A quick note to let you all know that George Monbiot’s piece Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist has been published in The Guardian, one of the four respected “broadsheet” national daily newspapers of the UK.  (It was online yesterday, and is in today’s print edition.)

A few key quotes:

“Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.”

“Academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose.”

“Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.”

“What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism.”

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

None of this will be news to long-time SV-POW! readers: we’ve talked more than once about the scandalous prices of academic publications and what can be done about it (and many relevant articles are linked from the Shiny Digital Future page).  What’s new is that this is being discussed in the pages of major mainstream media.

As Scott Aaronson wrote in an article that we’ve cited many times, “What’s missing at this point is mostly anger — a justified response to being asked to donate our time, not to Amnesty International or the Sierra Club, but to the likes of Kluwer and Elsevier.”

So I think I ought to actually do something.  It’s not as though I have a lot of influence, but there is one area where I stop rolling over.  Like all publishing academics, I spend a not insignificant proportion of my time peer-reviewing articles for journals.  From now on, I plan to stop freely volunteering expertise and labour to non-open journals.  When I’m asked to review a manuscript, I’ll reply saying that I’ll be happy to do it for free if the final published version is going to open-access (as it will be at, say, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, PLoS ONE or Palaeontologia Electronica); but that if it’s going to be paywalled, I am available at a reasonable consultancy rate of say £100 per hour.

That seems wholly reasonable to me: if they’re going to be selling the results of my work for profit — which they are perfectly entitled to do — then they can invest in the work that is going to bring them the profit.

I urge you to do the same.  If you do, please mention it in the comments.

(If a fair few of us do this, then we will also be in a position to send an open letter to the for-profit publishers, and to publicise it.  We might just help contribute to the momentum.)

Update (two days later)

There are some excellent letters in today’s Guardian, in response to the Monbiot piece.  Five letters, not one of them attempting a defence of the current broken system.

The work continues

August 27, 2011

Not always solemnly.

Last month, over at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs, David Orr wrote about the dinosaur conflicts he’d like to see, in place of the ubiquitous T. rex-vs.-Triceratops.  Among the fights he wanted to see was:

2. Four strategically placed Incisivosaurus vs. Giraffatitan: Two words: beaver style.

I commented on that article, saying:

I hate to spoil your fun, but a single Giraffatitan individual could effortlessly destroy countless Incisivosaurus by sheer awesomeness alone.

To which David replied, saying:

Though when I think about it, Giraffatitan just being awesome while wave after wave of Incisivosaurus perish in its glorious presence is a totally acceptable outcome.

So true.

Now comes a follow-up post, in which professional illustrator Niroot Puttapipat has beautifully drawn both scenarios (and a bunch of other, less awesome, suggestions).  So without futher ado, here is his interpretation of the first scenario:

And the much more credible second scenario:

Update (two days later)

The originals of the first picture and the second picture are both at DeviantArt, in higher resolution and with (very positive) comments.  Thanks to Niroot for the links.

Also at DeviantArt: patriatyrannus’s version of the first scenario, which I’d not seen before:


Wedel’s Theorem:

freezer full of interesting dead animals + great anatomy student who actually wants to get up on Saturday morning and dissect = happiness

The rhea has been the gift that keeps on giving. Saturday was my fourth session with some part of this bird, going back to 2006 (previous posts are here, here, and here). The first two sessions were just about reducing the bird to its component parts, and the last session was all about midline structures.

The goal for the neck is to dissect down to the vertebrae and document everything along the way–muscles, tendons, fascia, blood vessels, and especially diverticula. In the past I have been pessimistic about the chances of seeing diverticula without having them injected with latex or resin or something. But this bird is changing my mind, as we saw in a previous post and as you can see below.

The goal for Vanessa is to grok all of this anatomy, and hopefully make some publishable observations along the way. She has a chance to do something that I think is rather rare for a sauropod paleobiologist, which is to get a firm, dissection-based grounding in bird and croc anatomy before she first sets foot in a museum collection to play with sauropod bones.

That sounds awesome, and probably will be awesome, but before there can be any awesomeness, the fascia has to be picked off the neck. And by ‘picked’ I mean ‘actually cut away, millimeter by arduous millimeter’. It wasn’t that bad everywhere–the fascia over the long dorsal muscles came off very easily. But the lateral neck muscles were actually originating, in part, from the inner surface of the fascia. That’s not unheard of, it happens in the human forearm and leg all the time, but I’ve never seen it as consistently as in this rhea. So picking fascia took a loooong time–that’s what Vanessa is doing in the photo at top.

