I Know What You Think: Collective Intelligence in Online Communication

Have you ever wondered what factors may shape the interactions we have in online chatrooms? With the advent of the Internet 20+ years ago, the ways in which we communicate have drastically changed, allowing us to easily interact nonverbally or … Continue reading »

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Small Talk: When Bacterial Chatter Gets Invasive

Sticks and stones may break our bones but microbes’ “words” may hurt us. Breast cancer is a threat to men and women worldwide. Like all cancers, the known causes are attributed to genetics and carcinogens, but recently, scientists have begun … Continue reading »

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Warming in Our Winter Wonderland: The Role of Ice in Penguin, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull Survival

As winter grips the Northern Hemisphere tightly, many of us are happy to retreat to the comfort of our warm homes. But for some animals, this season plays a vital role in the formation of something necessary for their survival, … Continue reading »

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Fossilized Footprints Lead Scientists Down a Prehistoric Path

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Whether tromping alone or running in a pack, all prehistoric creatures got around somehow. Paleontologists can use fossilized bones to learn more about what dinosaurs ate, what they looked like, and even how they might have moved, but bones are … Continue reading »

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You Live in What Kind of Home? A-nem-mo-ne-men… me-ne-mo-nee!

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Clownfish Find Refuge among the Toxic Tentacles of Sea Anemones As we’ve seen in the movies, the world is a dangerous place for a clownfish far away from home. This is all the more reason to ensure that their homes … Continue reading »

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Going PRO – clinical trials must plan to capture patient-reported outcomes

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Post authored by David Moher All participants in research are important. What patients in clinical trials tell us about treatments – patient-reported outcomes (PROs) such as quality of life and symptoms – is being used more and more to improve … Continue reading »

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PLOS ONE Publishes its 100,000th Article

PLOS ONE publishes its 100,000th article – a pretty major milestone for a journal that has seen its fair share of momentous events, and a perfect opportunity to reflect on this journey.

 PLOS ONE began seven and a half years ago. On the day of its launch – as has become the legend in the PLOS offices – there was an earthquake in the Bay Area, heralding the tremors that would be felt through the science world as a result of the disruptive innovation underway. PLOS ONE was an aspirational idea for PLOS from the very beginning: our founders always intended to launch a multi-disciplinary, broad-acceptance journal that would shake off the vestiges of the print tradition – no limits to the scope of research, number of pages, or potential growth.

And grow it did. After two years PLOS ONE had published over 4,000 articles, by four years it was the largest journal in the world, and now seven years after launch has published 100,000 articles. The revolutionary model of PLOS ONE has been emulated the world over: virtually every publisher now has its own equivalent “megajournal.”

PLOS ONE is now a major force in the scientific literature. The top 2% PLOS ONE papers (by number of views) have been collectively viewed nearly 39 million times, cited on Scopus over 80,000 times, bookmarked by Mendeley readers over 150,000 times, tweeted over 59,000 times, cited 2,800 times on Wikipedia, and recommended over 300 times on F1000 Prime.

The enduring value of PLOS ONE to the scientific process lies in the solid union between the three following factors: speed to publication, high standards of science, and unrestricted scope of research.

Speed to publication:

Faster time to publication was the founding principle of PLOS ONE. It doesn’t just entail going from submission to publication more quickly (although that is also important). It means dramatically reducing the time from an author’s decision to publish their findings to the time those results appear in public. That time is often years in the old system of review, where subjective opinions of significance and scope lead to unnecessary rejections and resubmission to different journals. With PLOS ONE, where scientific rigor alone is assessed, this time window shortens to a few months.

High standards:

PLOS ONE instituted rigorous standards from the start. As the volume exponentially increased and the quality of the submissions became more variable, these checks became more important and more rigorous. For every paper the journal staff (over 100 strong, including 14 editors) now check each of the following before a manuscript is sent for review:

  • Competing interests
  • Financial disclosures
  • Quality of English language
  • Ethical approval for animal experiments
  • IRB approval for human experiments
  • Protocols and CONSORT for clinical trials
  • PRISMA for systematic reviews and meta-analyses
  • Cell line provenance
  • Field sample provenance
  • Humane endpoints in animal studies
  • Data availability
  • Plagiarism

The care that we take in reporting and oversight is rooted in PLOS’ commitment to this editorial responsibility.

