I first met Wann at SVP in 1997, in Chicago. I was an undergrad, still three months away from my B.S., presenting a poster arguing that OMNH 53062 (which would eventually become the holotype of Sauroposeidon) was a new sauropod. At the time the only named sauropods from the Early Cretaceous of North America were Astrodon/Pleurocoelus and Sonorasaurus, and owing to the slow spread of news back then, I hadn’t heard of Sonorasaurus yet. So the bar was pretty high for arguing that EKNApod material shouldn’t just be lumped into Pleurocoelus. The person I was most fearing in the world was Wann Langston, Jr., who had referred the EK Texas sauropod material to Pleurocoelus in his magisterial 1974 paper. And in due course he arrived at my poster. If he remembered it at all, he probably remembered just walking up to chat with some kid. But for me it was like watching one of those giant saucers descend from space in Independence Day. As Jeff Goldblum said in one of the Jurassic Park movies, I was terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

But then Wann turned out to be a totally fair, reasonable human being–if a wee bit gruff at first. He let me give a little spiel and then asked the dreaded question, “Why isn’t this Pleurocoelus?” I had some thoughts on that, and we talked it through, and if he didn’t agree in every particular, he at least allowed that what I was saying made some sense. He later served as a reviewer on the paper in which we described Sauroposeidon and didn’t shoot us down, so apparently he was convinced, or at least thought the hypothesis deserved its day in the sun.

A couple of years later Julian Hilliard and I were working on our MS theses under Rich Cifelli, and we realized that we both needed to see some specimens in Austin (Julian was working on tooth morphotypes in crocs), so we drove down together one Friday evening. Without much warning, in fact–we basically crashed Ernie Lundelius’s retirement party at the Texas Memorial Museum. But everyone welcomed us like we belonged there. We had planned to spend the next day in collections, but we had neglected to make arrangements in advance (this is not a story about the correct way to make museum collections visits). Wann saw us fumbling around the museum like a couple of idiots and pulled us into his office–I thought for a reaming out, but in fact for nearly the opposite. He basically took us under his wing. Wann talked with Julian for an hour about crocs and their teeth, speaking authoritatively and at length–he was clearly still well up to speed on the field. I listened and learned. Then he talked with me for an hour about sauropods, with an equally broad and deep knowledge base, while Julian listened and learned. Then he showed us the Quetzalcoatlus material and talked to us about pterosaurs for an hour, just as impressively, while we both listened and learned. And then he turned us loose in the collections, checking periodically to make sure we were finding what we needed. He turned what would have been a so-so trip or maybe even a disaster into one of the best museum visits I’ve ever had, when he would have been perfectly justified in chucking us out on our ears. I need to remember to pay that forward someday.

I kept up with Wann at SVP thereafter. He was always thinking out ahead of the field, and I always came away from those conversations with new thoughts in my head.

I’ve been going to SVPCA instead of SVP for the past few years, so I probably haven’t seen Wann in 5 or 6 years. And now I won’t see him again–he passed away yesterday. But he leaves behind as impressive a legacy as one could wish for, not just in the fossils he found and the papers he published, but in the lives that he touched. Including mine. Farewell, Wann. You are already missed.


Langston, Jr., W. 1974. Nonmammalian Comanchean tetrapods. Geoscience and Man 8:77-102.

LACM dino camp 3 - Mamenchisaurus and Triceratops 1

Last night London and I spent the night in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM), as part of the Camp Dino overnight adventure. So we got lots of time to roam the exhibit halls when they were–very atypically–almost empty. Above are the museum’s mounted Triceratops–or one of them, anyway–and mounted cast of the Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis holotype, presented in glorious not-stygian-darkness (if you went through the old dino hall, pre-renovation, you know what I mean).

LACM dino camp 1 - dueling dinos

We got there early and had time to roam around the museum grounds in Exposition Park. The darned-near-life-size bronze dinos out front are a minor LA landmark.

LACM dino camp 2 - fountain

The rose garden was already closed, but we walked by anyway, and caught this rainbow in the big fountain.

LACM dino camp 4  - Mamenchisaurus and Triceratops 2After we checked in we had a little time to roam the museum on our own. I’ve been meaning to blog about how much I love the renovated dinosaur halls. The bases are cleverly designed to prohibit people touching the skeletons without putting railings or more than minimal glass in the way, and you can walk all the way around the mounted skeletons and look down on them from the mezzanine–none of that People’s Gloriously Efficient Cattle Chute of Compulsory Dinosaur Appreciation business. Signage is discreet and informative, and so are the handful of interactive gizmos. London and I spent a few minutes using a big touch-screen with a slider that controlled continental drift from the Triassic to the present–a nice example of using technology to add value to an exhibit without taking away from the real stuff that’s on display. There are even a few places to sit and just take it all in. That’s pretty much everything I want in a dinosaur hall.

