Idiot things that we we do in our papers out of sheer habit

April 10, 2013

Is there any justification for any of these practices other than tradition?

  • Choosing titles that deliberately omit new taxon names.
  • Slicing the manuscript to fit an arbitrary length limit.
  • Squeezing the narrative into a fixed set of sections (Introduction, Methods, Results, Conclusion).
  • Discarding or combining illustrations to avoid exceding an arbitrary count.
  • Flattening illustrations to monochrome.
  • Using passive instead of active voice (especially in singular: “we did this” may be acceptable but not “I did this” for some reason).
  • Giving the taxonomic authority after first use of each formal name.
  • Listing institutional abbreviations at end of the Introduction section, several pages into the paper.
  • Using initials for names in the acknowledgements.
  • Refusing to cite in-prep papers, dissertations and blogs (while accepting pers. comm.)
  • Using numbered citations instead of Author+Date.
  • Using journal abbreviations such as “J. Vertebr. Paleontol.” in the references.
  • Formatting references
  • Having references at all, rather than links.
  • Putting figure captions and tables at end the end of the manuscript instead of where they occur.
  • Arbitrarily relegating parts of the manuscript to Supplementary information.
  • Submitting images in TIFF format (even for born-as-JPEG photos).
  • Double-spacing manuscripts.
  • Writing cover letters for submissions.
  • Throwing away reviews once they’ve been handled.
  • Allowing the final product to go behind a paywall.

Did I miss any?

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48 Responses to “Idiot things that we we do in our papers out of sheer habit”

  1. Blake Stacey Says:

    I’d like links in references, rather than links instead of references. With the bibliography laid out explicitly, I can see where the pointers point without having to follow them. I can get a sense of who wrote what and when. Also, it’s darn hard to hyperlink to references which are too old to have DOIs.

    My own style when writing a paper to be put on the arXiv is to give full bibliographic information (with journal names written out instead of abbreviated), a hyperlinked DOI and a direct link to a free version (arXiv, PMC, author’s website, etc.) whereever I can find one.

    I can see circumstances where relegating parts of a manuscript to appendices would be a good idea, but those appendices should be part of the paper itself, not “supplementary” material quarantined away from the main text.

    Having figures which are legible in monochrome is a good idea: people print out papers to read, some readers are colorblind, etc. Automatically flattening the colour out of images, however, seems silly to me.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    I think you’re right that it’s too early to throw references out completely. But a PeerJ-like system, where you see the ref. if you hover over the citation, removes the need for a list — then you can just link straight through to the content when you click on it.

    Your style for arXiv is a very sensible one.

    There is a role for supplementary material, of course: when it’s a distinct file in some specific format — for example, a video, or a set of DICOM slices. But I don’t think there is ever a legitimate reason any more to have supplementary text.


  3. I agree with Blake’s post and want to add a defense of citing taxon authorities. I find the “author, year” to be very useful in tracing the history of nomina; especially in taxa where species have been transferred between genera a lot; where different authors use different taxonomies or classifications; or when the taxa in question are not commonly known even among specialists. Furthermore, in a world with a severe taxonomic impediment it is good to have at least some traditions that highlight the taxonomists’ contributions to science.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    I want to add a defense of citing taxon authorities. I find the “author, year” to be very useful in tracing the history of nomina; especially in taxa where species have been transferred between genera a lot.

    I am struggling to believe this. If you have a genus or species name, you can look it up yourself on Nomenclator Zoologicus in 20 seconds and get that information — author and year. Of course, author and year alone is not that useful. What you really want is the whole reference. And much of the time you can get that from Wikipedia, which is more than you can get from the taxonomic authority in a paper.

    And it’s a nightmare for the poor author, trying to keep it straight that every taxon’s first mention is the one that gets encumbered in this way. Every time you edit the manuscript, any of them could change. If I ever again write for a journal that requires this, I am going to open the paper by saying “This contributions concerns the following taxa:”, then list them all at the very start.

