Tetrapod Zoology

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ResearchBlogging.org

As you’ll know if you have your fingers on the throbbing pulse of dinosaur-related publications, the massive, incredibly pricey volume published by the Geological Society of London, and resulting from the 2008 meeting History of Dinosaurs and Other Fossil Saurians, now exists in dead-tree form. It’s titled Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective and (in my totally unbiased opinion) is a definite must-see* for anyone interested in the historical side of Mesozoic reptile research. Here are thoughts and comments on some of the contents.

* I initially wrote ‘must have’, but then remembered the price.

The 394-page book features 21 technical papers: most are on dinosaur research but three are devoted to pterosaurs, several include data on Mesozoic marine reptiles, and one discusses changing interpretations of Middle Triassic environments (Bowden et al. 2010). Some are on general aspects of Mesozoic vertebrate study: Mark Evans’s paper is a detailed look at how museum collections have been essential in our developing view of Mesozoic reptile diversity, while Susan Turner and colleagues review the role of female collectors, amateurs and scientists. I will point out upfront that I was one of the four editors who helped put the volume together, I have two articles in the volume, and I helped organise the meeting that preceded the volume… ha, an interesting story in itself that took some years off my life (why why why do we do all this work…. for free!) [image below shows Conybeare's 1824 reconstructions of Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus: the first ever reconstructions of these animals. From Evans (2010)].

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Several of the papers are biographical, including those on early dinosaur worker William Perceval Hunter, Italian polyglot Giovanni Capellini, and Spanish mining engineer Wilhelm (Guillermo) Schulz. Needless to say, these articles include hitherto unpublicised data on the fossil reptiles that these people wrote about.

Alan Charig, alas poor Mandasuchus and the 19th century discovery of Baryonyx

I contributed two articles to the volume: the first (co-written with Dick Moody) is biographical and concerns the scientific contributions of Alan J. Charig, former head of department at the Natural History Museum in London. Quite a lot of material is covered in this article (Moody & Naish 2010): there’s discussion of Charig’s work on theropods (particularly Baryonyx), ornithischians, pterosaurs, crurotarsans (how I hate the term pseudosuchian), plesiosaurs, amphisbaenians, the “Archaeopteryx is a fake” affair, and on general aspects of Mesozoic palaeobiogeography, cladistics, phylogeny and extinction. Charig wrote about dinosaurs during and after the dinosaur renaissance and did a lot of what we would today consider ‘public outreach’.

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What makes Charig particularly interesting is that he can perhaps be considered as among the last of the ‘old guard’: he argued against many of the new ideas of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and (at times, at least) continued to argue for various ‘traditional’ ideas (like dinosaur polyphyly and a non-dinosaurian origin for birds). His promotion of the idea that archosaurs came in ‘sprawling’, ‘semi-improved’ and ‘fully improved’ versions was partly contingent on his interpretation of rauisuchian-grade taxa as ancestral to dinosaurs: the realisation that such animals were not part of dinosaur ancestry might, then, explain why Charig never did get around to publishing his description of the Tanzanian prestosuchid Mandasuchus (Moody & Naish 2010).

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While Charig never did publish full descriptions of Mandasuchus and various others of the archosaurs he worked on, he certainly didn’t hesitate to discuss them in his popular books. Among these is his 1979 A New Look at the Dinosaurs: to be honest, I always found it rather boring, but it was highly influential, generally well received, and featured Peter Snowball’s very attractive double-page colour scenes. Snowball’s paintings were reproduced on postcards and posters that you could buy at the NHM; a formative part of my experience of the NHM as a child. And while on the subject of early influences, I have to mention the Brooke Bond tea card series of 1971 – Prehistoric Animals – that Charig was involved in (he wrote the text). Maurice Wilson did the illustrations: these were among the first reconstructions of prehistoric animals I ever paid attention to [Wilson's rather nondescript Mandasuchus is shown above. I never could figure out what it was eating].

Moving on, Eric Buffetaut’s long-awaited paper on early spinosaurid finds demonstrates that Baryonyx was known to Cuvier and Mantell, though only by way of one or two isolated teeth. Naturally, these teeth were misidentified as those of crocodilians, and in 1841 they were named Suchosaurus cultridens by Richard Owen. So Baryonyx wasn’t really brand-new when ‘discovered’ in 1983: we’d actually known about since about 1820. If Suchosaurus cultridens is the same thing as Baryonyx, why doesn’t the latter become a junior synonym? One reason is that those teeth aren’t definitely those of Baryonyx (for one thing, they’re somewhat older than the type skeleton of B. walkeri); another is that the type material attached to the name Baryonyx (viz, that substantial skeleton discovered in 1983) is clearly very much superior to those early, isolated teeth (Buffetaut 2010). Note that baryonychines are not the only spinosaurids known from the European fossil record: teeth indicate that spinosaurines might have been present too (Sánchez-Hernández et al. 2007).

My second article in the volume – ‘Pneumaticity, the early years’ – looks at early ideas on saurischian pneumaticity (Naish 2010). Here we find another instance of me deciding that a blog article is good enough to be worth publishing properly: the sauropod text incorporated into this article originated as the SV-POW! article here (the published version is, of course, augmented and contains illustrations and text not present in the SV-POW! prototype).

It’s Brian!

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The volume is also a big deal in that it includes what I believe to be Brian Switek’s first contribution to the technical literature: ‘Thomas Henry Huxley and the reptile to bird transition’ (Switek 2010). It’s common knowledge (well, it is among people interested in this sort of thing) that Huxley proposed a derivation of birds from among Mesozoic dinosaurs [Huxley shown here, from wikipedia. I deliberately chose a picture where he's young (21): it seems to be little realised that famous 19th century scientists did not spend their entire lives as old men].

