Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Yeah, they really are that bad

Here's a story from Nature about the perfectly honest, respectable steps that big academic publishers are taking to fight the open access menace. God forbid that you, the taxpayer, should get to look at the results of studies that you funded without paying a stiff fee!


PR's Pit Bull Takes On Open Access

Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement.

Jim Giles
[reprinted here gleefully and without permission--ed.]

The author of
Nail 'Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses is not the kind of figure normally associated with the relatively sedate world of scientific publishing. Besides writing the odd novel, Eric Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud.

Although Dezenhall declines to comment on Skilling and his other clients, his firm, Dezenhall Resources, was also reported by
Business Week to have used money from oil giant ExxonMobil to criticize the environmental group Greenpeace. "He's the pit bull of public relations," says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O'Dwyer's PR Report.

Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods.

From e-mails passed to
Nature, it seems Dezenhall spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). A follow-up message in which Dezenhall suggests a strategy for the publishers provides some insight into the approach they are considering taking.

The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as "Public access equals government censorship".
[uh...right. Of course.] He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and "paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles".

Dezenhall also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists. One suggestion was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington DC, which has used oil-industry money to promote sceptical views on climate change. Dezenhall estimated his fee for the campaign at $300,000-500,000.

In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley's director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: "Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate".
[Read that part again. These are the people we're paying to publish our research!?]

Officials at the AAP would not comment to
Nature on the details of their work with Dezenhall, or the money involved, but acknowledged that they had met him and subsequently contracted his firm to work on the issue.

"We're like any firm under siege," says Barbara Meredith, a vice-president at the organization. "It's common to hire a PR firm when you're under siege." She says the AAP needs to counter messages from groups such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS), an open-access publisher and prominent advocate of free access to information. PLoS's publicity budget stretches to television advertisements produced by North Woods Advertising of Minneapolis, a firm best known for its role in the unexpected election of former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura to the governorship of Minnesota.

The publishers' link with Dezenhall reflects how seriously they are taking recent developments on access to information. Minutes of a 2006 AAP meeting sent to
Nature show that particular attention is being paid to PubMed Central. Since 2005, the NIH has asked all researchers that it funds to send copies of accepted papers to the archive, but only a small percentage actually do. Congress is expected to consider a bill later this year that would make submission compulsory.

Brian Crawford, a senior vice-president at the American Chemical Society and a member of the AAP executive chair, says that Dezenhall's suggestions have been refined and that the publishers have not to his knowledge sought to work with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. On the censorship message, he adds: "When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity's interests."



If you can explain to me how this sentence isn't pretty close to the core of everything integrity and free enquiry ought to oppose, then go drown yourself. Seriously. Because you're as big a liar as these evil fuckers:

Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: "Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate".

Oh, yeah, the last thing you'd want to do is defend your case on its merits. Which, if anyone was being honest, boil down to, "We've been bilking you suckers for decades with our monopoly on publishing and now that we've got some competition we're being exposed as the whiny money-grubbing pussies we are. And instead of coming up with some kind of justification for our continued existence we'll start a smear campaign."

What really torques me off is the blatant dishonesty. Big publishing = peer review. Right. Cuz none of the open access journals offer that. But then it doesn't matter to them if they're right. According to them, as long as they can get us on the defensive, it doesn't matter if we can discredit their statements.

Doesn't matter to who, assholes?

At the risk of being a bit of an asshole myself, I think (I hope) these guys are bringing a big knife to a gunfight. Academics have their faults (good Lord hallelujah preach it brother Matt but that's a post for another time), but in general we're trained to think critically and not jump on bandwagons just because some velvety asshole comes up with a slogan like "Public access equals government censorship". The same tactics that sell Happy Meals and big plastic "Hummers" are not going to work in this arena.

Nice play, Big Publishing. I'm sure this will drive scientists to your banner by the thousands.


By the way, if you're not in academia you may not be aware of how big publishing companies have been gouging your tax-paying ass. Go here and read about one scientist's battle to take back a journal from the corporate dickholes. And go here to find about the open access movement, which exists to make research results available to everyone, everywhere, for free.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

What matters now, Part 1: coursework

Does coursework matter?

Let me be clear about that. When you start out you don't know anything, and courses are one time-honored way of learning stuff. Some stuff is really dense and technical, and there is really no way to learn it besides being involved with a course (either taking the course, or teaching it). Human anatomy comes to mind. Looking at pictures in a book or on a computer is not a substitute for dissection, and the circumstances under which you can cut up someone else's mortal remains are tightly (and rightly) controlled by the state. So if you want to learn human anatomy, a course is pretty much your only option.

