[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: Lots'a questions after a ref.-tiding-up!

Oh Christ, right in the middle of a 1100-page index due Wednesday, I have to
respond to this. Okay, here goes nothing.

In a message dated 98-08-30 09:20:36 EDT, 102354.2222@compuserve.com writes
(forwarding a message from Ken Carpenter):

<< On the other hand, George doesn't take the opportunity to look closely at
specimens when he does have the chance, such as at last year's SVP in Chicago.
Tracy Ford (not a professional  paleontologist, but a budding one
nevertheless) spent a considerable amount of time in the  collections at the
Field Museum looking at specimens, but George admitted he did not and had no
intentions of doing so. That led into our heated argument.>>

No, Ken. What led to our heated argument was my suggestion that, based on your
drawings that I saw at your poster session on the new Morrison stegosaur that
you are working on, your assessment of the genus as a dacentrurid or closely
related to _Dacentrurus_ was incorrect. You blew up at me and said that I had
no business saying that when I hadn't seen the specimens personally. I said
that I was relying on your drawings of them that were on display, and that if
your drawings were correct, the specimen was probably not a dacentrurid but a
more primitive relative of _Stegosaurus_. THAT is how we got into the
"discussion" about whether one should or should not be able to rely on
drawings produced by professional scientists in a scientific context.

As for viewing specimens at the Chicago museum, Tracy has become my eyes and
ears. He has a camera and a VCR, an artist's feel for detail, and a love for
handling fossil bones. Better he should go through the museum's collections
and then tell me what he saw, leaving me to wander around the convention
talking with professionals, looking for references, etc., and then tell him
what I saw. We're only there for a few days, not a couple of weeks, so there's
no point in our duplicating one another's efforts.
<< Quoting me: >My point was that if you have to go back to the actual
 >specimens >every time< you want to publish something, then
 >what the hell is
 >the point of publishing descriptions<? If you cannot rely and build on the
 >published literature and on descriptions made by supposedly competent
 >professional paleontologists, why call this a science at all? 
      George unfortunately gives away his lack of understanding about how
science works. 1) In the case of the Chinese paleontologists, most of them
have had limited access to western literature and not all of them can read
English. Can George read Chinese?>>

I'm pretty sure I have a very good grasp of how science works, contrary to
what you may think; and in any case, I'm not trying to hide a lack of
understanding that I've inadvertently "given away." I'm very well aware of the
shortcomings of early Chinese dinosaur paleontology, and I'm also aware that
the Chinese are learning western methods very fast. My criticism was not
directed at the Chinese at all, but at the lack of professionalism in dinosaur
paleontology as a whole that has become apparent to me. Where did I
specifically say anything about the quality of Chinese dinosaur paleontology?
Sorry--here you have not addressed the point I was making.

And--as part of the same point--one should not >have< to know how to read
Chinese in order to obtain information about Chinese specimens. Translators do
exist, you know, and English versions of all Chinese science articles should
be available in due time to western researchers as a matter of course. The
Russian _Paleontological Journal_ publishes an English edition; why not have
English editions of Chinese journals, too? _Vertebrata PalAsiatica_ has for
years routinely published English abstracts and entire articles in English,
which is a very good thing indeed. Suppose someone discovered dinosaurs in
northern Iran. Would we all have to learn Kurdish or something like that in
order to read about them? >This< is a part of the professionalism-in-dinosaur-
paleontology problem I've been talking about.

