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Meet PLOS Biology Senior Editor, Liza Gross

A member of our editorial team since 2003, senior editor Liza Gross edits articles in the journal’s front section and writes frequently about ecology, conservation, and public and environmental health for many media outlets. Here, she chats about Open Access publishing, career passions, hidden talents, and scientists she’d invite to a party.

At what time in your career did you start thinking about Open Access and why is it important to you?

I recognized the value of open access publishing before I even knew what it was. I was a staffer at Sierra magazine, working on a story about environmental links to breast cancer and it drove me crazy that nearly every paper I needed to read was behind a paywall. I could always get the paper by asking the author, but that added unnecessary delays and ultimately didn’t address a huge flaw in the system. 

Taxpayers funded most of the research I wanted to read about and I thought it was outrageous that we needed to pay to read the results of the work we paid for. It was especially infuriating because these paywalls put the work out of reach of the very people who needed it most: patients who deserved to know about the benefits and harms of the latest medical research and journalists who could help the public make sense of the results.

Overall, what do you think makes PLOS Biology stand out?

I think many authors come to PLOS Biology because they recognize that science advances faster and society reaps greater benefits when information, data and the dissemination of results are freely available to all, not just the privileged few. I think the journal attracts civic-minded scientists who are concerned with more than just advancing their careers. They want to make the world a better place.

I think the journal attracts civic-minded scientists who are concerned with more than just advancing their careers. They want to make the world a better place.

When it comes to your career what are you passionate about? 

Holding powerful interests accountable, identifying failures of government to address environmental problems and health disparities, challenging misinformation and revealing the manipulation of science for private gain. And of course big carnivore conservation. I have an inordinate fondness for mountain lions.

If you could host a party for a group of scientists, who would you invite and why?

  • Rosalind Franklin and Barbara McClintock: To hear them talk about how their brilliant contributions were overlooked or not taken seriously because of their gender. I’d love to hear what Franklin really thought about James Watson.
  • Rachel Carson: One of my heroes, would love to hear how she mustered the courage to launch a crusade against government and industry’s misuse of toxic chemicals and threats they pose to people and the environment.
  • Evelyn Fox Keller: An amazing intellect who studied physics and genetics before turning to the philosophy of science. She challenged scientists to question their assumptions about the nature and practice of science and how gender influences both.
  • Linda Birnbaum: One of the nation’s most accomplished toxicologists, who in many ways carried on the work of Carson while directing a federal research agency.
  • Tyrone Hayes: An expert on how hormones regulate amphibian development, Hayes was attacked by the chemical industry after he discovered that a widely used pesticide can turn male frogs into females.
  • Danielle Lee:  She has done important science outreach to underserved communities and has worked hard to raise awareness about the need to increase diversity in science.

How has the journal community changed since you started at PLOS?

Since the beginning, the journal featured research “from molecules to ecosystems,” but from my perspective, as a nonscientist who was charged with making the papers accessible to nonexperts, it showcased mostly very basic biology, like genomics, genetics, molecular, cellular, and structural biology, theoretical and evolutionary ecology and neuroscience. So even when a paper raised conservation issues it was usually doing so through genetics or selection analyses. I think this was a natural reflection of the backgrounds of the founding editors. The journal then branched out, highlighting more applied fields, like conservation science, science education, public engagement efforts, social science collaborations, animal welfare, research integrity and ethics, and much more.

The guiding principle has always been to highlight exceptional science across the life sciences, and I think as decisions about what that entails have expanded, so has the community.

Do you have any hidden talents? If so, what are they?

Portraiture. In my younger days, I loved drawing portraits of interesting people from all walks of life, mostly in charcoal but I also painted, using oils and acrylics.

What’s on your reading list for the PLOS Biology community?

In PLOS BiologyIn your local library
The Limits to Sustainability Science: Ecological Constraints or Endless Innovation?

The selfish germ

Gray Wolves as Climate Change Buffers in Yellowstone

Making America great again requires acting on scientific knowledge

Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway

Triumph of Doubt, Dark Money and the Science of Deception, by David Michaels

A Feeling for the Organism, The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, by Evelyn Fox Keller

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