Editor Spotlight: Camelia Delcea

In this latest installment of our Editor Spotlight series, we speak with Academic Editor Camelia Delcea from the Bucharest University of Economic Studies. Dr Delcea tells us about her experience with the PLOS ONE Editorial Board, her experience of using openly available data to validate results, and how her research on the boarding of airplanes changed when new variables related to infection control were included.

Camelia Delcea received the Ph.D. degree in economic cybernetics and statistics from the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Bucharest, Romania. She is currently with the Economic Cybernetics and Informatics Department, Bucharest University of Economic Studies. Her research interests include agent-based modeling, operations research (optimizing the airplane boarding methods and improving the evacuation process), grey systems theory, artificial intelligence systems, companies’ financial and non-financial analysis, risk management, nonlinear and dynamic systems, consumer’s behavior, online social networks, and sentiment analysis. Dr. Delcea is an Active Member of the Grey Uncertainty Analysis Association. She received 19 international and national awards, including the Best Paper Award, the Georgescu Roegen for Excellent Scientific Research Award, the Excellent Paper Award, and the Top Reviewer Award. She was invited to deliver a keynote speech on grey systems themes at the IEEE GSIS Conference, in 2013, 2016, and 2017; and the GSUA Conference, in 2018.

PLOS: What do you enjoy most about being an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE? What are some of the challenges?

CD: First and foremost, it is a tremendous honor to have been appointed as an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE, considering the journal’s international reputation and the esteemed researchers who have published within its pages. Additionally, the journal provides an excellent platform for connecting with fellow researchers from different disciplines, enriching one’s knowledge and abilities within a scholarly community.

The interaction with Senior Editors, both on the platform and beyond, is invaluable as it offers constant support whenever needed. Serving on the Editorial Board exposes me to a wide array of research topics and methodologies, granting me a broader perspective on scientific trends. It also compels me to stay updated with the latest advancements in various fields, fostering professional growth. Participating in the review process gives me a profound sense of contributing to scientific progress by promoting rigorous research through a fair peer review system.

However, challenges do exist. Time management can be an issue, especially during periods of increased submission loads and when other professional and personal commitments demand attention. Finding sufficient time to thoroughly evaluate each article and provide constructive feedback can be challenging during such periods.

Overall, the rewards of being an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE far outweigh the time management challenge, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the journal’s mission of advancing scientific knowledge.

PLOS: How important are open science practices in your field? Do you have experience of reusing data or code that has been published openly, or other researchers building on your own work when you have shared things like code or data?

I believe that open science practices hold immense significance in my field. Access to data, code, and research findings can foster advancements across various disciplines, cultivating a more inclusive scientific community and driving innovation.

Personally, I have experienced the benefits of open science in both replicating and validating different aspects of my research over time. Utilizing openly available resources has facilitated efficient comparisons with results obtained from similar studies. By starting from validated results acknowledged by the scientific community and building upon the work of respected researchers, it instills a sense of belonging to a research community and accelerates the pace of research.

Regarding my own research, whenever the opportunity arises, I have made a conscious effort to openly share code and data to the greatest extent possible. I strongly believe that open science practices play a pivotal role in every scientific endeavor, fostering collaboration and advancing scientific knowledge.

PLOS: You’ve worked on the safe boarding of airplanes during the Covid-19 pandemic. What surprised you about modeling and understanding these real-life scenarios?

Working on airplane boarding methods in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges, primarily due to the diverse restrictions imposed by different countries, territories, and airlines. There has been a race against time to offer the best safety solutions to passengers. Prior to the pandemic, our focus was mainly on cost reduction and increasing passenger satisfaction. These aspects were measured through conventional indicators such as boarding time and the number of interferences. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a shift, emphasizing the crucial need for adaptability in a global effort to address a real-life global crisis. In this context, new indicators were required to measure safety during the boarding process.

Surprisingly, some of the boarding methods that worked well in non-pandemic situations proved less effective from a safety perspective, underscoring the importance of adhering to specific rules that were previously overlooked. This realization highlights the significance of following strict protocols during boarding to ensure the safety of passengers, which has been partly overlooked in the past.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from working in this field during the pandemic is the importance of collaboration with experts in the field. It has been a transformative experience, shifting our focus to prioritize the safety of passengers in the face of a global crisis.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post Editor Spotlight: Camelia Delcea appeared first on EveryONE.

One year on the PLOS ONE Editorial Board: Pierluigi Vellucci

In this interview, we check in with Pierluigi Vellucci, who joined the PLOS ONE Editorial Board a year ago this week. Dr Vellucci discusses his motivations for becoming involved with PLOS ONE, the transformative agreements leading to greater adoption of Open Access publishing, and the versatility of agent-based modeling.

Pierluigi Vellucci is a researcher in Mathematical Methods of Economics, Finance and Actuarial Sciences at the Department of Economics of Roma Tre University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Mathematical Models for Engineering, Electromagnetism, and Nanoscience in 2017 at La Sapienza University of Rome. His most recent research interests include multi-agent systems for the study of public opinion formation and methods of representation theory (frames, Gabor systems, and wavelets) for the analysis of financial series. He has been a visiting professor at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Florida International University (Miami), and has authored over 40 scientific publications.

My website: https://pierluigivellucci.com/

My Twitter account: https://twitter.com/PierluigiVellu1

My LinkedIn account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pierluigi-vellucci-ba9100a0/

My Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/PierluigiVellucci/

PLOS: Congratulations to one year on the PLOS ONE Editorial Board. What have you learned in the past year about ensuring a fair and thorough review process?

PV: Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on my experience as a member of the PLOS ONE Editorial Board over the past year. Joining the board was a decision I made after carefully reviewing several articles as a peer reviewer. I am a strong advocate for open access and I believe that PLOS ONE is one of the pioneers of open science. So, why not join PLOS ONE and contribute to improving open-access science?

I have been amazed by the central role that peer review plays in the advancement of science. Editors and reviewers act as guardians of science. Being involved in the work of the Editorial Board is a way to be part of this process, and both an honour and a responsibility. Furthermore, from my point of view, it is an opportunity to promote the use of mathematical formalism where possible to analyse and solve complex problems arising from the social sciences.

I have been delighted to be part of the PLOS ONE Editorial Board due to the journal’s emphasis on the technical quality of scientific articles rather than their perceived ‘impact.’ I believe that a reputable open access scientific journal will help people gain a better understanding of the social problems I am addressing through mathematical modeling.

PLOS: You have published a lot of your research on preprints and/or Open Access? What first motivated you to do this? What continues to motivate you to do so?

PV: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my experience with publishing research on preprints and/or open-access platforms. I have indeed published a significant portion of my research on these platforms, not only journals that are entirely open access but also those that are not but which offer this possibility after acceptance of the paper, thanks in part to transformative agreements signed by the university I am affiliated with (Roma Tre University), in which the costs covered by the institutions not only ensure read access to scientific journals but also include those for open access publication (article processing charges) by affiliated authors.

High impact, equitable access, and rapid turnaround – are the driving factors for me.

Open access is crucial for providing equitable and unrestricted access to high-quality scientific knowledge. PLOS ONE has been at the forefront of the open science movement, enabling free and fair access to cutting-edge research. However, it is essential to maintain high standards, as some open-access journals continue to publish manuscripts of questionable value.

I view Open Access options as an important part of the future of scholarly publishing. It ensures access to information for students and researchers who might not otherwise have the means to obtain it. From this point of view, I think that to reduce inequalities, we must encourage open access.

PLOS: Your research touches upon many different applications, from decision-making to prices of oil and metals. What is it about Agent-Based Models that allow us to model so many different phenomena?

PV: Agent-based modeling is a simulation approach that focuses on the behavior and interactions of individual entities, called agents, within a larger system. Agents can be individuals, organizations, or even abstract entities. The behavior and decision-making processes of agents are typically modeled based on simple rules and heuristics, allowing for the emergence of system-level behaviors. Agent-based models simulate the interactions and dynamics among agents over time in order to understand the patterns and outcomes that emerge from their collective behavior.

Agent-based models often do not assume perfect rationality or complete knowledge on the part of the agents and can capture a wide range of behaviors and interactions.

For example, I can think of a recent published work with my friend and colleague Elisa Iacomini (a researcher at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Ferrara), where we hypothesized that a certain type of agent acts contrary (regardless) to the strategy followed by a certain social group, a subgroup of the whole society. Our article represents a virtual experiment, as we defined mathematical laws that agents must follow and conducted numerical simulations. We then compared the simulation results with numerical evidence from real data (specifically, Twitter data in our case). Our work is empirical and preliminary in nature, aimed at understanding which direction to take for future research. There are examples where the predictive value of these models has shown its effectiveness. I would like to mention the models introduced by physicist Serge Galam, widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of sociophysics. His predictions regarding the outcomes of various political elections, such as Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, have made him an internationally renowned figure. However, that is not the central point. In my opinion, agent-based models should not compete with other models, such as machine learning, in an attempt to determine who is better at predicting the future. The power of agent-based models lies in their ability to explain the emergence of social phenomena through the use of simple assumptions about society. In a way, similar to the approach of physicists creating theories to explain the workings of the universe, agent-based models allow for the creation of a theory to understand the functioning of society.

Stay tuned for more content within computer science, mathematics and complex systems at EveryONE over the next few weeks. If you are at the NetSci2023 conference this week, don’t forget to check in with our Senior Editor Hugh Cowley, or to catch talks by many of our Editorial Board members and Guest Editors, including Renaud Lambiotte, Mirta Galesic, Marta Sales-Pardo, Hocine Cherifi, Alberto Aleta, Ceyhun Eksin, Dion O’Neale, Luis M. Rocha, Fabio Saracco, Petter Holme, Fragkiskos Papadopoulos and Tiago Peixoto.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post One year on the PLOS ONE Editorial Board: Pierluigi Vellucci appeared first on EveryONE.

How network science helps us understand the fundamentals of language

It is a busy time for the network sciences at PLOS. On June 20, we announced a new journal as an addition to our portfolio, PLOS Complex Systems. PLOS Complex Systems will be a community-led journal focused on research to understand the drivers and behaviors of complex systems, and will enable rapid dissemination of groundbreaking results, cross-fertilization of knowledge, and increased collaboration to address the fundamental questions that affect individuals and global societies. For more on this announcement, please see here.

In addition, PLOS will have a large presence at the NetSci2023 conference, 10-14 July. PLOS ONE Senior Editor Hugh Cowley will be in attendance, and is happy to meet with interested authors, reviewers and Editorial Board members. Attendees at this conference will have plenty of opportunities to hear talks by PLOS ONE Editorial Board members and Guest Editors, such as Renaud Lambiotte, Mirta Galesic, Marta Sales-Pardo, Hocine Cherifi, Alberto Aleta, Ceyhun Eksin, Dion O’Neale, Luis M. Rocha, Fabio Saracco, Petter Holme, Fragkiskos Papadopoulos and Tiago Peixoto.

In a paper published by PLOS ONE on June 23, 2023, Michael S. Vitevitch and Mary Sale of the University of Kansas explore whether or not languages may have a phonological “backbone” of words that would allow speakers to communicate with an essential number of words in many different situations. They found that the English language appears to have a kernel lexicon containing words that may be key to language development or rehabilitation, which they discovered using network simplification with phonological criteria. Below, we speak with Professor Vitevitch about the inspiration behind and outlook from this study.

