April 23, 2009
OMG! WTF? Was I asleep? Had I slept? Did I miss something? Does paleontological training destroy the part of the brain that knows how to use a freakin’ tape measure? Are paleontologists incapable of imagining that others might want to make meaningful comparisons with their taxa? Has phylotardation reached the point where people think the character taxon matrix contains all relevant information? Somebody throw me a bone here–so I can measure the damn thing!
Way back when, I discussed the question, “How big was Futalognkosaurus?”, which at the time had only been described in one fairly brief publication (Calvo et al. 2007). Nothing wrong with that, lots of dinos get described that way, and little damage is done to science as long as the follow-up descriptions do eventually appear (sometimes they don’t). But Calvo et al. (2008) put out a longer description of Futalognkosaurus the very next year, for which they are to be commended.
It’s not all roses, though. You’ll recall that one of the problems with the original paper was that it didn’t include many measurements, and the scale bars in the photographs and the skeletal reconstruction disagreed wildly. I was hoping that Calvo et al. (2008) would include a table of measurements; actual measurements of one of the most complete large titanosaurs would be invaluable for those of us who are interested in body proportions, neck elongation, mass estimation, and all that good stuff. But sadly the second paper contains no table and almost no measurements; again, it’s all done with scale bars, and since many of the figures appear to be identical to those from the first paper, the precision of the scale bars is hard to determine but possibly low.
It blows my damn mind that a century ago people like Charles Whitney Gilmore and John Bell Hatcher could measure a dinosaur to within an inch of its life, and publish all of those measurements in their descriptions, and lots of folks did this and it was just part of being a competent scientist and doing your damn job. And here we are in the 21st century with CT machines, laser surface scanners, ion reflux pronabulators and the like, and using a narf-blappin’ TAPE MEASURE is apparently a lost art. This vast inexplicable deficiency is not limited to any one working group or country or continent or language, either. Nigersaurus is known from multiple specimens and has been the subject of three separate peer-reviewed papers spread out over a friggin’ decade, but good luck trying to figure out the dimensions of the individual bones.
Dammit, people! Tape measures. Tables of measurements. These are dead simple, cost almost nothing, and add measurably to the usefulness* of descriptive work.
* as in citeability, which none of us can afford to ignore
From now on, when people describe sauropods and don’t publish any measurements, said omissions will be trumpeted here and the perpetrators will be savagely mocked.
You’ve been warned.
With so many offenders, it’s a bit unfair to single out Calvo et al. for scorn. I am glad that they provided a longer description, which is more than I can say for many. And I have to give them mad props because both Futalognkosaurus papers are freely available at Proyecto Dino. But someone had to get the Wonka ticket in the MYDD! lottery, and they won because I’d been so looking forward to the follow-up paper so that I could answer the original question. Someone with a tape measure and a plane ticket to Argentina (or Beijing, or Chicago) could do a crapload of useful science. Sheesh!
- Calvo, J.O., Porfiri, J.D., Gonzalez-Riga, B.J., and Kellner, A.W.A. 2007. A new Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem from Gondwana with the description of a new sauropod dinosaur. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias 79(3):529-541.
- Calvo, J.O., Porfiri, J.D., Gonzalez-Riga, B.J., and Kellner, A.W.A. 2008. Anatomy of Futalognkosaurus dukei Calvo, Porfiri, Gonzalez-Riga & Kellner, 2007 (Dinosauria, Titanosauridae) from the Neuquen Group (Late Cretaceous), Patagonia, Argentina. Arquivos do Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro 65(4):511-526.