Open access — becoming increasingly inevitable

April 21, 2010

Here at SV-POW! Towers, we have often lamented that so much dinosaur research is locked up behind the paywalls of big for-profit commercial publishers, and that even work that’s been funded by public money is often not available to the public.

One of the quiet delights of the last couple of years has been watching the hide-research-from-researchers edifice slowly crumbling, and indeed we have a whole section of the site dedicated to that very thing: the Shiny Digital Future.  The process is slow, which should surprise nobody given that large, powerful, profit-motivated corporations are trying to prevent it, but it does feel increasingly inevitable.

This week has brought two more steps towards the open-access utopia: one of them specific and immediate, the other more long term but potentially much more far-reaching.

  • In the immediate, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History has made all issues of its Bulletin up to 2008 freely available.  Although the quality of the articles in these issues is hugely variable, there is a lot of good and important stuff in there, and it’s a boon to the community that they are now open to anyone who wants to read them.
  • I just heard today about the Federal Research Public Access Act (HR 5037), brought before Congress six days ago by a bipartisan group of six representatives (four Democrats and two Republicans).  If passed it would ensure that all research funded by eleven U.S. federal agencies was made open-access.  If you’re American, follow the link to see what you do to help ensure that it’s passed!

As Galadriel said, the world is changing.

Holotype dorsal vertebra of Nopcsaspondylus, apparently, from Mannion (2010:fig. 5), although it bears little resemblance to Apesteguia (2007:fig. 2) which is the illustration of that element in the paper that named the genus. Mannion's figure seems to be reproduced from Nopcsa (1902), which I really ought to get hold of so I can check this for myself. Ever notice how Haplocanthosaurusy rebbachisaurid dorsals look? Just sayin', is all.

Finally: I know that whenever we talk about proprietary publishers, I always tell people to go and read Scott Aaronson’s essay on the subject, but seriously: if you’ve not read it before, go and read it now.  It’s brilliant.

Update (22 April 2010)

Thanks to Phil for the clarification below on whether the pictured vertebra is or is not the Nopcsaspondylus holotype (it is).  Phil also sent me a scan of Nopcsa’s original figure of this plate, which is rather better than the reduced version that made it into the new paper, so here it is!

Definitely the holotype dorsal vertebra of Nopcsasopondylus, from Nopcsa (1902). Still looking kind of Haplocanthosaurusy. The main differences apparent here seem to be that this vertebra has a more vertically compressed centrum and more medially directed SPOLs than the Haplo dorsals. Still, I find myself wondering how many steps it would take to move Haplo into a basal rebbachisaurid position. Funny, really, Rebbachisauridae is just about the only sauropod clade that it hasn't been referred to.

8 Responses to “Open access — becoming increasingly inevitable”

  1. Heinrich Mallison Says:

    There is a paper in the latest PLoS One saying that ‘publish or perish’ increases researchers’ bias, because negative results are rarely published. Thus, you want to find your/the hypothesis supported.

    I wonder if open access helps wrt this issue. After all, if a journal gets paid for a paper, the drive to only publish positive results might be lower. Same for the core of the problem: reviewers who trash negative papers with the eternal demand for solid evidence, instead of accepting that ‘knowing that we do not know’ is often as good as it gets.

  2. Mark Evans Says:

    That neural canal is tiny!

  3. David Says:

    I hadn’t read the Aaronson essay, I have, and it’s great. Thanks!

  4. Phil Mannion Says:


    Apesteguía (2007) doesn’t actually figure Nopcsaspondylus, despite the inclusion of ‘Fig. 2’ after the name; his Figure 2 is an indeterminate basal rebbachisaurid stored at MACN (Buenos Aires). But he says Nopcsaspondylus is named for the vertebra figured in Nopcsa (1902), which is what I figured in my Bothriospondylus paper. Also, if you note, his description of the holotype doesn’t match Fig.2, but does completely match the figure in my paper.

    Sebastian Apesteguía was also a reviewer of the paper, if that helps confirm things…



  5. Jamie Stearns Says:

    Hmm, rebbachisaurids are basal to dicraeosaurids+diplodocids, so maybe Haplocanthosaurus is a basal diplodocoid? As I recall, it’s been bouncing around that area a lot.

    Meanwhile, those vertebrae just look weird. The centra just look way too tiny compared to the giant neural arches.

  6. Zach Miller Says:

    Bah–I can’t just save the New Mexico papers and print them at my leisure? I have been itching to read that Trilophosaurus tome for awhile, though.

  7. Kenneth Carpenter Says:

    I debated as to the validity of Nopcsaspondylus alarconensis Apesteguia 2007 because the specimen upon which the taxon was created has been lost. However, the ICZN does make allowances for this:
    “73.1.4. Designation of an illustration of a single specimen as a holotype is to be treated as designation of the specimen illustrated; the fact that the specimen no longer exists or cannot be traced does not of itself invalidate the designation.”

    Good thing it was well illustrated (unlike Cope’s Amphicoelias fragillimus).

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Ken, good to hear from you, and useful to see the relevant ICZN rule. Although the world could of course have used much more description and illustration of the A. fragillimum dorsal, what little does exist is actually pretty good (and you did a fine job of writing it up a few years back).

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