Also, check out the jumbotron on the left in the above photo. It was running a (blessedly) narration-free video on how fossils are found, collected, prepared, mounted, and studied, on about a five-minute loop. Lots of pretty pictures. Including this next one.

LACM dino camp 5 - big ilium photo

There are a couple of levels of perspective distortion going on here, both in the original photo and in my photo of that photo projected on the jumbotron. Still, I feel confident positing that that is one goldurned big ilium. I’m not going to claim it’s the biggest bone I’ve ever seen–that rarely ends well–but sheesh, it’s gotta be pretty freakin’ big. And apparently a brachiosaurid, or close to it. Never mind, it’s almost certainly an upside-down Triceratops skull. Thanks to Adam Yates for the catch. I will now diminish, and go into the West.

LACM dino camp 6 - ceratopsian skulls

Triceratops, Styracosaurus, and Einiosaurus–collect the whole set!

LACM dino camp 7 - tyrants

Of course, the centerpiece of the second dinosaur hall–and how great is it that there are two!?–is the T. rex trio: baby, juvenile (out of frame to the right), and subadult. Yes, subadult: the “big” one is not as big as the really big rexes, and from the second floor you can see unfused neural arches in some of the caudal vertebrae (many thanks to Ashley Fragomeni for pointing those out to me on a previous visit).

LACM dino camp 8 - baby rex

Awwwww! C’mere, little fella!

LACM dino camp 9 - pneumatic diplodocid caudals

Still, this ain’t Vulgar Overstudied Theropod Picture of the Week. Here are some sweet pneumatic diplodocid caudals in the big wall o’ fossils (visible behind Mamenchisaurus in the overhead photo above). The greenish color is legit–in the Dino Lab on the second floor, they’re prepping a bunch of sauropod elements that look like they were carved out of jade.

Sculpey allosaur claws

Sudden violent topic shift, the reason for which will be become clear shortly: London and I have been sculpting weapons of mass predation in our spare time. In some of the photos you may be able to see his necklace, which has a shark tooth he sculpted himself. Here are a couple of allosaur claws I made–more on those another time.

LACM dino camp 10  - molding and casting

The point is, enthusiasm for DIY fossils is running very high at Casa Wedel, so London’s favorite activity of the evening was molding and casting. Everyone got to make a press mold using a small theropod tooth, a trilobite, or a Velociraptor claw. Most of the kids I overheard opted for the tooth, but London went straight for the claw.

LACM dino camp 11 - raptor claw mold

Ready for plaster! Everyone got to pick up their cast at breakfast this morning, with instructions to let them cure until this evening. All went well, so I’ll spare you a photo of this same shape in reverse.

LACM dino camp 12 - Camp Wedel in the African bush

We were split into three tribes of maybe 30-40 people each, and each tribe bedded down in a different hall. The T. rex and Raptor tribes got the North American wildlife halls, but our Triceratops tribe got the African wildlife hall, which as a place to sleep is about 900 times cooler. Someone had already claimed the lions when we got there, so London picked hyenas as our totem animals.

LACM dino camp 13 - London with ammonite

Lights out was at 10:30 PM, and the lights came back on at 7:00 this morning. Breakfast was out from 7:15 to 8:00, and then we had the museum to ourselves until the public came in at 9:30. So I got a lot of uncluttered photos of stuff I don’t usually get to photograph, like this ammonite. Everyone should have one of these.

LACM dino camp 14 - Wedel boys with Carnotaurus

London’s favorite dino in the museum is Carnotaurus. It’s sufficiently weird that I can respect that choice.

LACM dino camp 15 - London with rexes

Not that there’s anything wrong with the old standards, especially when they’re presented as cleanly and innovatively as they are here.

LACM dino camp 16 - Matt with Argentinosaurus

Finally, the LACM has a no tripod policy, and if they see you trying to carry one in they will make you take it back to your car. At least during normal business hours. But no one searched my backpack when we went in last night, and I put that sucker to some good use. Including getting my first non-bigfoot picture of the cast Argentinosaurus dorsal. It was a little deja-vu-ey after just spending so much time with the giant Oklahoma Apatosaurus–elements of the two animals really are very comparable in size.

