November 21, 2014
…is not actually about scholarly publication. It’s Steve Albini’s keynote address at Melbourne’s Face the Music conference. It’s about the music industry, and how the internet transformed it from a restrictive, top-down oligarchy that mostly benefited middlemen into a more open, level, vibrant ecosystem where artists can get worldwide exposure for free, and yet are often compensated better than they were under the old system. Go read it, and then think about this:
Once the music world met the internet, the problem of getting information from musicians (authors) to listeners (readers) didn’t require any central planning to solve. What little building needed to happen was taken care of by people who were just happy to let the internet work the way it was designed to, and the way it works the most naturally: it makes sharing information almost effortless. Publishers (record labels) still exist, because they offer certain conveniences, but few people are under the delusion that they are necessary.
Over here in academia, we’ve already spent more than a decade wringing our hands over how to manage the shift from a barrier-based publishing world to one based on OA. We’ve put so much time and effort and thought into the problem of how to “save” or “transform” scholarly publishing. Why do we do that? Why not just walk away? Publishing is a button, and anything that we do to lend it any more importance–anything we feed it, in terms of time, effort, energy, or regard–is wasted. Wasted because we deliberately ignore the new reality in favor of propping up a system that performed a job that no-one needs done anymore. I keep wondering when the hell we’re all going to wake up, and start sharing our work the way that musicians and listeners share digital music.
And yet even out here on the crazy-eyed, axe-wielding fringe of the OA movement, we are still conservative. Zen Faulkes published a paper on his blog, and he did it 26 months ago, which is a near eternity in the Shiny Digital Future (it’s 13.4% of the lifespan to date of Google). Mike and I have admired that move, and talk about it, but we haven’t done it. Why not? We could even solicit peer reviews from people we know to be tough but fair reviewers. We all do unpaid editorial and review work for publishers, why not for each other directly? It’s like we’re thinking, “Okay, okay, I’ll review this paper, but only if there’s a publisher somewhere that will benefit from my unpaid labor!”
I suppose that for us, one answer is that PeerJ has given us other options that are just as easy as blogging, like posting preprints. So I am a bit torn: I like PeerJ, I support it, I have several papers in the pipeline that I’m planning on sending there. It offers certain conveniences, like sticking DOIs on everything for us, and tracking all of our metrics. But do we need PeerJ? I wonder if it is just the methadone that will help ease us out of our sad addiction to publishers.
Bonus observation: don’t just translate Albini’s thoughts on music to scholarly publishing, also try doing the reverse. It becomes pretty clear that the central theme of The Scholarly Kitchen is, “How will poor, helpless music listeners survive without all the middlemen to tell them what to listen to? They’ll be so lost.” Keep polishing that brass, guys, and thanks for the patronization!
The photos are of the dodo skeleton in the Yorkshire Museum, which I saw at SVPCA back in September. If you’re a dodo-phile like me, you should consider supporting Leon Claessens’s, Kenneth Rijsdijk’s, and Hanneke Meijer’s quest to better understand the skull and feeding mechanics of dodos. Their crowdfunding campaign runs through the end of the year–please go check it out.
November 3, 2014
Just a quick post to link to all five (so far) installments of the “necks lie” series. I need this because I want to cite all the “necks lie” posts in a paper that I’ll shortly submit, and it seems better to cite a single page than four of them.
- Necks lie
- Necks lie, redux
- Sauropods still didn’t hold their necks in osteological neutral pose
- Hoatzins lie (and so do parrots)
- Herons lie (and so do shoebills)
I’ll update this post as and when we write more about lying necks.
September 16, 2014
In the last post I pointed out some similarities between Davide Bonadonna’s new Spinosaurus painting and Brian Engh’s Spinosaurus painting from 2010. I also suggested that Davide might have borrowed from Brian and might have crossed a line in doing so. I was mistaken about that, as this post will show, and I’m sorry.
I woke up this morning to find that Mike and Davide had a very fruitful and collegial discussion going in email, which they had kindly copied me on. Davide had offered to send his in-progress sketches, Mike had offered to put them up here as a guest post, “because it’ll be a fascinating post — NOT as any kind of defense” (his words, with which I fully agree), and Davide had kindly assented (Brian’s post on how his Spinosaurus came to be is on his own blog). Davide and I corresponded directly this morning and he’s been very gracious and generous with his time, thoughts, and art.