Prof. Vitevitch’s research applies the mathematical tools of network science to language, and also examines various types of speech errors (including the tip of the tongue state) and auditory illusions (like the speech to song illusion). You can learn more about his research and obtain copies of his publications at his website: http://people.ku.edu/~mvitevit/

PLOS: Your study looks at the idea of a “phonological backbone”. What led to the idea that such a backbone would exist?

MV: Previous studies in my lab had identified “important” nodes in a network of phonological word-forms at the micro-level (i.e., identifying individual nodes that were “important”) and at the meso-level (i.e., identifying a subset of nodes that were “important”). When I read in PLOS ONE (Neal Z.P. (2022). Backbone: An R Package to Extract Network Backbones. PLOS ONE, 17 (5), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269137) about a new R package that would extract the backbone of a network to form a simplified sub-network of a more complex, denser network, I wondered if this technique could be used to identify “important” nodes at the macro-level in the phonological network (i.e., at the level of the whole network). We assumed that the nodes and connections that would “survive” the backbone extraction process would be those that were most “important” to the network. Previous studies had used other approaches—such as the most frequently occurring words in the language, or the words that are learned early in life—to identify an essential or kernel vocabulary, so we were really interested in seeing what a phonological criterion might produce.

PLOS: Were there any surprises about the features of the words that you found to constitute the backbone in this English lexicon?

MV: Our network was built by connecting words that sounded similar to each other by changing a sound, known as a phoneme, in one word to form another word. By adding, substituting, or deleting a phoneme in the word cat, you get the other words that would be connected in the network to cat, like at, scat, hat, cut, or can. That’s the only information encoded in the network. After extracting the backbone from the whole network of approximately 20,000 words we found that the approximately 6000 nodes and connections that “survived” tended to be short words, occurred often in the language, and were still connected in a way that allowed you to get from one node to another in the backbone very quickly. We were surprised to find that even though information like the frequency with which a word occurs in the language wasn’t directly encoded in the network, the backbone contained words that occurred often in the language. Such words are recognized and produced more quickly and accurately than words that occur less often in the language, and tend to be acquired earlier in life, so our simple phonological criterion yielded a kernel vocabulary that was comparable in size and content to kernel vocabularies that had been identified using other criteria. The fact that all of these different approaches converge on a kernel vocabulary comparable in size and content suggests that these words might be important for many aspects of language processing in humans and perhaps in machines as well.

PLOS: What first made you interested in applying the study of networks to language learning and cognition?

MV: Back in the early 2000’s I was teaching a graduate class on artificial neural networks (a different kind of network than the complex networks used in the present study), and I wanted a popular press book to use in the class to spark interest in the students before diving into the research papers that were heavier on mathematics. As I was preparing materials for the class, I read Barabási’s book Linked to see if it would be a suitable candidate for the popular press book for the class. I quickly realized that the book wasn’t about artificial neural networks (or what are often called deep-learning networks now), but I couldn’t put the book down because it kept making me think about a way to use this other type of network to map out the relationships among all the words in that part of memory known as the mental lexicon. Instead of just looking at a word and the words immediately around it that sounded similar, I now had a set of tools to see if words that were similar to a word a few steps away also might influence various language processes, such as the perception, production, or acquisition of words. Instead of the six-degrees of Kevin Bacon, think of the six degrees of the word ‘cat’. That led to a new direction in my research—looking at how the structure of the phonological network influences various language and cognitive processes—that I’ve been pursuing for the past decade and a half now.

PLOS: You made the data available for this study through OSF. What made you choose this way of sharing your data?

MV: My co-author and I liked that OSF is a third-party that is independent of any journal, university, or research institution, so we felt like this option would allow us to make our materials available to researchers regardless of what the future held (e.g., journal changing publishers, employment at another institution, retirement from the field, etc.). Hopefully, our materials will still be available and useful to researchers long after we are gone.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post How network science helps us understand the fundamentals of language appeared first on EveryONE.

An interview with PLOS ONE Geriatrics and Gerontology/Palliative Care Section Editor Professor Edison Vidal

PLOS ONE is holding a Call For Papers on Aging in Health and Disease to highlight the latest research in this field. We interviewed Professor Edison Vidal, PLOS ONE Geriatrics and Gerontology/Palliative Care Section Editor, to learn about his research in Geriatric Medicine, and to gain his perspective on the societal impact of aging research.

Section Editor Professor Edison Vidal

Professor Edison Vidal is an Associate Professor at the Geriatrics Division of Internal Medicine Department of Botucatu Medical School at São Paulo State University, and a Professor of Public Health and Clinical Research at the same institution. His main research focus is the “Health of Older Adults, Chronic Diseases and Palliative Care”. He holds a Medical degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and an MPH and PhD in Public Health from the State University of Campinas.

PLOS: You currently act as a Section Editor in Geriatrics and Gerontology for PLOS ONE, can you provide us with more information on this topic?

EV: I joined PLOS ONE as an academic editor at the end of 2019 and was invited to become Section Editor for Geriatrics and Gerontology in July 2021. I felt honored by that invitation, which I accepted hoping to gain more editorial experience and to get more involved with PLOS ONE. I feel grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the journal as a Section Editor.

PLOS: Can you tell us about any new and exciting projects you are currently working on, and what inspires you about your research?

EV: My team and I have been working on a number of interesting projects. One of them is a qualitative study where we are comparing the views of people living with dementia in the UK and Brazil on what a good death might look like in light of their diagnoses. In that project I have been enjoying the opportunity of working with a brilliant team of interdisciplinary researchers including nurses, an anthropologist, a psychiatrist, a speech therapist, and a psychologist. It is a gift to be trusted by study participants with their thoughts on such sensitive matters and to be able to analyze their words through a cross-cultural perspective enriched by the expertise of my colleagues from Brazil, the UK, and the Netherlands who are involved in this project. This has been one of those research experiences where we learn to see things through different lenses. It is part of the beauty of cross-cultural research: as you start to understand how people from other cultures see the world differently, the way you see the world changes a little bit and that can lead to both small and big changes.

We have also been studying other exciting and diversified subjects in the field of aging, including religiousness, shared decision making, and frailty, which is really a tiny example of the richness of the research opportunities in this area.

I feel inspired by many things. One inspiration involves “trying to see the invisible”. By that, I mean recognizing how some elements from the reality around us that remain hidden in plain sight influence behaviors and people’s health and illness trajectories. Here I’m thinking of things that we take for granted and/or don’t even have names for. For example, frailty has certainly been one of the most important research topics in the field of Geriatrics and Gerontology over the last two decades to such an extent that nowadays it is hardly possible to talk about aging without also talking about frailty. However, before 2001, when two important papers offering new and divergent perspectives on frailty were published, most studies on aging and healthcare professionals treating older adults saw older adults through a lens that classified them mostly in terms of their comorbidities and functional status. Research on frailty inspired by Fried’s Frailty Phenotype model allowed us the possibility of “seeing” how things such as slowness, decreased strength, weight loss, exhaustion and low physical activity could reflect a state of reduced physiologic reserve and influence health outcomes among older people. It is not that there weren’t previous studies showing that those factors in isolation were associated with worse clinical outcomes, but that overall, they remained relatively unnoticed in clinical practice. The emergence of the concept of frailty allowed healthcare professionals to see beyond comorbidity and functional status and recognize a new state of health that inaugurated novel possibilities of prevention and scientific investigation.

Indeed, most of my heroes in Geriatrics and Gerontology are people who saw problems that are still common among older adults and which were often perceived as unavoidable such as falls, delirium, and suffering and dared to try to change that picture.

Another major inspiration is the work of Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the palliative care movement, and who, when asked about what single medical advance would benefit most people, responded straightforwardly: “A universal drive to listen better to patients’ needs and goals”.

PLOS: What are the main challenges facing the multidisciplinary field of Geriatrics & Gerontology?

EV: There are several formidable challenges facing this field. They range from the increase in the number of people with dementia to ageism, multimorbidity and social inequities related to how people age around the world. Aging does not happen in the vacuum. It happens within complex cultural, social, economic and political contexts that are replete with interconnections with the health of individuals and populations.

I often think of population healthy aging as the enigma that the Sphinx from the legend is constantly asking our societies to decipher lest it will devour us. Individual healthy aging is not in itself an enigma anymore. The conundrum lies in how to change societies in ways that favor healthy aging. The good news is that if we are able to create a world that truly supports healthy aging, that world will be a better place not only for older people but for everyone else. For example, decreasing the future prevalence of dementia demands improving access to quality education early in life and the promotion of healthier lifestyles throughout life, which is good for children, adolescents, and young adults as well.

Communication also remains a major challenge in healthcare and one that is particularly fundamental in the care of older people. Short consultation times are often insufficient to address the complexities related to the care of older adults with several health problems. Reimbursement systems that reward high tech medical procedures and undervalue the time needed to properly listen to patients, negotiate goals of care and perform shared decisions add up to the challenge.

PLOS: How do you think Open Access can help with overcoming these challenges?

EV: Open access can help by facilitating the sharing of knowledge and research partnerships, both of which are essential to scientific progress. I believe that the famous African proverb below epitomizes the spirit of Open Access in science:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

PLOS: What major improvements in clinical decision making related to this topic have you seen during your clinical career?

EV: I believe that I only started learning how to listen to patients’ goals and needs after beginning to learn palliative care. Indeed, much of what has been written about the art and science of negotiating goals of care and advance care planning comes from palliative care research and textbooks. Importantly, the concept of advance care planning has undergone major changes over the last two decades, evolving from a process that aimed at making healthcare decisions in advance to preparing families and clinicians as well as possible to make real-time decisions in future situations where the patient is no longer able to participate in the shared decision-making process. Yet, I must agree with Dame Cicely Saunders that listening to patients’ goals and needs still remains a major challenge for healthcare professionals and systems. In that regard, I am particularly excited about Professor Mary Tinetti’s work with the Patient Priorities Care program, which has been advancing how to incorporate patients’ values into their day-to-day care.

PLOS: Other than your own research focus, what do you think is the most exciting area in aging research at the moment?

EV: I believe that the whole field of dementia research is one of the most exciting areas in the study of aging at this moment. On the one hand, it is likely that biomarker-guided treatments will become a reality in the future not so far away. On the other hand, new developments related to systems of care (e.g., integrating art therapy, access to admiral nurses, advance care planning, and early palliative care) may substantially contribute to improvements in the quality of life of that population.

PLOS: Why should researchers studying aging in health and disease submit to PLOS ONE?

EV: PLOS spearheaded the Open Science revolution and lives by its ideals as a nonprofit committed to the mission of accelerating progress in science and medicine by transforming research communication. PLOS ONE is a highly-respected international multidisciplinary journal that has transparent publication policies focusing on methodological rigor and which avoid subjective judgements regarding the intrinsic value of a manuscript.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS

The post An interview with PLOS ONE Geriatrics and Gerontology/Palliative Care Section Editor Professor Edison Vidal appeared first on EveryONE.

World Cancer Day – An interview with Professor Richard Martin discussing interdisciplinary cancer research

World Cancer Day, held every 4 February, is a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to raise awareness, improve education and catalyze action. This year’s theme is ‘Close the Care Gap: Uniting our voices and taking action’.

Each year, PLOS ONE publishes more than 1000 cancer-related research articles from authors across the globe. In celebration of this year’s theme, we interview PLOS ONE author Richard Martin, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Bristol and co-lead researcher of the Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme. We ask how Open Science can contribute to interdisciplinary cancer research and how engagement with patient communities has increased the impact of their research.

