Month: March 2017

Why ear plugs are great for clubbing and concerts

I enjoy clubbing and pop/rock concerts exclusively with my ear plugs in. Does that mean I miss out? No, I enjoy the music exactly as it is meant to be.


Picture by Melianis at fi.wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)

Since 2004 the urban dictionary includes the term ‘deaf rave’ to describe a ‘rave, or party, organised by deaf people for deaf people, though hearing people are invited also’. Deaf people at a rave? Do they come for the flashy lights? No, the phenomenon behind deaf people’s enjoyment of raves is at the heart of why I wear ear plugs when going clubbing.

Deaf people enjoy loud music – i.e. strong air vibrations – through their skin – an organ signalling vibrating input. Hearing people’s skin is no different but we often fail to notice our skin-hearing because ear-hearing trumps it, given its greater sensitivity. However, once the volume is cranked up, as at many night clubs and concerts, the skin can do remarkable things.

For example, ordinary people can distinguish instruments whose sounds they can only feel on their backs (even deaf people can do this) (Russo et al., 2012). Moreover, ear-hearing can be affected by skin-hearing. When hearing different rhythms through the skin and the ears, people are worse at distinguishing the currently heard rhythm from a previous one, compared to the case of just ear-hearing the current rythm (Huang et al., 2012). Thus, the skin is an important organ for music listening. You cannot just ignore it.

All I do when putting in ear plugs in the night club is that I give my skin a slight advantage. And this advantage makes the music more intimate. Think about it, the skin is an organ which usually only reacts to objects which are extremely close. Compare this to our ears and eyes which react to objects far away. Seeing and ear-hearing a band is something we do at a distance. Skin-hearing a band creates an illusory proximity, as if the music was right there on your skin.


Picture by By Darshan08 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia commons

I believe that this illusory proximity through skin-hearing is a major motivation behind the loudness one experiences in clubs and at concerts. Ear plugs are great for your intimate full-body experience of the music. The loudness of the music is not meant for ears. The proof of this seemingly nonsensical statement lies in the statistics of hearing loss. About half the people exposed to loud music during work have some hearing loss. This includes the musicians themselves, whether classical or rock/pop. And the audience is not immune either. The majority of rock concert attendees experience temporary auditory problems such as tinnitus or being hard of hearing (Zhao et al., 2010).

Clubbing and pop/rock concert music is simply too loud for unprotected ears. It is meant for the skin. Give your skin an advantage and protect your hearing with a simple, cheap, handy device: ear plugs.

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Huang J, Gamble D, Sarnlertsophon K, Wang X, & Hsiao S (2013). Integration of auditory and tactile inputs in musical meter perception. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 787, 453-61 PMID: 23716252

Russo FA, Ammirante P, & Fels DI (2012). Vibrotactile discrimination of musical timbre. Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance, 38 (4), 822-6 PMID: 22708743

Zhao F, Manchaiah VK, French D, & Price SM (2010). Music exposure and hearing disorders: an overview. International journal of audiology, 49 (1), 54-64 PMID: 20001447

The growing divide between higher and low impact scientific journals

Ten years ago the Public Library of Science started one big lower impact and a series of smaller higher impact journals. Over the years these publication outlets diverged. The growing divide between standard and top journals might mirror wider trends in scholarly publishing.

There are roughly two kinds of journals in the Public Library of Science (PLoS): low impact (IF = 3.06) and higher impact (3.9 < IF < 13.59) journals. There is only one low impact journal, PLoS ONE, which is bigger in terms of output than all the other journals in PLoS combined. Its editorial policy is fundamentally different to the higher impact journals in that it does not require novelty or ‘strong results’. All it requires is methodological soundness.

Comparing PLoS ONE to the other PLoS journals then offers the opportunity to plot the growing divide between ‘high impact’ and ‘standard’ research papers. I will follow the hypothesis that more and more information is required for a publication (Vale, 2015). More information could be mirrored in three values: the number of references, authors, or pages.

And indeed, the higher impact PLoS journal articles have longer and longer reference sections, a rise of 24% from 46 to 57 over the last ten years (Pearson r = .11, Spearman rho = .11), see also my previous blog post for a similar pattern in another high impact journal outside of PLoS.


The lower impact PLoS ONE journal articles, on the other hand, practically did not change in the same period (Pearson r = .01, Spearman rho = -.00).


The diverging pattern between higher and low impact journals can also be observed with the number of authors per article. While in 2006 the average article in a higher impact PLoS journal was authored by 4.7 people, the average article in 2016 was written by 7.8 authors, a steep rise of 68% (Pearson r = .12, Spearman rho = .19).