Because of these checks, every PLOS ONE citation on a researcher’s CV shows that their work has reached high standards of reporting and oversight – something that matters a great deal to funders and institutions as the need for reproducibility becomes increasingly a part of their overall mission. This is an area where we feel journals can take a lead: high standards of reporting are the best way for the scientific community to regain the trust of the public and politicians in the wake of the recent spate of failures in replicating high-profile discoveries.

Unrestricted scope:

So many of the delays in sharing results are a result of journals putting unnecessary restrictions on the scope of the research they are willing to publish. Journals often withhold the release of negative findings because they are likely to be cited less, and will therefore lower their impact factor. Or they exclude papers purely due to the application of disciplinary boundaries. In this digital age, with no space restrictions on what can be published, such artificial limits only impede the flow of information. At PLOS ONE, we have thrown out these notions and will consider vital research across all subject areas (even seemingly strange and multi-disciplinary).

A heartfelt 100k thank you

The impact of PLOS ONE on scientific publishing has been tremendous and revolutionary. The world of scientific communication is a different place because of it, and that is something PLOS and its entire community of collaborators should be proud of.

The extraordinary PLOS ONE Editorial Board, reviewers and authors – who believed in the PLOS mission to accelerate research communication and gave their own time to review, edit and revise manuscripts – were critical to this transformation and share in this milestone. To each and every one of them PLOS ONE is eternally grateful.

So here’s to the 100,000th PLOS ONE article. Though thrilled to have reached this milestone, we are even more excited to see where the next 100,000 will lead.

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Music, Language, and the Brain: Are You Experienced?

Have you ever thought about everything that goes into playing music or speaking two languages? Musicians for example need to listen to themselves and others as they play, use this sensory information to call up learned actions, decide what is important and what isn’t for this specific moment, continuously integrate these decisions into their playing, and sync up with the players around them. Likewise, someone who is bilingual must decide based on context which language to use, and since both languages will be fairly automatic, suppress one while recalling and speaking the other, all while continuously modifying their behavior based on their interactions with another listener/speaker. All of this must happen quickly enough for the conversation or song to flow and sound natural and coherent. It sounds exhausting, yet it all happens in milliseconds!

Playing music or speaking two languages are challenging experiences and complex tasks for our brains. Past research has shown that learning to play music or speak a second language can improve brain function, but it is not known exactly how this happens. Psychology researchers in a recent PLOS ONE article examined how being either a musician or a bilingual changed the way the brain functions. Although we sometimes think of music as a universal language, their results indicate that the two experiences enhance brain function in different ways.

heat map

One way to test changes in brain function is by using Event Related Potentials (ERPs). ERPs are electrical signals (brain waves) our brains give off immediately after receiving a stimulus from the outside world. They occur in fairly predictable patterns with slight variations depending on the individual brain. These variations, visualized in the figure above with the darkest red and blue areas showing the most intense electrical signals, can clue researchers into how brain function differs between individuals and groups, in this case musicians and bilinguals.

The ERP experiment performed here consisted of a go/nogo task that is frequently used to study brain activity when it is actively suppressing a specific behavior, also called inhibition. In this study, the authors asked research participants to sit in front of a computer while simple shapes appeared on screen, and they were to press a key when the shape was white—the most common-colored shape in the task—but not when purple, the least frequent color in the task. In other words, they responded to some stimuli (go) and inhibited their response to others (nogo). This is a similar task to playing music or speaking a second language because the brain has to identify relevant external sensory information, call on a set of learned rules about that information, and make a choice about what action to take.

 waves

The authors combined and compared correct responses to each stimulus type in control (non-musician, non-bilingual) groups, musician groups, and bilingual groups. The figure above compares the brainwaves of different groups over time using stimulus related brainwave components called N2, P2, and LP. As can be seen above, these peaks and valleys were significantly different between the groups in the nogo instances. The N2 wave is associated with the brain’s initial recognition of the meaning or significance of the stimulus and was strongest in the bilingual group. The P2 on the other hand, is associated with the early stages of putting a stimulus into a meaningful context as it relates to an associated behavior, and was strongest in the musician group. Finally, the authors note a wave called LP wave, which showed a prolonged monitoring response in the bilingual group. The authors believe this may mean bilinguals take more time to make sure their initial reaction is correct.

