What do PLOS and Lady Gaga have in common? Nothing really…unless you count this video parody from some grad students at the University of California, Berkeley.
We tracked down the makers of the video to find out a little more about them. Below is a brief Q&A with director Ross Wilson and star Mary Anne Kidwell.
1.) Why PLOS? Was it principle or were we an easy rhyming mechanism?
Ross Wilson: The genesis of the idea certainly lies in the delightful phonetic similarity between “in PLOS” and the original song’s titular “Applause”, but we became much more enthusiastic about it as we considered all the timely themes we could touch on in fun ways. I knew that the idea was meant to be when I realized that Mary Wiese, the star of the Hui Zheng lab’s outstanding “Bad Project” parody and viral hit, has two PLOS ONE papers to her name. This project was contingent on our lab being friendly to open access journals, and I am proud that we have indeed published in PLOS ONE and eLife. Additionally, one perk of being an HHMI lab is that every paper we publish will appear in PubMed Central, delivering open access in a practical sense regardless of journal.
Mary Anne Kidwell: The more we thought about the contrast between Science/Nature/Cell and open access journals, the more appealing it was to invoke a well-known journal like PLOS ONE. When it came to writing the lyrics and making the video, it was important to strike the right balance between the challenges that come with publishing in “hot” journals versus publishing in open access journals.
2.)Describe the team, either as a whole or individually?
RW: The team behind the parody was primarily me and Mary Anne; I contributed a lot behind-the-scenes while she delivered the vocals and star power.
MAK: While Ross and I did most of the work, we couldn’t have done it without our incredibly supportive lab. They provided lot of amazing ideas and help for the video, such as inspiration for the journal cover dress. Ross and I have had a lot of practice working together musically. Over the years, we’ve done Lady Gaga duets during our lab karoke outings and on-stage during our departmental retreat. We have no shame.
3.) Describe your lab?
RW: The Doudna lab has a long history of research into the mechanisms of RNA biology. Although our work on Cas9 has received plenty of attention lately due to the implications for genome engineering, Mary Anne and I study Dicer and its role in microRNA biogenesis. We joke about a unification of these two sides of the lab in the “group meeting” segment of the video, where a Cas9-Dicer fusion enzyme is facetiously suggested to allow time travel.
MAK: Work hard, play hard. Jennifer Doudna has created great lab environment and like the rest of the lab, she is really encouraging of all our crazy ideas (scientific and otherwise). Watch out for her cameo at the end of the video!
4.) What is your research focus?
RW: My research centers on the interplay of the endonuclease Dicer and its protein partners in ensuring quality control of the microRNAs responsible for gene regulation in mammals.
MAK: I study how small RNAs are created but the RNase Dicer and its accessory proteins for RNA interference. I’ve primarily used biochemistry and single-molecule experiments to analyze how these small RNAs are made and understand their role in gene silencing.
5.) Fess up, who is the Lady Gaga fan?
RW: Mary Anne and I are both massive fans of Lady Gaga and had a great time attending a concert of hers together earlier this year.
MAK: Incidentally, the idea for the PLOS video came when we were watching Lady Gaga as a lab. We booked a conference room for a late night viewing of her recent show and her music inspired us.
6.) How long did the video take to produce?
RW: After incorporating all the desired themes into the lyrics, Mary Anne and I recorded the audio during a weekend afternoon. For the video portion, we spent a few hours recording in the wake of our lab holiday party, followed by a long night of editing in order to make the deadline for the annual UC Berkeley “MCB Follies” screening scheduled for the following evening.
MAK: We had the idea percolating around for a few months which helped streamline the recording process. We had more ideas than we could squeeze into the video and actually ended up cutting the recording a little. While I don’t want to subject people to more of my singing, Ross and I wish they could hear the line: “Why waste your time with magazines, when there’s PLOS, there’s PLOS, there’s PLOS.”
8.) What is the most interesting feedback/comment that you have received?
RW: I think it’s really interesting how much each viewer brings to the interpretation of the video. If someone is particularly obsessed with impact factor, they tend to think we’re poking fun at the idea of open access. In contrast, if someone is keen on open access they are likely to pick up on the ways we were critical of the status quo. Ultimately, I think this is a complex issue worthy of consideration and I hope that were able to maintain some of the nuance inherent to the debate in what should be an enjoyable video first and foremost.
MAK: After our first screening of the video, a Berkeley professor asked “What about eLife?”