But what about comparative vertebrate anatomy? You need dead animals to cut up, and you need some kind of reference material--textbooks, dissection guides, or possibly [preferably?] primary descriptive literature. Some folks with similar interests to learn with and help out with logistics will certainly help. A good course in CVA can supply all these things, but you can get them without a course.

Animals can be had from the grocery store or from nature, depending on your proclivities and local statutes. Back in Oklahoma a fishing license covered the reasonable collection of all nonmammalian and nonavian nonendangered vertebrates, and a hunting license covered the rest (mammals and birds, that is, not endangered species). So for an outlay of about $30-40 you could legally collect just about anything. Dissection manuals are a dime a dozen if you live in a college town; if you don't you can still get them through the local library. Helpers are ideally the people you drink beer with. All of these things are available to the average citizen for minimal money and effort. Some legendary anatomists got to be legendary without ever having any formal training at all. So in CVA a course can be helpful, but it's not a dealbreaker.

What about phylogenetics? I took phylogenetics here at Berkeley from David Lindberg and Brent Mishler, and I learned a ton. But most of what I learned was history and theory. Most of what I know about the practical aspects of building and using cladograms I learned on my own. Cladistics as a discipline has grown up out in the open. Almost all the literature you need is recent and easy to get your hands on, and the people writing the papers are the same ones writing the programs. And many good programs are freeware. I don't know, but I suspect, that many students that are producing cladograms or doing phylogenetically-based analyses (character correlation using independent contrasts, for example) have never had a course in phylogenetics. In that respect learning phylogenetics is probably similar to learning Photoshop: learn as you go. Undoubtedly, I am a better biologist for having had the phylogenetics course, but a quick survey of the field should convince you that a lot of folks are getting along without one, and most of the stuff I actually use I picked up on my own.

(Quick confession: I have published cladograms, but they were not generated with software; I have generated cladograms with software, but not published them; and I have done a lot of character analyses but those aren't published yet.)

What about, say, descriptive morphology? I suppose it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that a course in this might exist somewhere, but I've never heard of one. I think Aristotle said something like, "The things you can't learn by being taught, you learn by doing." That's a pretty fair description of doing descriptive morphology. Nobody can really tell you how to describe that sauropod vertebra without describing it. It certainly helps to read a lot of descriptions to figure out how to organize your writing and to see what makes for good and bad description, but as far as I know everyone who is in the business of describing stuff learned by doing. Here's a really intricate and important job for which courses don't even exist.

What I've tried, with these examples, is to build a spectrum of coursework importance that goes from crucial through helpful to nonexistent. I skipped irrelevant, but it would be easy to come up with an example. My undergrad journalism(!) course on Star Trek and Star Wars comes to mind. It did not make me a better journalist, nor did it substantially improve my knowledge or appreciation of ST and SW. It was just a fun way to pick up three credit hours.

The reason this is on my mind is that the other day I had a serious conversation with a friend about the state of paleontological training at Berkeley. If you go here you can find a very impressive list of courses that ostensibly form the buffet of educational excellence here. What you won't learn from the list is that many of those courses are offered very infrequently. Some haven't been offered in years. We don't even have a paleobotanist around to teach paleobotany, for example. In my friend's view, the erosion of course offerings in paleontology is a serious threat to Berkeley's continued status as a paleontological powerhouse.

I wondered then, and am wondering out loud now, if that is true. Is coursework relevant? I'm not a paleobotanist. A paleobotany course would certainly patch some holes in my knowledge, but those holes aren't in the areas in which I work. Would knowing paleobotany help me be a better dinosaur anatomist? Possibly, but I doubt it. It seems to me that most of the stuff that I use in my work came from the "learn by doing" end of the spectrum. I think that my coursework has been adequate, but in looking at what makes me the fine specimen I am today coursework has been far less important than informal experimentation, either by myself or with interested friends.

On the other hand, of course I would think coursework is irrelevant, because I've had so little of it. Possibly my self-assessment is way off base. Maybe more coursework would have made me a substantially better paleontologist.

But I doubt it.

What do you think? (I'm mainly interested in what you think about the importance of coursework, not whether I rock or suck. But hey, it's your comment field, do what you like.)

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Welcome to Ouchville, population: you

What is the deal with me? After nearly two years of blogging about all kinds of random crap, I seem to be stuck in a rut (or on a peak?): this is the twelfth post in a row on science of some sort, and the sixth mainly or substantially about tetrapods. Who knows, maybe I am secretly jealous of newly-minted ScienceBlogger and all-around tetrapod raconteur Darren Naish.

Whatever. Brian Kraatz sent a link to this story about an iguana facing a serious operation. Here's the good stuff:

Mozart, an iguana with an erection that has lasted for over a week, will have his penis amputated in the next couple of days.

