The Downside of Sharing: Winter Bugs

Unfortunately, increasing numbers of us are experiencing this year’s particularly brutal seasonal flu (most frequently influenza A, subtype H3N2). The CDC’s latest FluView report and US map show that nearly all states have widespread outbreaks, and these reports don’t include the other winter illnesses that typically plague us, like the common cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

As we arm ourselves with flu shots, alcohol hand rub, tissues, and disinfecting wipes, these stats also remind us to please cover our mouths when coughing and sneezing, and to stay home if we feel even the mildest of sniffles coming on. Peak flu season is usually in January or February, and in the wake of this epidemic, we’d like to draw attention to our rapid-peer-review journal, PLOS Currents Influenza, which has an ongoing call for submissions in research related to the 2012-2013 seasonal influenza outbreak.

Now that you’ve triple-wiped down your keyboard, mouse, and phone, let’s have a look at some winter-illness-related research articles published in PLOS ONE within the past year.

Have you ever wondered why flu outbreaks always seem to occur during the winter months in the first place? A paper titled “Relationship between Humidity and Influenza A Viability in Droplets and Implications for Influenza’s Seasonality” may shed some light on the matter: listen to a featured podcast about this article in Scientific American, posted just last month. In this study, researchers investigated the relationship between humidity, a characteristic that can vary with temperature, and the viability and transmissibility of influenza A virus droplets. Researchers suspended the virus in different media and found that it didn’t survive as well when conditions were salty, or when the humidity was between 50 and 98%. However, the virus was extremely viable in mucus, and at conditions below 50% (dry) or above 98% (almost tropical), the virus was also quite viable and happy. The results of this research may explain why influenza outbreaks are prolific in both dry, cold weather as well as tropical environments.

For those of you that haven’t yet been convinced to run out and get a flu shot (cough, shown to be 60% effective, cough), you may be interested in a paper published last summer, showing that at least certain types of flu, like H1N1, may be transmitted before any clinical symptoms are noticeable. The study, “Transmission of a 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Influenza Virus Occurs before Fever Is Detected, in the Ferret Model,” finds that sick ferrets placed close to healthy ones could spread the flu by contact or droplet exposure a whole day before any clinical symptoms appeared. Interestingly, coughing and sneezing had less to do with transmission than did the viral concentration in the ferrets’ noses. Additionally, after day five or six of illness, viral transmission significantly decreased, supporting the idea that it may be safe to return to school or work after the worst of the illness has passed.

A recently published paper describes an investigation into the motivations behind Americans’ tendency to not get flu shots, a behavior that has been troubling and puzzling to both doctors and scientists alike. In “Behavioral Responses to Epidemics in an Online Experiment: Using Virtual Diseases to Study Human Behavior,” researchers created an “infectious disease outbreak” game in a virtual multiplayer online world to study how willing people were to protect themselves during epidemics. Players accumulated points depending on their health status and actions they took, but they needed to spend points to protect themselves and thereby reduce their chances of falling ill. Results indicated that a person was more willing to take self-protective action when the outbreak was severe, or when a prior experience with inaction had resulted in illness. Players were also more likely to take preventative measures if they were less costly, which indicated to researchers that decreasing the cost of the flu shot could ultimately decrease the overall prevalence of the disease.

These articles are just a tiny droplet in the bucket of influenza-related research published in PLOS ONE. Click here to read more research articles on one of the more common types of seasonal flu, the influenza A virus.

And, please stay safe and healthy in these remaining winter months!

Image credit:  the H3N2 virus, ID#13470, CDC


Yang W, Elankumaran S, Marr LC (2012) Relationship between Humidity and Influenza A Viability in Droplets and Implications for Influenza’s Seasonality. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46789. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046789

Roberts KL, Shelton H, Stilwell P, Barclay WS (2012) Transmission of a 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Influenza Virus Occurs before Fever Is Detected, in the Ferret Model. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43303. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043303

Chen F, Griffith A, Cottrell A, Wong Y-L (2013) Behavioral Responses to Epidemics in an Online Experiment: Using Virtual Diseases to Study Human Behavior. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52814. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052814

Open access innovations in the humanities and social sciences

The open access movement tends to talk a lot about sciences. Let’s applaud and recognize the many scholars and initiatives leading in open access in the humanities and social sciences.

The Directory of Open Access Journals lists 1,689 journals under the Social Sciences browse:

The Social Sciences Research Network is one of the largest and most active open access subject repositories:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy was an early innovator in the creation of a scholar-led open access encyclopedia and the development of the ongoing OA via creation of an endowment fund model (still promising, but as one might guess the financial crisis slowed this approach down a little):

The Public Knowledge Project, initiated by education researcher John Willinsky, created the Open Journal Systems used by about 15,000 journals around the world, about half of which are open access:

Open Humanities Press was an early innovator in open monographs publishing:

This is a very small list – humblest apologies to all of the other important initiatives and people that are missing here. Each and every one of these initiatives is worthy of our support.

This was originally posted to the GOAL open access list.

