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Important research – this is why openness matters (De Gruyter Open editors’ picks)

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Today starts the Open Access Week 2016, themed this year as”Open in Action”. On this occasion I want to show how real examples of open research may influence public debate, and help us to take actions aimed at solving important public issues.

When discussing the importance of open access to academic research, openness advocates often mention greater impact on public debate and policy making. This sounds reasonable. If open access research is available to all, it means that it might also be easily reached by activists, journalists, bloggers and members of bottom-up movements. Open access research is therefore more likely to influence public discussion and, in consequence, public polices. And there are plenty of important public issues that are the subject of academic research, and it is a huge loss to have them locked behind a paywall instead of fueling public debate. Because public health, climate change, extraterrestrial life search, crime etc. are too important to be discussed by experts only. Knowledge is for everyone, and everyone should at least try to take advantage of it.

So where are the examples of this important research published in open access that can influence a public debate? De Gruyter Open publishes quite a considerable sample of open access research. It is the 3rd biggest open access publisher in terms of the number of journals, according to DOAJ, publishing 283 serials indexed by this service. Together with our editors I have chosen several fresh papers that might be important for public debate. It is wonderful to have them open for everyone!

Making costs of life saving lower

When most people nowadays have a mobile device fitted with GPS all the time with them, mobile applications that allow users to easily send their exact location to a rescue service can save multiple lives, and due to Open GeoSMS standard, which is free and works on every mobile, these applications could be very cheap to produce. In consequence, software that automatically sends the location of a person in need of help might be developed at low cost. This might be crucial for health services in low income countries. Open standards always means lower costs. In this case, lower costs of life saving.

Enes Sukic and Leonid Stoimenov in their article published in Open Geosciences, propose a prototype system that sends the GPS coordinates of a person calling an ambulance, which is based on Open GeoSMS standard. Their paper is open access, so hopefully will have a broad audience and it will inspire health care managers to introduce low cost solutions of this kind to the work-flow of their institutions.

Sukic, Enes, and Leonid Stoimenov. “Model application for rapid detection of the exact location when calling an ambulance using OGC Open GeoSMS Standards.” Open Geosciences 8.1 (2016): 99-107.

Better practices for diagnosing emergency room patients

Approximately 7% of people suffer acute appendicitis in their lifetime. This common disease requires operative treatment due to its life threatening complications. However, according to data presented in this paper published in Open Medicine, 22.9% of all patients that underwent surgical treatment of appendicitis were misdiagnosed. This means that operations that were conducted on them were in fact unnecessary. And in some cases they also have received appropriate therapy later than it was possible. Actual rates of appendicitis misdiagnosis might be as high as 40% in some institutions. It is the result of nonspecific symptoms of this disease. Yet, misdiagnosis of an urgent abdomen pathology may in some cases even cause a patient’s death, since the actual, unrecognized condition may be lethal. Therefore authors suggest that medical doctors should use an abdominal CT scan in appendicitis diagnosis, which should always be combined with physical examination. Despite the high cost of such a procedure it might help save lives and avoid unnecessary surgeries. This is an important remark for all physicians, and I think it is good to have it published in open access, instead of keeping it hidden behind a paywall, especially as the vast majority of medical doctors in the world have little access to conventional journals. And 7% of population means really a lot of opportunities to give good or bad diagnosis.

Kryzauskas, Marius, et al. “Is acute appendicitis still misdiagnosed?.” Open Medicine 11.1 (2016): 231–236.

Getting into beginning of time

Sky surveys deepen our knowledge about the universe that we are living in. They bring huge quantities of data and images, which are subsequently analysed by astronomers to find new, unknown objects or to get more knowledge about those that we already know. And looking into deep space is like time travel. Light from very remote parts of the universe needs billions of years to get to Earth, thus it brings images from ancient times when our universe was young. The problem is that this light is usually faint, and it can be hardly distinguished from background noise. Because of the huge amount of data coming from each sky survey that should be analysed, this work needs an efficient, automated tool for extraction of astronomical objects. In an open access paper published in the journal Mathematical Morphology – Theory and Applications, a group of researchers proposed a novel improvement to a method hitherto used for these extractions. It will help us to detect such events as the merging of ancient galaxies, providing fascinating opportunities to travel back in time. Openness may probably help these studies get the crossdisciplinary audience that it needs. However, astronomical studies get huge public attention nowadays, probably because they provoke interesting philosophical questions.

Teeninga, Paul, et al. “Statistical attribute filtering to detect faint extended astronomical sources.” Mathematical Morphology-Theory and Applications 1.1 (2016): 100-115.

Where the Sun will not reach you

The beneficial effects of resting in a tree shadow, have been voiced by poets for ages. Now a study in Open Geosicence on brings some hard facts on how shadows cast by a tree reduce physiological stress and positively influence the level of radiation. A good argument in discussion on felling trees, especially in urbanized areas.

Kántor, Noémi, Attila Kovács, and Ágnes Takács. “Small-scale human-biometeorological impacts of shading by a large tree.” Open Geosciences 8.1 (2016): 231-245.

Real rehabilitation in a virtual space?

In a paper published in Open Computer Science, researchers presented a futuristic virtual training system prototype. The system captures user’s movements and precisely animates them on a human avatar model, which exists in virtual reality. Contactless sensors analyse the user’s movements and transfer them onto the avatar, so even the avatar’s virtual skin deformations might be spotted. The authors hope that their system will be applied in the training of people with disabilities, especially children, who might consider it as more fun than a form of rehabilitation.

Sobota, Branislav, Ladislav Jacho, and Štefan Korečko. “Application of human body movements on the avatars model for the purpose of virtual training system.” Open Computer Science 6.1 (2016): 100-107.

Image by amekinfo, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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