It took me many years in the 1970s to develop a pipeline to Chinese dinosaur
paleontology--looking through Chinese magazines in obscure Chinese bookstores
in Toronto for scientific publications about dinosaurs, that sort of thing. I
once bought out the Great Wall Book Store's entire supply of _Mamenchisaurus
hochuanensis_ monographs (at the whopping price of a quarter apiece) to send
to other dinosaur paleontologists for their files. These were unavailable in
the US because at the time the US was embargoing all Chinese trade; not one
word in the monograph is in English, either. Often the only place one could
learn about Chinese dinosaur discoveries in the west was when Chinese
propaganda periodicals (unavailable in the US) published photos of digs and
mounted specimens in obscure museums in Chungking. It didn't take Phil Currie,
Peter Galton, Jack McIntosh, Dan Chure, Dave Weishampel, and other of my
correspondents and friends long to realize that significant work was going on
in China and that it was time this work was "opened up." So I played a small
but not entirely insignificant part in helping to bring the discoveries in
China to a wider audience.

<< If not, then his criticism of the Chinese getting it wrong about
allosauroid features of Chilantaisaurus is unfair. 2) Like it or not,
scientists are human and are subject to human foibles, including seeing what
they want to see - one has only to read George's articles to see the same
holds true [for] him as well.>>

I will say it again. I am not criticizing professionals for run-of-the-mill
errata of the kind you mention. These are clearly unavoidable and easily
corrected. But--nobody (least of all me) should object to having these pointed
out and to be given an opportunity in a subsequent publication to correct
them. I publish when I have the chance, and I greatly desire to have any and
all mistakes in my articles corrected, before publication if possible.

That's why I don't understand your response to my questions in Chicago.

<< 3) As for illustrations, you can't always believe what you see. I sent
George a color photograph of the scapula of the nodosaur Texasetes to show
that one of the features Walter Coombs cites in his description does not
exist. The lighting of the  color photograph was such as to show that the
scapular spine (pseudoacromion process) was broken, a point Coombs denied and
what was not apparent from the black and white photograph in Coombs' paper. I
also gave George an example of a flawed drawing in one of his own articles, so
he should hardly be throwing stones. >>

These are all run-of-the-mill errata of the kind I mentioned above. The flawed
drawing in my Gakken article included a small portion of a camptosaur maxilla
that Tracy had inadvertently put in that wasn't in the original specimen. No
problem; correction noted. Unfortunately, Gakken isn't producing its dinosaur
magazine anymore, so the correction will likely never be published.

One thing I don't enjoy doing is >perpetuating< errors made by others in my
own works. So I try real hard to find them and weed them out before
publishing. This is dogwork that, as a reporter of dinosaur discoveries and a
historian of dinosaur paleontology, I should not have to do. But that's life
in this business, I guess. Pardon me for carping.

Now, Ken, the thing that bothers me more than any of this is, why, when I
merely asked you to explain which features in your new stegosaur made it a
dacentrurid (or whatever), you blew up at me. We've always enjoyed a cordial
relationship in the past. I was most pleased to receive your substantive
review of the _Historical Dinosaurology_ stegosaur manuscript--the corrections
and suggestions in your review are part of the reason I haven't produced it
yet--and as you know I'm always interested in your opinions and insights on
dinosaurian topics. I still don't have a satisfactory answer to the question
of why you blew up. (Nor do I have a satisfactory answer as to why your
stegosaur is a relative of _Dacentrurus_; but I guess I'll just wait until
you've published on it.)

<<      4) As more and more specimens are found, new interpretation result.
Remember that when Hu described Chilantaisaurus in 1964, Jim Madsen was a long
ways from publishing his monograph on Allosaurus (1976). Hu did the best he
could at the time and it is an unfair criticism that Hu "got it wrong." If
George can see farther it is because he is standing on the shoulders of
giants. With new knowledge comes new interpretations and a new way of looking
at features - and  THAT is why you need to look at specimens and not be
content with doing book reports. One has  only to compare the Madsen monograph
on Allosaurus with that of Gilmore to know that the abundant specimens
available to Madsen made Gilmore's monograph obsolete. Even now, with even
more Allosaurus specimens, Madsen's monograph is obsolete and that is why
Chure is working on Allosaurus for his PhD. If any of you are naive enough to
believe that THE definitive monograph  on any dinosaur is possible, then you
are in the wrong field - get into computer programing,  just 0 s and 1 s. >>

There's no need to disparage computer programming, Ken. Here, I think, you
know >far< less about the field (my own field--with an advanced degree and all
the academic qualifications; been there, done that) than I do about dinosaur
paleolontology (your own field).