  5. Blake Stacey Says:

    What would be really cool is a journal website where you can change how references and other such things appear in your “user preferences” settings. I expect that’d be helpful for those who have to have software read websites aloud, for example. And it’d give a new way to procrastinate after one has worn out the appeal of changing desktop backgrounds, Twitter profile pictures and so forth. :-)

    And speaking of website improvements: I really like how the American Physical Society puts a “locate article by volume and page number” box right there on the main page. Nature and Science and PNAS all bury that under “Advanced Search”, when it’s not really advanced at all. Most often, that’s the data I have on hand when I’m trying to get a paper, if I don’t have a direct hyperlink to it.


  6. Nomenclator Zoologicus only covers genera and subgenera, not species. Also, a significant majority of taxa are not on Wikipedia or Wikispecies.
    I understand your frustration with “first” mentions, and solve it by using full taxon strings throughout the manuscript until the final review. Also I think authority citings should be hyperlinked like other references.

  7. Richard Says:

    Many systematists, systematic journals and associations of systematists encourage the citing of taxon authorities for a very good reason: it credits the original describer and increases citations for taxonomic publications, and thus supports taxonomic work, which is under severe pressure and declining internationally despite its critical importance to the biological and palaeontological sciences.

  8. Blake Stacey Says:

    When I was typesetting the Open Laboratory anthologies (a project since taken over by Scientific American), I made a custom LaTeX command for marking species names. That way, instead of just italicizing the text so the human reader knows it’s special, the computer knows too. That makes it easy to put every mention of each species in the index, for example. If journal articles could be written this way (or if journals made this kind of markup part of their editorial process, cough cough), then all the supplementary details about taxon authorities and so forth could appear as hover-over text. Or, you could set in your preferences that you want the full genus-and-species combination plus author and year on the first occurrence, and then just G. species after that. And if you want a printable copy, you click “Save as PDF” and get the taxon authorities included in footnotes or gathered together in a table.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Some excellent ideas here. Now we’re up and running!

    On 10 April 2013 20:17, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

  10. Tor Bertin Says:

    Regarding supplementary text, I recently finished a large scale (= 470 references gathered) review paper on interspecific killing interactions between cats and other carnivores that had several supplementary files for code used during data analysis and a full review-specific reference list (most journals would be hard pressed to allow 470 extra references, in addition to those cited in the text ;-) ).

    I suppose that this would be less of an issue with a fully online manuscript, but I still suspect that people looking for references cited in text would appreciate the two to be separated.

  11. Vertebrat Says:

    Avoiding hints on how to reproduce the result, especially ones in the imperative mood. E.g. “stir constantly or it’ll curdle”; “if the dough is too sticky, add more flour”; “use a baby sauropod; meat from adults is too tough”. This isn’t such an issue in paeleontology, but in experiment-heavy fields papers usually don’t include everything you need to know to reproduce the result, which probably contributes to the lack of reproductions.

  12. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Agree with all but the reducing of references to hyperlinks. I do read papers on…. paper sometimes, after all.

    As for taxon-author combos, at least we’re past the point where some authors felt the need to cite the describer EVERY time a taxon was mentioned. I think Richard’s defense only applies in a small set of cases- papers that are about a small number of extant taxa that were largely named in the past ~30 years. There’s no issue of taxonomy waning in paleontology, papers on e.g. large phylogenetic analyses would need hundreds of additional references (think of new genus/species combinations too), and authors naming taxa too far in the past are either dead or probably in a good career situation by now.

  13. Howard Allen Says:

    Using inscrutable three-letter abbreviations in anatomical figures where there’s plenty of room to spell out the term. I REALLY hate having to look back and forth between the figure and the caption to figure out what some goofy abbreviation stands for. Maybe this is another application for mouse-over “tool-tips”?

  14. Mike Keesey Says:

    “Giving the taxonomic authority after first use of each formal name.”

    I actually wish this were done more often. Sure, it’s not necessary everywhere (“Homo sapiens” doesn’t really need the “Linnaeus 1758”, especially in a paper that’s not about nomenclature or systematics), but it’s a pretty useful tool for clarification in a number of contexts. (Nice for data mining, too!)

    TIFFs make sense for some images, although PNG would probably be better in most cases. I actually wish people would not use JPEGs at all, except for thumbnails (although I suppose it’s unavoidable for digital photography). And it would be incredible if everyone started using annotated SVG for their diagrams.

