Neuroanthropology and PLoS Blogs

By Daniel Lende & Greg Downey

Neuroanthropology has moved!  We’re now part of the new Public Library of Science: PLoS Blogs.  We join a cluster of eleven new science blogs at PLoS.

For those of you wanting to find out more about Neuroanthropology, please check our About Neuroanthropology page where we introduce the blog, ourselves, and the field.

Here we will touch on some of the main reasons why we are so excited about this opportunity.

The Network

We are thrilled to be part of an initiative that combines serious scholars and serious writers together.  That first.  As a group, we share interests in science and medicine, in the public uses and misuses of knowledge, and in promoting awareness of ideas and research in a broad fashion.

This amazing new network of people includes writers we’ve followed, others we’ve admired from afar, and some new names with impressive track records.  A Pulitzer Prize winner, the former editor-in-chief of Scientific American, professors at Duke and North Carolina Central University, a range of award-wining science journalists, and some serious science bloggers with serious science backgrounds – that is a great group of people.  We are particularly excited to learn from the writers how to better practice this craft, and to engage with people with such an array of interests.

Anthropology within the Public Library of Science

One of the things that has us most excited, that really clinched our decision to make the move to PLoS, is that we hope we might act as a voice for anthropology in a scholarly and public forum built around science and medicine.  Anthropology offers powerful insights from cross-cultural research and sophisticated integrative theory that deserve a much wider audience, one we hope to help grow here at PLoS Blogs.

As research becomes increasingly international and interdisciplinary, researchers in all fields need to confront the complexities of worldwide variation and of cultural biases, including our own.  Anthropology has done this work for over a century now, and is in a wonderful position to offer the fruits of these intellectual efforts, including hard won wisdom from our own field’s mistakes, to the work of science and medicine represented at PLoS.

PLoS and Blogs

As a non-profit, ad-free adventure, PLoS Blogs also suits what we’ve done long-term at Neuroanthropology.  We’ve debated that topic several times, whether to go for ad revenue, whether to join a network that might pay us.  We’ve always decided no.  We didn’t start doing this for money, we haven’t kept at it for money.  We do it because we enjoy it, and we like sharing our ideas with a broad public.

PLoS has taken bloggers seriously for quite some time.  It offers bloggers access to preprint versions of articles on the same terms as journalists and organizations.  The organization has used its own weblogs – PLoS.org, everyONE and Speaking of Medicine – to highlight scholarly content in an accessible format.  As Brian Mossop, PLoS Community Manager (and many thanks for the thrill of that initial call!), says, PLoS Blogs will open up “the discussion, and debate, on science and medicine.”

Although online discussions are no longer new to academia, many of us are searching for ways to better integrate online discussion with serious scholarship to increase the quality of the former and the vitality of the latter.  We want PLoS blogs, and Neuroanthropology in particular, to be a place where readers can reliably turn to find a broad engagement with new research at the intersection of brain and culture.

The Principles behind PLoS

PLoS’s Core Principles – Open Access, Excellence, Integrity, Breadth, Cooperation, Community Engagement, Internationalism, and Science as a Public Resource – resonate deeply with us.

The Principles capture how we want science to be: open, international, and public.  These values resonate with the ethics of anthropology, where integrity, breadth, and community engagement are core guiding principles for our research with people around the world.  These values also correspond well with our home institutions, University of South Florida and Macquarie University, where top-notch science, interdisciplinary cooperation, public education, and community contribution are all fundamental to how these universities strive to conduct themselves.

What PLoS Does

There are also some selfish reasons to be part of PLoS.  The Public Library of Science is a serious and powerful voice for open-access scholarship and education.  We want Neuroanthropology to be a part of that.

PLoS One, the flagship interdisciplinary journal of PLoS, is soon to become the world’s largest journal, given how it is doubling in size every year.

The PLoS family extends to 1200 academic editors.  In 2010 PLoS will publish roughly 8,000 articles, providing about 10% of new articles added to PubMedCentral and 1% of new articles added to PubMed.

At a time when scholars are widely discussing the potential of open access, PLoS is leading the charge to make new research accessible to scholars everywhere.  To paraphrase a well-worn hacker’s aphorism: science wants to be free.  We’d like to be part of letting it loose.

2.3 million page views per month.  That’s what the PLoS sites average as a whole.  If that’s not enough, PLoS emails Table of Content alerts to 100,000 readers on different weekly and monthly intervals.  Its Twitter stream has 4300 followers; its Facebook group, 7000 fans.  We’re both thrilled and humbled to be able to join such a vibrant community and will do everything in our power to return the trust.

Even though PLoS has been an innovator in the creation of the new Article Level Metrics Program, we know deans like their traditional journal impact factors right now.  And here PLoS is strong. PLoS Biology has the highest impact factor in Biology, according to the Journal Citation Reports.  PLoS Medicine is ranked sixth in Medicine, just after the major medical journals in the United States and Britain like the New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet.