In fact, Huxley’s take on this subject was far more complex: while he definitely posited a link between such animals as Hypsilophodon, Compsognathus and birds, and while he stated that the bones of Cretaceous dinosaurs would have been “unhesitatingly referred to Aves” if found in recent sediments, he doesn’t seem to have made any of the very precise statements about birds and other dinosaurs that have sometimes been attributed to him; a better argument might be that he regarded birds and dinosaurs as sharing a common ancestry (Witmer 1991, Switek 2010). Anyway – congrats Brian!

You all know that Brian’s book – Written in Stone – came out this year, right? Wow, how the hell did you organise all that publicity, Brian? I’ve done a few books through august, media-savvy publishers (e.g., Walking With Dinosaurs: The Evidence, BBC, 2001 and The Great Dinosaur Discoveries, University Californian Press/A&C Black, 2009), and have never had anywhere near that sort of interest. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

To popular culture!

One of my favourite articles in the book is Jeff Liston’s ‘2000 A.D. and the new ‘Flesh’: first to report the dinosaur renaissance in ‘moving’ pictures’ (Liston 2010). The main point made here is that the British comic 2000 A.D. was, as you might have worked out from the article’s title, among the earliest outlets of ‘mainstream’ media to feature various of the ideas promoted by the dinosaur renaissance.

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The ‘Flesh’ story, published in 1976, featured furry, cold-climate theropods, fully terrestrial sauropods, agile dromaeosaurs and herding ornithischians (people are going back in time to harvest dinosaur meat… and let’s just say that it doesn’t end all that well for the humans) [those cold-climate theropods - and spinosaurs inspired by a Giovanni Caselli painting - are shown below in a panel from the story. Flesh © 2010 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved]. While nowhere are the dinosaurs anthropomorphised or said or implied to be unusually intelligent, they’re social animals that engage in a few fairly sophisticated behavioural rituals. Many of the animals featured in ‘Flesh’ were based on Giovanni Caselli’s illustrations from Beverley Halstead’s 1975 The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs [shown here]. Here’s one of the reasons why this whole episode is of such interest to me: Halstead’s book was the second dinosaur book I ever owned and, like that Brooke Bond volume penned by Charig, was hugely influential to my young self (I know I’ve said this before, sorry).

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So ‘Flesh’ post-dated Bakker’s ‘Dinosaur renaissance’ article of 1975, but pre-dated Ostrom’s National Geographic piece of 1978: as such it was one of several ‘mass communicators’ that rapidly spread the message of the dinosaur renaissance to a new audience (Liston 2010). Indeed, worth noting is that people involved in the writing and illustrating of comics and comic strips have often been on-the-ball when it comes to the representation of dinosaurs. I’d hardly be the first to point out that Bill Watterson, for example, very much knows what he’s doing. You might wonder why ‘Flesh’ has not been mentioned more frequently in these post-Isla Nublar days; it was heavily inspired by Crichton’s West World, and included at its core an environmentalist message.

Incidentally, Jeff’s article – which is virtually unique in the volume – does make me wish that I’d also produced an article looking at depictions of dinosaurs in the popular literature. Maybe I should have written up something on that ‘historical meme’ subject I’ve covered here several times (see links below). Alas, competing pressures conspired against the fruition of such a noble idea. Jeff was interviewed about his article over on Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings.

In yet other papers, Kasper Hansen reviews the history of changing ideas on manual digit homology in dinosaurs, Peter Wellnhofer provides a brief review on research on the affinities of Archaeopteryx, and Matthew Carrano and colleagues review the history of dinosaur collecting in India between the 1820s and 1950s. Michael P. Taylor’s historical review of sauropod research is concise, comprehensive and should prove a useful introduction to the sauropod literature (see the links here – including to a pdf of the paper itself – on SV-POW!) [the composite of Charles Knight sauropods below is from Taylor (2010)]. Leslie Noè and colleagues’ review of the Alfred Leeds collection of Oxford Clay and Kellaways Formation dinosaurs is most welcome, as few prior sources have combined historical reviews of the collection with data on the dinosaur fossils themselves.

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The several pterosaur papers are great: Attila Ősi and colleagues provide new information on three specimens housed in Hungarian collections (one of which is the supposedly lost holotype of Pterodactylus micronyx), David Martill reviews the early history of pterosaur discoveries in Britain, and Mark Witton reviews the history of giant pterosaurs from 1870 to the present.

As I hope is clear from this summary, Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective is a very impressive, attractive volume, undoubtedly of great interest to anyone seriously into the history of Mesozoic reptile research. In fact, I think I’d go as far as saying that it’ll be absolutely essential reading to anyone who works in this field. I like a great many of the papers included in the book and am pleased to see so much information – much of it entirely new – being brought together on the same subject. As I said above, I wish I’d been able to submit some additional articles to the volume, but you can’t have everything. You can order the book from here on The Geological Society site, and it’s here on amazon and here on amazon.co.uk. I’ve mentioned the price a few times; it’s £95/US$190 (less if you’re a Geological Society member). No comment.

One final note. 2010 is nearing its end. Obviously I can’t claim authorship of Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective, but I can regard it as one of ‘my’ books given that I helped edit it, and I did author two papers in it. This means that I managed to push out four books over the course of the year: the others are Dinosaurs Life Size, Dorling Kindersley’s Know It All and Tetrapod Zoology Book One. Not bad at all, but – if things had panned out – the final count would have been a bit higher. There’s always next year.

