Wouldn’t it be great if there was a database of all dinosaur specimens?

Well, there is — or at least, it’s on its way. Gunnar Bivens, who we know from SV-POW! comments as bricksmashtv, in creaing a vast Google-Docs Spreadsheet which at the time of writing has the following entries in various tabs:

  • 1446 sauropods (Yay!)
  • 50 theropods
  • 2 thyreophorans (Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)
  • 3 ornithopods
  • 25 marginocephalians

Other tabs yet to be populated: basal dinosaurs, basal sauropodomorphs, basal ornithoscelidans, basal ornithischians.

(I think it’s a mistake to leap at the Baron et al. 2017 Ornithoscelida hypothesis, abandoning so precipitately the well-established Saurischia/Ornithischia division, but that’s how things stand.)

You can help

The spreadsheet is set up so that anyone can leave comments. Gunnar has done lots of work to get it going, essentially just by reading a ton of papers and entering all the details of dinosaur specimens — but no one person can possibly cover the whole literature.

Here’s what I think is the most efficient way to contribute: if you set up a Google Docs spreadsheet of your own, with the columns in the same order as Gunnar’s, then you can enter a bunch of specimens. When you’re ready, leave a comment on the relevant tab of the master spreadsheet pointing to your additions, and Gunnar can copy-paste them in.

Here is the link to the spreadsheet again. Get building!


  • Baron, Matthew G., David B. Norman and Paul M. Barrett. 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543:501–506. doi:10.1038/nature21700

I’m trying to free some space in my office, and I’m going to let my run of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology go:

2016-03-24 07.42.13-2--stack-of-jvp

It covers everything from 25(4) to volume 29(2) — a run from December 2005 to March 2009) — and also includes the lone issue 29(4) for December 2009 and the SVP meeting abstract volumes for 2006 and 2008 (i.e. issues 26(3s) and 28(3s)). (I don’t know what happened to the 2007 and 2009 SVP abstract volumes, sorry.)

All in all, they make a stack about 25 cm tall, and weigh just a little short of 17 kg.

Does anyone want them? Let me know within a week if you do. You either come and pick them up yourself from our home in the Forest of Dean, or pay for me to send them to you by your preferred method.

If no-one wants them within a week, they’re going in the bin.

(Note to self: size of package: 33x25x27)

The European Commission is putting together a Commission Expert Group to provide advice about the development and implementation of open science policy in Europe. It will be known as the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP).

This is potentially excellent news. The OSPP’s primary goal is to “advise the Commission on how to further develop and practically implement open science policy”.

But there’s potentially a downside here. We can be sure that the legacy publishers will attempt to stuff the committee with their own people, just as they did with the Finch committee — and that, if they succeed, they will do everything they can to retard all forms of progress that hurt their bottom line, just as they did with the Finch committee.

Unfortunately, multinational corporations with £2 billion annual revenue and £762 million annual profit (see page 17 of Elsevier’s 2014 annual report) are very well positioned to dedicate resources to getting their people onto influential committees. Those of us without a spare £762 million to spend on marketing are at a huge operational disadvantage when it comes to influencing policy. Happily, though, we do have one important thing on our side: we’re right.

So we should do what we can to get genuinely progressive pro-open candidates onto the OSPP. I know of several people who have put themselves forward, and I am briefly describing them below (in the order I hear about their candidacy). I have publicly endorsed the first few, and will go on to endorse the others just as soon as I have a moment. If you know and admire these people, please consider leaving your own endorsement — it will help their case to be taken on to the OSPP.

Björn Brembs is a neuroscientist who has been a tireless advocate for open access, and open science more generally, for many years. He has particularly acute insights into the wastefulness of our present scholarly communication mechanisms. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment.

Cameron Neylon falls into the needs-no-introduction category. Every time I’ve talked to him, I’ve come away better informed and wiser, thanks to his exhaustive knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding openness: both the opportunities is presents, and the difficulties that slow our progress. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment.

Chris Hartgerink is an active researcher in text and data mining, whose work has repeatedly been disrupted by impediments deliberately imposed by barrier-based publishers. He knows what it’s like on the ground in the content-mining wars. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment.

Daniel Mietchen both practices and advocates openness at every stage in the scientific process, with a special focus on the use of Wikipedia and the ways its free content can be enhanced. Fittingly, his candidacy bid is itself a wiki page, and endorsements are invited on the corresponding discussion page.

Konrad Förstner develops open source software for reasearch, works on how to make analyses reproducible, promotes the use pf pre-print servers and creates generate open educational resources. His candidacy is announced on his blog, and I left my endorsement as a comment. [H/T Daniel Mietchen]

Finally (for now), Jenny Molloy, is the manager of Content Mine and co-ordinator of OKFN, the Open Knowledge Foundation. She has announced her candidacy on a mailing list, but doesn’t yet have a web-page about it, to my knowledge. I’ll update this page as soon as I hear that this has changed.