Those are serious numbers in the impact game.  The point is not simply that PLoS is successful, but that it’s changing the rules of that game.  They’ve created this success using the power of online and open access and creating networks of scholars to ensure high quality.

PLoS Blogs and the Future

PLoS has revolutionized open-access, peer-reviewed scientific publishing since its founding in 2003.  It opened up the world of academic publishing, making new research widely accessible regardless of whether a reader had access to a leading research library.  We hope, and even believe, that blogs can go through a corresponding transformation, albeit in a different direction.  Science blogging has different challenges and potentials for success.

Blogs have become an important channel for the popularization of science, often at an intermediate depth, between the level of the expert specialist and the most unfamiliar public or general readership.  Because science blogs are so nimble, writers can respond quickly, posing questions, offering critiques, seeking connection and writing in open-ended fashion.  We can comment as science stories unfold, responding both to the research and to popular versions, helping to highlight why findings are particularly interesting or exposing when someone’s over-reaching from the results.

For anthropologists, and for those interested in brain-culture relations, blogs are especially important because they provide a forum for synthetic work, a place where theorists and scientific analysts can try to draw conclusions from diverse sources and types of data.  Although it may sound dry, the informal format can allow us to speculate and float ideas that might not yet be substantial enough to support a more traditional academic paper or book.

Finally, science blogs are fun, hopefully for the reader as much as the writer, as the rules for academic writing are relaxed and we can exercise our (sometimes warped) senses of humor.  At Neuroanthropology, we like to think that anthropologists are particularly well suited for the role of online entertainment: nothing is quite as entertaining as the range of human oddity, including our own.

Recent controversies in the realm of for-profit science blogs and concerns about the business models for online publication suggest that, as with open-access publishing, a not-for-profit organization, founded on principles of community responsibility and accessibility, might offer the best way to bring together diverse talents.

We hope that PLoS can do for science blogging what it has done for academic journals, encouraging innovation and cooperation, offering an alternative model for supporting science, by people who are passionate about research.

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5 Responses to Neuroanthropology and PLoS Blogs

  1. KBHC says:

    I’m really glad to see you guys over here. It’s nice to see anthropology representing in the “plog”osphere! I don’t know how I missed you before, but it’s great you’re getting the exposure and now I have another interesting anthro blog to read.

    I was just talking to a few of my colleagues earlier today, and we were talking about how hard it can be to get our feet in the door of other life science disciplines (for collaboration etc), because other life scientists think that because we are biological anthropologists we aren’t scientists. Once they see our work or get to know us it’s fine, but I really appreciate seeing an anthropology blog that can provide perspective on our discipline, and exposure to how we frame things, to other scientists and laypeople alike.

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    • gregdowney says:

      Thanks, Kathryn –

      For those of you who don’t know, Kathryn blogs at Context and Variation (http://professorkateclancy.blogspot.com/). Check it out, but be warned that her colour scheme is a bit of a work in progress (I don’t think I’d be offending too much by saying that, would I Kathryn?).

      We very much see part of our agenda — in addition to self aggrandizement — as promoting anthropological ways of thinking and doing research, including in such ways as writing about new research results that might be of interest to a much wider audience outside our discipline. With this in mind, and I’ll say it over and over again, please feel free to send us stuff — if you’re posting work on line or have new articles coming out, we’ll do our best to respond to what you’re producing if its tenuously linked to the sorts of things we cover here. Not only does Daniel do the epic Wednesday round-up, but we frequently latch onto ideas for longer posts when our anthropological colleagues get in touch.

      And, yes, I know that I can put hyperlinks in comments, but if you could see how steep my current tech learning curve is behind the scenes, you’d have a bit of sympathy. Twitter feeds? Google analytics? Good grief, man, I just write stuff…

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      • KBHC says:

        Thanks for the response, Greg! And yes, the appearance of the blog is rather embarrassing right now. The preview setting isn’t working, so I can’t actually see my changes as I make them, I have to just sort of guess and then have it go live to see whether I’m making things better or worse. So my apologies.

        I’ll surely be passing some stuff on to you in the future. Best of luck in your new digs!

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  2. David Kroll says:

    Gentlemen, this is a really fantastic post on PLoS background and articulates many of my own reasons for joining when offered. (I am equally humbled as well).

    I’m only just getting to posts I missed yesterday due to meetings and such (yup, that academic thing) but I’ll be sure to refer folks to this excellent post.

    I’ve really enjoyed your writing – most recently your excellent post on the anthropological aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous after Brendan Koerner’s Wired article came out. I’m really looking forward to reading more!

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  3. Cool… Glad to be following you in your new digs.

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