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For previous Tet Zoo articles on the 2008 meeting ‘Dinosaurs (and other extinct saurians) – A Historical Perspective’, see…

A follow-up meeting is being held in Paris in May 2011. More information is available here. I would love to attend but, as always, am in need of a benefactor or two. And for other articles on the portrayal of Mesozoic reptiles in artwork and similar topics, check out…

Refs – -

Bowden, A. J., Tresise, G. R. & Simkiss, W. 2010. Chirotherium, the Liverpool footprint hunters and their interpretation of the Middle Triassic environment. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 209-228.

Buffetaut, E. 2010. Spinosaurs before Stromer: early finds of spinosaurid dinosaurs and their interpretations. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 175-188.

Evans, M. 2010. The roles played by museums, collections and collectors in the early history of reptile palaeontology. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 5-29.

Liston, J. J. 2010. 2000 A.D. and the new ‘Flesh’: first to report the dinosaur renaissance in ‘moving’ pictures’. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 335-360.

Moody, R. T. J. & Naish, D. 2010. Alan Jack Charig (1927-1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 89-109.

Naish, D. 2010. Pneumaticity, the early years: Wealden Supergroup dinosaurs and the hypothesis of saurischian pneumaticity. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 229-236.

SANCHEZ HERNANDEZ, B., BENTON, M., & NAISH, D. (2007). Dinosaurs and other fossil vertebrates from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous of the Galve area, NE Spain Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 249 (1-2), 180-215 DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2007.01.009.

Switek, B. 2010. Thomas Henry Huxley and the reptile to bird transition. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 251-263.

Taylor, M. P. 2010. Sauropod dinosaur research: a historical review. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 361-386.

Witmer, L. M. 1991. Perspectives on avian origins. In Schultze, H.-P. & Trueb, L. (eds) Origins of the Higher Groups of Tetrapods: Controversy and Consensus. Cornel University Press (Ithaca, London), pp. 427-466.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanović
    November 29, 2010

    The picture of Charig’s book isn’t there.

    If Suchosaurus cultridens is the same thing as Baryonyx, why doesn’t the latter become a junior synonym? One reason is that those teeth aren’t definitely those of Baryonyx (for one thing, they’re somewhat older than the type skeleton of B. walkeri); another is that the type material attached to the name Baryonyx (viz, that substantial skeleton discovered in 1983) is clearly very much superior to those early, isolated teeth (Buffetaut 2010).

    Well, no. Either you suddenly start pretending to believe in chronospecies and chronogenera (your first reason); or you find another species that Suchosaurus is morphologically indistinguishable from (so that S. is a nomen dubium); or Baryonyx walkeri gets mercilessly sunk into Suchosaurus cultridens. The ICZN doesn’t care about the quality of type specimens, unless you submit a petition and they happen to find it convincing.

    Atilla

    Attila. Long t, short l, stress on the first syllable.

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    November 29, 2010

    There’s a cover pic of Charig’s A New Look at the Dinosaurs – or, there should be. On Baryonyx and Suchosaurus, I suppose the argument is that S. cultridens can be identified as cf. Baryonyx, Baryonychinae indet. or perhaps as Baryonyx sp. Part of the problem here is uncertainty over whether Baryonyx is synonymous with Baryonychinae: it isn’t if you accept the distinction of Suchomimus. In other words, S. cultridens might be baryonychine, but is it definitely synonymous with Baryonyx?

    If it is… well, predictably, I know that there is resistance to the idea that Baryonyx should be sunk into Suchosaurus. This isn’t the first time that the idea has been mooted: Angela Milner has been talking about it since 2003 at least.

  3. #3 Dartian
    November 29, 2010

    What makes Charig particularly interesting is that he can perhaps be considered as among the last of the ‘old guard’: he argued against many of the new ideas of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and (at times, at least) continued to argue for various ‘traditional’ ideas (like dinosaur polyphyly and a non-dinosaurian origin for birds).

    The guard dies but does not surrender.

  4. #4 Jerzy
    November 29, 2010

    Frankly, I find research about a research a kind of vain and empty.

    More interesting would be how ideas themselves about life of dinosaurs came to be. Ironically, 90% of people imagine dinosaurs in the flesh, but little research is done on how they actually lived (in contrast to how their bones look like).

    Polar carnosaurs with thick intergument from 1975 are interesting – BBC in 2000s still presented Australian dinosaurs with bare skin and falling into torpor in cold.

    Interestingly, maybe one could avoid repeating the same mistakes, or uncover serious but overlooked theories?

  5. #5 Mark Witton
    November 29, 2010

    “why why why do we do all this work…. for free!”

    Similar thoughts are probably held by all the authors contributing to this volume who were given a measly pdf of their own work for their troubles and the option to buy this volume at a reduced fee (which still makes it £50 or something): no free copy of the volume, not even special access to digital copies of the other papers. The Geological Society should know that this stinks: without the free but time-intensive contributions of their authors, this volume wouldn’t even exist. A fancy-looking copy of your own work and a still-enormous price tag to see the rest of the book is a dismissive attitude to contributors indeed. I’m sure I speak on behalf of my fellow contributors when I say “Geological Society, thanks for nothing”.

  6. #6 Andreas Johansson
    November 29, 2010

    he argued against many of the new ideas of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and (at times, at least) continued to argue for various ‘traditional’ ideas (like dinosaur polyphyly and a non-dinosaurian origin for birds).

    Did he venture to suggest what might be the closest relatives of Saurischia and Ornithischia if not one another?

    (Too many examples of 20C “phylopessimism”, to borrow David Marjanović’s term, seem to amount to listing potential objections to a sister group relationship without suggesting another more plausible sister. Since similar objections can usually be raised against any relationship (if critters didn’t differ from their sister groups they’d be the same, not sister groups), one is left to wonder if any relationship should be considered tenable or if we’re back to Special Creation. I don’t mean to accuse anyone of creationism, but arguments sometimes seem to suggest their authors should be creationists.)