If you’re in the LA area and interested in spending a night at the museum–or at the tar pits!–check out the “Overnight Adventures” page on the museum’s website. Cost is $50 per person for members or $55 for non-members, and worth every penny IMHO. It’s one of those things I wish we’d done years ago.

There are probably many ways of getting a “90% complete” paper finished and ready for submission, but here’s the way that works for me. (It’s working for me right now: I’m in the middle of the process, and broke off to write this just for a a break.)

You will need:

  • A printed copy of your manuscript
  • A red pen
  • A CD of Dar Williams songs that you know inside out
  • A bottle of red wine
  • A bar of white chocolate (optional)


Take the printed copy of the manuscript. read it through, with the Dar Williams CD on in the background. Every time you see anything you don’t like, scribble on the printed copy with the red pen. It might a typo, a misspelling, an infelicitous phrasing, a missing reference, a taxonomic name needing italics; or it might be something bigger, like two sections that need to be swapped.

Do you really need a printed copy for this? YES YOU DO! Can’t you just do it on the screen? NO YOU CAN’T! For one thing, you’ll keep breaking off to read email, which is a complete killer. For another, you’ve been working on this manuscript on screens for months already. Your poor brain is inoculated against its on-screen appearance. You need the mental jolt that a shift of format gives you. And you need the freedom to scribble. When I do this, I often write in suggestions to myself of what alternative wording to use, but I feel free to ignore them when I come to make the edits.

Do you really need a Dar Williams CD? I am prepared to concede it doesn’t necessarily have to be Dar Williams. But it does need to be something that you know so well that it won’t surprise you, it won’t grab your attention away from the work you’re doing. Much as I love Dream Theater, their music is really not the way to go for this. What you want is music that will keep feeding you without distracting you.

Do you really need the red wine and the white chocolate? Perhaps not, but you don’t want this to be a boring, unpleasant process, do you? Treat yourself. (DISCLOSURE: I have moved on to beer.)

What next?

As soon as I’m done posting this, I’ll be going to Step 2, which is to go through the manuscript, making edits on the master copy. Most of them are trivial to do. A few are going to need real work. For these, I just leave a marker in the master copy, “###” and a note saying what needs doing. I will later search for these and do the work. But not tonight.

The goal of this process is to capture all the information that you wrote on the printed copy, so that you can throw it away and move on with your life.

That’s it — it’s all you need to do. For the record, I expect to submit in the  next three or four days.

Because I am preparing this paper from PLOS ONE, with its stupid numbered-references system, I am finally getting to grips with a reference-management system. Specifically, Zotero, which is both free and open source, which means it can’t be taken over by Elsevier.

As a complete Zotero n00b, I’ve run into a few issues that more experienced users will no doubt find laughable. Here are two of them. I need to cite Greg Paul’s classic 1988 paper on the skeletal reconstruction of Giraffatitan:

Paul, Gregory S. 1988. The brachiosaur giants of the Morrison and Tendaguru with a description of a new subgenus, Giraffatitan, and a comparison of the world’s largest dinosaurs. Hunteria 2(3):1-14.

When I render this using Zotero’s PLOS ONE style, it comes out as:

Paul GS (1988) The brachiosaur giants of the Morrison and Tendaguru with a description of a new subgenus, Giraffatitan, and a comparison of the world’s largest dinosaurs. Hunteria 2: 1–14.

So the first problem is, how can I get Giraffatitan to be set in italics?

And the second one, which is arguably more important, is how can I get the issue number included? I undertsand that PLOS ONE referencing style omits the issue-numbers by preference, since they are often redundant, with the pages of each volume being numbered consecutively across volumes. But Hunteria is one of those journals (PaleoBios is another) that resets page-numbers at the start of each issue. As a result, Hunteria volume 2 had at least three page 14s, one in each of its issues, so that issue number is a crucial part of the reference.

Help me, SV-POW! readers — you’re my only hope.

Schachner et al 2013 fig-13-full

Schachner et al. (2013: Figure 13): Diagrammatic representations of the crocodilian (A) and avian (B) lungs in left lateral view with colors identifying proposed homologous characters within the bronchial tree and air sac system of both groups. The image of the bird is modified from Duncker (1971). Abbreviations: AAS, abdominal air sac; CAS, cervical air sac; CRTS, cranial thoracic air sac; CSS, caudal sac-like structure; CTS, caudal thoracic air sac; d, dorsobronchi; GL, gas-exchanging lung; HS, horizontal septum; IAS, interclavicular air sac; L, laterobronchi; NGL, non-gas-exchanging lung; ObS, oblique septum; P, parabronchi; Pb, primary bronchus; Tr, trachea; v, ventrobronchi.