Veterinarians at Antwerp's Aquatopia had sought to treat the animal's problem, but decided removal was the only solution because of the risk of infection. The good news for Mozart and his mates is that male iguanas have two penises.

Mozart, sitting on the shoulders of his keeper as camera crews focused on his red, swollen erection, seemed unperturbed by the news.

That last line would be particularly good taken out of context. I don't know if truth is really stranger than fiction, but it's frequently funnier.


Holy crap, does that cow have implants!?

So my labmate Katie is off to Africa for a semester to jump-start her bovid research. She set up a travel blog, The Red Queen Runneth, to detail her adventures. One of the links is to something called Lurch the Watusi. At first I figured this was another African travel blog. Like 'Dance the Watusi', only 'Lurch the Watusi' to indicate that the traveler was somewhat inexperienced and fumbling. Who knows, I thought, this could be the Redmond O'Hanlon of African travel blogs.

Oooooh no, my friends! [Say out loud in an amazed-but-sarcastic Chandler Bing voice]

This is more like the Dolly Parton of cattle, only male and with horns instead of boobs. Although I dare you to look at the photos and not be reminded of certain surgically enhanced actresses who work in the Los Angeles area.

I am going to abuse the label function to lard this one up with everything that is going through my mind right now.

Currently, it's this: Nine tongues of Bathsheba, those horns are (probably) mostly air! That's because (1) the big horns of most large mammals are hollowed out by the frontal sinuses, and (2) pneumaticity is never far from my mind, figuratively or literally. I never stop thinking about it, and my frontal sinuses are about 5 mm from my frontal lobes.

Same goes for you, ya airhead.

More to come on pneumaticity at a saner hour.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hyena dissection

I got to help dissect a hyena today. Unbeknownst to many, Berkeley has a hyena colony. It was started two or three decades ago with ten spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). Four or five of those founding members are still alive, but they're all in zoos now. However, 34 of their offspring are still here, in large and well-hidden outdoor facility that many long-time Berkeley residents and students know nothing about. It is easily the largest concentration of hyenas anywhere in the world outside of Africa. As Forrest Gump said, "That's all I got to say about that."

This hyena is a 15-year-old female named Kodiak. According to Walker's Mammals of the World, spotted hyenas have lived to the age of 41 in captivity in captivity, but in the wild many hyenas do not make it past their 15th birthday. So as hyenas go, Kodiak had had a long and happy life. Unfortunately, she developed a dental abscess that eventually caused her to stop eating, and she was euthanized. Other researchers had dibs on the brain and internal organs, so we got her brainless and eviscerated. It would have been cool to dissect the whole head--evidently hyenas have wacky big sinuses for carnivores--but beggars can't be choosers.

The beast came to us through the kind offices of my good friend Alan Shabel, who is in Tony Barnosky's lab and works on many aspects of African ecology, especially the paleoecology of robust australopithecines. Alan mainly wanted the bones, and we needed to get the animal torn down in a single day. The first step was to skin it. Above I am working with (l. to r.) Russ Dedon, Ashley Lipps, and Sally Pine. Ashley and Sally were also present for the rhea dissection, but Sally was sick and couldn't scrub in. This time she was feeling great and anxious to get her hands dirty.

Here the skin is coming off. There was a lot of subcutaneous and intermuscular fat, and some pretty thick fascia over the muscles as well.

This animal was just terrifyingly muscled. Put your hands on either side of your head and clench your jaw, like you're biting down on something. Those muscles you feel bulging on the sides of your head are your temporalis muscles, the primary jaw-closers. The temporalis muscles on this hyena were as big around as my wrists. Hyenas eat bone, literally chew it up, and they have the muscles and teeth to make that happen.

Above you can see the headless neck sticking out to the left. The neck was like a fifth limb, only larger and more heavily muscled than any of the rest. Honestly, this thing's neck was almost the size of one of my thighs. I've seen lots of dead dogs and cats, and I've never seen anything like it. It was like the neck of a small horse had been grafted onto the body of a large dog.

After we skinned the animal we started detaching limbs to speed up the skeletonizing process. Here fellow Padianites Randy Irmis and Sarah Werning are working on their respective chunks. Sarah was here for the rhea but Randy missed it, much to his chagrin. He was in Argentina at the time, chasing early dinosaurs. Probably a fair trade.

More piecemeal dissection: (l. to r.) Betsy Bamberger, Jeannie Bailey, and Alan working on limbs.

While the rest of us worked on the head or limbs, Russ and Sally defleshed the axial skeleton. It's a slow and thankless job, but they don't look too put out.