  7. #7 DunkTheBiscuit
    November 29, 2010

    So, if I was to buy this volume, do I understand that the authors who produced the content would not actually get any of my money?

    Is this normal practice in academic publications? (I’m a layperson) If so, what does the author gain, other than a published paper? Is that why they do it? And why are such volumes so expensive if the publisher doesn’t have to pay the authors?

    I am genuinely interested. I had assumed the authors would receive some remuneration for their time – I know these papers take a lot of work to put together and people still need to eat :/

  8. #8 Charles Paxton
    November 29, 2010

    I don’t understand Jerzy’s comment. How is “how ideas themselves about life of dinosaurs came to be” different to doing “research about research”, it is a special case. I would argue that in addition to being interesting in its own right (to me anyway), “research about research” or perhaps “history of science” to give it, its more common name can provide useful insights into current science. It is especially useful in palaeontology as ideas often get resurrected (Lazurus hypotheses perhaps!).

  9. #9 Michael P. Taylor
    November 29, 2010

    [from Darren: sorry, delayed as spam]

    DunkTheBiscuit: yes, you are right: if you coughed up $195 to but the volume, Darren (who co-edited and wrote two papers) and I (who merely wrote a paper) would get absolutely nothing. On the positive side, the Geological Society would make a shedload of money. That is a good thing — it’s a worthwhile society that does good work — but that doesn’t stop it from being indefensible.

    So to return to Darren’s question: why why why do we do it? No-one’s in palaeo for the money. But we are in it to get our ideas out there where people can read them, which is the point of publication. When the work is made available only under the cough-up-$195-or-sod-off terms on offer here, the indefensible becomes actually iniquitous. Throw in the fact that the Geological Society even tries to limit the number of PDFs that authors can send their colleagues, and the whole process leaves a foul stench in the nostrils.

    Where to from here? Well, you can read my chapter, at least, for free — for a link to the PDF and an explanation of why you can do that, see http://svpow.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/who-owns-my-sauropod-history-paper/

    But that was a one-off hacked-up solution to this particular manifestation of the wider academic-publishing problem. Anyone who’s not read Scott Aaronsen’s brilliant skewering of the current situation should do so immediately at http://www.scottaaronson.com/writings/journal.html

    I’ll close by quoting Scott:

    In my view, 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. One would think such a request would anger everyone: conservatives and libertarians because of the unpaid labor, liberals because of the beneficiaries of that labor.

    But scientists, despite (or because of) their professional virtues — understatement, self-criticism, respect for academic tradition — seem prone to a peculiar anger deficiency. Not only do many of them continue to work pro bono for outrageously-priced journals, some of them even criticize colleagues who don’t! [...] In my view, once we’ve mustered a level of anger commensurate with what’s happening, we can then debate what to do next, which journals are overpriced and which aren’t, what qualifies as “open access,” and so on. But the first step is for a critical mass of us to acknowledge that we are being had.

  10. #10 Brian Switek
    November 29, 2010

    Thank you very much for the shout-out, Darren!

    Yes, the Huxley paper is my first. My second paper – on the whole Darwinius kerfuffle of last year – made it into Evolution:Education and Outreach first, but the Huxley paper was the first one I wrote.

    To at least a small extent, the Huxley stemmed directly from my blogging. As I rooted around for things to write about I went back to some of Huxley’s original work and found that what he actually said differed from what I had always heard. This volume was coming together at just the right time, and I am deeply indebted to Mike Taylor and Eric Buffetaut for their encouragement and support in composing my first formal contribution to The Literature. Now that I am over the first hurdle, so to speak, writing a paper is not as impossible as it had once seemed, and I am working on several other papers right now. With any luck, the Huxley paper will just be the first of many contributions to come.

    As proud as I am to have my first publication in a Geological Society volume, though, I am also dismayed by the lack of access. Granted, my viewpoint is not objective, but I think this book is very important for the field and it is a shame that not even the contributing authors can easily attain full access. I agree that this book provides essential context for the ongoing study of “dinosaurs and other extinct saurians”, and it is frustrating the access to it is so constrained.

    Thank you, as well, for the mention of Written in Stone. To tell you the truth, I was not expecting such a warm reception. I thought that a few paleo fans would notice but that it would otherwise get passed over since it is a debut book from an independent press by a virtually unknown author. I’m glad to say I was wrong, and I think I owe quite a bit to the friends I have made on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Having a community of online friends willing to pump up your work really helps, and I doubt that I could have gotten this far without the help of scientists, writers, and readers who I have met on the web.

    Thank you, again, for your help and encouragement, Darren. Keep up the excellent work!

  11. #11 Mike from Ottawa
    November 29, 2010

    It is unbelievably Scroogian skinflintery that the Geological Society of London won’t even give the authors of the papers a free copy of the book.

  12. #12 Robert
    November 29, 2010

    “Flesh” was undoubtedly my favourite story in the early editions of “200OAD” – perhaps the more so because they shifted the emphasis away from the humans to making the Dinosaurs the main protagonists – clearly assessing what the readers wanted!

    And how can you not like a story whose main character turns out to be a 120 year old physically disabled female Tyranosaurus, whose son goes on to almost eat Judge Dredd in the 21st century?

  13. #13 Bob Michaels
    November 29, 2010

    The book will be released on Dec 15th, $190.00 on Amazon.

