March 27, 2014
Aitor Ederra drew my attention to this painting by Frederik Spindler:
As so often when we look at All Yesterdays-style palaeo-art, the initial reaction is “no way!”, but that’s quickly followed by a more thoughtful “… but why not?”
Well, why not? We have bare-skinned African and Asian elephants, but not so long ago we had wooly mammoths. Even assuming that Giraffatitan was as naked as Loxodonta, why would its polar equivalents not have adapted the ancestral dinofuzz into a thick insulating coat?
March 26, 2014
I’ve never seen a rearing titanosaur skeleton before. Here it is again, from in front:
And here’s the whole exhibit:
I don’t know what taxon the big rearing guy is — perhaps John can chip in? — but it certainly smells like a titanosaur. It looks very uncomfortable rearing, but I don’t know to what extent that’s because the body shape is wrong, and to what degree that actual pose is off: the hindfeet should be shifted forward to get them under the centre of gravity, as in the rather more convincing rearing Barosaurus at the AMNH.
March 25, 2014
How should scientists, and reporters, discuss work that has failed to replicate? The original Barr and colleagues article remains in the scientific literature; failed replication alone is not grounds for retraction.
He’s right, of course: we certainly don’t want to retract every paper whose conclusions can’t be replicated, for all sorts of reasons: they may subsequently be replicated after all; the paper may contain other useful information even if the experiment in question was flawed; the replication studies themselves probably rely on the original’s Methods section; authors should not be punished for unfortunate outcomes unless they were fraudulently obtained.
What we want is for that Barr et al paper, whenever anyone looks at it, to be displayed with a prominent header that says “The following studies attempted to replicate this finding but failed:”, and a list of references/links. And, for that matter, another header saying that the following other studies did replicate it.
For web-sites to automatically produce that kind of annotation, they need articles that cite the original to include an additional piece of metadata, along with the author/year/title/journal/etc. metadata that identifies the cited paper. That additional ingredient is the citation’s type, which should be one of a small set of defined values.
What values are relevant? I won’t try to come up with an exhaustive list at this point, but obvious ones include:
- Replicates — the current paper replicates work done in the cited paper (and so provides evidence, though not proof, that the cited paper’s conclusion is correct).
- FailsToReplicate – the current paper attempts to replicate work done in the cited paper, but fails (and so provides evidence that the cited paper is mistaken).
- Falsifies — the current paper shows definitely that the cited paper is wrong. This is a stronger statement than FailsToReplicate, and would be used for example when the new work shows conclusively that the experimental protocol of the original was critically flawed.
- DependsOn — the current paper depends on information from the cited paper, such as the phylogeny that it proposes or the vertebral formula that it gives. For these purposes, the cited paper is treated as an authoritative source.
- Acknowledges — the current paper uses ideas proposed in the cited paper, and gives credit to the original.
There are all sorts of practical issues that will impede the adoption of this idea (not least the idiot fact that the citation graph is a trade secret rather than a freely available database), but let’s ignore those for now, and figure out what taxonomy of citation-types we want.
March 24, 2014
Here’s a working version of that link.
- Falkingham (2012) on photogrammetry for free
- Mallison photogrammetry tutorial 1
- Mallison photogrammetry tutorial 2
- Mallison photogrammetry tutorial 3
- Mallison photogrammetry tutorial 4
- Powell, Jaime E. 2003. Revision of South American Titanosaurid dinosaurs: palaeobiological, palaeobiogeographical and phylogenetic aspects. Records of the Queen Victoria Museum 111: 1-94.
March 21, 2014
When Fiona checked her email this morning, she found this note from our next-door neighbour Jenny:
I seem to remember Mike wanting a mole – I do hope so because I’ve left you a body on your patio in a cereal box!
Cheers Jen x
What a delightful surprise! And here it is:
And a close-up of that awesome digging hand:
I don’t have time to deal with it properly right now, so it’s gone into a plastic box with some small holes in the lid, where I will trust invertebrates to do my work for me — as they did to great effect with the juvenile baby rabbit whose skeleton I must show you some time.
The end-game here is of course to obtain a complete skeleton; but if not that, then at least the upper-arm bones. I’m on record as saying that next to sauropod vertebrae, mole humeri are the bones that move me most; and elsewhere I nominated mole humeri in response to John Hutchinson’s question, “what are the strangest animal bones (in form & function etc) that have ever been discovered?”
That last one really hurts. Here’s the original image, which should have gone in the paper with the interpretive trace next to it rather than on top of it:
Papers referenced in these slides:
- Taylor, M.P., and Wedel, M.J. 2013b. The effect of intervertebral cartilage on neutral posture and range of motion in the necks of sauropod dinosaurs. PLOS ONE 8(10): e78214. 17 pages. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078214
- Wedel, M.J. 2007a. What pneumaticity tells us about ‘prosauropods’, and vice versa. Special Papers in Palaeontology 77:207-222.
- Wedel, Mathew J., Richard L. Cifelli and R. Kent Sanders. 2000b. Osteology, paleobiology, and relationships of the sauropod dinosaur Sauroposeidon. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 45(4): 343-388.
March 20, 2014
In discussion of Samuel Gershman’s rather good piece The Exploitative Economics Of Academic Publishing, I got into this discusson on Twitter with David Mainwaring (who is usually one of the more interesting legacy-publisher representatives on these issues) and Daniel Allingon (who I don’t know at all).
I’ll need to give a bit of background before I reach the key part of that discussion, so here goes. I said that one of David’s comments was a patronising evasion, and that I expected better of him, and also that it was an explicit refusal to engage. David’s response was interesting:
First, to clear up the first half, I wasn’t at all saying that David hasn’t engaged in OA, but that in this instance he’d rejected engagement — and that his previous record of engaging with the issues was why I’d said “I expect better from you” at the outset.
Now with all that he-said-she-said out of the way, here’s the point I want to make.
David’s tweet quoted above makes a very common but insidious assumption: that a “nuanced” argument is intrinsically preferable to a simple one. And we absolutely mustn’t accept that.
We see this idea again and again: open-access advocates are criticised for not being nuanced, with the implication that this equates with not being right. But the right position is not always nuanced. Recruiting Godwin to the cause of a reductio ad absurdum, we can see this by asking the question “was Hitler right to commit genocide?” If you say “no”, then I will agree with you; I won’t criticise your position for lacking nuance. In this argument, nuance is superfluous.
[Tedious but probably necessary disclaimer: no, I am not saying that paywall-encumbered publishing is morally equivalent to genocide. I am saying that the example of genocide shows that nuanced positions are not always correct, and that therefore it's wrong to assume a priori that a nuanced position regarding paywalls is correct. Maybe a nuanced position is correct: but that is something to be demonstrated, not assumed.]
So when David says “What I do hold to is that a rounded view, nuance, w/ever you call it, is important”, I have to disagree. What matters is to be right, not nuanced. Again, sometimes the right position is nuanced, but there’s no reason to assume that from the get-go.
Here’s why this is dangerous: a nuanced, balanced, rounded position sounds so grown up. And by contrast, a straightforward, black-and-white one sounds so adolescent. You know, a straightforward, black-and-white position like “genocide is bad”. The idea of nuance plays on our desire to be respected. It sounds so flattering.
We mustn’t fall for this. Our job is to figure out what’s true, not what sounds grown-up.