It's funny how the apparent size of an object changes depending on what you place it next to. This hyena leg looks a little more impressive in Sally's hands.

Alas, poor Kodiak. We knew her, readers. A bitch of infinite hunger, of most excellent construction; she hath devoured me in her imagination a thousand times; and now, how devoured in my imagination she is! My curiosity rises at it. Here hung those lips that have laughed at me I know not how oft. Where be your yelps now?

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Dr. Vector's field adventures

Hi folks, just some highlights from the Big Bend trip.

We spent most of our time looking for microfossils: teeth, scales, and scutes from fish, turtles, crocs, and dinos. The photo above shows (clockwise from left): my Swiss Army knife for scale, a little croc scute, a big gar scale, two halves of a dromaeosaur tooth that I found about a foot apart, and a big dead millipede. We found bleached-white millipedes and land snail shells all over the place.

We also did some big bone paleontology. Here I am jacketing a ceratopsian femur with Vanessa Meredith from Cal State Stanislaus. Everyone else on the crew was a current or former CSS person. Dr. Julia Sankey was in charge of the expedition. I was just along as a shovel jockey. It was a great vacation--hard on the body but great for the soul.

I spent a day with Bill and Mary Clark collecting desert ants. Bill is the director and curator of invertebrates at the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History in Caldwell, Idaho, and he's been surveying Big Bend ants for about seven years now. He is full of knowledge, generosity, and dry humor. Although I only got to spend a few days hanging out with him, he is one of my favorite human beings. I really hope I can go back to Big Bend next January, and if I do I hope to spend some more time chasing ants.

Now, for Darren's sake, some tetrapods.

These turkeys were always hanging around the campground. I don't know if people feed them or what, but they have very little fear of humans. You could walk up pretty close to them. If you got closer than 15 or 20 feet, they'd walk away until that invisible perimeter was reestablished, but they wouldn't flee. I'm sure they would have fled if we'd run at them waving our arms and screaming, but there's no reason to act like an asshole to a couple of agreeable critters who doubtless spend a lot more time in that campground than we do. We approached out of curiosity and admiration, not because we wanted to harrass some birds.

I spend the entire time wanting to see some javelinas, little peccaries (Tayassuidae) that are very common in Big Bend. We heard them rooting around at night and found their tracks and scat by day. Most everyone else on the crew saw a group (pack? peck?) of them down by the campground, but I think I was up at the ranchhouse cooking dinner at the time. I was getting a little desperate, but driving back from the quarry on the last day we surprised a big peck of paccaries crossing the road. Like idiots, we all bailed out of the van and ran into the bush trying to get photos of these diminutive but impressively beweaponed critters. We emerged unscathed, with photos ranging from completely incomprehensible to what I can only describe as "medium Bigfoot".

On the way back to California the next day, I got to kill some time in the Hip-O taxidermy shop in Alpine, Texas. I picked up a nice javelina skull on the cheap, and it will be gracing my wall very shortly. I'll put up some pictures as soon as I put up the skull; the photo above is stolen from Skulls Unlimited, which is currently having a sale on peccary skulls. You can see from the photo why pissing off a javelina is not smart: they have very large, very sharp canines, and they will use them. A gory warning poster at a Big Bend campground showed a domestic dog that had had one of its limbs ripped off by a javelina. Leash laws are there for a reason, folks.

Well, this post is threatening to become more about peccaries than about the desert (not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, I just have other things I want to do), so I'll wind it up with two last photos. The first one shows our breakfast and dinner table out behind the ranchhouse at Castolon. The cliffs in the distance are in Mexico; the Rio Grande flows at their base.

The last photo is my favorite from the trip. Gotta get back there.

Many thanks to Richard Peltier and Vanessa Meredith for sharing photos.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tetrapod Zoology!

The best site on the net is celebrating its first birthday. Darren Naish's Tetrapod Zoology is one year old.

I can't say enough good things about TZ. The range of topics is amazingly broad, the writing is always brisk and accessible, and Darren's breadth and depth of knowledge--not to mention command of the literature--is just staggering. Whether it's eagles killing wolves, blind cave salamanders, the curiously interesting common gull, giant sauropods, Incan lap-rodents that were hitherto unknown to science, the preening habits of feathered dinosaurs, Darwin's beard, marine reptiles, English lizards, bats that eat birds, or essentially any other topic related to the evolution, ecology, behavior, discovery, naming, conservation, etc. of tetrapods, Darren is the go-to guy.