PLOS: You are co-lead Principal Investigator of a CRUK programme grant, the Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme (ICEP), can you tell us about the aims of this research programme?

RM: Many studies investigating cancer risk factors are observational and subject to bias. The aim of ICEP is to use biological data, primarily data on genetic variation and gene products including proteins or metabolites, along with novel statistical methods to provide high quality evidence on: the causes of cancer; factors influencing cancer progression; new ways to predict who will develop or die from cancers; and new ways to prevent cancer and its progression, including behavioral and therapeutic interventions. We are focusing on cancers that are common, present late or have poor survival rates. This knowledge will facilitate the development of new interventions to detect, diagnose and treat cancers earlier as well as targeting prevention measures to those most at risk. Patient and public involvement, communication and knowledge exchange is embedded in the programme – we seek input from a “User Reference Group” on all aspects of research study design, particularly on patient and public facing materials.

PLOS: Can you tell us about any exciting projects coming out of ICEP?

RM: Previous studies investigating the role of obesity in cancer risk using classical epidemiological methods have likely downplayed the role of obesity in cancer risk and progression. Our understanding of the major role of obesity and obesity-related mechanisms in cancer development is increasing thanks to the use of newer epidemiological methods such as Mendelian randomization, which suggests that the estimated cancer burden (e.g. 6% in the UK) associated with overweight and obesity may be substantially underestimated: the magnitude of the relative risk when using genetic markers of obesity is about twice as high for several cancers as opposed to a one-off measure of obesity (e.g. body mass index). Genetic data also suggest that obesity may have a causal role in other cancers not previously linked to adiposity, including lung cancer. We have previously published a study of metabolic factors and risk of histological types of lung cancer in PLOS ONE. Here, the Mendelian randomization study design enabled us to interrogate the role of metabolic conditions on lung cancer risk stratified by smoking status to reveal (at that time) novel evidence that genetic susceptibility to obesity influences lung cancer through behavioral effects on smoking patterns. We are now diving deeper into potential mechanisms linking obesity with cancer risk, focusing on the role of insulin and glucose.

PLOS: What are the main challenges facing the interdisciplinary field of cancer research? 

RM: Our work relies on successful collaboration between experts in epidemiology, biochemistry, clinical practice, engineering and many other disciplines. One major challenge in working across research disciplines is a mutual understanding of what is driving each discipline, their priorities, and also the barriers in understanding each other’s technical language. Epidemiologists (in general) are concerned with creating robust study designs within free-living populations – ensuring sufficient sample sizes for adequate study power, reducing biases and the relevance of research findings to human populations. This can sometimes conflict, for example, with a biochemist’s interest in uncovering mechanistic understanding, working within rigorously controlled experimental settings. From experience, I can confidently say that epidemiologists can quickly get lost in front of presentations describing biochemical pathways! One possible solution is joint training or placements across research disciplines from an early career stage, along with funders stating the need for this type of work.

PLOS: How do you think open science can help with overcoming these challenges? 

RM: Triangulation of research findings – using multiple datasets and methods, each with their own set of biases and limitations, to approach a research question – is critically important to enhance confidence in conclusions. This is because different methods leading to the same results give more confidence in the research findings. If papers and data are Open Access, this facilitates this process of triangulation. It is also vitally important to share ‘null’ findings so that attempts to investigate the mechanisms behind associations observed in populations can be appropriately prioritized.

PLOS: What major improvements in clinical decision making related to cancer have you seen during your career?

RM: In my area of interest (primary and secondary prevention), an important step has been the recognition of the need for randomized controlled trial evidence before introducing a new screening program. We added to the evidence on prostate cancer screening and in 2018 we published results from the Cluster Randomized Trial of PSA Testing for Prostate Cancer (CAP). In this trial primary care practices across the UK were randomized to a single PSA screening intervention or standard practice without screening. We found no meaningful difference in prostate cancer mortality after a median follow-up of 10 years, but did show in a linked trial a range of adverse effects related to biopsy and treatment.  Further, more men who had a one off PSA test were diagnosed with low risk prostate cancer that would probably not progress or need treatment – potentially causing unnecessary anxiety. Although longer-term follow-up is under way, these results indicate that the harms are likely to outweigh any potential benefits of screening for prostate cancer using a single PSA test, a conclusion that has been accepted by many policy making bodies around the world.

PLOS: Other than your own research focus, what do you think is the most exciting area in cancer research at the moment? 

RM: Although exciting progress has been made in the field of immunotherapy, the treatment of cancer is generally very expensive for the number of life years gained. There is huge benefit to be realized in understanding the mechanisms of cancer initiation and in improving early detection so that cancers with the potential to progress can be diagnosed and treated sooner, before they cause symptoms, and before they become difficult to treat. This is evidenced for example by the success of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in cervical cancer prevention, which will also be seen for other HPV related cancers and important advances in screening for esophageal, bowel and lung cancer. It would be great to see greater advances in behavioral interventions and policies designed to prevent cancer, and there are likely to be a wide range of ubiquitous carcinogens (e.g “everywhere and forever” chemicals, climate, water, infectious agents, indoor/outdoor air pollution, social stressors) that we are yet to fully understand.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

PLOS ONE is currently running a Call for Papers on Early Detection, Screening and Diagnosis of Cancer and invites submissions that report on recent advances in the early detection of cancer. We are also interested in exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted cancer early detection.

The post World Cancer Day – An interview with Professor Richard Martin discussing interdisciplinary cancer research appeared first on EveryONE.

An interview with José M. Riascos, our new Marine Ecology Section Editor

José M. Riascos is a professor of Marine Ecology at Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia and an associate researcher at the Corporation Center of Excellence in Marine Sciences (https://www.jmriascos.space/). His research interests include the dynamics of coastal ecosystems and their responses to the effects of human impacts and extreme weather conditions. Prof Riascos recently joined our Section Editorial board. In this blog post, we talk about his enthusiasm for open science, the sea and his motivations coming to this new role.

PLOS: You have recently become our new Section Editor for Marine Ecology. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role?

JMR: I love books -I used to go to the library sometimes just to smell them- and so I discovered journals and started to understand how they work. I was amazed at the central role that peer-review has played for the development of science -editors and reviewers act as gatekeepers of science. Being involved in peer-reviewing is both an honour and a responsibility, so when I was invited to become a section editor for marine ecology I had no doubts, it is an opportunity to promote the advance of ecology as a scientific discipline. The centuries long tradition of peer-review as a self-regulation mechanism talks about its pivotal role, but it is far from perfect. There are acknowledged biases and in a period of unprecedent anthropogenic global changes we need truly global editorial boards: the participation of scientists from lower-middle income countries (LMIC) has been conventionally scant, although they are in the frontline of major ecological challenges.  

PLOS: Being a marine ecologist from Colombia, what are, in your opinion, the unique challenges that scientists from LMIC face?

JMR: Many Colombian students starting their studies in ecology have the feeling that ecology and environmentalism are intertwined things. There is a famous piece, entitled the Ecological Science and the Human Predicament (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.282.5390.879c), authored by renowned ecologists, which basically called young ecologists to devote part of their professional lives to stemming the tide of environmental degradation and the associated losses of biodiversity and its ecological services, and to teaching the public about the importance of those losses. I think that this kind of approach is wrong and biased by beliefs of what is good or bad and I feel that ecologists from LMIC are more permeated by those ideas because biological diversity is higher there. We are increasingly seeing studies that seem only devoted to galvanizing a narrative of the destruction of nature, which when reconsidered by other scientists, often render contradictory results. These biases, soon or later, erode the credibility of ecological science –contradictions often benefit deniers. As ecologists, our primary mission is to establish and maintain a strong, value-free evidence base that is truthful for decision making and policy.

PLOS: What role can Open Science and PLOS ONE in particular play to help overcome these challenges?

JMR: We live in a world where commercialism is encroaching every human activity -including the development of science. Scientific publishing is now recognized as one of the most lucrative industries, which is not necessarily good news for science or the society. I like how PLOS arose as a response to pay-walled publishing to offer an alternative model for research communication underpinned by Open Science principles that research should be available and accessible to everyone without fees or other barriers (although the APC-model has its own challenges). That PLOS is a non-profit means these funds are reinvested in the journals themselves and initiatives that benefit the research community.

PLOS: What are, in your opinion, the most pressing issues in marine ecology that people should be aware about? But also, what are the most overlooked successes that give experts like you hope?

JMR: The rate and magnitude of changes are so fast and big that sometimes I feel that marine ecology is not progressing fast enough to face the more pressing challenges. Marine ecology, particularly in LMIC, is still dependent on conceptual subsidies from classical terrestrial ecology and is often too committed to scientific traditions.  For example, jellyfish (a highly diverse taxonomic group) are claimed to be proliferating as a response to human transformation of coastal habitats. To describe the life cycle, a basic knowledge to understand population dynamics of these pelagic animals, we still rely on old fashioned husbandry experiments of a few representative species. That sounds as if we would claim that we can understand how vertebrates would react to climate change by studying the life cycle of a few species confined in a zoo. For me, one of the more pressing issues in Marine Ecology is the need to integrate new observational technologies that collectively will permit an overview (i.e. the so-called “macroscope”) of the global problem of anthropogenic transformation of biodiversity. With scientists from LMIC having restricted access to most of those technologies, open science and open data is critical.  

PLOS: What advice would you give to a young scientist that would like to become a marine ecologist?

JMR: There is a proliferation of big data sets that is influencing the advance of many areas of biological research (satellite images, global observation networks, bio-loggers, environmental DNA, etc). I would recommend ecologists to train themselves and embrace this new focus on big data sets to address classic questions in ecology, particularly the problem of scale and pattern in ecology. Much in the same way microscopy changed the way we understand the world during the XVII century, a macroscopic view of life on Earth is going to change the way ecologists understand the world.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post An interview with José M. Riascos, our new Marine Ecology Section Editor appeared first on EveryONE.

Computer Science, Education, and Supply Chains: an Interview with PLOS ONE Academic Editor Sanaa Kaddoura

PLOS ONE is holding a Call For Papers on the topic of New Supply Chain Technologies to highlight the latest research in this field. We interviewed PLOS ONE Academic Editor Sanaa Kaddoura to learn about her research in this field and her perspectives on computer science education and the impact of this topic in wider society.

Photograph of PLOS ONE Academic Editor Sanaa Kaddoura
Academic Editor Sanaa Kaddoura

Dr. Sanaa Kaddoura holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Beirut Arab University, Lebanon. She is currently employed as an assistant professor of information security at the Department of Computing and Applied Technology, College of Technological Innovation, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates. She is also an assistant professor of business analytics for Master’s degree students in the UAE. She is a fellow of Higher Education Academy, Advance HE (FHEA) since 2019, which demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education. Furthermore, she has been a certified associate from Blackboard Academy since April 2021. In addition to her research interest in cybersecurity and Arabic NLP, she is actively doing research in higher education teaching and learning related to enhancing the quality of instructional delivery to facilitate students’ acquirement of skills and smooth transition to the workplace.

PLOS: Can you tell us a little about your career in science so far? How closely related is your research field to where you started out with your first degree?

SK: Currently, I am working in the education section as an assistant professor of computer science at Zayed University, UAE. Since I started my study of computer science, my career has gone through different stages. I worked as a programmer, technical support manager, and educator. After finishing my Ph.D., I decided to be an educator and researcher. Many other Ph.D. holders may decide to go into industry rather than educational institutions.