In other words, given a task that involved identifying a specific target and subsequently responding or not responding based on learned rules, these results suggest that musicians’ brains may be better at quickly assigning context and an appropriate response to information because they have a lot of practice turning visual and auditory stimuli into motor responses. Bilinguals, on the other hand, show a strong activation response to stimuli along with prolonged regulation of competing behaviors, likely because of their experience with suppressing the less relevant language in any given situation. Therefore, despite both musicianship and bilingual experiences improving brain function relative to controls, the aspects of brain function they improve are different. As games and activities for the purpose of “brain training” become popular, the researchers hope this work will help with testing the effectiveness of brain training.

Citation: Moreno S, Wodniecka Z, Tays W, Alain C, Bialystok E (2014) Inhibitory Control in Bilinguals and Musicians: Event Related Potential (ERP) Evidence for Experience-Specific Effects. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94169. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094169 

Images are Figures 1 and 2 from the article.

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Signs of Change: Regional and Generational Variants in British Sign Language

British Sign Language chart

British Sign Language chart

As societies change,so too do its languages. In the English-speaking world, we often make note ofchanges in language by recognizing the rise of new words, like “selfie,” and the repurposing of familiar words, such as “because.” It may not be a surprise, then, to learn that this “evolution” isn’t limited to the spoken word: sign languages can also change over time. In a recent PLOS ONE study, scientists examined regional variations within British Sign Language (BSL), and found evidence that the language is evolving and moving away from regional variation.

To assist in this undertaking, the authors used data collected and recorded for the British Sign Language Corpus Project. About 250 participants took part in the project, recruited from eight regions in the UK. In addition to hailing from different parts of the country, participants came from various social, familial, and educational backgrounds.

When the first deaf schools were established across the UK in 1760, there was little standardization in signing conventions. Consequently, depending on the school you were attending, schools sometimes taughtpupils to use different signs to convey the same concepts or words. The authors posit that this lack of standardization may be the basis for today’s regionalism in BSL.

The participants were given visual stimuli, such as colors or numbers, and then asked to provide the corresponding sign, one that they would normally use in conversation. The researchers also recorded participants engaging in unscripted conversations, a more formal interview, and in the delivery of a personal narrative,all of which were incorporated into the authors’ study and analyzed.

Example of the stimuli shown to participants.

Example of the stimuli shown to participants.

In their analysis, researchers focused on four concepts: UK place names, numbers, colors, and countries. The participants’ responses to the visual stimuli were compared to with their recorded conversation to control for any confounding variables, or unforeseen social pressure to sign in a particular way. The responses were also coded as being either “traditional” or “non-traditional” according to the regional signing conventions.

Results indicated that age may play a role in whether a participant uses traditional or non-traditional signs.Particularly when signing for countries, about half the responses given by younger participants were non-traditional signs. In addition, some participants—young and old—explained that they changed the country sign they used as they grew older. The researchers posit that this may be due to changing definitions of political correctness, in which older, more traditional signs are now perceived to be politically incorrect.

The authors also found that age may also play an important role in the participant’s use of color and number signs. As was the case for signing countries, younger participants were more likely to use non-traditional signs, and older participants more likely to use traditional signs. The researchers noted that younger participants using signs non-traditional to their region seemed to be adopting signing conventions from southern parts of the country, such as London, or from multiple regions. In other cases, younger participants responded by signing the first letter of the word, such as ‘p’ for purple. The authors attribute this generational shift to the participants’ increased exposure to different signing conventions, ushered in by technological developments, such as the Internet, and increased opportunities for travel.

Changing social norms, technologies, and opportunities—these are no strangers to us by now. As the world changes, so too do the ways in which we communicate, verbally and physically.

 

Citation:Stamp R, Schembri A, Fenlon J, Rentelis R, Woll B, et al. (2014) Lexical Variation and Change in British Sign Language. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94053. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094053

Image 1: British Sign Language chart by Cowplopmorris, Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: Figure 3 from article

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