    Good points in general, though. And a great question to ask ourselves.


  15. replacing the ref list with appear-on-hover is not a good idea! Ideally, I want both, because a list allows checking quickly if a certain paper was cited.

  16. Richard Says:

    Mickey – my defence of taxon-author combos applies to essentially the whole of zoological taxonomy, which is generally in a perilous state. Moreover, taxonomy is suffering severely across many areas of palaeontology – just because systematic work on Mesozoic vertebrates is in rude health does not mean that the same is true of, for example, Palaeozoic brachiopods. There really is a very good reason for many journals enforcing this approach.

  17. Andrea Cau Says:

    I’m ranking my past, present and future manuscripts based on Mike’s list of idiocy.
    I suspect most will have a TIM (Taylor’s Idiocy Magnitude) > 10…

  18. Andrea Cau Says:

    Note: I meant “Mike’s list of idiot things”. :-)

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    I’m finding this fascinating. Not surprising that people are pushing back on one or two points, but the interesting thing is that 90% of the items in the list are going unchallenged. Seems like no-one likes them.

    So who are we doing them for?

  20. Brian Says:

    I guess I’m a little old school, but I do editing and reviews on hard copy with a pen because I catch more problems that way. I’m sure there’s a fascinating psychological study in why.

    If a paper is well-written, single vs. double spaced is irrelevant, but most articles are written pretty damn poorly, and it’s easy to get lost. You need the white space for those moments when you have to read four times to follow the bad writing, and single spaced manuscripts just become word soup.

  21. Jason Says:

    I prefer numbered citations. Until we get more widespread uptake of some of the previous suggestions (hover-over citations, web links, etc.), numbering the citations puts the reference list in a logical order. I think it makes it cross-referencing go smoother for people like me or Brian who like to scribble on hard copies when reviewing. I’d argue that ordering reference lists by author name is the more arbitrary tradition. Really, I’m just jealous because that “Aaronson” guy always gets first billing in reference lists. ;-)

  22. Heteromeles Says:

    @Brian: Should grad students be required to take a class from the English department in editing? Is there even such a thing?

    I agree that most of this stuff is stupid, but I’d like to give the haiku defense. Haiku has a rigid format, and the creativity of writing haiku involves fitting your creativity within the format. You can, of course, not follow the format, but then it’s blank verse, not haiku. I may be biased, but I get the impression that haiku is more popular than blank verse. Perhaps there’s a reason?

    There’s a lot to be said for limitations in the way they inspire real creativity. While removing the limitations can result in new forms, most of those forms are, to be honest, crap.

    The one thing missing from this discussion is that having a rigid format (such as the standard scientific report) has some spectacular advantages when done properly. The biggest one is that it lets people find the information they’re looking for quickly, because they know what they’re looking at. If I want to copy a methodology for an experiment, I’d like to find it quickly. If I want to quote results, it’s good to find those too, along with enough information that I can figure out whether they’re trustworthy or not. If I want to understand where the paper fits in some debate or other, it’s nice if that’s mentioned somewhere near the front so that I know if it’s relevant to whatever I’m working on.

    Remember, please, that the organization of the paper is as important as the words when it comes to conveying information. I’m not going to say that standard scientific paper format is always perfect, but it works pretty well in a wide variety of situations. As such, I’d suggest that it’s one of the great forms of literature, along with things like novels, sonnets, screenplays, and haiku, which all work pretty well for what they convey.

    Perhaps the problem is that it takes longer to teach budding scientists to read and write this format than most teachers are willing to give them?

    As for paywalls and reference formats, those do get me. However, they’re design features for the journals to distinguish themselves, not for the scientists, and I think that’s a good reason for people to be annoyed with their vagaries.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    “Using inscrutable three-letter abbreviations in anatomical figures where there’s plenty of room to spell out the term. I REALLY hate having to look back and forth between the figure and the caption to figure out what some goofy abbreviation stands for. Maybe this is another application for mouse-over “tool-tips”?”

    Ugh, I hate that. I recently had to use a paper that didn’t even put abbreviations at the beginning of the paper, but had them in an appendix at the very back! Another was even worse, it just said “the abbreviations in this paper are the same as __”.