The computer science major is changing every day. Daily, new technologies, inventions, and algorithms bring new problems to solve and new research to investigate. Some research topics considered hot topics a few years ago are now considered mature and have less opportunity for research. This might be due to having the problem solved, or the problem has been made irrelevant due to technological changes. The computer science domain is exponentially changing. In previous research works we were required to create our own solution to problems; however, now, there is commercial software that can help us. This is taking the research in this domain to deeper and more advanced places.

From the jobs perspective, computer science is one of the fastest-growing professions in the global economy. One should keep learning new skills to compete in the job market and maintain position. Thus, computer scientists can’t keep doing the same activities they started with when they graduated. Unlike many other jobs in the market, computer science keeps moving people to a newer level with every new technology.

PLOS: What are you working on at the moment? What inspires you about your research and the things you get to do every day?

SK: The research project I started in September 2022, funded by Zayed University,  is about Arabic Natural Language understanding (NLU). NLU is a subtopic of natural language processing. It deals with a computer’s ability to comprehend and understand human language. NLU is considered an AI-hard problem due to the vast data required as training input to the algorithm. The solution to this problem has reached an advanced level in some languages, such as the English language. However, for the Arabic language, this problem still needs a lot of work to enable computers to comprehend Arabic text and voice accurately. The complexity of Arabic NLU is due to its complex syntactic structure, such as having a lot of irregular plural verbs. In addition to the problems in the formal Arabic language, the Arab world has a lot of dialects (spoken language). This makes NLU for the Arabic language more challenging, especially for speech recognition and chatbot applications. Moreover, the Arabic language still lacks the corpus data needed for such algorithms. Working on this problem requires computer scientists and Arabic language professionals to be involved to ensure accurate results.

As an  Arabic native speaker, I am enthusiastic about participating in the research efforts towards empowering the Arabic language in the new smart devices. It is essential to carry the Arabic language as an essential pillar in the 4th industrial revolution. We can improve machine translation systems, Arab robots, Arabic digital assistants, and others.

PLOS: A lot of your research has focused on the interface between computer science and education. Why is this topic so important, and how can computer science help us understand how to be better educators?

SK: No one can deny that computer science has become part of all other fields, especially education. Computer science contributes in many aspects to the teaching-learning process. Now, no educator can set up a class session without using interactive tools, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. All educators had to go online for their teaching/learning process to continue. To engage students in the classroom, educators are using online gaming platforms, for example. All these tools need computer scientists to create them. Computer science has become a major in demand.

Also, everyone must learn computer science, especially programming. It should be an essential subject in schools, just like math. There is a famous saying from Steve Jobs: “Everyone in this country should learn how to program because it teaches you how to think.” Programming teaches students logical thinking and provides them with problem-solving skills, such as learning how to break a problem into smaller chunks, solve each chunk, and then integrate them all into one complete solution.

Most occupations will soon require some familiarity with computer programming, and as technology develops, so will the skills needed for software engineering positions. In the coming years, computer science is expected to grow significantly. To sum up, a computer science major has become a core part of our life. No one can live without being part of it, either as a developer or a user.

PLOS: PLOS ONE currently has an open Call For Papers on New Supply Chain Technologies (https://collections.plos.org/call-for-papers/new-supply-chain-technologies/). How does machine learning and cybersecurity work in this field, and what open research questions do you foresee when it comes to the future of supply chains?

SK: Currently, machine learning is contributing as a tool for the prediction and classification of data for other domains. One of these domains is the supply chain. Machine learning can be used as a forecasting tool in the supply chain. A robust forecasting system in the supply chain allows a business to respond quickly, be prepared for any issues, and react quickly without disrupting the business. Another example of the power of machine learning in the supply chain is improving customer experience. A critical example of this area is the Amazon e-commerce website. Amazon employs machine learning to find the correlation between the customer and products for a better shopping experience for the customer.

The supply chain is similar to all other digitized domains in the 4th industrial revolution. It has cybersecurity issues that can disrupt its operations in the case of an attack, affecting the business’s revenue. The supply chain can be affected by ransomware, data breach, malware, and other attacks.

There is still a lot of research to be done in this area. The question is always: “what actions should be taken to secure a supply chain?” Although much research has been done in this area, this question will always be open because attackers are changing these attacking techniques and making the attacks more sophisticated. We are always in a race with attackers who want to disrupt business, gain money, and spread malware.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post Computer Science, Education, and Supply Chains: an Interview with PLOS ONE Academic Editor Sanaa Kaddoura appeared first on EveryONE.

An interview with Psychology Section Editor Andrew Kemp

PLOS ONE has published a Psychology Curated Collection to highlight the diversity of psychological research we publish. We interviewed Psychology Section Editor Andrew Kemp to learn about his research, his thoughts on the future of psychology, and the importance of open science.

Section Editor Andrew Kemp

Professor Andrew Kemp is a Professor of Psychology at Swansea University. His research areas include existential positive psychology, wellbeing science and climate psychology. Before taking up his current position, Professor Kemp worked at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the University of Sydney in Australia. His qualifications include a BA(Hons) in psychology from the University of Melbourne, a PhD in neuropsychopharmacology from Swinburne University of Technology, and a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Melbourne.

PLOS: Your early work was in emotion processing, and you have travelled—via anxiety, depression, and heart-rate variability—to wellbeing and climate psychology. Could you tell us a little bit about this journey, and how you became interested in these research areas?

AK: Fundamentally, my research focus has not changed, it remains and has always focused on emotion. For my PhD, I focused on the modulation of emotion by antidepressant medication, after which I began to explore the impacts of these medications on heart rate variability, a psychophysiological index of the capacity to regulate one’s emotion. More recently, I shifted my focus to wellbeing, a complex construct that includes hedonia (e.g., positive emotions) and eudaimonia (e.g., meaning and purpose in life) and I have begun to explore how we might facilitate wellbeing in a range of populations, including university students and people living with acquired brain injury in particular. This work has involved (re)connecting people to nature, which has obviously raised issues relating to the ethics of promoting wellbeing without also considering pro-environmental behaviours and the capacity for such behaviours to improve wellbeing. I am now very interested in the question of how to promote wellbeing during an era of climate catastrophe.

PLOS: You have held positions in universities on three continents. Do you think working in different countries has given you a broad perspective on science and collaboration? What have you learned that you may not have learned had you stayed in one place?

AK: Since my time as a PhD student, I have always been encouraged to extend myself with regards to the questions, methods and approaches I use in my research activities. In fact, when finalizing my PhD, research funders in Australia would not support applications for postdoctoral positions which involved working with our PhD supervisors. This also encouraged me to gain a wide range of experience working in different departments, institutions, and countries over nearly two decades. This background has certainly been influential in the way I now think about science and collaboration across disciplines to answer big questions.

PLOS: Can you tell us about any new and exciting projects you’re working on? What do you foresee as the next step in your research journey?

AK: I am now working on projects that involve thinking about how we might build wellbeing alongside hardship and suffering, focusing on people living with chronic conditions, with a particular focus on acquired brain injury (ABI). One of our papers published in PLOS ONE is  included in the curated collection. This paper explores the capacity for surf-based therapy to promote wellbeing in ABI. There is much to learn from people who have faced major adversity about emotional resilience and post-traumatic growth, and how these insights might be applied to the emerging discipline of climate psychology, which focuses on psychological responses to the climate emergency.

PLOS: Other than your own areas of specialism, what do you think is the most exciting area in psychological research at the moment?

AK: I am particularly excited by the rise of the emerging discipline of climate psychology, a relatively new field whose impact is growing quickly, alongside an acute awareness of the climate emergency. Historically, clinical psychological science has focused on the individual to resolve mental health crises. This is no longer appropriate in 2022 and has led to new frameworks for understanding how our emotional lives relate to wider socio-structural factors and challenges. This is a very exciting agenda for future research—and its applications—and is creating many opportunities to increase the impact of our discipline. Psychologists have a bag of tools that can be applied to research activities being conducted in many other disciplines.

PLOS: Since you started your career, what changes have you seen in challenges/barriers to conducting and publishing psychological research?

AK: The greatest challenge to psychological science in recent years has been the replication crisis, forcing us to rethink our assumptions, our practice, and what we teach. I have been inspired by how psychological scientists stepped up to meet this challenge, with some fantastic initiatives arising including preregistration, preprint servers, and communities of scholars focused on improving methods and practices in our discipline (e.g. Society for Improving Psychological Science). Open Science has played a key role in tackling the replication crisis, especially in regards to making data, materials and publications open and freely available.

PLOS: How has the publishing landscape changed, and what role do Open Access journals like PLOS ONE play?

AK: The landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. I am pleased to say that many institutions, including my own, are now investing significant resources into agreements with open access publishers to support researchers to make their published research openly available, in line with initiatives such as Plan S. This initiative, supported by cOAlition S, requires scientific publications based on research funding from public grants to be published in open access journals or platforms. In the UK, our papers must be made publicly available to be valid for assessment in the research excellence framework assessment process.

PLOS: What are your thoughts on open science, and to what extent has your research community embraced open science?

AK: I have been a long-term advocate of open science, and my experience in Brazil was especially eye opening in regards to the impacts of research being placed behind paywalls. Colleagues simply did not have the resources that academics from developed countries have come to rely on to conduct and publish quality research outcomes. It really highlighted to me the gross inequalities between academia in the developed and developing world and reinforced the importance of making our research openly available and accessible to all.

PLOS: Why did you decide to become a board member and section editor?

AK: I wanted to play an active role in supporting the open science initiative and became an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE in 2011 and a Section Editor in 2013.   

PLOS: What are your thoughts on the Psychology Curated Collection?

AK: I am excited to see the range of articles featured in the Collection, including a broad range of methods, countries, and topics ranging from consciousness to climate change. It is also good to see the breadth of articles being featured, which span basic science (such as reporting on the validity and reliability of a set of multimodal, dynamic emotional stimuli) to applied science (including a focus on vaccine hesitancy). I hope this collection will inspire more psychology researchers to consider PLOS ONE as a journal for publishing their work. PLOS ONE is a multidisciplinary journal and psychological science is similarly broad in scope.

PLOS: Why should psychology researchers submit to PLOS ONE?

AK: PLOS ONE is a solid multidisciplinary journal with wide reach and is well regarded by colleagues in psychology. I have always found the peer review process supportive with an eye on improving the quality of the paper. While there is often much work required on part of the authors to improve their work to reach high editorial standards, the journal provides a rewarding experience from the point of view of the author as well as the editor.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post An interview with Psychology Section Editor Andrew Kemp appeared first on EveryONE.

Understanding Plastic Pollution: The potential health effects, abundance and classification of microplastics

PLOS ONE recently published a new Collection of research entitled Recent Advances in Understanding Plastic Pollution. Given the broad scope of this collection, and the potential implications this research has on both humans the rest of the biosphere globally, we are digging deeper into the findings with some of the authors from papers included in this collection. In this third installment of interviews, we learn more about how microplastics may affect metabolism, and how it is getting easier to use machine learning to analyse samples containing microplastics.

CJ O’Brien, Plastics Campaign Associate, Oceana

CJ O’Brien has worked in research and advocacy to protect the ocean from plastic pollution in the United States and Zanzibar, Tanzania. She is currently the Plastics Campaign Associate at Oceana where she works on policies to reduce the production and use of single-use plastic. Before joining Oceana, she earned a master’s degree in Development Practice from Emory University with a focus on Environmental Conservation and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). There, she grappled with the complex interactions between marine conservation, plastic pollution, and international development. CJ also has a B.S. in Biology from California Lutheran University. Her honors thesis explored the impacts of plastic on the digestive enzyme activity in marine mussels which is the study highlighted here.

