What Influences Voter Behavior?

The “worm” may be changing how voters vote (Figure 1. Davis et al.)

Although we’d like to believe that people determine how to vote based on relevant political issues, research has shown that countless subtle elements beyond just the candidate and party platform are at play in influencing voter decisions. In light of the upcoming election, let’s revisit some of this research published by PLOS ONE over the years that address some of these influences.

Impressions based on candidate age and gender, as well as subconscious judgments of competency, approachability and attractiveness, are likely to have played a role in informing voters’ choices as long as democracy has been practiced. Several studies have explored these notions. Among them, an investigation into the effects of voter and candidate gender on voting behavior, exploring voter biases toward older candidates in times of conflict and whether Democrats and Republicans can be identified as such by their facial appearance alone!

More recent developments in the media’s coverage of debates have incorporated social elements in broadcasting and may be biasing audiences in new ways. The “worm”, seen above, is one such innovation; this continuous response measure presents real time data from undecided voters in a streaming line presented during live coverage of a debate. The research of Davis et al. demonstrates how easily these innovations can sway the opinions of viewers and urges more investigation into the impacts of this and other social media additions to coverage of debates.

These and other studies show how many factors may be influencing our choices in elections. As the presidential election approaches in the United States, whatever determines your vote, we hope you all get to the polls on November 6th!


Citation: Chiao JY, Bowman NE, Gill H (2008) The Political Gender Gap: Gender Bias in Facial Inferences that Predict Voting Behavior. PLoS ONE 3(10): e3666. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003666

Citation: Spisak BR (2012) The General Age of Leadership: Older-Looking Presidential Candidates Win Elections during War. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36945. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036945

Citation: Rule NO, Ambady N (2010) Democrats and Republicans Can Be Differentiated from Their Faces. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8733. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008733

Citation: Davis CJ, Bowers JS, Memon A (2011) Social Influence in Televised Election Debates: A Potential Distortion of Democracy. PLoS ONE 6(3): e18154. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018154

Worth a Thousand Words

How many arrows are depicted in the photo above? How many can you find? One? Five?

The answer is 118.

In research published last week, researchers digitally compiled 118 different lithic points from the Patagonia region of South America. All samples date back to the Late Holocene period and — the researchers posit — were made using other arrows, spears, and points. The study examined the design of these points and aimed to determine whether they can be seen as working in a modular system comprised of the blade (e.g., the arrow) and the stem (e.g., the arrow shaft).

The image above is Figure 1 in the manuscript. And as you can see, the researchers labeled twenty-four parts, or “landmarks”, of the composite image. These points or landmarks helped in measuring the image’s shape, angles, and proportions.

To learn more about this image and read the full text of the study, click here.

Citation: González-José R, Charlin J (2012) Relative Importance of Modularity and Other Morphological Attributes on Different Types of Lithic Point Weapons: Assessing Functional Variations. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048009


Spiders, Birds, and Snakes, Oh my!

To continue our spooktacular posts this October, we bring you a study which may have some arachnophobes rethinking their next vacation destination.

The island of Guam is home to one of the densest spider communities in the Pacific.  In a recent study published with PLOS ONE, researchers investigated this region to discover how the demise of insectivorous birds inhabiting the island has affected one of the most widely feared creepy crawlers.

The downfall of Guam’s native insect-eating birds began in the 1940’s when the infamous brown tree snake was introduced.  To investigate the effects this loss had on the landscape, the authors of the recent paper analyzed the spider population on several Pacific islands.

The team compared the neighboring islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan, to Guam. These islands do not have any known snake populations, and also have similar native bird species to that of Guam.  The researchers were then able to assess whether the bird presence correlated with spider web numbers, in addition to what impact bird presence had per season.

What the authors found might send chills right down your spine: The spider web densities in Guam were 40 times higher than those of the other islands during the wet season. Guam had an average of 18.37 spider webs per 10 meters, as compared to the other islands, which only had 0.45 webs per 10 meters. In addition, the bird loss had even increased the web size for a certain spider species.

Whether you suffer from arachnophobia, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) or ornithophobia (fear of birds), I think we can all agree this is a terrifying case showing the effects the removal of an essential predator can have to a landscape.