Once the fascia was off, Vanessa started parting out the long tendons of the hypaxial muscles in the left half of the neck. Meanwhile, I started stripping fascia from the right half. I had forgotten that the right half of the neck still had the trachea and esophagus adhered to the side. That probably sounds weird, given that our trachea and esophagus–and those of most mammals–run right down the middle of our necks and aren’t free to move around much. In birds, they’re more free-floating and can drift around between the skin and the vertebral muscles, sometimes even ending up dorsal to the  vertebral column–there’s a great x-ray of a duck in a  2001 paper that shows this, which I’ll have to blog sometime.

Anyway, when I cut the fascia to pull back the trachea and esophagus, I found that they were separated from the underlying tissues by a dense network of pneumatic diverticula winding through the fascia.

I had heard, anecdotally, of networks of diverticula described as looking like bubble wrap. I can now confirm that is true, for at least some networks. What was especially cool about these is that they were occupying space that would be filled with adipose or other loose connective tissue in a mammal, which illustrates the point that pneumatic epithelium seems to replace many kinds of connective tissue, not just bone–something Pat O’Connor has talked about, and which I also briefly discussed in this post.

I should mention that there was no connection between these diverticula and the trachea, as there is between the subcutaneous throat sac and the trachea in the emu (story and pictures here).

While I was geeking out on diverticula, Vanessa was methodically separating the long hypaxial muscles, which looked pretty cool all fanned out.

And that’s all we had time for on Saturday. But we’re cutting again soon, so more pictures should be along shortly.

On a lighter note…

August 21, 2011

Something about this photo from the last post has been bugging me all week. It’s the expression on my face. The set jaw, the thrust forward chin, the cocked eyebrow…I knew I had seen these things before. It took me a while, but I was finally able to place it. My doppelganger:

If this is an omen, I have no idea what it means.

Science will resume shortly.

It’s an anniversary of sorts. Not today, nor any particular day this year, but this year, 2011, marks my 15th year doing research. The last time I blogged about this was the 10th anniversary, back in 2006. Back then I was in my fifth year as a PhD student in Kevin Padian’s lab at Berkeley. I knew I’d have to finish and get a job, but I had no idea how either of those things was going to happen. And although I talk a big game about seeking out new experiences, I was flatly terrified. But things have worked out. I have a tenure-track job doing what I love, research is still rolling along, and life continues to change in unexpected ways. Time’s arrow flies on.

If that paragraph seemed insufferably self-absorbed, don’t worry. This isn’t my story anymore.

I’m taking on my first graduate student this semester: Vanessa Graff, who is pursuing a master’s degree through the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences here at WesternU. Vanessa’s going to be a doctor someday, but for the immediate future she’s signed on as a sauropod paleobiologist in training.

My feelings about this are complex. I am acutely aware of exactly how nowhere I’d be without the generosity and guidance of Rich Cifelli, Kevin Padian, Bill Clemens, and the host of people who showed up in my life at the right time and said the right words to steer me to where I am now. Fifteen years ago I had a conversation with Trish Schwagmeyer that literally changed the course of my life. It started with her reviewing my less-than-mediocre grades, looking me in the eye, and saying, “You’re blowing it”, and ended with her recommending that I find a faculty sponsor for an independent study (ultimately, this). I have been walking around with that debt for my entire adult life (if I’d been an adult in 1996, we wouldn’t have needed to have that talk). And although I have thanked Trish and told her how pivotal that conversation turned out to be, I can’t ever pay that back. Or any of the rest, that I owe to more people than I can readily count.

But now, unexpectedly, I have a chance to start–just start–paying it all forward. I don’t have any delusions that I will do so perfectly. Rich, Kevin, and Bill were all seasoned pros when they took me on. Whereas I…well, let’s acknowledge that I’m no Rich Cifelli and leave it at that, shall we? So as a first-time advisor I oscillate between exhilaration and sheer terror–come to think of it, pretty much the same as I did as a PhD candidate at Berkeley, and as an undergrad at OU. Plus ça change

I closed the Acknowledgments of my dissertation with, “Everything they ever taught me has paid off. I have tried to make my career an act of thanks.” At the time I was writing about my parents, but now I have the perspective to see that I was actually writing about my advisors as well. Four years out of the nest, and once again I find myself following their example as I attempt something I’ve never done before. Like everything I do as a professional, my actions will be imperfect imitations of theirs, somewhere on the spectrum between homage and pastiche.