So why am I celebrating Darren's accomplishment--his ongoing gift, really, to all of us--with the lurid cover of a kid's paperback? It's because I picked up Time Machine 7: Ice Age Explorer when I was 12 years old, and I was transported. It's experiences like that that led me into science, zoology, and paleontology. Darren's writing makes me feel like I'm 12 again. He opens up the world--not just the world of the past, but the world all around--and in doing so invites us to go out and explore it. Since he fired up Tetrapod Zoology, I have taken more walks, climbed more hills, and generally kept a more alert eye and ear on the world around me. His blog is a genuine addition to life.

Thanks, Darren. You rock. Here's to many more years of TZ, to many more discoveries and rediscoveries, to your unending fascination with the world, and to your skill and generosity in sharing it with us.

Keep 'em coming.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Superposeidon rears its ugly, chimaeric head

In the bookstore at the Big Bend National Park headquarters I picked up a pack of "Famous Dinosaur Playing Cards." Naturally I ego-surfed through them to see if Sauroposeidon made the cut. It did...sorta. See?

In case this doesn't strike you as funny, Sauroposeidon is a big brachiosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Oklahoma. Supersaurus is a big diplodocid from the Late Jurassic of Colorado and Wyoming. The two have nothing to with each other beyond being neosauropods and being rilly big. Superposeidon is a case of typographic and taxonomic confusion; there ain't no such beast. You can see that the creator of the card nicely combined the attributes of both real creatures. The geologic age is that of Supersaurus, the painting is clearly Sauroposeidon, and the length estimate is about right for Sauroposeidon but waaay too short for Supersaurus, which was probably more like 120-150 feet long. Which in turn brings up the issue of how big these critters really were and how we know, but that's a subject for another post.

This isn't the first time that I've run across Superposeidon. Although it first came to my attention on the net, apparently it started as bad copy in a popular dinosaur book. Full story here. You can buy a pack of "Famous Dinosaur Playing Cards" here.

Finally, a page dedicated to bootleg Transformers had this to say:

"Sea Bottom- Complex of Seabottom GG- superposeidon attack on enemy with top-class dynamic and destroying forces having a big sword with extremely great killing forces."

Thanks to Darren for the comic.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Open Access Biology and Paleontology, Part III: Miscellaneous

Here's the bin for stuff I didn't know what to do with: piles of PDFs collected at random sites on the net, free books, and so on. Have fun. Thanks to Jerry Harris and Jeff Person for submitting links.


Aragosaurus.com (Spanish dino publications)
Biodiversity Heritage Library
Proyectodino.com.ar (more Spanish dino pubs)
Lusodinos (Portuguese dino publications)
Polyglot Paleontologist (English translations of paleo papers)
Proceedings of the Second Gondwanan Dinosaur Symposium (1999)
Avian Paleontological Literature Online (SAPE)
Vertebrate Paleontology in Utah


John Bell Hatcher's 1901 Diplodocus monograph
Othniel Charles Marsh's 1896 Dinosaurs of North America monograph
Henry Fairfield Osborn's 1910 The Age of Mammals in Europe, Asia and North America
William Diller Matthew's 1915 Dinosaurs
Charles Whitley Gilmore's 1946 Reptilian Fauna of the North Horn Formation of Central Utah


North American paleogeography


Heinrich Harder (1858-1935)


Open Access Biology and Paleontology, Part II: Individual researchers' pages

As I discussed here, one of the best things you can do for yourself as a young (or old) scientist is to set up a webpage with all of your publications, or bribe a friend to set one up for you. Here are some. Enjoy.

If you'd like to be included, leave a comment on this post. I'll see it and add you. If you work on something stupid like polychaetes, I may set up a separate post to keep your boring work from contaminating all the dinosaurian awesomeness. If you'd rather not be included, leave a comment to that effect and I will de-list you. Many thanks to Jerry Harris for providing many of the links.

If you find a dead or misdirected link, please leave a comment and let me know.


Dave Archibald
Chris Bennett
Mike Benton
Richard Butler
Ken Carpenter
Ismar de Souza Carvalho
Jim Clark
Phil Currie
Ken Dial
Gareth Dyke
Andy Farke
Jerry Harris
Casey Holliday
Peter Houde
John Hutchinson
Randy Irmis
Gerald Mayr
Darren Naish
Robin O'Keefe
Paul Olsen
Silvio Renesto
Steve Salisbury
Chris Sidor
Kent Stevens
Mike Taylor
Marcel van Tuinen
Xiaolin Wang
Matt Wedel
J.J. Wiens
Jeff Wilson
Oliver Wings
Zhonghe Zhou


Open Access Biology and Paleontology, Part I: Journals

I'm revamping the Open Access Biology and Paleontology section here at Dr. Vector's Grotto of Science. Thanks to the million or so links sent by the encyclopediac Jerry Harris, I can no longer list everything on the sidebar or the front page here will be longer than the rest of the internet put together. So each division is getting a post of its own, which will be continuously linked to and which I will update continuously, if not always promptly. If you want to be included, or if you want to know why there are few resources on polychaetes, go here.