    “Giving the taxonomic authority after first use of each formal name.”

    I’ve seen two general trends with this. One, wherein the taxonomic authority is merely listed in the systematic paleontology section, and two, where the authority is listed every single time someone mentions a genus and/or species. I disagree with the latter, but the former does still have some use. Paleontological research has had a habit of myopia, wherein papers that are more than a few decades old are often passed over for younger papers that cover the exact same ideas.

    “Listing institutional abbreviations at end of the Introduction section, several pages into the paper.”

    I would almost prefer this go at the start of the paper with the abbreviations as well, but I can see why some people would prefer it another way. If you have a paper with a large number of institutions and abbreviations, the introduction is not the first thing you see and it does not hook your interest.

    “Refusing to cite in-prep papers, dissertations and blogs (while accepting pers. comm.)”

    People used to cite in-prep papers a lot, but the problem is that in many cases the paper that was supposedly “in prep” ends up becoming vaporware. Case in point I know of one big review by a famous paleontologist that was supposed to be the magnum opus of their career, but just never materialized.

    “Having references at all, rather than links.”

    I agree with Mickey and Blake on this. I too like to read papers on paper when I get the chance, and putting links in place of references makes it difficult to follow who said what. It’s like replacing the numbering system with another numbering system. Doing the name + author, but then showing the full reference if you hover over it, seems the best of both worlds.

    “I am struggling to believe this. If you have a genus or species name, you can look it up yourself on Nomenclator Zoologicus in 20 seconds and get that information — author and year. Of course, author and year alone is not that useful. What you really want is the whole reference. And much of the time you can get that from Wikipedia, which is more than you can get from the taxonomic authority in a paper.”

    Yes, but not all of us have easy access to a computer. Some may only be able to check that sort of thing at home or at the office, rather than at a moment’s notice. Case in point my computer broke down and was out of commission for a week and a half, and my research nearly got crippled as a result. Just because we live in the Shiny Digital Future does not mean we should use it as a crutch.


  24. For what it’s worth I’m still a fan of the “abstract, intro, methods, etc.” narrative for a couple reasons. When reviewing a paper there really are times when I just want to check out the method (perhaps because I’ve become skeptical of the conclusions since I read it), or recheck the conclusions to make sure my memory is still accurate. And when I read papers from less familiar fields I like to skip the methods initially to get the intro and the conclusion before rereading the whole thing, to help with context.

    I adore links in references, but at this point many journals still need to do double duty with print (I know, but it is what it is), so I agree with some commenters above about links from the references section, rather than as a replacement.

    Still, in general I’m 100% behind your other points.


  25. […] the text, including direct links to the (preferably OA) versions of the cited articles. See the post Idiot things that we we do in our papers out of sheer habit by Mike Taylor for more examples of the same “habits” which I already renounced in some […]

  26. Andy Farke Says:

    One I’d add–turning tabular data into PDFs or–worse yet–JPGs. Nothing is more annoying than a data matrix or set of measurements that cannot be quickly plugged into the appropriate program for analysis (I’m looking at you, PLOS ONE!).

  27. Mike Taylor Says:

    You are certainly right, Andy, that PLOS’s habit of rendering tables as images is sensationally stupid (and wholly out of kilter with PLOS’s general approach). But that is new, innovative, stupidity, and so doesn’t really belong in this list of things that we continue to do for traditional reasons.

  28. Mike Taylor Says:

    A quick comment on TIFF images. I’ve just this morning agreed to review a manuscript (for an open-access journal, of course!) and was sent a manuscript PDF with embedded images, and links to download high-resolution versions. I did so, and obtained four TIFFs totalling 1311188 bytes. I converted them to PNG (which, unlike JPEG, is a lossless format that captures all the information from the TIFFs), and got image files totalling 397807 bytes. The TIFFs were 3.3 times bigger for no gain.

    [Individual images were bigger by factors of
    280268/14954 = 18.7,
    311600/15343 = 20.3,
    322548/57314 = 5.6, and
    396772/310196 = 1.3.
    The last one affected the average dramatically.]