CJ O’Brien’s paper in this collection: O’Brien CJ, Hong HC, Bryant EE, Connor KM (2021) The observation of starch digestion in blue mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis exposed to microplastic particles under varied food conditions. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0253802. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253802

PLOS: In this paper, you studied the effects of microplastics on blue mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis during different food regimes. Why is this species particularly interesting to study in order to understand plastic pollution?

CJO: Mytilus galloprovincialis are small but mighty in their importance to the marine ecosystem and to plastic pollution research. Many researchers study this species because they are bioindicators which means they help us monitor the overall health of the environment. Mytilus galloprovincialis filter feed and are sessile creatures, making them extremely sensitive to pollution and other anthropogenic changes. Studying this species and its physiological reaction to the exposure of microplastic allowed us as researchers to get a better look at how microplastics are not only impacting them as a species, but how microplastic might be impacting the ecosystem as a whole. 

Additionally, Mytilus galloprovincialis are crucial to the marine environment and to humans as well. This species is constantly filtering the water column in which they live, creating more clean environments for their marine neighbors. They are also found all over the world and are cultivated for food in many different regions. Not to mention they make great lab subjects as they are easy to care for. I would say that intertidal filter feeders in general are extremely fascinating organisms and crucial in our understanding of plastic pollution, the health of the ocean, and the health of humans. 

PLOS: You found that enzyme activity was affected by the presence of microplastics in the high-food regime only. Was this a result you had foreseen? How is the high-food regime reflected in the real lives of this species?

CJO: This outcome was shocking to me. I expected amylase activity to be negatively affected by the presence of microplastic in both feeding regimes. I thought that since microplastic holds no nutrition for these organisms, that filtering microplastic particles would take up a large proportion of their energy to filter, increase toxicity, or reduce available organic content available for digestion. Theoretically, these perturbations could hinder their ability to make or secrete amylase and survive. However, mussels evolved a range of digestive related characteristics to cope with fluctuations in nutrients and understanding how they modulate them when exposed to microplastic pollution is an emerging field of science.

In our experiment, we subjected mussels to fluctuating feeding environments that differ, similar to that to mussels at different shore levels. Mussels fed high food concentrations represented mussels that live lower in the water column and are exposed to more feeding options than mussels high on the shore due to daily tidal variation. With that context, I thought that the amylase activity in mussels in the low food group would be impacted more than mussels in the high food group. This inference was not observed and in fact high microplastics led to unpredictably high amylase activity.

This was interesting to me because food digestion is positively related to food abundance–the digestive modulation hypothesis–and microplastics is not food. Mussels are adapted to conserve energy as much as they can due to unpredictable environments, such as tidal, thermal, and pH variation. Any change to their energy reserves in nature could impact their growth, survival, and fitness. However, our study showed that it is possible that even under very high microplastic exposures and presumably less organic content ingested, amylase activity was actually increased to compensate for diluted food. 

PLOS: Working to combat plastic pollution must be endlessly inspiring but occasionally daunting. What motivated you to work in this field, and what are the rewards that keep you going?

CJO: Growing up in Florida, I’ve always had a deep curiosity and connection to the ocean. My motivation for getting into this field was fueled by wanting to protect the place that I loved most. I increasingly saw plastic pollution on beaches that I spent time at and as I started to learn more, I realized just how big this problem is. I was utterly fascinated that a man-made material, made to last forever but oftentimes only used for a few moments has caused so much harm–especially microplastic which can be microscopic. It is so insidious!

Currently, I work on policies that reduce the production and use of single-use plastic. While I don’t work in research anymore, I’ve seen firsthand how research influences policies that reduce single-use plastic. It is so crucial that researchers continue to investigate how this pollutant impacts the health of our oceans and the health of us as humans. Plastic production is expected to increase and if we are to have any chance in fighting the plastic pollution crisis, we will need all hands on deck from scientists, policymakers, as well as artists, musicians, community members, and young people. I feel hopeful when I see collaborative, creative, and equitable approaches to this problem.

PLOS: Several other studies in this Collection also look the effects of plastic pollution on living species. Has seeing these other research studies in the collection helped inspire any thoughts about future work you might do, or other advances your research community will make?

CJO: Our study subjected mussels to high concentrations of spherical microplastics that may have an effect on mussels in future microplastics conditions. Our results showed that these types of microplastics are not lethal over short exposures. I continue to monitor studies of microplastics on bivalves and other marine organisms in general in my role as the Plastics Campaign Associate. The Connor Lab at University of California-Irvine continues to deeply study how bivalves work from genome to phenome.

Ho-min Park, PhD Student, Ghent University

Hello, my name is Ho-min Park. I am currently pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science engineering from Ghent University, Belgium. In this context, I am working as a teaching assistant for the Informatics and Bioinformatics courses at Ghent University Global Campus in Incheon, Korea. This extended campus of Ghent University offers educational programmes in Molecular Biotechnology, Food Technology, and Environmental Technology. As a dry lab scientist, I am conducting convergence-oriented research that applies artificial intelligence to predictive tasks that have been put forward by the different wet labs at Ghent University Global Campus.

Ho-min Park’s paper in this collection: Park H-m, Park S, de Guzman MK, Baek JY, Cirkovic Velickovic T, Van Messem A, et al. (2022) MP-Net: Deep learning-based segmentation for fluorescence microscopy images of microplastics isolated from clams. PLoS ONE 17(6): e0269449. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269449

PLOS: You studied various machine learning techniques for annotating microplastics from fluorescence microscopy images, which is very promising for reducing the time and effort it takes researchers to analyze microscopy images. How close are we to where machine learning can truly analyze microscopy images as well as a human can?

HP: I think we are getting very close. For quite a few image analysis and annotation efforts that take up a lot of time, I even believe that machine learning techniques are already better than humans, given that humans tend to suffer from visual fatigue rather quickly. Furthermore, when targeting high-speed and high-quality image analyses, the ideal approach will most likely consist of first having machine learning analyze an image of interest, and then ask a domain expert to validate the analysis performed.

However, we still need to obtain a better understanding of the inherent limitations of data-driven approaches. Human-made data often contain biases and errors, and where these biases and errors can propagate to machine learning models that were trained on these human-made data. For example, while annotating our microscopy images, we were able to spot several image blobs that made it hard for humans to determine whether these blobs were denoting microplastics or light bleed artifacts, and where such ambiguities typically also affect the training and decision-making capabilities of machine learning models.

PLOS: You made all data and code publicly available for the software you developed for this project. What motivated you to do this? Do you know whether other researchers have used your code or software, maybe not yet for this project, but perhaps for any other code you’ve made available in the past?

HP: In imaging of microplastics, the acquisition of data requires several steps, and where most of these steps can be considered time-consuming and labor intensive, especially when they involve chemical processes. In particular, to obtain a set of microscopy images, we had to collect numerous clam samples, subsequently digesting the proteins and lipids, staining the remaining microplastics pieces, and performing image capturing with a microscope. As a result, most studies only make available the amount and the type of microplastics, and not the original images. However, this makes it challenging for other researchers to cross-validate experimental methods and results. We therefore took the decision to open up our data and our software, thus making it easier for other researchers to build on top of our work. In this respect, we also plan to post an introductory article on our work to the Papers with Code platform in the near future. Finally, although our paper was published only recently, we already received several inquiries regarding the usage of our data and our software.

PLOS: For this paper, you had two collaborating institutions and three “first authors” who contributed equally. Can you tell us more about how this collaboration worked?

HP: The idea of building a machine learning tool first came about when Maria Krishna, who is a PhD student in Food Chemistry at Ghent University Global Campus, encountered difficulties in manually counting microplastics in the fluorescence images she collected. After discussing these difficulties with me (Maria Krishna knew about my computer vision research), and after encouragement from our doctoral advisors, we decided to experiment with a few images and a number of deep learning models. This required a lot of work, both on the chemistry side (for the acquisition of microplastics from shellfish until image collection) and on the machine learning side (for model training and development of the GUI). In this context, we received a lot of help from two student interns, Sanghyeon Park and Jiyeon Baek, with Sanghyeon even staying on for the entire duration of the project.

PLOS: As a researcher, how do you hope to inspire other researchers, and the general public, to focus on plastic pollution as a social issue? What are some ways in which researchers who do not work directly in this field can help?

HP: With increasingly better methodologies to quantify microplastics pollution, including computational methodologies that leverage machine learning, we believe it will be easier to raise awareness about the seriousness of the spread of microplastics, and where this increased awareness will hopefully trigger more research and development efforts. These research and development efforts could for instance target the creation of biodegradable plastics, the discovery and possible engineering of organisms that can break down microplastics, and a better understanding of the risks posed by microplastics and their impact on human health, and where the latter effort would be of high interest to law and policy makers.

Cover image: Port of Dover, 2014 Beach Clean (CC-BY 2.0)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post Understanding Plastic Pollution: The potential health effects, abundance and classification of microplastics appeared first on EveryONE.

Understanding Plastic Pollution: Consumer attitudes and knowledge

Last week, PLOS ONE a new Curated Collection – Recent Advances in Understanding Plastic Pollution. In this second installment of our Q&A with authors from this collection, we speak with author groups who study consumer knowledge and attitudes toward plastic products and the ease of recycling.

Emma Berry, Lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast

Emma Berry is a Health Psychology Lecturer in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. Emma’s research interests include psychological adjustment to long-term conditions, health and environmental behaviour change, and psychosocial and behavioural intervention development. Emma is also interested in creative modes of communicating information and providing education, particularly in the format of comics.

Emma Berry’s paper in this Curated Collection: Roy D, Berry E, Dempster M (2022) “If it is not made easy for me, I will just not bother”. A qualitative exploration of the barriers and facilitators to recycling plastics. PLoS ONE 17(5): e0267284. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0267284

PLOS: You carried out a study to investigate motivations and barriers to recycling plastics, and the title of your paper is quite telling – it needs to be easy for people to recycle. Was there anything about the results of this study that surprised you?

EB: A novel element of this study was to qualitatively explore how the dexterity of plastic packaging can influence recycling behaviour. It was interesting to find that, in spite of environmental concern, participants openly recognised that the complexity of recycling, which is influenced by both the packaging and the accessibility of recycling resources i.e. bins, is an important barrier to recycling behaviour. Even when people are motivated to recycle, this does not always translate into action. Moreover, experiencing environmental concern does not necessarily make recycling a priority. For many people recycling is one of many competing life priorities, so if it requires too much cognitive and/or physical effort, other competing behaviours will take precedent. Of relevance to plastic manufacturers and retailers, our study reaffirms the usefulness of simplicity in the design of plastic packaging, with clear visual cues to aid decisions about what, how, where, and when to recycle.

PLOS: It is mentioned in the paper that some of the original intentions on how the data was to be used changed. Can you elaborate on how some of these changes occurred? Sometimes it can feel like a lot of pressure for research to always work out like we hoped or planned, so it is nice to hear how things can be adapted or altered for various scenarios during an ongoing study.

EB: The value of qualitative designs is that we can adopt an inductive or bottom-up approach, enabling us to be more receptive of new and unexpected findings. This also means that we can be more flexible (within the realms of the research question) about how the data is interpreted and used, depending on the emergent themes. The decision to integrate the survey data was post-hoc, based on the qualitative themes extracted. The survey work was conducted separately and was intended to provide an overview of recycling awareness, knowledge, and behaviours in a cross-section of people living in Northern Ireland. However, following the analysis of the qualitative findings, we felt that the frequencies observed in the survey data corroborated the salience of themes relating to physical opportunity and motivational factors underpinning intentions to recycle.