If you find any dead of misdirected links, please leave a comment.


Search Open Access Journals
EPrints for Digital Repositories


PLoS One
PLoS Biology
Anais da Academia Barsileira de Ciencias
BioMed Central
Current Science
Journal of Negative Results - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Geology and Paleo

Acta Palaeontologica Polonica
Ameghiniana (from 2005)
American Journal of Science
Geologica Acta
Natura Nacosta
Palaeontologica Electronica
Palaeontology (through 1998)
Revista Brasileira de Paleontologia
Utah Geological Survey Notes

Museum Publications

AMNH publications
Arquivos do Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro)
Contributions in Science of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
IVPP publications
Memoirs of the Fukui Prefectural Museum
Revista del Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales (n.s.)
University of Michigan paleo pubs
Smithsonian paleo pubs


Sauropod explosion

I don't know if you've been paying attention, but new sauropods have just been pouring out of the ground lately. Actually, that's been true for a while, but getting the beasts prepped and written up takes just about forever--in some cases, literally decades. So it's even more remarkable that descriptions of new sauropods have been pouring out of journals and other scientific publications lately. Just trying to keep up with all the new coolness is getting to be a challenge. Accordingly, Mike and Darren and I started keeping a new sauropod list. Here are the preliminary results for the last three years. As far as I can tell, 2005 was the first year ever in which the number of new valid sauropod genera hit double digits. The tally for 2006 currently stands at 13. It may well go higher; I often don't find out about some of the more obscure ones until months after they are described. If you know of any that I've missed, please let me know and I'll add them.

Just for fun, I put the age and country of each new 'pod, so you can see where and when the hotspots are. I left out Limaysaurus because that is a new name for an already known beast; the things left on the list are truly new.


Borealosaurus wimani, Late Cretaceous, China
Bonitasaura salgadoi, Late Cretaceous, Argentina
Suuwassea emiliae, Late Jurassic, United States
Tazoudasaurus naimi, Early Jurassic, Morocco


Archaeodontosaurus descouensi, Middle Jurassic, Madagascar
Baurutitan britoi, Late Cretaceous, Brazil
Brachytrachelopan mesai, Late Jurassic, Argentina
Cathartesaura anaerobica, Late Cretaceous, Argentina
Chebsaurus algeriensis, Middle Jurassic, Algeria
Daanosaurus zhangi, Jurassic, China
Dashanpusaurus dongi, Middle Jurassic, China
Galvesaurus herreroi, Early Cretaceous, Spain
Karongasaurus gittelmani, Early Cretaceous, Malawi
Puertasaurus reuili, Late Cretaceous, Argentina


Adamantisaurus mezzalirai, Late Cretaceous, Brazil
Erketu ellisoni, Early Cretaceous, Mongolia
Europasaurus holgeri, Late Jurassic, Germany
Fusuisaurus zhaoi, Early Cretaceous, China
Huanghetitan liujiaxiaensis, Early Cretaceous, China
Jiutaisaurus xidiensis, Early Cretaceous, China
Ligabuesaurus leanzai, Early Cretaceous, Argentina
Maxakalisaurus topai, Late Cretaceous, Brazil
Sonidosaurus saihangaobiensis, Late Cretaceous, China
Trigonosaurus pricei, Late Cretaceous, Brazil
Turiasaurus riodevensis, Late Jurassic or Early Cretaceous, Spain
Yuanmousaurus jiangyiensis, Jurassic, China
Zapalasaurus bonapartei, Early Cretaceous, Argentina

Here's the breakdown for the last three years by continent.

South America - 10 of 27 or 37%
Asia - 9 of 27 or 33%
Africa - 4 of 27 or 15%
Europe - 3 of 27 or 11%
North America - 1 of 27 or 4%

Couple of things worth mentioning here. North America is not booming the way China, Argentina, and Brazil are, but new sauropods are still be described from North America all the time. In the past decade we've had Eobrontosaurus (after talking to Ray Wilhite I am not convinced that this is just Camarasaurus, as Upchurch would have it--time to drive out and see the material for myself!), Sonorasaurus, Cedarosaurus, Sauroposeidon, Venenosaurus, and Suuwassea (did I miss anybody?). Many more are waiting in the wings:

- the Jones Ranch critter, which should be published any day now;
- the camarasaur and titanosaur from Dalton Wells;
- the CEU brachiosaur, which is neither Brachiosaurus nor Sauroposeidon and is awfully damned big, with a 1.4 meter cervical vertebra reported in an SVP abstract;
- the Dinosaur National Monument brachiosaur, which is also new and valid;
- the KU brachiosaur, which I hear is to be described as a new taxon;
- a new sauropod from the Morrison Formation, which was the subject of a recent SVP presentation;
- at least one new sauropod from the Cloverly and at least one more from the Morrison, about which I can say no more for the time being.

