PLoS Currents: Influenza. Because knowledge should travel faster than epidemics

(Full disclosure before I start: I am an academic editor in PLoS ONE. I have no financial stake in PLoS, and as far as I know, they have none in me. They’d better not, if they know what’s good for them).

PLoS have come up with yet another cool mechanism for scientific communication: PLoS Currents. The emphasis in PloS Currents is on rapid science communication, but without sacrificing scientific rigor. To wit:

The submissions are not peer reviewed in depth, but are screened by a group of leading researchers in the field (“moderators”). The moderators will make a rapid determination as to whether a contribution is intelligible, relevant, ethical and scientifically credible, but will otherwise not impose restrictions on the nature, format or content of the contributions. Those submissions deemed appropriate are posted immediately at PLoS Currents: Influenza and publicly archived at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

So here we have all chief elements of scientific communication: credibility (by the moderators), timeliness (immediate online publishing) and attribution (by public archiving).  PLoS Currents: Influenza orPC:I is heavily skewed towards timeliness. The rationale being that in Influenza research and monitoring, time is of essence. After all, a report going through the usual peer review mill can take months: which is exactly the time required for a full-blown pandemic.

Not that other scientific fields are not in need of timeliness. Physicists and mathematicians have known that for almost two decades now. Nature Precedings are also providing an outlet for rapid communication in life sciences. But the combination of speed, accessibility and credibility offered by PC:I is indeed something new and welcome.

As for content: one interesting hypothesis published in PC:I is that humidity and high temperatures block aerosol transmission of Influenza, whereas colder, dryer climes facilitate it.  On the other hand, contact transmission is not affected by This would help explain the predominant winter transmission in temperate zones, vs. the ongoing yet intermittent transmission in tropical zones.  Anice Lowen and Peter Palese have communicated this hypothesis. Or rather a hypothesis. For life scientists are embedded in a culture where they are stilll used to having  only “closed stories” communicated publicly in writing. So this is quite a change. PC:I will hopefully start a trend that will help accelerate science publishing.

One final word: the technology behind PC:I is Google knol, of which I know very little about, but is seems everybody else does.

Anice Lowen, & Peter Palese (2009). Transmission of influenza virus in temperate zones is predominantly by aerosol, in the tropics by contact PloS Currents: Influenza

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