That’s it for now: get out there and endorse the candidates that you like!

Have I missed anyone? Let me know, and I’ll update this post.


Ten years ago today — on 15 September 2005 — my first palaeo paper was published: Taylor and Naish (2005) on the phylogenetic nomenclature of diplodocoids. It’s strange to think how fast the time has gone, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I get a bit self-indulgent and nostalgic.


I’d applied to join Portsmouth University on a Masters course back in April 2004 — not because I had any great desire to earn a Masters but because back in the bad old days, being affiliated to a university was about the only way to get hold of copies of academic papers. My research proposal, hilariously, was all about the ways the DinoMorph results are misleading — something that I am still working on eleven years later.

In May of that year, I started a Dinosaur Mailing List thread on the names and definitions of the various diplodocoid clades. As that discussion progressed, it became clear that there was a lot of ambiguity, and for my own reference I started to make notes. I got into an off-list email discussion about this with Darren Naish (who was then finishing up his Ph.D at Portsmouth). By June we thought it might be worth making this into a little paper, so that others wouldn’t need to do the same literature trawl we’d done.

In September of 2004, I committed to the Portsmouth course, sending my tuition fees in a letter that ended:


On the way to SVPCA that year, in Leicester, I met Darren on the train, and together we worked through a printed copy of the in-progress manuscript that I’d brought with me. He was pretty happy with it, which meant a lot to me. It was the first time I’d had a legitimate palaeontologist critique my work.

At one of the evening events of that SVPCA, I fell into conversation with micro-vertebrate screening wizard Steve Sweetman, then on the Portsmouth Ph.D course, and he persuaded me to switch to the Ph.D. (It was my second SVPCA, and the first one where I gave a talk.) Hilariously, the heart of the Ph.D project was to be a description of the Archbishop, something that I have still not got done a decade later, but definitely will this year. Definitely.

On 7th October 2004, we submitted the manuscript to the Journal of Paleontology, and got an acknowledge of receipt<sarcasm>after just 18 short days</sarcasm>. But three months later (21st January 2005) it was rejected on the advice of two reviewers. As I summarised the verdict to Darren at the time:

It’s a rejection. Both reviewers (an anonymous one and [redacted]) say that the science is pretty much fine, but that there just isn’t that much to say to make the paper worthwhile. [The handling editor] concurs in quite a nice covering letter […] Although I think the bit about “I respect both of you a great deal” is another case of Wrong Mike Taylor Syndrome :-)

This was my first encounter with “not significant enough for our journal” — a game that I no longer play. It was to be very far from my last experience of Wrong Mike Taylor Syndrome.

At this point, Darren and I spent a while discussing what to do: revise and resubmit (though one of the reviewers said not to)? Try to subsume the paper into another more substantial one (as one reviewer suggested)? Invite the reviewers to collaborate with us on an improved version (as the editor suggested)? Or just revise according to the reviewers’ more helpful recommendations and send it elsewhere? I discussed this with Matt as well. The upshot was that on 20th February Darren and I decided to send the revised version to PaleoBios, the journal of the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) — partly because Matt had had good experiences there with two of his earlier papers.

[Side-note: I am delighted to see that, since I last checked, PaleoBios has now made the leap to open access, though as of yet it says nothing about the licence it uses.]

Anyway, we submitted the revised manuscript on 26th May; and we got back an Accept With Minor Revisions six weeks later, having received genuinely useful reviews from Jerry Harris and Matt. (This of course was long before I’d co-authored anything with Matt. No handling editor would assign him to review one of my papers now.) It took us two days to turn the manuscript around with the necessary minor changes made, and another nine days of back and forth with the editor before we reached acceptance. A week later I got the proof PDF to check.

Back in 2005, publication was a very different process, because it involved paper. I remember the thrill of several distinct phases in the publication process — particularly sharp the first time:

  • Seeing the page proof — evidence that I really had written a legitimate scholarly paper. It looked real.
  • The moment of being told that the paper was published: “The issue just went to the printer, so I will send the new reprints […] when I get them, probably sometime next week.”
  • Getting my copy of the final PDF.
  • The day that the physical reprints arrived — funny to think that they used to be a thing. (They’re so Ten Years Ago now that even the SVPCA auction didn’t have many available for bid.)
  • The tedious but somehow exhilarating process of sending out physical reprints to 30 or 40 people.
  • Getting a physical copy of the relevant issue of the journal — in this case, PaleoBios 25(2).

