SciBling Bora (aka coturnix) at Blog Around the Clock has scored a major coup for Open Access publishing today. Fittingly the subject matter is a dinosaur, an apt symbol for the new nail in the coffin of traditional scientific publishing that the paper represents. Bora is the Online Community Manager at PLoS-ONE (Public Library of Science), one of the leading Open Access science publishers. PLoS ONE is unusual even among OA publications in that it concentrates on rapid publication after a baseline technical review by Editorial Board members. It covers all areas of science and medicine and invites post-publication community based peer review. As one of my colleagues once put it, real peer review starts after publication anyway and PLoS ONE has made this formal. But the big news here is capturing this high profile paper for one of the newer OA journals. This paper could easily have been published in Science, Nature or PNAS but the authors chose PLoS ONE as their own commitment to open access. The age of the dinosaurs is passing. Oh, yes. The paper. What is it about and what’s the big deal?
Here is Bora’s take on it (which we present because he has been thinking about it longer than the rest of us who just saw it today):
A French paleontologist, Dr. Philippe Taquet, who led the first fossil expeditions to Niger in the 1960s., brought home some bone fragments that he never named. It took three decades until more of this dinosaur was found. In 1997., a member of Paul Sereno’s team discovered the skull of a bizzare-looking dinosaurus which they named Nigersaurus taqueti in honor of their French predecessor. In 1999., Sereno brought in a crew that dug out an almost complete skeleton of this animal, a younger, smaller cousin of the Diplodocus . . .
Although this is a large dinosaur, about elephant-sized, the bones, especially the vertebrae, are extremely hollow – mostly air. Obviously the animal existed and did fine (I believe they found remains of more than one, including babies) although it is hard to fathom that such a large animal could have such a hollow vertebral column without collapsing under the slightest outside pressure. This calls into question the understanding of what the minimal requirements for bone mass are for the skeleton to be useful.
The same goes for the skull which is so hollow and minimalistic in its structure that the bones are transparent (see pictures below)! Yet this extremely light-weight skull fed this large animal – again, questioning the current understanding of what the minimal requirements are for a skull to be functional.
The jaw was extremely wide, with about 500 teeth set in a ruler-straight line, being regularly replaced as they wore out. Moreover, the head is positioned in such a way that it strongly suggests that animal was feeding very close to the ground. (coturnix, Blog Around the Clock)
Go to Bora’s blog for more details, including how he landed this big fish for PLoS ONE and a growing set of links to major media and blogs that have covered it in the first hours after its release. The skeleton was unveiled for public showing by the National Geographic in Washington, DC, simultaneously with publication. There is also a great website devoted to it here.
This is a Big Deal for paleontology and also a Big Deal for Open Access publishing. The hollow bones of this beast make it a lightweight among dinosaurs, but this publication makes PLoS ONE and Bora heavyweights in Open Access publishing. Bora is justifiably excited and we are excited too. The significance of some events is not appreciated until long afterward, but we think this one speaks for itself.