But like I said, it’s not my story anymore. It’s Vanessa’s. And in the brief time that we’ve been working together she has shown more grit and maturity than I had at her age, and just as much enthusiasm. I am confident that her surpluses in those areas will carry her through my inevitable fumbles. She is rolling, and there is the familiar sense of a snowball at the top of a mountain, at the moment where motion goes from potential to perceptible to inevitable.

Where will that motion take her? Beats me. We’ll find out as we go–just like I did with Rich and Kevin and Bill. That will be Vanessa’s story to tell, in conference presentations and papers and whatever other venues she chooses. I’ll help her all I can, and hope for the good sense to know when to nudge and when to get out of the way.

Rich, Kevin, Bill–you left me some damn big shoes to fill. I will not succeed, not completely. But I will strive to make my advising an act of thanks.

It’s been a little quiet around here lately. Mike has been slammed with day-job work, Darren is terminally busy as always, and I’m in my fall teaching block so I’ve been too busy to think. But life rolls on and there are announcements that need making. To wit:

– My post on the long nerves of sauropods was chosen as one of ten blog posts for the Science Writer Tip Jar at Not Exactly Rocket Science, back in May. Ed Yong, the NERS mastermind, has this to say:

Throughout the blogosphere, people produce fantastic writing for free. That’s great, but I believe that good writers should get paid for good work. To set an example, I choose ten pieces every month that were written for free and I donate £3 to the author. There are no formal criteria other than I found them unusually interesting, enjoyable and/or important.

It was an honor to be chosen; Ed’s a damn fine writer and has a knack for finding good stuff and pointing people to it. So why am I just blogging about this now, in August? I didn’t cover it at the time because the Science Writer Tip Jar runs on reader donations and I thought it would be a little gross to solicit money for myself. And I didn’t cover it right after because Ed’s been busy, too, and it sorta slipped off the radar for both of us. But at the end of last month he sent me a nice donation by PayPal, and I’m finally making good with the blogging about it.

What will I do with the dough? Inevitably, it will be spent on an epic meal of sushi for Mike and I. We don’t get to see each other very often, so when we do we have a sushipocalypse, and it’s pretty common for us to have ideas worth pursuing and publishing at these events. So ultimately the money will be plowed back into science, albeit indirectly. Thanks, Ed, and keep up the stellar work at NERS.

– Speaking of money, if you’d like to win a pile of it–4500 Euros, in fact–for the paleo paper you published in 2010, and get a nice trip to Spain in the bargain, I suggest you submit to Paleonturology 11, sponsored by Fundacion Dinopolis in Teruel, Spain. I know about this awesomeness because one of my papers won back in 2006, and I got a free trip to Spain in December, 2007 (story here). Winners have included papers by grad students and emeritus professors, on everything from trilobite eyes and bivalve shells to Pliocene hominids and dinosaur gastralia. The entrance form is super-simple and the whole process takes about as much time as it does to read this post. So if you published a paleo paper in the calendar year 2010 and you don’t enter, you’re just being silly. The deadline isn’t until November 15, but there’s no reason not to just sit down and do it right now. The form is somewhere on the Dinopolis website, but if your Spanish is as nonexistent as mine, you may find this PDF handy:  Paleonturology 11 entrance form

– This Friday, August 19, I’ll be on Jurassic CSI, talking about big sauropods. Details, showtimes, and some photos are here. The photo up top, of me with an Apatosaurus pelvis at BYU, is borrowed from there.

That’s all for now; further bulletins as events warrant.

Matt just wrote this, in an email exchange.  It struck a chord in me, and I thought it deserved a wider audience:

I hate to admit it, but those two papers (i.e., Taylor et al. 2009 and 2011) that had particularly protracted gestations and lots of review time are among the ones I am most proud of. There might be a lesson there — but if so, I’d rather not learn it.


Cervical vertebra V (from an unknown position in the anterior part of the neck) of the STILL undescribed Tendaguru brachiosaurid NHM R5937, "The Archbishop", in right lateral view. The posterior portion is missing in action.