  29. arilab Says:

    Reblogged this on FG lab and commented:
    Could not agree more…

  30. arilab Says:

    Great post! Let me add a few lines:

    – doing ridiculous unnecessary statistics just because reviewers like them
    – using peculiar english expressions that were suggested by non-english speaking reviewers
    – change US to UK spelling and wise versa because the editor says so
    – saving the .odt file as a .doc because the journal upload center does not support openoffice

  31. Mike Taylor Says:

    Some good points, there, arilab. It’s certainly true that our papers often use stilted language which we would never use in another medium (blog, conference talk, chat in a pub). A little of that is due to the need to be very precise, but in many cases the stilted term is not more precise than the more natural one.

  32. kaiblin Says:

    I actually welcome the fixed set of sections. Makes it easier to find just what you are looking for. I’m a scientific writing class I took during my undergrad we read a paper from the 18th century and information was littered all over the place. With fixed sections, I can go straight to the information I’m interested in.

  33. Mike Taylor Says:

    I suppose fixed sections are useful if you don’t want to read a paper, just strip-mine it. But for telling a story, they are a disaster.

  34. Kai Says:

    Fair enough. But I remember reading over a load of papers dealing with a specific biosynthesis to improve a predictor I had to write. A lot of papers had in fact not used a biochemical assay to determine their substrates but a previous version of our predictor. Being able to just glance at the materials section and tell what method was used was brilliant.
    If you chose to call that strip-mining, oh well, so be it.

  35. Mike Taylor Says:

    It was unfair of me to use such a loaded term as strip-mining. Let’s just call it mining (i.e. extracting some specific substance from the paper, but without the pre-loaded negative connotation).

    I agree that in the situation you’re describing — reading many similar papers — it’s pleasant and perfectly legitimate to be able to skip much of the more-or-less duplicated material, and a standard format helps with that.

    The problem comes when you’re dealing with a paper whose purpose is not to report the results of an experiment but to lay our a sequence of ideas and synthesise and argument. So I guess this comes back to my notion that the problem is not the existence of a standard format, but its blind application to all kinds of papers, whether or not it fits.

    Thinking about it a bit more, I suspect that the standard format works better in physics and chemisty, which are largely experiment-based sciences, but much less well in palaeontology, which (due to paucity of samples, especially in vertebrate palaeo) is essentially a science of ideas. For many of our papers, our goal is to bring the reader with us on what might rather pretentiously be called a journey of the mind. (If you want to argue that this makes palaeo an art as well as a science, I won’t necessarily disagree.)

  36. kaiblin Says:

    I’ll happily agree that for a standard format to make sense, it will have to be tailored to the specific field.
    In molecular biology, it is very helpful to skip the method section if you’re interested in the story, and go right for the method section if you care for the nitty-gritty details.

  37. Andy Farke Says:

    Some journals really freak out on paleo papers, not being certain what to do with odd things like institutional abbreviations.

    With some exceptions, paleo papers do have a standardized set of sections of their own — e.g., systematic paleontology, morphological description, geology, etc. These are pretty useful, and for a paper that is about describing new fossils I strongly prefer description and discussion separated for the most part (although a pointer or two to the discussion in the description is certainly useful). I’ve given this some thought lately while writing up a major piece of morphological description, and I personally think it is more clear overall to keep some text apart. At the very least, I find that it keeps me honest as a scientist. . .I ask myself, is this what the morphology really says, or am I just projecting my own wishes onto it? I’ve seen many papers that are dead wrong in their conclusions, but still remain classics because of the solid original observations that are easily parsed out from the chaff.

    Now there _are_ exceptions, particularly for synthetic papers–your sauropod neck paper in PeerJ comes to mind as one excellent example. How journals deal with synthetic papers is something else altogether; even paleontology journals freak out about those, as you experienced.

  38. Mike Taylor Says:

    I agree that descriptive work is a bit of a special case, and does usefully follow rather stricter conventions. In fact, in the Xenoposeidon paper we went one step further, and separated Description, Comparisons and Discussion into three sections.


  39. While dividing your paper into a series of subsets to agree with a predefined format (intro, methods, results, discussion, conclusion) is terrible to the process of a narrative in most senses, it is not in itself detrimental to narrative.