There are probably loads more than I don't know about or have forgotten. The point is, North America is not out of sauropods yet. If anything, we're going through a boom--sauropods haven't been named at this rate from this continent since the 1800s.

Still, it will probably be the better part of another decade before all those things listed above make it into print, and a decade's worth of new North American 'pods might equal the output of a single year from China or Argentina if they keep on producing like they have the last two years.

The other thing worth mentioning is that all these new critters really are contributing to our knowledge of sauropod diversity. The smallest known eusauropods (i.e., excluding reclassified prosauropods like Anchisaurus), Brachytrachelopan and Europasaurus, were just described in the past two years. Although none of them can claim the title of THE BIGGEST, some really whacking big animals--Puertasaurus, Turiasaurus, Paralititan, Sauroposeidon--have been described in the last decade, and bigger ones are waiting to be described. Erketu represents a previously unknown lineage of freakishly long-necked sauropods
and Brachytrachelopan has the shortest neck, proportionally and absolutely, of any eusauropod. These new discoveries are not just filling in the gaps in a mostly-painted picture--they are stretching our ideas about what sauropods are.

And that's pretty cool.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

I'm back

...and a lot transpired while I was away, both around me and back here in the world. I'll blog about it when I catch my breath. In particular, there is the matter of Amphicoelias to deal with. But slumber calls. Catch you on the flip side.

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Monday, January 01, 2007


I'm off to the field. For the first time in, er, five and a half years. Yeah, I know, pathetic. I didn't even own a digital camera the last time I went out, and I haven't scanned in any old photos of me doing the field thang, so I'm recycling this oldie, which was at least taken on the way back from the field.

I'll be back to the world Jan. 12. See you then.

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Dr. Vector's Book Club

If you're looking for a good read, you could do worse than to pick up Dan Abnett's Fell Cargo.

Now, this definitely counts as a guilty pleasure. First, you'll find it in Fantasy and Sci-Fi, genres whose past, present, and likely future are rooted in escapist trash, in which even the immortal classics--Foundation, Dune, The Lord of the Rings--are, in the eyes of the Great Books Discussion Group, escapist trash. Second, it's at the tail end of the rows, past the authors whose last name begins with Z, in the section labeled "Fantasy Series". Below the fleets of Star Wars and Star Trek books you come to the gutter dregs: gaming tie-ins. Dungeons & Dragons novels flaunt their lurid covers, sickly yet appealing, like overripe fruit. Past them, past the Magic: The Gathering books, the Shadowrun books, and even the Warcraft books, at the very end of the very end of F/SF, you'll find the Warhammer books. These aren't even the high-brow tie-ins, based on RPGs or video games. Naw, Warhammer is a tabletop wargame, played with tiny painted miniatures by unwashed pimply neckbeards.

(I'm kidding, of course. Some of the Warhammer geeks can't grow neckbeards.)

My point is, even in the banana republic of F/SF, even in the slum of fantasy series, even in the ghetto of gaming tie-ins, this book is something of a pariah. What would prompt me, a young man with prospects, to pick it up in the first place?

Well, here's the dirty secret about gaming tie-ins: some of them rock. Other aspiring F/SF authors are out plumbing the universe and questing for Hugos, hoping to write the next Neuromancer, trying to predict how this month's Scientific American cover story will spin out in a century or ten. Meanwhile, the tie-in authors have a much simpler mandate: write something awesome. Their books tend to be pulpy and action-packed, the novelistic equivalent of something deep-fried and smothered in gravy.

I can hear you sneering out there, you Great Books wankers. Fess up, now: you may savor the delicate flavor of fresh toro or the fruity notes of a fine merlot, but sometimes at the end of the day you just want a cold beer and some cheese fries, doncha?

I was in Hasting's in Enid, Oklahoma, and they had the gaming tie-ins filed by author. That is, scattered among the respectable novels, m'lud. The cover art on this one caught my eye:

I didn't end up buying it, but I did look it over closely enough to pick out some serious praise for Dan Abnett. Cover blurbs are like letters of recommendation: generic plaudits count for a lot less than specific, detailed compliments. The things people were saying about Dan Abnett are not the kinds of things you typically hear said of most F/SF authors, let alone authors of gaming tie-ins.