Citation: Rogers H, Hille Ris Lambers J, Miller R, Tewksbury JJ (2012) ‘Natural experiment’ Demonstrates Top-Down Control of Spiders by Birds on a Landscape Level. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43446. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043446

Image Credit: Anders B on Flickr CC-by license

PLOS ONE News and Media Roundup

In August, PLOS ONE papers made the news for research on morality in infants, the first domesticated turkeys, the dangers of sea slug mating, and more!

Are we born with a moral compass? Researchers from the University of Otago began with this question in their study, “Social Evaluation or Simple Association? Simple Associations May Explain Moral Reasoning in Infants”. In it, they recreated the conditions of Hamlin et al.’s 2007 study and found evidence to suggest that infants may not be born with an innate moral knowledge. The study was covered by The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, CBS and The Smithsonian Magazine.

A group of researchers has uncovered evidence of the earliest known instance of domesticated turkeys. The skeletal remnants of the Mexican turkey, or Meleagris gallopavo, in Mayan territory has led to additional hypotheses on the turkey trade in the Late Preclassic era (300 BC–AD 100).  The study was reported on by Science NOW and Examiner.com.

Gentlemen, are you feeling stressed? If you are, there is new research to indicate that you are more likely than your stress-free male counterparts to find heavier woman attractive. This research also found that stressed men find a wider range of women’s body types attractive. Read more about this article on the BBC, The Huffington Post, CNN and TIME.

In a recent study, researchers examined the relationship between pupil dilation and self-reported sexual orientation. Over three hundred participants of different genders and sexual orientations were shown visual sexual stimuli while researchers recorded their physical responses. Their findings indicate that pupil dilation is a strong indicator of sexual orientation. The study was covered by the LA Times, ABC, and The Huffington Post.

New research on the mating habits of the hermaphroditic sea slug, specifically the Siphopteron quadrispinosum, has yielded rather explicit findings. When S. quadrispinosum mate, the slug performing the male role will first inject the female with its fluids before copulation can occur. To discover what effects this violence may have on mating behavior or egg count, researchers studied the sea slug at different mating rates. The image above is Figure 1 of the manuscript. Read more about this article on Wired, io9, and Scientific American.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLOS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

PLOS ONE News and Media Roundup

Lesions found on coral trout.

Last month, the media covered PLOS ONE papers on germs in airports, skin cancer in fish, a potentially life extending pill, and more!

Research by a team at MIT identified New York City’s JFK, Los Angeles’s LAX and Honolulu’s HNL as the nation’s airports most likely to influence the spread of a major pandemic in the first few days of an emerging disease. The team used geographical information, traffic structure and individual mobility patterns to model contagious disease dynamics through the air transportation network. The study was covered by NPR, CNN, and Wired.

A recent study comparing a hunter-gatherer population with a modern Western population found that daily energy expenditure between the two populations is not all that different; challenging the view that obesity in Western society is largely due to a lack of exercise.  This research may encourage shifting the focus of this debate to the importance of calorie consumption and was covered by The Atlantic, Mother Nature Network and the BBC.

Dark patches found on fish in the Great Barrier Reef have been identified as a deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma. “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” is the first published study of melanoma in a wild fish population but it is unlikely the problem is new. The Great Barrier Reef sits under the largest hole in the ozone, exposing fish populations there to high levels of UV radiation. The image above is Figure 1 of the manuscript. The study was covered by Science, LA Times and Scientific American.

Autistic children may benefit from getting a pet. According to this study by a French research team, children who received a pet around the age of five showed improved social skills, including increased ability to share with and comfort others, compared to autistic children who either grew up with a pet or never had one. US News, Fox and Time all covered this study.

Findings from the study “Randomized Polypill Crossover Trial in People Aged 50 and Over” suggest that people over fifty may benefit from taking a once daily “polypill” comprised of three blood pressure-lowering drugs and a cholesterol-lowering statin. Read more at CBS, Reuters and ABC.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLOS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

PLoS ONE News and Media Roundup

Sequence of rapid inversion behavior in a cockroach, gecko, and a robot prototype.

Last month, some PLoS ONE papers in the news included research on: Body odor, robot mimicry and more!

New research shows that our body odor changes as we age, and it might not be so bad. Read more at Scientific American, NPR and TIME .

Scientists have developed a robot capable of mimicking the cockroach and geckos ability to run off a ledge at full speed and swing under to safety. Read more about this article in The Los Angeles Times, NPR, Wired.

500 different types of bacteria have been identified in office workspaces around the country. The study shows that many of the same bacteria species exist in the workspaces of men and women, however the offices that women inhabit, contained on average, 10 to 20 % fewer of them. Read more at Scientific American, The New York Times  and The Washington Post .