Gah! No time, no time. I am overdue on some things, so this is a short pointer post, not the thorough breakdown this paper deserves. The short, short version: Schachner et al. (2013) is out in PeerJ, describing airflow in the lungs of Nile crocs, and showing how surprisingly birdlike croc lungs actually are. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of the papers by Colleen Farmer and Kent Sanders a couple of years ago describing unidirectional airflow in alligator lungs. Hang on to your hat, because this new work is even more surprising.

I care about this not only because dinosaurian respiration is near and dear to my heart but also because I was a reviewer on this paper, and I am extremely happy to say that Schachner et al. elected to publish the review history alongside the finished paper. I am also pleasantly surprised, because as you’ll see when you read the reviews and responses, the process was a little…tense. But it all worked out well in the end, with a beautiful, solid paper by Schachner et al., and a totally transparent review process available for the world to see. Kudos to Emma, John, and Colleen on a fantastic, important paper, and for opting for maximal transparency in publishing!

UPDATE the next morning: Today’s PeerJ Blog post is an interview with lead author Emma Schachner, where it emerges that open review was one of the major selling points of PeerJ for her:

Once I was made aware of the transparent peer review process, along with the fact that the journal is both open access and very inexpensive to publish in, I was completely sold. […] The review process was fantastic. It was transparent and fast. The open review system allowed for direct communication between the authors and reviewers, generating a more refined final manuscript. I think that having open reviews is a great first step towards fixing the peer review system.

That post also links to this one, so now the link cycle is complete.


Schachner, E.R., Hutchinson, J.R., and Farmer, C.G. 2013. Pulmonary anatomy in the Nile crocodile and the evolution of unidirectional airflow in Archosauria. PeerJ 1:e60 http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.60

Just like the last time I tried to post a comment on Richard Van Noorden’s piece on open-access economics, the comment I posted has been rejected with a fatuous “This account has been banned from commenting due to posting of comments classified as inappropriate or other violations of our Terms of Service” message.


You will notice that neither WordPress-hosted blogs such as SV-POW!, nor Blogger-hosted blogs such as Mark Witton’s offering — nor indeed PLOS-hosted blogs such as The Integrative Paleontologists — consistently throws away perfectly good comments.

It’s 2013. There is no excuse for running a non-functional blog. None. If you aspire to be a hub of meaningful discussion, you have to make your software work right. It’s not good blowing it off with a snort and a giggle, “Oh, yeah, that happens all the time, ha ha”. It’s contemptible — worse, it’s comtemptuous of your readers and of the people who spend time and effort to provide you with free content.

Sort it out.

For anyone who cares, here is the actual comment that I tried to post:

My thanks to Richard Van Noorden and David Crotty for useful criticisms of my simple calculations.

If both sets of figures are correct — that average profit-margins for the Big Four are 36% but the average across the industry is “only” 20-30% then it’s clear that the great majority of the parasitism that currently infests academia can be laid at the doors of the Big Four.

Is the Big-Four number correct? All we have to go on is the figures that those corporations themselves publish — and those are what I used in the linked blog post. If Wiley have now changed what they report, then we can use their new number instead. What we can’t legitimately do is look at what they say they make, then use a different number of our own choosing.

And here is where we reach the real problem: the appalling lack of transparency. David Crotty rightly points out “the assumption that the entirety of the $9.4 billion brought in by the publishing industry comes from subscriptions”. But I have tried very hard to get a number for what proportion of income is indeed from subscriptions, and not been able to get answers from Big-Four publishers. One of them explicitly told me to stop even asking. In the face of such obscurity, all we can do is work with what numbers we do have.

If any of the Big Four would like to reveal the true numbers, I would be delighted to hear them, and to revise my calculations accordingly.

Meanwhile here is my least bad re-calculation. If industry average profit margins are 20-30%, we’ll use the middle of the range, 25%. That means that 1/4 of the annual $9.4 billion revenue is profit — 2.35 billion. By coincidence, this is almost exactly equal to the price of publishing the year’s 1.8 million articles as Gold OA at a PLOS ONE price-point of $1350, namely $2.43 billion. Remember, this is not saying that what we spend on subscriptions would fund 100% Gold OA. It’s saying that what we throw away as sheer profit for publishers would fund it.