  14. #14 Darren Naish
    November 29, 2010

    Lots of interesting stuff there, thank you all for your comments. As Mike has now ably explained (comment 9), we editors and authors do not get any money for our work on these technical volumes. This is also the case for work published in technical journals, though people who do editorial work for journals do – I think – ordinarily get paid. Most people seem ok with this simply because this is the way it’s always been (ah, such a satisfying justification!), and there’s also the argument that you want your work published in a prestigious venue (and, obviously, print-on-demand, self-publication etc. do not have this credibility). But, yeah, it’s not right, and it’s crazy – in every other walk of life (god knows I’ve had to deal with solicitors and financial advisers enough times) you have to pay experts insane amounts of money for their valuable time. I do not see an easy solution to the mess, but we need to keep it in mind (disclosure: I work as a technical editor for Elsevier).

    Moving on. Jerzy (comment 4) writes that…

    Frankly, I find research about a research a kind of vain and empty.

    Well, that’s your opinion. I regard reviews of the literature as essential bits of research.

    More interesting would be how ideas themselves about life of dinosaurs came to be. Ironically, 90% of people imagine dinosaurs in the flesh, but little research is done on how they actually lived (in contrast to how their bones look like).

    This makes it sound as if dinosaur experts aren’t interested in the behaviour and lifestyles of their favourite animals. Nothing could be further from the truth, and there is already a huge literature (some of it evidence-based!) on dinosaur biology and behaviour. What you might not be appreciating is how limited palaeontologists are when it comes to studying dinosaur biology: many interesting questions just cannot be examined, and what evidence exists is typically incomplete and inconclusive. In other words, palaeontologists have done, and are doing, the research you wish they would. Name a bit of research you think someone should do: I guarantee that there’s already something on it in the literature!

  15. #15 Bob Michaels
    November 29, 2010

    Can you answer what process allows some organic material to escape fossilation, perhaps leading to extraction and to a Jurassic park, with Living Dinosaurs? Is it within the realm of a possibility or merely wishful thinking?

  16. #16 Zach Miller
    November 29, 2010

    Is “Living Dinosaurs” really a proper noun?

    It’s completely wishful thinking, Bob. For reasons too numerous to go into here, it’s just gonna happen. The closest we’ll get to raising the dead is hybridizing Asian elephants with good mammoth DNA, then basically breedng out the Asian elephant traits (or however they’re suggesting that process is done).

  17. #17 Mickey Mortimer
    November 29, 2010

    Forget “Mandasuchus”, the real Charig mystery is “Nyasasaurus”.

    “Did he venture to suggest what might be the closest relatives of Saurischia and Ornithischia if not one another?”

    Sauropodomorphs were derived from ‘prestosuchids’ like “Mandasuchus” (probably a teratosauroid), while coelurosaurs were supposed to be derived from “Teleocrater” (most recently thought to be a non-archosaurian archosauriform). Charig’s phylogenetic ideas seem mostly ill-defined, with everything coming from a ‘pseudosuchian’ grade, the position of taxa like Herrerasaurus and Teratosaurus undetermined, and a classification more phenetic than cladistic.

    For more details, someone needs to track down-

    Charig, A.J., 1956. New Triassic archosaurs from Tanganyika, including Mandasuchus and Teleocrater. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge.

  18. #18 Marc Vincent
    November 29, 2010

    I’m hugely interested in the history of dinosaur research and popular literature, and have very much appreciated both your blog posts here and Mike Taylor’s chapter, as linked to over at SV-POW (a great read). However, as a student I was taken aback to learn of the price! I can’t help but feel that the Geological Society are shooting themselves in the foot a bit – I’d be willing to pay a certain premium of course, but £95 seems…a little absurd.

    I’m sure there are others like me who are desperate to read this book, but are put off by the price (and I don’t really have the time to muck about trying to get the university library to order it in right now). Seems a shame.

  19. #19 DunkTheBiscuit
    November 29, 2010

    It’s amazing what we put up with because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’

    Thanks for the enlightenment (I read the post over at SV-POW too). As a paying punter, so to speak, I’m very disappointed to find out that the people who actually do the work to educate me aren’t getting any of what I pay. If the publisher had gone to the trouble of paying so many knowledgeable people for their expertise then £95 would be a fair price to hand over, but… they haven’t. So why so expensive?

    Having said that, I will see if it’s possible for my local library to get a copy – I would love to read it!

  20. #20 Mike from Ottawa
    November 30, 2010

    I’d hardly be the first to point out that Bill Watterson, for example, very much knows what he’s doing.

    Now (or at least before, sniff, he stopped doing Calvin and Hobbes). When he started Calvin and Hobbes, his dinosaurs were old style lizardy things. I remember having thought at the time that he did lovely drawings but too bad his dinosaurs were old-school. At some point he came across the new view of dinosaurs (I’ve read a comment of his about this, and he was embarrassed to find his dinosaurs out of date) and worked on improving them. It was fun watching his understanding and drawing of dinosaurs evolve so that his T-rex’s went from being limp and sinuous to being taut and active.

    I’m sure Watterson (2 years younger than I) had that same thrill I got, having been brought up with the old sluggish, swamp dwelling brontosaurus and Gojira-like upright Tyrannosaurus, at finding out dinosaurs had become way more interesting than they were when we were kids.

    Now, of course, there are the pups out there like Naish and Witton who’ve grown up with lively, plausible dinosaurs and never knew any different. They’ve had it easy. Now, get off my lawn!

  21. #21 Dartian
    November 30, 2010

    Mike:

    I’m sure Watterson (2 years younger than I) had that same thrill I got, having been brought up with the old sluggish, swamp dwelling brontosaurus and Gojira-like upright Tyrannosaurus, at finding out dinosaurs had become way more interesting than they were when we were kids.