And again, the low impact PLoS ONE articles do not exhibit the same change, remaining more or less unchanged (Pearson r = .01, Spearman rho = .02).


Finally, the number of pages per article tells the same story of runaway information density in higher impact journals and little to no change in PLoS ONE. Limiting myself to articles published until late november 2014(when lay-out changes complicate the comparison), the average higher impact journal article grew substantially in higher impact journals (Pearson r = .16, Spearman rho = .13) but not in PLoS ONE (Pearson r = .03, Spearman rho = .02).



So, overall, it is true that more and more information is required for a publication in a high impact journal. No similar rise in information density is seen in PLoS ONE. The publication landscape has changed. More effort is now needed for a high impact publication compared to ten years ago.

Wanna explore the data set yourself? I made a web-app which you can use in RStudio or in your web browser. Have fun with it and tell me what you find.

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Vale, R.D. (2015). Accelerating scientific publication in biology Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 13439-13446 DOI: 10.1101/022368

The slowing down of the biggest scientific journal

PLoS ONE started 11 years ago to disruptively change scholarly publishing. By now it is the biggest scientific journal out there. Why has it become so slow?

Many things changed at PLoS ONE over the years, reflecting general trends in how researchers publish their work. For one thing, PLoS ONE grew enourmously. After publishing only 137 articles in its first year, the number of articles published per year peaked in 2013 at 31,522.


However, as shown in the figure above, since then they have declined by nearly a third. In 2016 only 21,655 articles were published in PLoS ONE. The decline could be due to a novel open data policy implemented in March 2014, a slight increase in the cost to publish in October 2015, or a generally more crowded market place for open access mega journals like PloS ONE (Wakeling et al., 2016).

However, it might also be that authors are becoming annoyed with PLoS ONE for getting slower. In its first year, it took 95 days on average to get an article from submission to publication in PLoS ONE. In 2016 it took a full 172 days. This renders PLoS ONE no longer the fastest journal published by PLoS, a title it held for nine years.


The graph below shows the developemtn of PLoS ONE in more detail by plotting each article’s review and publication speed against its publication date, i.e. each blue dot represents one of the 159,000 PLoS ONE articles.


What can explain the increasingly poor publication speed of PLoS ONE? Most people might think it is the sheer volume of manuscripts the journal has to process. Processing more articles might simply slow a journal down. However, this slow down continued until  2015, i.e. beyond the peak in publication output in 2013. Below, I show a more thorough analysis which reiterates this point. The plot shows each article in PLoS ONE in terms of its time from submission to publication and the number of articles published around the same time (30 days before and after). There is a link, for sure (Pearson r = .13, Spearman rho = .15), but it is much weaker than I would have thought.


Moreover, when controlling for publication date via a partial correlation, the pattern above becomes much weaker (partial Pearson r = .05, partial Spearman rho = .11). This suggests that much of PLoS ONE’s slow down is simply due to the passage of time. Perhaps, during this time scientific articles changed, requiring a longer time to evaluate whether they are suitable for the journal.

For example, it might be that articles these days include more information which takes longer to be assessed by scientific peers. More information could be mirrored in three values: the number of authors (information contributors), the reference count (information links), the page count (space for information). However, the number of authors per article has not changed over the years (Pearson r = .01, Spearman rho = .02). Similarly, there is no increase in the length of the reference sections over the years (r = .01; rho = -.00). Finally, while articles have indeed become longer in terms of page count (see graph below), the change is probably just due to a new lay-out in January 2015.


Perhaps, it takes longer to go through peer-review at PLoS ONE these days because modern articles are increasingly complex and interdisciplinary. A very small but reliable correlation between subject categories per article and publication date supports this possibility somewhat, see below. It is possible that PLoS ONE simply finds it increasingly difficult to look for the right experts to assess the scientific validity of an article because articles have become more difficult to pin down in terms of the expertise they require.


Having celebrated its 10 year anniversary, PLoS ONE can be proud to have revolutionized scholarly publishing. However, whether PLoS ONE itself will survive in the new publishing environment it helped to create remains to be seen. The slowing down of its publication process is certainly a sign that PLoS ONE needs to up its game in order to remain competitive.

Wanna explore the data set yourself? I made a web-app which you can use in RStudio or in your web browser. Have fun with it and tell me what you find.

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Wakeling S, Willett P, Creaser C, Fry J, Pinfield S, & Spezi V (2016). Open-Access Mega-Journals: A Bibliometric Profile. PloS one, 11 (11) PMID: 27861511