    I have seen plenty of writing where the format flow was descriptive and narrative, but in these cases the subject is almost always a review. In a technical paper, when describing morphology, one cannot exactly describe the animal in a narrative: the subject matter is too dry, and from your general structure MUST give way to the specific SUBJECT, the material. The same is true for phylogenetic analyses, etc. These subjects MUST by virtue of their technicality be structured in a non-narrative form. To do otherwise is to bog descriptive, perfunctory language in overly narrative writing. You lose the trees so you can admire the forests.

    When discussing new taxa, this subject is important: If you want to describe a narrative, you always start with the fossil:

    You discovered it, you recognize uniqueness, you set about testing your hypothesis of uniqueness, and then you tell others about it. That’s fine … for the Introduction. It also affirms that taxonomic nomenclature is part of the conclusions of analysis, rather than a preamble TO it. Why papers put their Syst. Paleo. subjects at the BEGINNING of the paper, without demonstration or narrative of is distinction FIRST, I’ll never know, but it certainly breaks the narrative prerogative.

    When reviewing taxonomy, it’s okay to discuss things in more narrative style, but nomenclature and such are still part of the results, not the discussion nor analysis, nor methods or introduction. DON’T PUT THEM AT THE START OF A PAPER. This is also a good reason why the title of a paper doesn’t need the taxonomy: You’re trying to make a case for taxonomy, which as a conclusion should be part of a wrap up to analysis.

    Indeed, when it comes to narrative, even internal references become important: If you need to cite someone, speak its name, then allow a person to rifle to the back for the full cite; numbers muck things up. But so do hyperlinks in place of references. I am already familiar with most of these: merely having a link in addition to the reference suffices. Your suggestion for hyperlink-only references seems at odds with having numbers in the text, as well, since you can simply embed the hyperlinks INTO THE TEXT. One contradicts the other! If you want narrative, the format whereby you have “author, date” and a full reference at the end (I agree, no abbreviations) is sufficient, provided said reference comes with hyperlinks to a digital form of the paper, even if pay-walled. OPTIONS.

  40. Mike Taylor Says:

    We’ve already agreed that a standard set of sections make sense for descriptive papers.

    Why papers put their Syst. Paleo. subjects at the BEGINNING of the paper, without demonstration or narrative of is distinction FIRST, I’ll never know, but it certainly breaks the narrative prerogative.

    *cough* *cough*

    This is also a good reason why the title of a paper doesn’t need the taxonomy: You’re trying to make a case for taxonomy, which as a conclusion should be part of a wrap up to analysis.

    No. A title (like an abstract) is a summary, not an introduction.

  41. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Speaking (slightly) of Xenoposeidon, are you planning to counter the recent arguments it’s non-diagnostic and misinterpreted?

  42. Mike Taylor Says:

    What arguments? I think you may have seen something I missed. (For what it’s worth, the big new Mannion and Upchurch paper, which we really must write about, seems to be cool with it.)

  43. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    D’Emic (2012) wrote-“Six features were presented as diagnostic for Xenoposeidon
    by Taylor & Naish (2007: 1549): [snip] Instead of representing autapomorphies,
    these features are the result of damage
    or are actually more widespread amongst sauropods.
    For example, interpreting the flush posterior neural
    arch-centrum as an autapomorphy (1) does not
    account for missing bone in the posterior centrum. The
    forward lean of the neural arch relative to the centrum
    (2) characterizes dorsal vertebrae of some other sauropods
    (e.g. Camarasaurus, Osborn & Mook, 1921: pls
    69, 72). Likewise, the laminar pattern characters (3, 4,
    6) are observed in a variety of sauropods when individual
    or serial variation are explored (e.g. Camarasaurus,
    Osborn & Mook, 1921; Brachiosaurus, Riggs,
    1903; Tehuelchesaurus, Carballido et al., 2011b. The
    ‘asymmetrical neural canal’ (5) cited by Taylor &
    Naish (2007) misrepresents the large centroprezygapophyseal
    fossae as the entire anterior neural canal,
    which is a feature observed in many neosauropods
    (e.g. Camarasaurus, Osborn & Mook, 1921). The
    absence of diagnostic features renders Xenoposeidon
    a nomen dubium (as also suggested by Mannion &
    Calvo, 2011).”