The Up-Goer Five Research Challenge

I thought this was silly at first, but after struggling to do it for my own research, I now think it can be a profound exercise that scientists should attempt before writing their NSF broader impact statements. Here’s the challenge: Explain your research using only the 1000 most common English words. Here’s a tool to keep you honest:  The idea was inspired by Randall Munroe’s wonderful Up Goer Five explanation of the Saturn V moon rocket.

And here’s my attempt:

The things we use every day are made of very tiny bits. When we put lots of those bits together we get matter. Matter changes how it acts when it gets hot or cold, or when you press on it. We want to know what happens when you get some of the matter hot. Do the bits of hot matter move to where the cold matter is? Does the hot matter touch the cold matter and make the cold matter hot? We use a computer to make pretend bits of matter. We use the computer to study how the hot matter makes cold matter hot.

The task is much harder than you think.   Here’s a collection curated by Patrick Donohue (a PhD candidate in lunar petrology right here at Notre Dame):  Common words, uncommon jobs

Was macht die Dissertationen-Online Diskussion in Deutschland?

Autor: Eberhard R. Hilf, Thomas Severiens

Veröffentlicht am: 2013-01-17

Wann hat man je wieder soviele zusammenhängende Zeit, Kompetenz und Energie für eine eigene wissenschaftliche Arbeit? Dissertationen sind potentiell besonders gehaltreiche, aktuelle, wissenschaftliche Arbeiten. Dissertationen, wie z.T. auch andere Examensarbeiten an Hochschulen sind Hochschul-eigen. Kopien der Arbeiten müssen zugänglich aufbewahrt und nachles- und nachprüfbar sein. Online lässt sich dies heute dank Open Access bequem realisieren.

Vor allem in den USA hat sich über das etablierte und umfassende Registry NDLTD eine lebhafte Diskussions-Szene zu allen Feinheiten und Besonderheiten des Open Access für Dissertationen gebildet: Fragen sind z.B.: Wie dürfen Korrekturen nachträglich eingebracht werden? Welche technischen Lösungen gibt es für nicht-textuelle Arbeiten? Wie wird die Langzeit-Lesbarkeit sichergestellt? Und es gibt immer rechtliche Fragen wie z.B. bei Teil-Publikation in einem Verlag oder die Verwendung geschützter Quellen.

In Deutschland bietet die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB) die (Langzeit-)Archivierung der Dissertationen an und dokumentiert das Archivgut und dessen Historie mit seinem XMetaDissPlusMetadatenformat.

Allerdings: die Zahl der neu registrierten Online Dissertationen in Deutschland stagniert seit 2004 und fällt sogar in den letzten Jahren wieder ab. Siehe das Diagramm “Entwicklung des Anteils der online Dissertationen ingesamt”.

Dies nicht etwa, weil andere Anbieter für die Langzeitarchivierung auf dem Markt erschienen sind oder weil die Anzahl der Dissertationen an den Hochschulen rückläufig ist. Vermutet werden muss vielmehr ein Informationsmangel im ganzen die Disserationen begleitenden Workflow, von den Promoventen über die Prüfungsausschüsse bis zu den Bibliothekaren der Hochschulen. Nur an wenigen Hochschulen gibt es noch Diss-online Beauftragte, die dann aktiv sich mit den Promotionsausschüssen der Fakultäten über die Subtilitäten verständigen und über die bequemen und effizienten Möglichkeiten einer Online-Dissertation informieren.

Wir, als Institute for Science Networking, hatten einst die Entwicklung von Online-Dissertationen und eines etablierten Diss-Online-Systems mit angestoßen; auch mit dem DFG-Projekt dissonline. Wir sehen inzwischen mit einem lachenden Auge die Etablierung der Langzeitarchivierung in der DNB und mit einem weinenden Auge die Abkopplung von der Praxis in den Fachbereichen, als Resultat einer “akademisch-organisatorischen Demenz”, der man durch einen bundesweiten Schub in Form einer Veranstaltungsreihe in den Fachbereichen leicht entgegenwirken könnte. Noch ist ausreichend Rest-Erinnerung vorhanden, um ein effizientes und umfassendes Dissertationen-Online-System ohne zu größeren Aufwand zu reaktivieren.

Sie sind an dieser Reaktivierung interessiert? Dann nehmen Sie doch mit uns Kontakt auf!

Weiterführende Quellen:

  1. FUSE Free US ETDs promoting Open Access to American graduate research
    Es gibt dort u.a. eine lebhafte Diskussion zu einem OA Portal to US Theses and Dissertations.
  2. Eine lebhafte Diskussion gibt es auch in ETD-L und das zentrale NDLTD Networked digital Library of Theses and Dissertations.
  3. Ein synoptisches Verzeichnis von immerhin 2 Millionen OA-Dissertationen findet sich in dem noch etwas fehlerbehafteten neuen Server
  4. Auch in Frankreich hat sich ein neues Portal gebildet.
  5. DFG-Projekt Dissertationen Online
  6. Electronic Theses and Dissertations Bibliography; Charles W. Bailey, Jr. Version
    6: 1/17/2012
  7. Weitere Open-Access Verzeichnisse: Digital/Print Books, Digital Bibliographies, Weblogs

Bemerkung: dieser Blog ist auch im Blog des Institute for Science Networking erschienen:
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