We are always thrilled when we have the opportunity to show how awesome paleoart came into being (like this and this), and this case is no exception. Best now if I just get out of the way, so — over to Davide!
About the illustration:
In early November 2013, I was commissioned by NGMag, via Nizar Ibrahim of the University of Chicago, to create an illustration for a page in the October 2014 issue.
Working for about six years with Simone Maganuco, co-author of the study, on the Spinosaurus (I made the digital model from which the model exhibited in Washington was printed, Nizar left us carte blanche.
Some key points were essential, however: showing the Spinosaurus while swimming, his webbed feet, show its prey in the environment of Kemkem, possibly including all the major players in the scene, Mawsonia, Alanqa and Carcharodontosaurus.
Problems: the Spinosaurus is very long, the subjects to be represented too many. It was decided first of all to exclude the Carcharodontosaurus and then framing a foreshortened Spinosaurus, which would allow us to make room for the actors. Given the size and shape of Spinosaurus we knew that we would inevitably get what I call the “Luis Rey-effect” style. So, after gathering plenty of references, I made my sketches, suggesting a frontal dynamic sight (4) and a back view (1-2-3), presenting both solutions to Nizar at last SVP in L.A.
Meanwhile the size of the final art had to be changed because from the mag they asked for a double opening page of the article. And in the same time, thanks to a friend suggestion, I drew a third version (5), with the Idea to put all them together (8).
But the scene was too crowded and we decided to use just two animals, so I tried different combinations (6).
And the best one was to put both frontal versions together, one close to the other (7).
And again the two-pages image had to be changed because NG decided to turn it in a three-pages wide illustration, something that helped me to put Mawsonia in the background (9).
When finished, before approval, the NG editorial staff asked me to put an animal familiar to the modern public, which could help the reader to feel how big was the Spinosaurus, and a turtle was the chosen one (10).
Brian Engh’s illustration:
I vaguely remember I once had seen Brian’s illustration before today and I did not put it in my archive as a reference. All my main references are these: crocodile photos, patchworks made with my 3D digital model and Dinoraul one (11).
The water view comes from an NG poster about marine reptiles (12).
Most of my illustrations have a fisheye distortion, this is not the first one I make (see on my website Scipionyx, Neptunidraco, Diplodocus-Allosaurus and others).
You can easily see from the sketches progress how a traditional vanishing point becomes gradually a curve.
This is a case of illustrative convergence. ;-)
That’s all folks, I think. If you have any other doubt, just ask. I’m at your disposal.
September 15, 2014
UPDATE the next day: Since I published this post, it’s become clear that the similarities in the two images are in fact convergence. Davide Bonadonna got in touch with Mike and me, and he has been very gracious and conciliatory. In fact, he volunteered to let us post the making-of images for his painting, which I will do shortly. I’m sorry that my initial post was more inquisitorial than inquisitive, and implied wrongdoing on Davide’s part. Rather than edit it out of existence, I’m going to let it stand as a cautionary signal to my future self. Stand by for the new post as soon as I can get it assembled and published….aaaand here it is.
Scott Hartman has already explained–twice–that the super-short-legged, “Ambulocetus-grade” Spinosaurus from the new Ibrahim et al. (2014) paper has some major problems. Those are both good, careful, thought-provoking posts and you should go read them.
I’m writing about something else fishy with the “new” Spinosaurus and, in particular, National Geographic’s media push. Let’s check out this life restoration, newly prepared for the Spinosaurus story:
And now let’s look at this one by Brian Engh from a couple of years ago, borrowed from Brian’s art page:
And let’s count up the similarities:
- Two spinosaurs, one in the foreground with its head mostly or entirely submerged as it bites a fish, and one further back on the right with its head complete out of the water;
- Two turtles, one in the foreground with its head out of the water, and one further back on the right fully submerged;
- A good diversity of fish swimming around in the foreground;
- Pterosaurs flying way back in the background;
And finally, and most interestingly to me:
- A curved-water-surface, fish-eye perspective to the whole scene.
All the bits are moved around a bit, but pretty much everything in Brian’s picture is in the new one. Is it all just a big coincidence–or rather, a fairly lengthy series of coincidences? Seems unlikely. Your thoughts are welcome.
August 28, 2014
I’m scrambling to get everything done before I leave for England and SVPCA this weekend, so no time for a substantive post. Instead, some goodies from old papers I’ve been reading. Explanations will have to come in the comments, if at all.