If that doesn’t make anyone absolutely furious, then that person’s outrage-meter is badly in need of recalibration. We’re supposed to be doing science here, not enriching shareholders with public money.

Thanks for listening.


I am preparing a manuscript for PLOS ONE, which uses numbered references rather than author+date citations like sane journals. And I am hating it. I am taking perfectly good statements like:

Juvenile sauropods have proportionally short cervicals (Wedel et al. 200: 368–369, Fig. 14, and Table 4)

And reformatting them as:

Juvenile sauropods have proportionally short cervicals [31]: 368–369, Fig. 14, and Table 4.

Which doesn’t look right at all.

My question: how, when using numbered references, can I properly refer to page-range and figure number? Because there has to be a way — doesn’t there?

Surely it can’t be the case that in the culture of numbered-reference journals, you just don’t bother to specify with any more precision than pointing at a 46-page paper? I know Science ‘n’ Nature don’t care much about science or nature, but they can’t be that sloppy, can they? And if they are, I’d be horrified to find that the PLOS journals are so infected with me-too that they’re prepared to copy such poor practice?

Long, long ago — back in 2010! — Gordon Dzemski of the University of Flensburg, Germany, sent me a copy of a miniposter that he had prepared, and invited me to share it on SV-POW!. Somehow, it fell through the cracks, and I never did so. Time to fix that!

First, the highlight: a X-ray of a camel neck:

Invertebrals disc space V2-CAMEL

The great thing about this is that the condyles and cotyles are so thickly coated in cartilage that the condyles don’t even reach, let alone nestle inside, the cotyles. Amazing.

Now in contrast, the condyles of horse cervicals do nestle in their corresponding cotyles — very neatly. And the distressing thing is that, to the best of our knowledge, there are no osteological correlates that would allow us to distinguish these conditions. That is, nothing about the naked bones of the camel and horse that would let us infer this huge difference in their cartilage.

Unless anyone knows different?

(Of course, here at SV-POW!, we have previous with camels: the Cambridge camel, all the camels, the Oxford camel, the Paris camel)

Anyway, here is the whole of the poster that Gordon prepared:

Invertebrals disc space V2

And here is his own commentary on it:

Hi Mike,

for your nice Blog and the never ending story of articulated or disarticulated camels, giraffes, goos or ostrichs necks I have made a nice overview of some x-ray pictures of my work.

I think we can postulate some basic principles:

1) There is in every mammal an invertebral disc space between the neck vertebrae.
2) Every mounted skeleton of an animal with a free space between the cotyle-condyle joint system is in articulated postion (but without an invertebral disc).
3) The joint capulse with the specific system components of invertebral discs, cartilage, ligaments and tendons are capable of great dorsoventral and lateral flexion and is capable of high pressure or great tensile force to reach/generate the postures of the living animal neck . And yes, the space beween the camels vertebrae can be 30 or more mm.
4) For prehistoric animals we can assume an average invertebral disc space of 5% of the neck length. I think it is the best guess so far.

Please use the picture and this email freely for your Blog if it is in your opinion.

I am inclined to think that the 5% estimate for extinct animals may be a little on the high side (for reasons that will become apparent in due course) but all the evidence is that it’s in the right ballpark.

This has implications.

As is now well known, Edwin Mellen Press sued librarian Dale Askey for posting a negative review of their products. Now they have threatened to sue the Scholarly Kitchen for writing about this, and also to sue one of the commenters on that site.

I, of course, am not a librarian, and so have no opinion of my own regarding Edwin Mellen Press. For all I know, they are a competent and legitimate publisher who work to the highest standards and provide excellent value for money.

But I do have one question, and it’s this: what does it say about a publisher when their response to criticism, or to discussion of criticism, is bring out the lawyers? Does it give you confidence in their ability to persuade with logic that their work is good?

Of course, individual librarians will make their own choices about which books to buy and which journals to subscribe to. Perhaps in making those decisions, one of the things they will consider is the very impressive steps that Edwin Mellen Press has taken to protect its reputation.

Update (almost immediately)

Here is a Wayback Machine cache of one of the supposedly offending Scholarly Kitchen articles. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t see anything remotely objectionable here: just professional opinion, dispassionately recounted, and facts about a previous similar lawsuit.

And here is TechDirt’s assessment of the situation — which is considerably more forthright than many others.