I suppose it’s one of the sadder side-effect of ubiquitous open access that many of these stages don’t happen any more. Now you get your proof, then the paper appears online, and that’s it. Bam, done.

I’m kind of glad to have lived through the tail end of the old days, even though the new days are better.

To finish, there’s a nice little happy ending for this paper. Despite being in a relatively unregarded journal, it’s turned out to be among my most cited works. According to Google Scholar, this humble little taxonomic note has racked up 28 citations: only two fewer than the Xenoposeidon description. It’s handily outperforming other papers that I’d have considered much more substantial, and which appeared in more recognised journals. It just goes to show, you can never tell what papers will do well in the citation game, and which will sink without trace.


Last night, I submitted a paper for publication — for the first time since April 2013. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like. But, because we’re living in the Shiny Digital Future, you don’t have to wait till it’s been through review and formal publication to read it. I submitted to PeerJ, and at the same time, made it available as a preprint (Taylor 2014).

It’s called “Quantifying the effect of intervertebral cartilage on neutral posture in the necks of sauropod dinosaurs”, and frankly the results are weird. Here’s a taste:

Taylor (2014:figure 3). Effect of adding cartilage to the neutral pose of the neck of Apatosaurus louisae CM 3018. Images of vertebra from Gilmore (1936:plate XXIV). At the bottom, the vertebrae are composed in a horizontal posture. Superimposed, the same vertebrae are shown inclined by the additional extension angles indicated in Table 1. If the slightly sub-horizontal osteological neutral pose of Stevens and Parrish (1999) is correct, then the cartilaginous neutral pose would be correspondingly slightly lower than depicted here, but still much closer to the elevated posture than to horizontal. (Note that the posture shown here would not have been the habitual posture in life: see discussion.)

Taylor (2014:figure 3). Effect of adding cartilage to the neutral pose of the neck of Apatosaurus louisae CM 3018. Images of vertebra from Gilmore (1936:plate XXIV). At the bottom, the vertebrae are composed in a horizontal posture. Superimposed, the same vertebrae are shown inclined by the additional extension angles indicated in Table 1. If the slightly sub-horizontal osteological neutral pose of Stevens and Parrish (1999) is correct, then the cartilaginous neutral pose would be correspondingly slightly lower than depicted here, but still much closer to the elevated posture than to horizontal. (Note that the posture shown here would not have been the habitual posture in life: see discussion.)

A year back, as I was composing a blog-post about our neck-cartilage paper in PLOS ONE (Taylor and Wedel 2013c), I found myself writing down the rather trivial formula for the additional angle of extension at an intervertebral joint once the cartilage is taken into account. In that post, I finished with the promise “I guess that will have to go in a followup now”. Amazingly it’s taken me a year to get that one-pager written and submitted. (Although in the usual way of things, the manuscript ended up being 13 pages long.)

To summarise the main point of the paper: when you insert cartilage of thickness t between two vertebrae whose zygapophyses articulate at height h above the centra, the more anterior vertebra is forced upwards by t/h radians. Our best guess for how much cartilage is between the adjacent vertebrae in an Apatosaurus neck is about 10% of centrum length: the image above shows the effect of inserting that much cartilage at each joint.

And yes, it’s weird. But it’s where the data leads me, so I think it would be dishonest not to publish it.

I’ll be interested to see what the reviewers make of this. You are all of course welcome to leave comments on the preprint itself; but because this is going through conventional peer-review straight away (unlike our Barosaurus preprint), there’s no need to offer the kind of detailed and comprehensive comment that several people did with the previous one. Of course feel free if you wish, but I’m not depending on it.


Gilmore Charles W. 1936. Osteology of Apatosaurus, with special reference to specimens in the Carnegie Museum. Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum 11:175–300 and plates XXI–XXXIV.

Stevens, Kent A., and J. Michael Parrish. 1999. Neck posture and feeding habits of two Jurassic sauropod dinosaurs. Science 284(5415):798–800. doi:10.1126/science.284.5415.798

Taylor, Michael P. 2014. Quantifying the effect of intervertebral cartilage on neutral posture in the necks of sauropod dinosaurs. PeerJ PrePrints 2:e588v1 doi:10.7287/peerj.preprints.588v1

Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2013c. 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

A couple of times now, I’ve pitched in an abstract for a Masters project looking at neck cartilage, hoping someone at Bristol will work on it with me co-supervising, but so far no-one’s bitten. Here’s how I’ve been describing it:

Understanding posture and motion in the necks of sauropods: the crucial role of cartilage in intervertebral joints

The sauropod dinosaurs were an order of magnitude bigger than any other terrestrial animal. Much sauropod research has concentrated on their long necks, which were crucial to their success (e.g. Sander et al. 2010). One approach to understanding neck function tries to determine neutral posture and range of motion by modelling the cervical vertebrae as a mechanical system (e.g. Stevens and Parrish 1999).