    From the point of view of a fair number of people who read this blog, Calvin and Hobbes (which ended in 1995) is also ancient history…

  22. #22 David Stern
    November 30, 2010

    I collected the Brooke Bond cards and got the Evolution and Ecology book too. I thought you’d be younger than me from your pictures!

  23. #23 Darren Naish
    November 30, 2010

    I will admit to, obviously, being a real newbie (as much as you can be for something that stopped going in 1995) then on Calvin and Hobbes: the only Wattersonian dinosaurs I’ve seen (tyrannosaurs in fighter jets and so on) are great.

    In response to Mike from Ottawa (comment 20): my earliest experiences of dinosaurs (I was born in 1975) were of diagonal-bodied, tail-dragging ornithopods and swamp-dwelling sauropods. Like so many people, I wasn’t aware of the sleek new beasts of the dinosaur renaissance until I was a teenager.

  24. #24 Andreas Johansson
    November 30, 2010

    I’m a bit younger than Darren (born in ’82), and I too remember a fair lot of tail-dragging carnosaurs and swamp-dwelling sauropods from my childhood. A lot of old illustrations and toys were still around, and my first dino books were old things from my father’s library probably bought in the ’70s.

  25. #25 Dartian
    November 30, 2010

    Darren:

    worth noting is that people involved in the writing and illustrating of comics and comic strips have often been on-the-ball when it comes to the representation of dinosaurs

    Hmm. That got me thinking… You mentioned 2000 A.D. and Calvin and Hobbes, but what other notable examples are there of mainstream comics that feature dinosaurs? And I mean ‘notable’ in the sense of being scientifically on-the-ball (considering the time of publication). There are dinosaurs in Johnny Hart’s B.C., for example, but they are not particularly interesting in this context. Neither is Rex from Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark*.

    * That comic is, of course, more noteworthy for its unintentionally(?) hilarious title…

  26. #26 David Marjanović
    November 30, 2010

    There’s a cover pic of Charig’s A New Look at the Dinosaurs – or, there should be.

    It still doesn’t load. And when I go directly to http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/Charig-1979-A-New-Look-at-Dinosaurs-Nov-2010.jpg , I still get only a placeholder picture, this time not even in the right size.

    Part of the problem here is uncertainty over whether Baryonyx is synonymous with Baryonychinae: it isn’t if you accept the distinction of Suchomimus.

    OK. So Suchosaurus cultridens is a nomen dubium because it’s indistinguishable from both Baryonyx walkeri and — lumping mode alert — Baryonyx tenerensis, right?

    If the above is true and we accept Suchomimus, then the genus name Suchosaurus is a nomen dubium, too.

    Did he venture to suggest what might be the closest relatives of Saurischia and Ornithischia if not one another?

    Unspecified rauisuchians.

    (Too many examples of 20C “phylopessimism”, to borrow David Marjanović’s term, seem to amount to listing potential objections to a sister group relationship without suggesting another more plausible sister.

    Yes. This is not science — which is why it reminds you of creationism.

    The most specific they usually got was to suggest some blob on a romerogram (Thecodontia, Pseudosuchia, Eosuchia, Cotylosauria…) as an ancestral higher taxon, as if an entire higher taxon could be ancestral to another.

    The term isn’t mine, it’s from a little French book about the history of the concept of evolutionary trees by Pascal Tassy (1998).

    there’s also the argument that you want your work published in a prestigious venue (and, obviously, print-on-demand, self-publication etc. do not have this credibility).

    Not for some nebulous value of “prestige” or “credibility”, though.

    Academic employers want to hire and promote the best scientists. How do you tell, as objectively as possible, which ones are the best? How do you measure the quality of a scientist?

    One simple way is to look at how often their work is cited. If something is wrong, it’s cited maybe once or twice to refute it; if it’s right, it’s cited more often (as in “standing on the shoulders of giants”); if it’s groundbreaking, it’s cited again and again and again for decades.

    There is someone who does this work for you. They read the references lists of the papers in a lot of journals (and, I think, edited books where every chapter has different authors) and count which papers are cited how often. Unfortunately, this is a PRIVATE, FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, Thomson Scientific (formerly “Institute for Scientific Information”).

    Thomson Scientific also use their data to measure the quality of entire journals. The impact factor of a journal is the average number of citations (in all of the journals Thomson Scientific look at) that a paper in that journal gets within 2 years. So, the easiest way to try to measure the quality of a scientist is to look at the impact factors of the journals they publish in.

    And that’s the most important criterion on which people are hired and promoted in France. In the USA it’s a little less bad, in the UK it’s more liberal but still not inconsequential…

    Full-time professional scientists are trapped in the system. They are paid for their impact factor. That’s why so many scientists send the same manuscript first to Nature (IF 27 last time I checked, the biggest of all), then Science, then PNAS, then the leading journal in their general field, then the leading journal in their specific field, and then the perhaps most appropriate journal with the most generous space restrictions and all, and why they put up with doing all of that for free.

    This year, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology has an IF of 2.346 (yes, three decimals). That means a three-page “paper” (extended abstract, rather) in Nature is worth eleven and a half fifteen-page JVP papers. And we, or at least most of us, cannot do anything about it.

    I’m a bit younger than Darren (born in ’82), and I too remember a fair lot of tail-dragging carnosaurs and swamp-dwelling sauropods from my childhood. A lot of old illustrations and toys were still around, and my first dino books were old things from [...] the ’70s.

    All of this holds for me, too.

  27. #27 Darren Naish
    November 30, 2010

    Does anyone else have the same problem with the book cover pic? If so I’ll try and do something about it. It loads fine at this end.

