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Introducing PLoS Currents: Influenza

Yesterday PLoS and Google unveiled PLoS Currents: Influenza, a Google Knol hosted collection of rapid communications about the swine flu.

In his blog post A new website for the rapid sharing of influenza research (also posted on the official Google blog), Dr.Harold Varmus explains:

The key goal of PLoS Currents is to accelerate scientific discovery by allowing researchers to share their latest findings and ideas immediately with the world’s scientific and medical communities. Google Knol’s features for community interaction, comment and discussion will enable commentary and conversations to develop around these findings. Given that the contributions to PLoS Currents are not peer-reviewed in detail, however, the results and conclusions must be regarded as preliminary. In time, it is therefore likely that PLoS Currents contributors will submit their work for publication in a formal journal, and the PLoS Journals will welcome these submissions.

The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive so far. For example, Frederic Lardinois writes, on ReadWriteWeb – Finally a Good Use for Google Knol: Sharing Information About Flu Research:

Overall, we think this is a great project. Knol is a good, easy-to-use platform for these kinds of publications, and given that the articles are also archived on other servers, this project also doesn’t rely on Google to keep Knol’s servers running indefinitely.

PLoS, being a non-profit, is also the right organization to give this project a try. Commercial publishers are still wary of the Internet, and while the open access movement has been gathering some support over the last few years, a lot of research in most scientific fields will still be hidden behind paywalls for a long time.

On Tech Babble: PLOS Currents : Influenza:

PLOS Currents : Influenza is built utilizing Google Knol and a new service from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) called Rapid Research Notes. This service allows the user an easy way to follow current research and search for relevant scientific information.

As we approach influenza season, expect greater levels of concern and interest in H1N1.

Steven Salzberg, one of the moderators of PLoS Currents: Influenza, wrote on his blog – Opening up influenza research with a new kind of journal:

What’s the difference between this and a regular journal? Well, first of all, submissions won’t be thoroughly reviewed, which means they don’t “count” as journal papers, but it also means you can publish them later in a peer-reviewed journal. The Public Library of Science has already bought into this model – they’re sponsoring PLoS Currents, after all – and we expect other journals to do so also. So why publish, you might ask? That’s easy: in a highly competitive field such as influenza research, different scientists are often racing to answer the same question. By publishing super-rapidly in PLoS Currents, you will get a citable, time-stamped reference that establishes your discovery, and most importantly, establishes when you made it.

The big win here, we hope, is that scientists will be empowered to announce their results to the world without worrying about being “scooped” – a common fear that leads to many results being kept secret for months while papers are prepared and revised. This in turn will speed up scientific progress overall, which is the real goal behind PLoS Currents.

Eddie Holmes, Chief Moderator of PLoS Currents: Influenza, wrote in a guest-post on the PLoS Blog – Welcome to PLoS Currents: Influenza:

The central idea of PLoS Currents: Influenza is to rapidly disseminate data and ideas in the realm of influenza research, stimulated by the ongoing epidemic of swine-origin influenza virus (H1N1pdm). Given this backdrop, it is no surprise that some of first contributions consider important aspects of the H1N1pdm epidemic.


Although PLoS Currents: Influenza was inspired by H1N1pdm, it will cover all types of research on all types of influenza virus. Indeed, the emergence of H1N1pdm brings into focus the need for basic research into many fundamental aspects of influenza biology.


These initial contributions have given PLoS Currents: Influenza an excellent start. The next few months should prove to be very exciting. I therefore encourage all of you working in the area of influenza to send a contribution to PLoS Currents: Influenza, however preliminary, so that your data and ideas are rapidly distributed to a wide audience.

Iddo Friedberg, on ByteSizeBio: PLoS Currents: Influenza. Because knowledge should travel faster than epidemics:

So here we have all chief elements of scientific communication: credibility (by the moderators), timeliness (immediate online publishing) and attribution (by public archiving). PC: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.

Vincent Racaniello on Watching The Watchers: Rapid Sharing of Influenza Research:

Contributions that will be welcome at PLoS Currents: Influenza include research into influenza virology, genetics, immunity, structural biology, genomics, epidemiology, modeling, evolution, policy and control. The manuscripts will not be subject to peer-review, but unsuitable submissions will be screened out by a board of expert moderators. This policy will enable rapid publication of research.

The path to publishing original scientific research is often long and tortuous. A manuscript describing the findings is prepared and submitted to a scientific journal (such as Nature, Cell, Journal of Virology). The manuscript is assigned to two or three expert reviewers, generally scientists involved in the same area of research. If their reviews are favorable, the paper is published. Usually additional experiments are called for, which may require additional time to complete. Many months to a year may pass before the paper is published, although some manuscripts (e.g. those on 2009 pandemic influenza) may be expedited. The point is that PLoS Currents: Influenza will allow everyone – including non-scientists – to read about research soon after the authors have prepared the paper.

PLoS Currents: Influenza is a terrific idea, and I welcome this venture with great enthusiasm. I hope that PLoS Currents will grow to include other areas of science.

David Bruggeman on Pasco Phronesis blog – PLoS Currents – An ArXiv for the Rest of Us?:

Presently in beta, Currents is accepting “new scientific data, analyses, and ideas” and encouraging the discussion and analysis of this information. The material is not peer reviewed as it would be for a regular PLoS publication, but is screened by moderators who are experts in the field at issue. The idea is that the work posted and discussed in Currents would lead to papers in peer reviewed journals at a later date.


So policy research could find its way into a science journal – excellent.

While the material is hosted by Google, as the PLoS explains on its blog, it is also archived at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Hopefully the Currents topics will not be simply reactive, but consider a number of different topics that aren’t breathing down our collective neck.

As the ScienceInsider article suggests, this is not the first time a preprint collection has been suggested for biomedical topics. Apparently when PLoS co-founder (and current PCAST co-chair) Harold Varmus tried this when he was leading the National Institutes of Health, some scientific societies raised a ruckus and the effort was discontinued. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.

Glyn Moody, on his blog ‘Open….’, writes – PLoS Reinvents Publishing and Saves the World:

As someone who has been writing about open access for some years, I find myself returning again and again to the Public Library of Science. That’s because, not content with pioneering open access, PLoS has time and again re-invented the broader world of scientific publishing. Now, it’s done it again.


The current system of publishing papers is simply too slow to deal with pandemics, where speed is of the essence if we’re to have a chance of nipping them in the bud. It’s good to see PLoS stepping in to help address this major problem.


This is really exciting from many viewpoints. It’s pushing the ideas behind open access even further; it’s reshaping publishing; and it may even save humanity.

So, what do you think?


  1. #1 English translator
    August 22, 2009

    Thank you for PLoS Currents. People are updated and we are being reminded of the precautionary measures. But I hope this H1N1 thing will just die a natural death.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 22, 2009

    Very Cool. THis could be quite useful.

  3. #3 Ian Mulvany
    August 27, 2009

    Bora, do you think this might signal a more widespread adoption of preprint-serveresque promulgation (I’m specifically avoiding the term publishing) of ideas within the life sciences community?

    A few other comments:

    It looks like a great experiment, and offloading the development and maintenance of the platform to Google is really smart. No architectural overheads for PLoS, allowing PLoS to focus on getting the word out on this service, while at the same time building support for it from within the community.

    I’m not sure what the long term prospect for Knol URL’s will be. It would be great to see these articles start to accrue citations, and to see an easy identifier to cite them with, in addition to being able to cite versions of the objects.