Extreme exercise may be unhealthy for certain people according to a new study. Scientists suggest that genetics could dictate the kind of physical activity we do, and how much of it we’re doing. You can read more at TIME, and The New York Times Blog

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLoS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

Tweet for the sake of science

Social networking is a big deal, and not just for smart phone-addicted teens and reconnecting with long-lost friends. Twitter has grown into an incredibly useful way to disseminate information, and many reputable institutions, including PLoS and PLoS ONE, use it to share news and updates with thousands of people across the world.

Researchers are beginning to key into the movement too, not just as users, but also as active investigators of the dynamics and utility of these new technologies as they emerge and grow. One of the amazing effects of these social networking sites is the wealth of data they can provide, and now scientists are taking advantage of the huge amount of public content from sites like Twitter, Facebook, and even Wikipedia to answer all kinds of new questions.

For example, investigators showed that Twitter is a useful tool for tracking H1N1 here and here; that content disputes in Wikipedia reflect geopolitical instability; and that virtual social networks can create collective emotional states.

Today, we added to this growing body of work with a report of a Twitter-based “hedonometer” that can be used to quantify the societal happiness of large populations. The authors used an amazing library of 46 billion words from nearly 4.6 billion tweets posted over almost three years by over 63 million unique users – a collection that would have been essentially impossible to obtain without the Twitter-verse.

The paper reports various trends in happiness – people are happier on the weekend, and the word “Christmas” is associated with high happiness levels, as opposed to “flu” and “Iraq,” which rank at the bottom – but the real advancement of the paper is its quantitative approach to the huge Twitter-based dataset. While scientists now have access to these huge datasets, they must first face the challenge of classifying and organizing the huge amounts of social information so they can conduct meaningful research into areas that have not previously been explored.

Image courtesy of La Fabrique de Blogs

New Twitter Functionality on PLoS ONE

Recently, we added a nice new functionality to the PLoS ONE site. On the homepage, you will now see a ‘twitter’ widget in the right hand column (to the right of the “In the News” block). Whenever anyone issues a tweet with the words ‘PLoS ONE’ or ‘#PLoSONE’ in the text then their tweet will appear in the list here.

In addition, we also have the same functionality operating at the article level. The widget is able to display tweets about a particular article by looking for the article DOI appearing in an ‘unpacked’ URL. If there are no tweets for a particular article, it will not appear.

The paper, Inner Speech during Silent Reading Reflects the Reader’s Regional Accent, is a nice example of this widget in use.

We should point out that this handy widget has a few limitations.  For one, the widget isn’t able to store tweets for all eternity.  It will only be able to show recent tweets. Also, it isn’t connected to our Article Level Metrics …yet (we’re working on it though).

Otherwise, we think this widget will make a nice new addition to our site and will be a helpful way to see what our community is saying.

How deep social network “roots” help scientists communicate their research

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how social networks can specifically help scientists collaborate and spread their messages more effectively. Researchers like Heather Piwowar, Alistair Dove, and Jonathan Eisen have received recognition from fellow scientists and even the international press due to their savvy use of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and (more recently) Google+ when promoting themselves and their projects.

We’d like share with you their stories as examples of how three scientists at very different places in their careers use social networking tools to gain influence in their field.

Dr. Heather Piwowar (Postdoctoral Research Associate at Duke University, co-funded by DataONE, NESCent, and Dryad)


Courtesy of H. Piwowar

In the world of scientometrics, there are few young researchers these days making as many waves as Dr. Heather Piwowar. How do I know that? As a fellow junior researcher interested in scientometrics, I’ve found that there’s no better way to receive up-to-the-minute recommendations on interesting white papers, insider’s information on invitation-only conferences like #scifoo, and thought-provoking observations than by following Heather on two online services where I already spend a lot of time: Twitter and Google Reader.

What’s notable about Dr. Piwowar’s use of social media is that she very rarely indulges in self-promotion. Rather, she uses social media to engage other researchers: “Tweeting, blogging, friendfeeding, creating public Mendeley groups, etc. helps me find and be found by some of the most enthusiastic, engaged people in my area.  I learn what they think, what they are working on, and sometimes a bit about who they are.  They get to know me and what I do.  As a result, I do better work and my work gets more exposure.”

Piwowar also points out that social media, as an engagement and networking strategy, is strong in two areas where traditional forms of academic feedback are weak: timeliness and connecting far-flung researchers.