For more noodling about nerves, please see:
- The world’s longest cells? Speculations on the nervous systems of sauropods
- Oblivious sauropods being eaten
- Butler, A.B., and Hodos, W. 1996. Comparative Vertebrate Neuroanatomy: Evolution and Adaptation. 514 pp. Wiley–Liss, New York.
- Nieuwenhuys, R. (1964). Comparative anatomy of the spinal cord. Progress in Brain Research, 11, 1-57.
- Streeter, G. L. (1904). The structure of the spinal cord of the ostrich. American Journal of Anatomy, 3(1), 1-27.
July 16, 2014
I was at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County yesterday to do some research in the ornithology collection. After lunch I was working on this pelican skeleton and I thought, “Geez, there is just no way to do this thing justice with still photos. I should make a video.” Here it is. You’ll want to see it full-screen–this being my first time out making a video, I didn’t realize that I was holding the phone the wrong way for efficient viewing on other devices.
The specimen is LACM Ornithology 86262. I’m posting this video with the knowledge and kind permission of the ornithology collection staff.
For previous things in this vein, please see:
- There’s almost nothing but nothing there, Brachiosaurus edition
- There’s almost nothing but nothing there, Sauroposeidon edition
If you like it that stuff like this exists, please support your local natural history museum, especially the LACM, which has some really fantastic education and outreach programs.
New (but very old) preprint: A survey of dinosaur diversity by clade, age, place of discovery and year of description
July 11, 2014
Today, available for the first time, you can read my 2004 paper A survey of dinosaur diversity by clade, age, place of discovery and year of description. It’s freely available (CC By 4.0) as a PeerJ Preprint. It’s one of those papers that does exactly what it says on the tin — you should be able to find some interesting patterns in the diversity of your own favourite dinosaur group.
“But Mike”, you say, “you wrote this thing ten years ago?”
Yes. It’s actually the first scientific paper I ever wrote (bar some scraps of computer science) beginning in 2003. It’s so old that all the illustrations are grey-scale. I submitted it to Acta Palaeontologica Polonica way back on on 24 October 2004 (three double-spaced hard-copies in the post!) , but it was rejected without review. I was subsequently able to publish a greatly truncated version (Taylor 2006) in the proceedings of the 2006 Symposium on Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems, but that was only one tenth the length of the full manuscript — much potentially valuable information was lost.
My finally posting this comes (as so many things seem to) from a conversation with Matt. Off work sick, he’d been amusing himself by re-reading old SV-POW! posts (yes, we do this). He was struck by my exhortation in Tutorial 14: “do not ever give a conference talk without immediately transcribing your slides into a manuscript”. He bemoaned how bad he’s been at following that advice, and I had to admit I’ve done no better, listing a sequence of old my SVPCA talks that have still never been published as papers.
The oldest of these was my 2004 presentation on dinosaur diversity. Commenting on this, I wrote in email: “OK, I got the MTE four-pager out of this, but the talk was distilled from a 40ish-page manuscript that was never published and never will be.” Quick as a flash, Matt replied:
If I had written this and sent it to you, you’d tell me to put it online and blog about how I went from idea to long paper to talk to short paper, to illuminate the process of science.
And of course he was right — hence this preprint.
I will never update this manuscript, as it’s based on a now wildly outdated database and I have too much else happening. (For one thing, I really ought to get around to finishing up the paper based on my 2005 SVPCA talk!) So in a sense it’s odd to call it a “pre-print” — it’s not pre anything.
Despite the data being well out of date, this manuscript still contains much that is (I think) of interest, and my sense is that the ratios of taxon counts, if not the absolute numbers, are still pretty accurate.
I don’t expect ever to submit a version of this to a journal, so this can be considered the final and definitive version.
- Taylor, Michael P. 2006. Dinosaur diversity analysed by clade, age, place and year of description. pp. 134-138 in Paul M. Barrett and Susan E. Evans (eds.), Ninth international symposium on Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems and biota, Manchester, UK. Cambridge Publications. Natural History Museum, London, UK. 187 pp.
- Taylor, Michael P. 2014 (written in 2004). A survey of dinosaur diversity by clade, age, place of discovery and year of description. PeerJ PrePrints 2:e434v1. doi:10.7287/peerj.preprints.434v1