The raw material of such studies is fossilised vertebrae, but these are problematic for several reasons. The invariable incompleteness and distortion of sauropod neck fossils causes fundamental difficulties; but even given perfect fossils, the lack of preserved cartilage means that the bones are not shaped or sized as they were in life.

Ignoring cartilage has dramatic consequences for neutral posture, range of motion and even length of necks: pilot studies (Cobley 2011, Taylor 2011) found that intact bird necks are 8–12% longer than articulated sequences of their dry bones, and that figure is as high as 24% for a juvenile giraffe neck. A turkey neck postzygapophysis was 26% longer when cartilage was included than after being stripped down to naked bone.

We do not yet know how much articular cartilage sauropods had in their necks, nor even what kind of intervertebral joints they had: crocodilians have fibrocartilaginous discs like those of mammals, while birds have synovial joints, so the extant phylogenetic bracket is uninformative.

The project will involve dissection and measurement of bird and crocodilian necks, documenting the extent and shape of articular cartilage, identifying osteological correlates of fibrocartilaginous and synovial joints, and applying this data to sauropods to determine the nature of their neck joints and length of their necks, to reconstruct the lost cartilage, and to determine its effect on neutral pose and range of motion.

Following completion, we anticipate publication of the project.


Cobley, Matthew J. 2011. The flexibility and musculature of the ostrich neck: implications for the feeding ecology and reconstruction of the Sauropoda (Dinosauria: Saurischia). MSc Thesis, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol. vi+64 pages.

Sander, P. Martin, Andreas Christian, Marcus Clauss, Regina Fechner, Carole T. Gee, Eva-Maria Griebeler, Hanns-Christian Gunga, Jürgen Hummel, Heinrich Mallison, Steven F. Perry, Holger Preuschoft, Oliver W. M. Rauhut, Kristian Remes, Thomas Tütken, Oliver Wings and Ulrich Witzel. 2010. Biology of the sauropod dinosaurs: the evolution of gigantism. Biological Reviews 86:117–155. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00137.x

Stevens, Kent A., and J. Michael Parrish. 1999. Neck Posture and Feeding Habits of Two Jurassic Sauropod Dinosaurs. Science 284:798–800. doi:10.1126/science.284.5415.798

Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2011. Sauropod necks: how much do we really know?. p. 20 in Richard Forrest (ed.), Abstracts of Presentations, 59th Annual Symposium of Vertebrae Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK, September 12th–17th 2011. 37 pp. http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/pubs/svpca2011/TaylorWedel2011-what-do-we-really-know.ppt

(Obviously some part of this have since been covered by my and Matt’s first cartilage paper, but plenty has not.)

I now think there are two reasons no-one’s taken up this project: first, because I wrote it as very focussed only on the question of what type of joint was present, whereas there are plenty of related issues to be investigated along the way; and second, because I wrote it as a quest to discover a specific treasure (an osteological correlate), with the implication that if there’s no treasure to be found then the project will have been a failure.

But I do think there is still plenty of important work to be done in this area, and that there’s lots of important information to be got out of comparative dissection of extant critters.

If anyone out there fancies working in this area, I’d be delighted. I’d also be happy to offer whatever advice and help I could.

Update (18 October 2014)

Somehow I’d forgotten, when I wrote this post, that I’d previously written a more detailed post about the discs-in-sauropod-necks problem. If you’re interested in the problem, you should read that.

Stop what you’re doing and go read Cameron Neylon’s blog. Specifically, read his new post, Improving on “Access to Research”.

Regular readers of SV-POW! might legitimately complain that my so-called advocacy consists mostly of whining about how rubbish things are. If you find that wearying (and I won’t blame you if you do), then read Cameron instead: he goes beyond critiquing what is, and sees what could be. Here is a key quote on this new post:

I did this on a rainy Saturday afternoon because I could, because it helped me learn a few things, and because it was fun. I’m one of tens or hundreds of thousands who could have done this, who might apply those skills to cleaning up the geocoding of species in research articles, or extracting chemical names, or phylogenetic trees, or finding new ways to understand the networks of influence in the research literature. I’m not going to ask for permission, I’m not going to go out of my way to get access, and I’m not going to build something I’m not allowed to share. A few dedicated individuals will tackle the permissions issues and the politics. The rest will just move on to the next interesting, and more accessible, puzzle.

Right! Open access is not about reducing subscription costs to libraries, or about  slicing away the absurd profits of the legacy publishers, or about a change to business models. It’s about doing new and exciting things that simply weren’t possible before.