PLOS: You chose to publish the peer review history of your paper online together with the paper itself. Can you tell us what motivated you to do this? Was there anything in particular about the peer review process or recommendations from the editors or reviewers that felt especially useful for enhancing the paper?

EB: Publishing the peer review history of the paper supports an open science approach and allows readers to acknowledge how the paper has evolved from the original submission. However, we also wanted to acknowledge the specific recommendations provided by peer reviewers. In particular, the helpful recommendations to improve the structure and reporting of the interview and survey findings, in order to strengthen the narrative and make the most of the data available. Moreover, the peer review process prompted us to clarify the theoretical framework applied to the methodology (the COM-B model), which is a novel and valuable element of the study. We felt it was important to acknowledge the value of the peer review process to reaffirm this.

PLOS: Two other studies in this collection also look at consumer attitudes to recycling and waste, and the use of bioplastics. These are “Chukwuone NA, Amaechina EC, Ifelunini IA (2022) Determinants of household’s waste disposal practices and willingness to participate in reducing the flow of plastics into the ocean: Evidence from coastal city of Lagos Nigeria. PLoS ONE 17(4): e0267739. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0267739” and “Filho WL, Barbir J, Abubakar IR, Paço A, Stasiskiene Z, Hornbogen M, et al. (2022) Consumer attitudes and concerns with bioplastics use: An international study. PLoS ONE 17(4): e0266918. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0266918” Has seeing these other research studies in the collection helped inspire any thoughts about future work you might do, or other advances your research community will make?

EB: Our paper, in conjunction with the two other studies in this collection support the need for research that focuses on the design and evaluation of interventions to support appropriate recycling behaviour and minimise inappropriate disposal of plastic waste. The paper by Filho et al. (2022) is interesting as it considers how plastic material can be altered to improve the ecological footprint of the production and degradation of packaging, and this resonates with a previous paper we collaborated on by Meta et al. (2021: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spc.2020.12.015). All three papers collectively affirm the need to provide more behavioural scaffolding to assist recycling in day to day life. This means adjusting the choice architecture by focusing on the design of plastic packaging and the availability of cues and resources required to recycle more effortlessly.

Stay tuned for more interviews with authors from this collection.

Cover image: Port of Dover, 2014 Beach Clean (CC-BY 2.0)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post Understanding Plastic Pollution: Consumer attitudes and knowledge appeared first on EveryONE.

Understanding Plastic Pollution – How do our clothes contribute?

PLOS ONE is delighted to introduce a new Curated Collection – Recent Advances in Understanding Plastic Pollution. This global challenge may have not been the biggest fixture in the media during the past couple of years, but researchers, governments, volunteers and the public have all been working hard on ensuring that it is easier than ever to be a part of the movement to reduce plastic pollution. Many of us will now be used to receiving take-away food in paper bags or boxes and being equipped with wooden forks and spoons instead of the traditional plastic ones. The PLOS ONE community of researchers working on plastic pollution have been busy reporting new results on identifying microplastic prevalence in various organisms and habitats, understanding how members of the public understand recycling and bioplastics, and how clothes shed microfibers during washing and drying. You can learn more about all of this in our new Curated Collection.

In this first installment of our Q&A with authors from this collection, we speak to some of our researchers working on how clothes may contribute to microfiber pollution during washing and drying.

Neil Lant, Research Fellow, Procter & Gamble

Dr Neil Lant joined Procter & Gamble’s Newcastle Innovation Centre in 1997 after completing a chemistry degree and PhD in bioorganic chemistry. For the past 25 years he has worked in fabric and home care product development for all regions of the world, with a strong emphasis on applying new enzyme technology to improve product performance and sustainability, resulting in over 150 families patent applications. He also leads P&G’s microfiber research program, as part of his broader interests in the role of fabric care products in improving textile sustainability.

Neil Lant’s paper in this Curated Collection: Lant NJ, Defaye MMA, Smith AJ, Kechi-Okafor C, Dean JR, Sheridan KJ (2022) The impact of fabric conditioning products and lint filter pore size on airborne microfiber pollution arising from tumble drying. PLoS ONE 17(4): e0265912. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0265912

PLOS: Your studied microfiber shedding from clothes during various washing and drying conditions. You made a distinction between European and North American washing routines. What is the main difference between these? How do they differ from those in other parts of the world that were not studied?

NL: The washing machines used in Europe are almost exclusively front-loaders with a wash water volume of around 13 litres. However, in North America several very different appliance types are being used, broadly falling into three types – (i) front loaders that are essentially larger versions of European machines, (ii) traditional top-loading machines that have a large water volume of around 64 litres and (iii) high efficiency top-loading machines with a water volume of around 32 litres. We have found that microfiber release is driven by many factors but our previous publications were the first to recognise that the ratio of water volume to fabric weight was particularly important with high water to fabric ratios causing the highest levels of release. For this reason we run testing in both European and top-loading North America machines to check that the same trends are observed in very different conditions. Other appliance types are used in different regions of the world, and many consumers still wash by hand, but the European and North American washing machines are good representatives of those used in markets where tumble drying is common, as in this paper we were mainly interested in microfiber release during the drying step.

PLOS: You mention in this study that the only real solution to microfiber shedding may be to design a completely different type of dryer. What would need to be the key differences, and how close are we to being able to developing something like that?

NL: The study was focused on airborne microfiber pollution arising from vented dryers which have a air duct to the outside of the building, which is the most important type of dryer in North America with over 95% of the market. The airborne microfiber release can be eliminated by either improving the removal of fibers from that air flow (e.g. using the cyclonic filtration process used in many vacuum cleaners) or moving to fully sealed condenser dryers that collect all fibres and moisture within the appliance. The only problem with the latter is that the fibers can end up in the condensed water or on the condenser which is typically washed in a sink, running the risk of solving an air pollution issue by increasing water pollution! This suggests that we might need to redesign all tumble dryers to ensure that all fibers can be collected and disposed in household waste, with no opportunity for fibers to be released to the air or water.

Chimdia Kechi-Okafor, co-author of this study in PLOS ONE, inspects one of the filters used to better understand microfiber shedding during tumble drying. Chimdia Kechi-Okafor is a PhD student in Fibre Evidence at Northumbria University.

PLOS: You studied how clothes shed during washing and drying. We also know that clothes shed microfibers whilst we wear them. Do we know how the microfiber release for a certain garment differs during washing vs drying vs wearing?

NL: Forensic scientists have known for a long time that fabrics lose fibers when they make contact with other surfaces, but loss of fibers to the air and their transfer to other surfaces has now been proven. We also know that fibers will be lost during line drying of clothes. Although textile scientists are gaining a better understanding of the relationship between fiber, yarn, and textile construction and microfiber shedding during washing, more research will be needed to understand whether the same principles apply to other modes of microfiber release. And we still don’t have a clear understanding of the relative quantities of microfibers being released from textiles to air and water from these sources nor the ultimate fate of these fibers. However, there is a clear consensus that steps to reduce the intrinsic ‘sheddability’ of clothing will be a move in the right direction and we anticipate future government legislation to drive any changes needed in textile manufacturing, in line with proposed legislation in several markets to include microfiber filters in new washing machines.

PLOS: Several other studies in this Collection also look the effects of plastic pollution on living species. One of these is “Kapp KJ, Miller RZ (2020) Electric clothes dryers: An underestimated source of microfiber pollution. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0239165. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239165” Has seeing these other research studies in the collection helped inspire any thoughts about future work you might do, or other advances your research community will make?

NL: Kapp and Miller’s article was a breakthrough in being the first to recognise, and begin to quantify, the contribution of vented tumble dryers to airborne (and subsequent terrestrial) pollution. Their methods involving use of snow to collect deposited microfibers were fantastic. As their study only involved two dryers and didn’t measure the relative quantities of microfibers being released during washing and drying, we were keen to build on that study with a more extensive program spanning different markets, impact of fabric care products, and evaluating some potential solutions. The quantity of literature focused on tumble drying is still very limited so we would like to continue researching this area with an emphasis on condenser dryers which are already very common outside of North America and, when integrated with heat pump technology, are much more energy efficient resulting in lower operating costs and reduced carbon footprint.

Stay tuned for more interviews with authors from this collection, including Kapp and Miller who contributed Electric clothes dryers: An underestimated source of microfiber pollution

Cover image: Port of Dover, 2014 Beach Clean (CC-BY 2.0)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post Understanding Plastic Pollution – How do our clothes contribute? appeared first on EveryONE.

An interview with PLOS ONE Pediatric Section Editors Ju-Lee Oei and Ivan Florez

In this interview we speak with PLOS ONE Pediatric Section Editors Professor Ju-Lee Oei and Professor Ivan Florez. Here they discusses their important research and work with PLOS ONE. 

Image courtesy of Ju-Lee Oei

Ju-Lee Oei is a Neonatologist at the Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick; Conjoint Professor at UNSW Sydney; and Honorary Associate Professor at the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, University of Sydney. Her work focuses on the care of sick newborn infants, especially those with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)/perinatal substance use and infants requiring neonatal intensive care. A particular interest of hers is the use of oxygen in newborn delivery room resuscitation. She has an extensive collaborative network with researchers, clinicians and policy makers from Australia as well as overseas in more than 20 universities and 10 countries. She is also currently Visiting Professor to the University of Malaya and the North West Children’s Hospital and University of China. She also contributed to state and national guidelines for management of neonatal abstinence syndrome as well as guidelines for the American Breast Feeding Medical Association for maternal drug use.

Image credit

Courtesy of Ivan Florez

Ivan Florez is a Associate Professor at University of Antioquia and Assistant Professor at McMaster University. He is also a pediatrician at Clinica Las Américas AUNA with a Master in Clinical Epidemiology and a Ph.D. in Health Research Methodology. He also acts as the leader of the AGREE Collaboration and Director of Cochane Colombia. His research is focused on Evidence-Based Pediatrics, Knowledge translation, Systematic Reviews, network Meta-analysis, Clinical Practice Guidelines and the use of Evidence in all the levels of the Health Care Systems.

Why did you choose to enter pediatric research?  What do you like most about your field?

JU-LEE OEI: Keeps me from being bored! Serious answer: the most worthwhile thing about research is plugging in gaps in practice and knowledge and generating curiosity that really, is the driver of medical advances.

IVAN FLOREZ: I am a physician, I finished my Pediatric residency in 2006, and around 2008 I decided I wanted to do clinical research in my field. I found that there was a need for me as a Clinician to identify and try to answer urgent questions that I found in my clinical work

You have recently become our new Section Editors for Pediatrics. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role?

JU-LEE OEI: A chance to draw attention to what the knowledge needs that will advance and improve child health.

IVAN FLOREZ: I have been the Academic Editor of PLOS ONE since 2018. Interestingly, I decided to be an Academic editor after I published my first paper in PLOS ONE, and after I reviewed several papers as a peer reviewer. I strongly advocate for Open Access, and I think PLOS ONE is one of the pioneers in Open Science. So why not join PLOS ONE and contribute to making better open-access science?

What do you think is the most exciting area in Pediatric research at the moment?

JU-LEE OEI: Personalized medicine – one size does not fit all!

