instance) ethics committees and participants in our studies are keen to make their details available if the information can help others (these have to conform to anonymity criteria to meet legal data protection requirements).

Three formats have been adopted. One is where a target article is published along with commentaries by a wide range of people and then response by the author to the commentaries. We have published commentaries by speakers who stutter who have, for instance, discussed the long term use and effectiveness of the Edinburgh masker (a prosthetic device that alleviates stuttering).

The second involves publication of data that are costly, rare and, generally speaking, hard to collect. My own team has published some of our longitudinal data that are well-recorded, documented and can be used by others for testing specific hypotheses. You can access these for free through the pages of Stammering Research (visit http://www.speech.psychol.ucl.ac.uk). We have also provided the data so that they can be processed (for analyzing their characteristics or for use in perceptual or teaching work) in a variety of for-free software packages.

The third format has involved software that produces particular effects. So far this has been limited to prosthetic devices, but it is hoped this will be expanded in the future. Again, the requirement has been that this software has to be available for free (for a trial period at least).

The above introduction highlights the advantages in this form of publication. It was only possible after the internet was available. Editing and data release etc are done entirely voluntary and not for profit. It is unlikely that these could have been achieved before the internet or if this was a commercial venture.

The format and approach taken does have potential pitfalls. One concerns involvement of lay persons who stutter. Some authorities think that you have to have scientific training to make a significant commentary. Practical experience (as with the Edinburgh masker) and clinical experience how prosthetic devices are used have appeared in the pages of the journal and, if nothing else, provide information about technology transfer in this particular case.

It might be thought that some data and software lend themselves to publication in this format more readily than others and, consequently this has the drawback that it promotes these to the exclusion of others. Personally I do not think this is the case and hope to see longitudinal evidence collected using traditional therapeutic approaches (like those based on learning techniques) in the future.

There are many more issues about this initiative that ought to be discussed by pure researchers, speech pathologists and speakers who stutter. I hope that ISAD8 allows us the opportunity to open up and possibly resolve some of these.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2005.

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