She notes, “Data finds data then people find people” is really true… when you start sharing information about your research passions and seeking other shared info relevant to your work, all of a sudden you find new groups of people who are about the same things you do.  Some of them turn into collaborators, and a few into friends.

Time well spent, no doubt about it.”

Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter | Mendeley

Dr. Alistair Dove (Senior Scientist at the Georgia Aquarium Research Center)

Courtesy of A. Dove

Dr. Alistair Dove, a Senior Scientist at Georgia Aquarium Research Center—the world’s largest aquarium—is what could be called a “trust agent,” imparting insights into his deep-sea research via Twitter and his blog, Deep Sea News, while engaging the public in science.

Dove explains, “If you have, say, a thousand followers on Twitter, that’s like talking to a large auditorium every time you tweet something about your science: a powerful tool indeed.  A direct line like that means the scientist can ensure that their science is accurately portrayed and that they have an opportunity to share with the public the personal passion that drives them to science in the first place.” A great side effect of all this communication with the public? If you do it well, recognition of your name and your contributions to research will increase among your colleagues, as well.

[Facebook and Twitter] are legitimate, powerful communication tools and scientific funding agencies want to see that you are considering them (and Apps, and Google Earth and all the other tools) as part of the plan for sharing science with the public.  Social media can help you get funded, help popularise your work, and help educate, entertain and inform the public, and I reckon that’s what it’s all about.

Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter

Dr. Jonathan Eisen

I believe in making it easy for people to find information and stories and such.


Courtesy of J. Eisen

Evolutionary biologist, microbiologist, and genomics researcher Dr. Jonathan Eisen prefers using social media to the traditional press release.  Eisen, a professor at the University of California, Davis explains how he went about garnering attention for his manuscript, Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees, using his social networks.

Eisen explains, “I emailed the paper to a few contacts who are reporters (Carl Zimmer, for example) and told them I would be posting more information about the story behind the paper on my blog.  Then I wrote the detailed background story on my blog and when the paper came out of its embargo, I made the blog post live and then emailed a bunch of people the link to the paper and the blog post.”

He continues, “I posted these links to Facebook and twitter and my blog too — and since I have been working to build up my social networks for many years this at least got the message out to a few people.   One of those fortunately was PZ Myers, who writes the Pharyngula blog, and he posted a little discussion of how I had avoided a press release and that generated enormous web attention.  This, along with the article in the Scientist and on Carl Zimmer’s blog, was enough to get some attention around the web.  I think this helped convince others to write about it, including The Economist, which wrote a story for their online and print editions.”

Eisen’s experience shows that having a well-cultivated and engaged circle of social media friends and followers can help expand the impact of your work, even if you don’t follow traditional routes to publicize it.

Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter | Mendeley

If you are interested in learning more about how to collaborate and spread your own scientific messages using social media, check out the following links:

PLoS ONE’s Media Tracking Project

Everyday we find PLoS ONE papers in the news. Whether it’s a science blogger in the United Kingdom, an online newspaper in China, or a national news channel in the United States, we see a lot of media coverage on our research articles.  In an effort to better track the coverage these papers receive, we’ve begun a Media Tracking Project.

The aim of this project is to collect all pertinent news articles from legitimate media outlets and research blogs covering PLoS ONE articles. So, how does it work? From now on, we’ll attempt to bookmark relevant news articles and blog posts about PLoS ONE articles using Diigo (a collaborative research and social content site). If you would like to see the articles we’ve collected so far, check out our library. On a weekly basis, we’ll collate these bookmarks and list the relevant media coverage in the commenting section of each research article. An example of the media coverage comment can be found on the article: Scientists Want More Children.

We recognize that – despite our best efforts to track media coverage – we will inevitably miss some (and we will not aim to exhaustively list all sources which simply re-print a standard release for any given article).  So, we would encourage you to participate as well.  If you read, write, see or hear media coverage on a PLoS ONE article, please don’t hesitate to link to it in the comments section of the paper. Our suggested format is as follows:


Title of article:


For an excellent example of  an author documenting media coverage, take a look at the article, Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees. Jonathan Eisen, one of the authors of this manuscript,  has meticulously posted links to media coverage in the comments section of his paper.  We appreciate his involvement and encourage authors to follow his lead.

In the meantime, we’ll still post PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Ups of the most widely covered articles on a regular basis.