IVAN FLOREZ: I think neonatology is the hottest topic field in pediatrics, followed by infectious diseases (including vaccines, antibiotic treatments, resistance and viral infections). Both are vibrant fields in which a lot of research is going on. COVID19 pandemic helped in increasing awareness about the ID field, and the neonatology field has been a key area for decades and will continue to be so as well. 

What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges for the Pediatric research community?

JU-LEE OEI: Addressing entrenched practices and lack of equipoise for interventions that have no evidence for benefit.

IVAN FLOREZ: I think the pediatric field has always been behind compared to adult clinical research for many reasons, including ethical  concerns. But, I think the gap between the two has been shrinking. In the last decade, clinical research in pediatrics has expanded, and more scholars are interested in this field. Some interesting fields are related such as mental health and also sexual and gender diversity, which had been neglected in the past, but they are gaining the space they deserve, and more and more research in these fields will be coming in the near future.

How important is Open Science for the Pediatric research community? What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to Pediatric research?

JU-LEE OEI: Extremely  – many authors do not have access to paid journals and PLOS ONE allows free and equitable access to high level science. However, this needs to remain high level since many open access journals continue to publish manuscripts of questionable value.

IVAN FLOREZ: It is essential. We need Open science for all, and to reduce inequities, we need to encourage it. Pediatrics needs it even more than many other fields because most of the burden in pediatrics is in LMIC and by providing open science, we are facilitating access to knowledge without paywalls, and borders. This definitely reduces the gaps in child care across the world. 

Why would you advise authors to publish in PLOS ONE?

JU-LEE OEI: High impact, equitable access, rapid turn around!

IVAN FLOREZ: A very efficient and transparent publication process, with some of the lowest times between submission and publication. We make an effort in finding the best peer reviewers for the submitted paper. 

PLOS ONE is interested in very exciting papers in any pediatric-related field. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post An interview with PLOS ONE Pediatric Section Editors Ju-Lee Oei and Ivan Florez appeared first on EveryONE.

An interview with PLOS ONE Women’s and Maternal Health Section Editor Rubeena Zakar

In this interview we speak with Rubeena Zakar PLOS ONE’s new section editor for Women’s and Maternal health. Here she discusses her important research and work with PLOS ONE. Dr. Rubeena Zakar is currently professor of Public Health and Director of the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. She earned her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from Sindh Medical College, Karachi University, Master’s in Population Sciences from Punjab University (2006); and Ph.D in Public Health from Bielefeld University, Germany (2012) with distinction (Summa cum laude).
Her research interests include gender-based violence, women’s health in developing countries, maternal and child health, inequalities in health care utilization, health and human rights, and gender and development. 

Why did you choose to enter Women’s health research?  What do you like most about your field? 

RZ: By training, I am a medical doctor. While I was doing my residency in Gynecology and Obstetrics, many a times I met with women who experienced violence and had sexual and reproductive health issues such as unplanned pregnancy due to violence. Having the thrust for research on maternal and child health since the third year of my medical education, this close interaction with women triggered me to do research in this area.  

For the last 20 years, I have been involved in a wide range of research activities focusing on women’s health, empowerment and enhancement of their social status and economic participation. My 80 plus publications in impact factor international journals mainly highlight women’s health and child health related issues. The central themes and primary focus of my research is that women’s meaningful participation is the key driver of country’s socio-economic development trajectories.  

As a Professor of Public Health, I have been assembling evidence to demonstrate that gender issues are critically important for Pakistani society. Getting inspiration from Robert K. Merton’s notion that ‘data has power’, I have been presenting empirical evidence to suggest that lack of investment in women’s health has serious negative implications on country’s economy, polity and global reputation. My research has also illuminated that if women are victims of violence, ignorance and social exclusion, country cannot attain economic prosperity, peace, stability and social harmony. 

My research on social epidemiology, infectious diseases (such as dengue and Covid-19), on child health such as breastfeeding practices,  child nutrition & Vitamin D deficiency have documented that social and health scientist must come forward to present out-of-the-box solutions to deal with social determinants of health instead of over-investing on hospital-based curative techniques.  

You have recently become our new Section Editor for Women’s health. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role? 

RZ: I like my role as section editor for women’s health, as women’s health especially in LMICs is very close to my heart. As a section editor, I get to know new research in this area from different part of the world as it comes out. It helps me to understand and see the strengths and weaknesses of researches from all over the world. I am confident that my contributions as section editor will leave a positive mark in this area through reflecting high-quality work in this area. It helps me to get familiarity with ongoing research in women’s health, give me institutional credit, and above all gives me greater visibility within my research community which motivated me to work as Editorial Board Member.  

What do you think is the most exciting area in Women’s health research at the moment? 

RZ: Social determinants greatly affect women’s health particularly in developing countries. In some parts of the world, women are deprived of their basic rights including access to health services, appropriate nutrition and education. Socio-cultural practices such as child marriages, forced marriages, cousin marriages, female genital mutilation, and son preference undermine women health and wellbeing.  Additionally, various negative stereotypes such as pregnancy and childbirth related taboos, dowry and honor related violence, restrictions on women’s mobility and social participation are significantly associated with women’s health status. For improving women’s sexual and reproductive health, society needs to take comprehensive and integrated measures to address the cultural stereotypes and harmful sociocultural practices against women. 

What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges for the Women’s health research community? 

RZ: Still in many parts of the world, particularly in conservative areas, talking about women’s health, especially related to social issues, is considered a western agenda. Most of the research on women’s health is focusing on mortality and morbidity around maternal health and life course perspective is still lacking in this area. There is lack of adequately trained researchers in this field. In many countries, nationally representative data is not available on women’s health issues which lead to lack of evidence-based policies, planning and programs. And the results derived from local studies are rarely available to wider audience and are not widely circulated.  

How important is Open Science for the Women’s health research community? What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to Women’s health research? 

RZ: Open Science for women’s health research community is very important to disseminate and share knowledge from all over the world especially for the researchers from low- and middle-income countries.  PLOS One is playing its great role by sharing and disseminating scholarship in women’s health with women’s health researchers’ community. In PLOS One, there is great representation of research on different issues related to women’s health from different countries across the globe. 

Why would you advise authors to publish in PLOS ONE? 

RZ: There are many valid reasons to advice authors to publish in PLOS One. I am sharing some points below: 

  • PLOS One is highly reputable journal in the field of Public Health with high impact factor. Journal’s citation and readership is spread all over the world.  
  • The process of manuscript review and feedback is very rigorous. The reviewers provide their detailed constructive feedback in timely manner, which helps to improve the research and writing skills of authors.  
  • Being a well-known journal in the field, publishing with PLOS One helps the authors to increase their visibility with relevant influencers.  
  • PLOS One also provides the opportunity to their authors to be a part of peer-review process for their manuscripts. To me, to be a reviewer is a win-win situation which helps the authors to learn new research from different perspectives.  
Image credit Courtesy of Rubeena Zuakr

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS

The post An interview with PLOS ONE Women’s and Maternal Health Section Editor Rubeena Zakar appeared first on EveryONE.

What the Kalahari can tell us about humans and climate – Interview with researcher Jessica von der Meden

Today, PLOS ONE is publishing a paper entitled “Tufas indicate prolonged periods of water availability linked to human occupation in the southern Kalahari” by a group of researchers from the Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI), based at The University of Cape Town. In this interview, PLOS ONE Associate Editor Katrien Janin (KJ) speaks to first author Jessica von der Meden (JV) about her experiences conducting this study.

KJ: “Your recent paper focuses on reconstructing the paleoclimate in the southern Kalahari, to evaluate the impact of environmental change on human evolution in this region. Can you explain the link between climate change and human evolution, and the role of southern Africa in the human evolutionary story?”

JV: Climate is a major driver of human evolution. There are debates about the extent to which climate influenced human evolution, but it is generally accepted that changing climatic conditions did influence early human movement, adaptations and behaviour, and there is growing evidence of this link. This doesn’t seem hard to imagine as we feel the effects of the changing climate even today, and at a time when humans were tethered to and dependent on the environment for survival, for example relying on fresh water and conditions conducive to hunting and foraging, it is likely that the climate played a prominent role in human evolution.

However, sites with both archaeological and geological records, underpinned by a reliable chronology, are needed to better understand how climate change impacted early humans. Datable archives of palaeoclimate, associated with well-preserved archaeological material are rare, particularly in arid interior regions. Ga-Mohana Hill is one such locality, providing a valuable opportunity to investigate the impact of climate change on human evolution. The climate system in South Africa is complex; unravelling how it was different in the past, and how this influenced human-environment interactions, is a major challenge, but it is important for understanding how our species adapted to changing climatic conditions, and what this can tell us about climate change in the future.

There are debates about the extent to which climate influenced human evolution, but it is generally accepted that changing climatic conditions did influence early human movement, adaptations and behaviour, and there is growing evidence of this link.

A time of particular interest in human evolution studies is the Middle Stone Age, during which early human populations developed behaviours characteristic of Homo sapiens, e.g. an ochre drawing at Blombos Cave, and collections of crystals at Ga-Mohana Hill. In South Africa, many archaeological sites dated to this period that preserve evidence of these behavioural advancements are situated along the southern Cape Coast, which is argued to have been a nexus for these behavioural developments, in part due to the favourable and stable climatic conditions that prevailed.

Archaeological sites with evidence for similarly advanced behaviours exist in the interior parts of southern Africa, and these sites are receiving renewed attention; however, the associated climate conditions are still poorly understood. Our research contributes important information to what is developing as a complex, multi-factorial picture of early human-environment interaction, and our results challenge the notion that humans only occupied arid regions when they were humid.

KJ: “What are tufas, and why are they such a good indicator of humidity levels and paleoclimatic conditions?”

JV: Tufas are rocks that form from ground waters that emerge at the surface as springs. These fresh spring waters are rich in dissolved calcium, typically sourced from carbonate bedrock, in this case 2.4 billion year old dolomites from the Palaeoproterozoic era.

Tufas are similar to stalagmites or stalactites that form from drip-waters in caves – the big difference is that tufas form from ground waters that emerge at the surface of the landscape, not inside a cave environment, and so they are exposed to light, dust and plant matter, making them slightly more complicated deposits.

Tufas form when particular climatic conditions are met, the most important being sufficient rainfall to recharge the underground aquifers. The groundwaters dissolve calcium from the dolomitic bedrock, and when the aquifers are full, these calcium-rich waters overflow. In addition to sufficient rainfall, higher levels of humidity, and moderate temperatures are necessary to maintain the conditions that are favourable for tufa formation (too hot and this would create too much evaporation, reducing the amount of water available; too cold and the levels of carbon dioxide in the soil through which the rain water infiltrates will be too low, making the waters less efficient at dissolving calcium from the bedrock). As such, the presence of relict tufas points to periods in the past when this balance of sufficient moisture, humidity and temperatures existed. Today, the tufas at Ga-Mohana Hill are mostly inactive as the area experiences a semi-arid, evaporative climate, with only little rainfall during the austral summer months (December – February).

Through field observations, we determined that the tufa deposits represent past periods of flowing water in the form of shallow streams, standing pools and waterfalls cascading down the hillside.

This means that in the past, Ga-Mohana Hill would have been an oasis of fresh water, likely supporting plant productivity, and providing a crucial resource for early human populations active in the area. Despite their complexity, tufas are amenable to dating, which is important for constraining the timing of this wetter environment.