Then a couple of days later I was in a Barnes & Noble and I found Abnett's latest in the new hardback section. I was intrigued. Few authors from tie-in world graduate from paperback to hardback. I picked it up and found an interesting synopsis and a lot more serious, specific praise. Most of it had to do with things like character development and wrenching emotion--not the regular tie-in author's stock in trade.

I started to think that maybe I should give this Dan Abnett a try. So I wandered back to the back of the back of F/SF and checked out some paperbacks. I picked up Fell Cargo because of its obviously piratical title. I gotta say, this book has maybe the best back cover hook of all time:

Long believed dead, pirate Captain Luka Silvaro returns to reclaim his ship and embark on a deadly new mission. But the high seas are now more dangerous than ever, and the captain and his scurvy crew of rogues must face pirates, curses, sea monsters and even worse foes. Can Silvaro and his allies track down the dread Butcher Ship and defeat her gruesome undead crew before they too are turned into mindless zombies?

Who could turn that down?

Well, me, for one. I couldn't commit. But I spent the next few days feeling like a pussy. Pirates versus zombies? Come on!

So I got the book. Devoured it in two days. It has a density of incident that would make Edgar Rice Burroughs blush. In 250 pages, there are four major naval engagements, each involving at least three ships and each ending in a bloody boarding action. There is a treasure map, a stowaway, a voodoo ritual, a prophetic dream, chum in the water, kidnapping, a witch, a sea serpent, a cursed mummy, and a case of hidden identity revealed at the dramatically appropriate moment. Duels of honor decided with swords, drugged wine, sharks, walking the plank, abandoned death ships, and vampire feedings (I know, wtf?) each appear more than once.

Oh, and zombies. Fighting frikkin' pirates.

Now, here's the crucial part: I read the whole book without gagging once. Years of grading student termpapers have given me an unusually low tolerance for bad writing. I suffered through Robert Jordan's Eye of the World, and Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule, but I'll go no further. I don't care what happens in the second book (or the twelfth, in Jordan's case), if I have to slog through prose that bad to find out. I didn't get more than a third of the way through Terry Brooks's Sword of Shannara before I realized that my leisure time was in the uneducated hands of a master shitsmith. As Orson Scott Card once wrote, you don't have to eat the whole turd to know that it's not an eclaire.

But back to task: Dan Abnett's writing is, er, good. That is, at no point did I wince or groan, and twice I was so moved that I intended to post short excerpts here for your edification. But, clod that I am, I forced the book on my brother today and those excerpts will have to wait.

In conclusion, you can go to bed with Fell Cargo and not feel guilty in the morning. I'm going to go read a ton more of Abnett's books, and you should, too.


1. There is one plot hole in the book. What is it?

2. What character in the Star Wars movies does Sesto most remind you of?

3. From the information provided in the book, what is the most exclusive clade of real-world animals (living or extinct) to which you can confidently assign the sea monster?

4. Do you think Roque pussed out at the end? Why or why not?

5. If you owned the Bite of Daagon, would you keep it in a golden chest or wear it around your neck on a chain?

6. Who is the shittiest writer, Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind?


1. How in the hell did Jeremiah Tusk find the Butcher Ship? There is no explanation for why the Lightning Tree sails right to the spot that only Luka and his compatriots know of. Now, you may argue that Tusk was following the storm or had some magical gizmo to show him the way, but the fact is that this miraculous event is never explained in the book. But with all the shit in this book, I can forgive one plot hole, especially in the service of a climactic battle as kickass as that.

2. At first you are probably thinking Lando, cuz he's smooth, or Leia, cuz he's royalty. But in fact it's Han. Just as Han makes the journey from piratehood to respectability out of his love for Leia, Sesto journeys from respectability to piratehood out of devotion to Luka. If you answered Padme, cuz Sesto traveled incognito, you are free to drown yourself in the toilet. I meant the real Star Wars movies, you sniveling turd.

3. You are probably tempted to say Thalattosuchia, but that's overreaching. The book says the animal has the form of a crocodile but with flippers rather than clawed limbs. Seagoing crocs have evolved enough times that Crocodyliformes is probably the best you can do.

4. Yes. He should have used his new vampire powers to kick zombie ass. Instead he pulled a big ole Lando (Cloud City Lando, not Battle of Endor Lando).

5. Chain around the neck. Duh.

6. The answer is Terry Brooks. Although I admit that was a bit of a trick question. By using "shittiest" instead of "shittier", I was implicitly asking who is the shittiest writer in the world, not just who is the shittier out of Jordan and Goodkind (FWIW, I don't think the latter question has a defensible answer).

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