    And actually, Mannion et al. (2013) wrote- “The fragmentary nature of the Xenoposeidon
    holotype means that an unambiguous taxonomic
    assignment will always be difficult, but here we
    tentatively suggest that it represents an indeterminate
    basal macronarian.” Emphasis on indetermuinate.

    D’Emic MD. 2012. The early evolution of titanosauriform
    sauropod dinosaurs. Zoological Journal of the Linnean
    Society 166: 624–671.

    Btw, I wrote about the Mannion et al. paper too- http://theropoddatabase.blogspot.com/2013/04/excellent-new-paper-on-titanosauriforms.html

  44. Mike Taylor Says:

    Oh yes, the D’Emic paper. Yes, I’ve been meaning to respond to that either here on SV-POW! or maybe in a short paper. Bottom line is he’s evidently not seen the specimen, and hasn’t made an actual case.

    Mannion et al. agreed with us that the position of Xeno is indeterminate — we said Neosauropoda incertae sedis and they’ve narrowed it down a bit into Macronaria — but they don’t say that the taxon is undiagnosable.


  45. Mike, a title CAN BE a summary, but it shouldn’t necessarily be one. That is, after all, what the abstract is for. The title is meant to catch the eye, can be evocative or use a structure that wouldn’t be found within the paper itself. A title needn’t be descriptive in any way, yet still bring you in to the subject of the work. In this way, it works in a form more similar to that of novels or short stories. I mean, does Philip Dick answer “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Was the title rhetorical, philosophical, or the product of a mind half-deranged but in that also ingenious? How about a discussion on beetles, but someone wants to allude to them using poetic license? Titles like this are rare, but it doesn’t mean they are WRONG. A title serves many functions, but being a THIRD summary of the paper in addition to the Abstract/Conclusion is not required.

    When it comes to taxonomic nomenclature, this is even more interesting: You are saying we SHOULD plug our taxa into the title, but which ones? If I overhaul the nomenclature for a clade, and propose seven new taxa, must I list each one, or only a few, or just one? How do I tell which are more important? Fall into the seriously idiotic idea that persists in taxonomy that “genera” means something special?

  46. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    This has swayed off topic from the post, but I’ve never seen “indeterminate” substitute for “incertae sedis”. Of course an indeterminate taxon will always be at least somewhat incertae sedis by definition, making it potentially confusing. Another example from Mannion et al., which might be good for you to tackle in the same post/paper, is-

    “Brontomerus was described by Taylor et al. (2011) as a camarasauromorph (i.e. basal macronarian), with some evidence for a somphospondylan position, as supported here, although D’Emic (2012) regarded it as an indeterminate titanosauriform.”

    Are they saying D’Emic regarded it as Titanosauriformes incertae sedis? Nope. D’Emic said “Because of its problematic diagnosis, Brontomerus mcintoshi represents a nomen dubium.” And indeed, in their table, Mannion et al. distinguish these kinds of positions when discussing it- “Taylor et al. (2011) referred it to Camarasauromorpha incertae sedis, and D’Emic (2012) regarded it as an indeterminate titanosauriform”.

    Or Mannion et al.’s Pukongosaurus commentary- “We here regard it as an indeterminate titanosauriform based on a lack of diagnostic features and the presence of camellate internal tissue structure in the presacral vertebrae.”

    Here we have the same wording as Xenoposeidon but with explicit rationale it’s based on being a nomen dubium.

    Or “The absence of diagnostic features leads us to tentatively regard Agustinia as an indeterminate somphospondylan.”

    At the end of the day, I guess one could just email Mannion, Upchurch, et al. to find what they meant, but I’d say at the very least they didn’t make any support for Xenoposeidon’s validity obvious.


  47. […] form of the article as a mean for disseminating research is more and more questioned. I liked  Idiot things that we we do in our papers out of sheer habit by Mike Taylor, as an […]


  48. […] “Giving the taxonomic authority after first use of each formal name” in my list of Idiot things that we we do in our papers out of sheer habit three and a half years […]


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