In our study, we use the uranium-thorium dating method to obtain ages for the tufa deposits at Ga-Mohana Hill. Knowing the ages of the tufas allows us to constrain times in the past that fresh water was available on the landscape. We determined that there are at least five distinct episodes of tufa formation during the last 114 thousand years. Three of these times coincide with the timing of archaeological horizons, dated using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) to approximately 105, 31, and 15 thousand years ago, which indicates contemporaneous human occupation and tufa formation.

KJ: “Working in the Kalahari must come with its challenges. Tells us about the logistics involved with conducting fieldwork in such a remote place. What does a typical fieldwork day look like, and what were your most memorable fieldwork moments?”

JV: Field work in the Kalahari is wonderful – it really is a special place and the landscape is beautiful, with big open skies and bare land that stretches as far as the eye can see.

I’ve been fortunate to conduct my field work with an experienced team of archaeologists, who are well-organised and efficient. Ga-Mohana Hill is also located close to a town, Kuruman, and so we have been lucky to enjoy relatively luxurious field accommodation at a local B&B.

A typical day of field work involves an early start and a substantial breakfast to get us through the day. We then drive to Ga-Mohana Hill, where we all pitch in to assist with carrying the equipment needed for the archaeological excavation up the hill to the rockshelter (it is then that I am thankful that geologists in the field only really need a hammer and a notebook!). The archaeologists set up their excavation, and I am often reminded not to walk too close to the excavation pit as I peer in with interest to see the archaeologists at work.

We reached the shelter just as the cloud burst, and watched in awe from our vantage point as a large curtain of rain drenched the valley below us. The downpour didn’t last very long, and after a few minutes the storm clouds rolled on, with the rain curtain stalking across the landscape like a giant figure. The air felt extra clear, like it had been rinsed clean, and a sweet, warm smell floated up from the freshly wet earth. It was a beautiful moment.

After examining the map and a discussion on the days plans, our survey team then embark on foot to explore the area. Sometimes this also involves visits to local farmers to request permission to survey their land for archaeological material. We traverse the hills, observing the geology, looking for secondary carbonates to sample, and identifying stone tools, which are photographed and georeferenced, but left in their place to preserve the material culture. I use a geological hammer and chisel to sample the tufas, but sometimes power tools are necessary to better extract samples, and in those instances I have fun wielding an angle grinder or diamond-tipped drill.

Around lunch time we find a spot in the shade to eat our melted cheese sandwiches, and then continue with our survey and sampling in the afternoon. If our survey is close to the rockshelter, we join the excavation team for mid-morning tea and biscuits. Despite being in a fairly remote location, we still enjoy some creature comforts! Most of the field seasons are conducted in winter, when the mornings are crisp and the days are warm and clear. We have conducted shorter field seasons during the summer months, and then an earlier start to beat the heat, and carrying enough water is essential.

One of my most memorable field moments was during a visit to Ga-Mohana Hill in January which is the height of summer and also the rainy month. We were there to collect rain and drip water from the rockshelter and surrounding areas. As we were walking up the steep hillside to the shelter, we heard rumbling and a large, low storm cloud appeared. We observed the clouds roll across the valley in front of us, and felt the first big warm drops of rain on our skin. We reached the shelter just as the cloud burst, and watched in awe from our vantage point as a large curtain of rain drenched the valley below us. The downpour didn’t last very long, and after a few minutes the storm clouds rolled on, with the rain curtain stalking across the landscape like a giant figure. The air felt extra clear, like it had been rinsed clean, and a sweet, warm smell floated up from the freshly wet earth. It was a beautiful moment.

KJ: “As you may know, PLOS is dedicated to advancing not just Open Access, but pushes the boundaries of “open” to create a more equitable system of scientific knowledge and understanding. Our global research inclusivity policy promotes not only interaction between researchers from all over the world, but also encourages local engagement where we conduct our research. Archaeology and anthropology have been historically vulnerable to ‘parachute research’, where researchers from other nations arrive at a country of interest and conduct research without consulting or crediting any of the local population. What are your thoughts on global research inclusivity, and how does this ethos fit in with your research?

JV: That’s absolutely right, and such parachute practices are very apparent in a place like South Africa, where we have a rich and abundant archaeological and geological heritage that has mostly been researched by foreigners. This was jarringly evident to me when I attended a Palaeoanthropology conference in Austin, Texas; the majority of posters and oral presentations on Stone Age archaeology were on sites from southern and eastern Africa, but the authors were American. I found this so strange, as I hadn’t quite grasped the uniqueness of our heritage and the extent to which this was being investigated by people from around the world, very few of whom enter into collaborations with researchers at local institutions. This system robs local researchers of the opportunity to work on artefacts and collections in their own country, and it excludes the local population from being involved in the process, as foreigners generally don’t know how (or can’t be bothered) to engage with local communities. This creates a division and mistrust between scientists and local communities, who are the true custodians of the heritage. The research also suffers because local knowledge, customs and practices are not taken into account, and so interpretations are made through a narrow and foreign lens, without consideration of local perspectives. As such, the local population are unaware of the scientific publications produced, and are excluded from the knowledge and the conversation.

The research also suffers [when local collaborators are excluded] because local knowledge, customs and practices are not taken into account, and so interpretations are made through a narrow and foreign lens, without consideration of local perspectives. As such, the local population are unaware of the scientific publications produced, and are excluded from the knowledge and the conversation.

The authors of this study are a diverse interdisciplinary team with researchers from South Africa, Australia and North America. The lead archaeologists, Dr Jayne Wilkins (Canadian) and Dr Ben Schoville (American) are now based in Australia at Griffith University and the University of Queensland respectively, but both spent time at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa, where they trained South African students and continue to involve them in field work and projects in the Northern Cape. They also maintain a close collaboration with Dr Robyn Pickering, a South African geologist at UCT, who conceptualised the tufa study and facilitated my training on U-Th methods. Through her, I had the opportunity to visit the Isotope Geochemistry Group at the University of Melbourne, where Prof Jon Woodhead and Dr John Hellstrom trained me in analysing the tufas using laser ablation and U-Th dating, with help from Dr Alan Greig, Dr Helen Green and Dr Rieneke Weij. It is through global collaborations such as this, where a diverse range of expertise, knowledge and perspectives are shared and combined, that inclusive, quality research can be produced.

In conducting our research at Ga-Mohana Hill, it was important for us to involve the local community as much as possible. We engaged with the Baga Motlhware Traditional Council to speak with them about the work we were interested in conducting and to request permission to carry it out at Ga-Mohana Hill, which is a place of spiritual and ritual significance.

To respect the ritual significance, I took a low impact approach, sampling the tufas carefully with targeted methods (e.g. using custom-made core barrels attached to a hand-held drill) and in unobtrusive locations, taking care to leave very little trace. Also, the archaeological excavations are back-filled and covered at the end of each season, so that no trace is left. These protocols were established shortly after we began investigations at Ga-Mohana after discussions with local community members about the best way to respect local traditions. The project is always working toward improving our understanding of the ways in which we can better engage with and involve the local community.

Image credit: Anse Nke

KJ: “You (have mentioned that you) are part of the Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI –https://www.heriuct.co.za/). Can you tell us more about that? And how do you think institutes like HERI help to address the important issue of research inclusivity?”

JV: HERI is doing important work in bringing attention to palaeoscience research in South Africa, and the people behind it. Through financial aid and media engagement, HERI provides support to researchers, particularly African womxn and people of colour, to promote transformation and the inclusion of diverse skills, backgrounds and perspectives in the palaeosciences. I am grateful to HERI for supporting my research and granting me opportunities to kickstart my career.

About the author:

Jessica von der Meden is a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, interested in Quaternary geology and palaeoclimates related to human evolution. She is working on the occurrence, formation and dating of tufa (secondary fresh water carbonate deposits) at the archaeological site of Ga-Mohana Hill in the southern Kalahari. She is first author of Tufas indicate prolonged periods of water availability linked to human occupation in the southern Kalahari

The post What the Kalahari can tell us about humans and climate – Interview with researcher Jessica von der Meden appeared first on EveryONE.

Interviews with the lab protocol community — insights from an Academic Editor and a reviewer

PLOS ONE has published a Lab Protocols Collection to highlight this new article type launched in early 2021. This collection showcases a set of peer-reviewed lab protocols across our broad scope, including cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, structural biology, and archaeology. We interviewed Academics Editors and reviewers from the community, in order to learn more about the importance of lab protocols in their field and their thoughts on the benefits of this article type for open science. We also discussed the future development of open science to conclude this community engagement.

Academic Editor Ruslan Kalendar (RK)

Dr. Ruslan Kalendar is an Adjunct Professor of Genetics at University of Helsinki (Helsingin Yliopisto), Finland. His interests are molecular genetics, with a particular focus on the evolution of the genome, and, in particular, mobile genetic elements.

Reviewer Alison Forrester (AF)

Dr. Alison Forrester is post-doctoral researcher at Institute Curie (Paris, Île-de-France), France. Her interests are autophagy, endoplasmic reticulum, ER-phagy and membrane trafficking.

What do you think are the benefits of lab protocols for open science?

RK: PLOS ONE journal in collaboration with protocols.io has developed a unique and state-of-the-art platform for publishing lab protocols. This is a well-timed and useful innovation. The development of scientific knowledge is based on a variety of methodological approaches bordering on art. Because of the increasing complexity of scientific methods and their diversity, an appropriate forum or open science platform is needed, where the research community can present the best solution and point out the problems that may be encountered in other laboratories. Such a platform should of course be open, and in this form, it is really effective.

AF: Improving data reproducibility in research is one of today’s most important issues to address. Providing clear and detailed protocols, without limitation of words or space, is an effective way to communicate optimized protocols. This will directly help to improve data reproducibility between labs, as well as provide a thorough record of procedures that have been published in parallel. Improving communication of optimized protocols helps to drive robust research, allowing people to build their own research on already thorough studies, and not spend excessive time optimizing protocols based on poorly executed or explained protocols. 

How important are lab protocols in your field?

RK: In my research, I often encounter new problems for which solutions can be found in similar resources from other scientific publishers. Various publishers offer standard solutions for sharing laboratory methods and protocols. However, most of these solutions are only open to subscribers of a given publisher. PLOS ONE in collaboration with protocols.io offers a truly unique resource for open science for laboratory methods and protocols. This is a consistent step in promoting open science in all directions, sharing experiences and new knowledge for the research community.

AF: Having robust and reliable lab protocols on which to base our own research is of high importance to the field of cell biology. A good protocol can be the difference between efficient replication of a known experiment, leading to fast progress in a new direction using the protocol, and wasting months on trying to replicate a known experiment, sometimes leading to the unnecessary abandonment of threads of research.

Finally, Academic Editor Ruslan Kalendar provides his visions for future development in open science:

RK: The next step for open science, I see, is dynamic (as opposed to today’s static resource), updatable protocols and methods, and most importantly, directly updatable research results.  Working on a given problem is always a team effort. Therefore, researchers from different parts of the world can work together on a given problem, and add new ideas, knowledge, and new approaches to the overall mega-work. To this purpose, it would be more consistent to have a platform for mega-articles, with updated content, which is regularly improved by adding new results from different labs and researchers. Including methodological approaches and protocols could also be updated. In this way, each individual researcher’s work and contribution would be visible. The scientific activity would move to a new level of scientific data exchange and the number of scientific papers would move to a new quality. We would go from the number of publications to their quality.

Image credit: Megan Rexazin, Pixabay License (Free for commercial use, No attribution required)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

The post Interviews with the lab protocol community — insights from an Academic Editor and a reviewer appeared first on EveryONE.