  28. #28 David Marjanović
    November 30, 2010

    Yet more bluntly: if I, at this stage in my career*, wrote a book, that would come very close to career suicide. Monographs are ignored by Thomson Scientific, they do not have an impact factor (and even if I use the book to cite my own papers, it doesn’t help the citation numbers of those papers), so they’re worthless for CV purposes. A book would eat up a lot of time that I could use to write papers for journals with an impact factor; it would make my CV look bad. Be glad I don’t have anything to write a book about.

    * Which is to say… tonight I submitted my first job application ever, having defended my doctoral thesis a week and a half ago. Most of my thesis is already published, though; that’s somewhat unusual.

  29. #29 Dartian
    November 30, 2010

    Darren:

    Does anyone else have the same problem with the book cover pic?

    I do. (Fortunately, I know what the cover looks like so I don’t need to see it.)

    David:

    A book would eat up a lot of time that I could use to write papers for journals with an impact factor

    How much time do you spend writing comments to Pharyngula?

    having defended my doctoral thesis a week and a half ago

    And now you tell us? Congratulations, Herr Doktor!

  30. #30 Darren Naish
    November 30, 2010

    How about now on that book cover? I just uploaded a different version. And….. congrats Dr Marjanović?

  31. #31 Dartian
    November 30, 2010

    How about now on that book cover?

    Now I see it!

  32. #32 Ilja Nieuwland
    November 30, 2010

    Having now read most of this volume, there is one problem that I see with it – and with the upcoming Paris conference. The fact that I didn’t know about that, even though it is part of my job to keep the events calendar for the Dutch History of Science Society speaks volumes: this entire event, and the book, have been filled with contributions by paleontologists reflecting on history, and maybe just a little bit too little the other way around.

    As it is, this volume seems to bypass a lot of current historical insight, while still remaining fairly technical. What remains is a mix of very worthwhile historical essays (e.g., Buffetaut), some maybe-too-technical stuff (e.g., Naish) but mostly material that honestly could have done with a more fleshed-out interpretative framework. Jean Le loeuff’s essay about Méheut’s painting of Diplodocus from 1943 is a good example: it offers some interesting observations, but all that information isn’t really going anywhere.

    In its present state, it is difficult to see how this volume is going to be used as either a paleontological work or a historical one: it’s too historical for one and too technical and unfocused for the other.

  33. #33 Darren Naish
    November 30, 2010

    Hi Ilja. Thanks for your thoughts: this is an interesting perspective, but I’m not sure it’s a fair one. What do you suggest we should have done? We honestly worked as hard as we could to alert and involve everyone interested. I can see that some of the contributions might look too technical for a ‘historical’ audience, but this is unavoidable given that they were written by palaeontologists for palaeontologists. It is not too late to contact Eric Buffetaut and act as participant and (if you’re interested) advisor for the 2011 meeting.

  34. #34 Jerzy
    November 30, 2010

    @Darren
    Examples: Was Carnotaurus an equivalent of cheetah? How well could spinosaurs swim compared to eg. tyrannosaurids?

    “what other notable examples are there of mainstream comics that feature dinosaurs? ”

    Of course The Far Side. BTW, I didn’t manage to find how Gary Larson is associated with science. Look in Wikipedia for thagomizer.

  35. #35 Ilja Nieuwland
    November 30, 2010

    Hi Darren, in fact I wrote just such an e-mail before I posted my reply! Reading back it now sounds a bit harsh, which I didn’t mean it to. However, I think the point is a fair one. In the Museums and Galleries History Group, we’re working hard to close the gap between various disciplines interested in the same thing (although for different reasons) – so I know just how difficult it is. I will of course post notices about the event on the website and ask British Society for the History of Science to do the same. Maybe it’s not so much a matter of working hard but more of knowing which channels to use.

    Not that historians of science are entirely without fault, and there still is a fair bit of snobbery going on that prevents people from taking an interest in dino history. However, I know of at least four people that have either just finished their thesis on a ‘dino-historical’ work, or plan to do so within the next few years; you might have heard of Paul Brinkman’s The Second Dinosaur Rush, which appeared in the U of Chicago Press catalogue last year. And Lukas Rieppel and I both devoted attention to the history of vertebrate paleontology at this year’s History of Science Society meeting. There has been a mounting interest among historians in the history of natural history lately.

    But I do think that a further effort to make these two communities meet is in order, and both would benefit greatly from it. If I can be of use, let me know.

  36. #36 Darren Naish
    November 30, 2010

    Jerzy: the hindlimbs are incompletely known for Carnotaurus (nothing from below the top of the tibia), so it’s difficult to estimate running ability. Of course, estimating running abilities in fossil animals in general is very difficult anyway. An empirical analysis of cursoriality in dinosaurs (including ceratosaurs) was published by Carrano (1999): ceratosaurs seem to have been moderately cursorial, but there are no indications that they were especially fast (you certainly wouldn’t expect it from their limb bones).

    As for swimming abilities, you need good skeletons (complete tails etc.), and then good data on musculature to make any inferences about this sort of thing. We know enough about tyrannosaurids to make some reasonable inferences about musculature (e.g., Carrano & Hutchinson 2002), but nowhere near enough on spinosaurids (no tail skeletons, little data on hindlimbs). You might be aware of new work indicating that dinosaurs had more muscular tails than previously thought, but again this is new, and the implications it might have for locomotion await exploration.

    So, the work that needs doing is underway, but in its early stages. Like I said before, we are limited in what we know, and in what we CAN know: it isn’t right to imply that palaeontologists are uninterested!

    Refs – -

    Carrano, M. T. 1999. What, if anything, is a cursor? Categories versus continua for determining locomotor habit in mammals and dinosaurs. Journal of Zoology 247, 29-42.

    - . & Hutchinson, J. R. 2002. Pelvic and hindlimb musculature of Tyrannosaurus rex (Dinosauria: Theropoda). Journal of Morphology 253, 207-228.

  37. #37 Zach Miller
    November 30, 2010

    Dinosaurs in comics: Frank Cho does some marvelous dinosaurs (and giant apes!) in his “Liberty Meadows” comic.

  38. #38 David Marjanović
    November 30, 2010

    The cover of Charig’s book is now displayed. Droopy-tailed Diplodocus, lizard-footed and sprawling Protoceratops.

    A paper just came out on the running abilities of Carnotaurus… well, about its Musculus caudifemoralis longus, which was enormous, much larger than people used to think. That must have given it impressive power for retracting the femur.

    How much time do you spend writing comments to Pharyngula?

    Good question. However, that’s easier to cut than working on a book would be.

    Thanks for the congratulations, everyone. :-)

  39. #39 Christopher Taylor
    November 30, 2010

    One simple way is to look at how often their work is cited. If something is wrong, it’s cited maybe once or twice to refute it; if it’s right, it’s cited more often (as in “standing on the shoulders of giants”); if it’s groundbreaking, it’s cited again and again and again for decades.

    I’d say the position’s even worse than that. At least in the field of taxonomy, it often seems that poor-quality publications are more likely to be cited because their publication often incites further publications by other authors to correct the publication’s errors or deficiencies. Things might adjust themselves to more appropriate levels over the long term, but in the case of Thompson Scientific they only count citations within the two years immediately following publication*. So, from a career perspective, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the best thing to do is produce the most god-awful work that you possibly can.

    *Which is another problem with applying Impact Factors to taxonomic works. It often takes a year or more to produce a decent manuscript, then it might take another year to get that manuscript through the review and publication process. So, unless another author has a manuscript all ready to go into which they can retrofit a citation for your publication, you’re unlikely to see any citations of your publication in print for a couple of years no matter how good it may be.

  40. #40 Paul White
    November 30, 2010

    Christopher: does that explain some of the more out there taxonomic changes in herps lately (see, Hoser’s…rambling godawfulness…on Crotalus). From the perspective of an educated layman it seems like some of the taxonomic papers are just there to exist rather than solve any underlying issues or problems.

  41. #41 Darren Naish
    November 30, 2010

    Let’s not get started on a discussion of Hoser taxonomy… I’m still trying to find the time to write up that particular subject.

  42. #42 Christopher Taylor
    November 30, 2010

    To be fair, Hoser and others of his ilk are a partially separate issue because most of their publications will be in venues not considered by Impact Factors.

    As a more relevant example, consider the publication in Nature of the dinosaur Mononychus. Because this name was preoccupied by a beetle, a correction later had to be published (also in Nature, obviously) that amended the name to Mononykus. Any later publication referring to Mononykus would probably have to cite both the original article and the correction. So the authors of Mononykus then had two publications in a very high-impact journal, not because they had done well but because of an error.

  43. #43 David Houston
    November 30, 2010

    “Let’s not get started on a discussion of Hoser taxonomy…”
    So Hoser really is a “hoser” (or have you been spared Bob and Doug Mackenzie/Great White North on the other side of the pond?)

  44. #44 Dartian
    December 1, 2010

    Christopher:

    As a more relevant example, consider the publication in Nature of the dinosaur Mononychus. Because this name was preoccupied by a beetle, a correction later had to be published (also in Nature, obviously) that amended the name to Mononykus. Any later publication referring to Mononykus would probably have to cite both the original article and the correction. So the authors of Mononykus then had two publications in a very high-impact journal, not because they had done well but because of an error.

    And what was that about history repeating itself? LeviathanLivyatan, anyone?

  45. #45 Darren Naish
    December 1, 2010

    David (comment 43): I don’t know who Bob and Doug are (or, I didn’t until I googled them)… but I know what a ‘hoser’ is :)

  46. #46 Andreas Johansson
    December 1, 2010

    David Marjanović wrote:

    defended my doctoral thesis a week and a half ago

    Congratulations, and best luck with that application!

  47. #47 David Marjanović
    December 1, 2010

    they only count citations within the two years immediately following publication

    True, and utterly stupid for most fields.

    You’re also right about Mononykus.

  48. #48 Paul White
    December 1, 2010

    Been spared the Bob and Doug thing (I’ll google it).

    Hoser just pissed me off wholesale and has made me very bitter, so that’s the example that jumped to mind, but there’s still other things. I forget who authored the recent paper wanting L. getula split into 5 distinct species (despite widespread intergrades among subspecies). But that one was also mind blowingly weird.

  49. #49 Jerzy
    December 1, 2010

    Congratulations David Marjanović!

  50. #50 Mark Evans
    December 2, 2010

    Congratulations to David Marjanović!

  51. #51 Nick Gardner
    December 4, 2010

    they only count citations within the two years immediately following publication

    This is especially frustrating for paleontology where turnover rates from submission to publication regularly exceed 1-1.5 years…

    In fact, it seems to me, the only ways someone might be ready to cite a paper in two years is self-citing or if a paper is so bad that it is getting corrected… this is likely what Chris Taylor was getting at.

  52. #52 David Marjanović
    December 5, 2010

    Citations are counted forever so you can look up how much your papers keep getting cited; just the impact factors of journals are calculated from the citations its papers get on average within 2 years.

  53. #53 Schenck
    December 22, 2010

    I just purchased this book from the Geo Soc. of London at the AGU conference in San Francisco, excited to read through it. The ‘meeting discount’ price was 61 Pounds, fwiw.

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