Now, if you think that I don't know the things you mentioned concerning the
work of Hu, Madsen, and Chure, and on the way things in science build on other
things in science, then you certainly don't know me or where I'm coming from.
I have a >very good< handle on the history of dinosaurology and the social and
academic forces at work there. There are certain things that can't be gotten
right the first time, and there are other things that >can<. If a skull is
diagenetically deformed, this should in principle be apparent to and allowed
for by the first describer--and in many, many works it is. So when someone
comes along three decades after a description has been in print and says that
the describer got it wrong because the describer failed to perceive that the
specimen was deformed, this irritates me, and I would hope it would irritate

And stop calling my material "book reports." I could just as easily, and just
as pointlessly, call professional paleontology "making picture books." Part of
what I do involves conveying to the public what you professionals have
accomplished--a role I have chosen for myself that is not trivial by any
means. This is something I do because I'm interested in doing it, not because
I'm paid to (boy, I'll say). If I find, occasionally, that your professional
work is not satisfactory, then I feel duty bound to report this, too. And if
you find that my work is not satisfactory, I recognize your right to bring
this to everyone's attention. That's what forums like the dinosaur list are
all about.

<<      6) George has for years been very vocal about his tax dollars being
wasted by paleontologists because, as he notes, nothing definitive is
published. By tax dollars I assume he is referring to National Science
Foundation grants. Sorry to pop the bubble, but competition for those grant
moneys is VERY stiff. I tried twice to get a grant for $80,000. The first time
I got two good reviews and one excellent. Taking the negative comments in
mind, I rewrote it and submitted it again. The results were two excellents and
one good. That one good was enough to kill it a second and last time. In fact,
less than 10 proposals in a 100 get funded, all it takes is one less than
excellent review. Most of the time you have no control over who gets to review
your proposal, since it is supposed to be anonymous.  >>

These are all interesting anecdotes, but they have little to do with the point
I've been trying to make in all this, which, after all, is, why should public
money (such as that stolen from me) be spent on work that the public (such as
me) cannot later rely on? Indeed, it would seem from what you say that the
guardians of the public purse are doing their job: Why fund research that
promises to be less than thoroughly excellent, when there is more promising
research that needs funding?

<<      Most of my research has actually been out of my own pocket, so I
usually tie my research to travel that is sometimes paid for. Earlier this
year, the BBC paid my flight to London as a consultant, and I took the
opportunity to extend my stay in order to study thyreophorans at the Natural
History Museum. The five days I added to the BBC trip came out of my own
pocket - hotel, food, travel, film, film  processing, etc. London is NOT a
cheap town and my trip was very expensive. I am still paying off my credit
card. More recently, I traveled around Montana and  Alberta looking at
specimens and that all came out of my pocket. What is my point in all this?
That all too few of you realize that most of us professional paleontologists
spend hundreds or thousands of dollars each year out of our own pockets to
look at specimens, as well as pay page charges and reprint costs. >>

>Now< who's whining?

Nobody is more aware of this sort of thing than I. I refuse to >beg< for money
from anybody, least of all the NSF, and I pay my own way--sometimes by
borrrowing money from friends--for >any and all< the paleontological research
that I do, such as it is and such as I can afford. Expensive page charges are
part of the reason I don't even try to send my material to journals. Jumping
through hoops to overcome high rejection rates is also a waste of time for
which nobody will compensate me. My method is to produce something, offer it
for sale to anyone who wants to buy it at a reasonable market price (no arm-
twisting, just some salesmanship), and hope that what I have to sell will
eventually pay for all the sweat that I've put into it. With regard to
dinosaur paleontology, this is still FAR from the case, which is part of the
reason I haven't produced very much lately and everything is on the back-

I suppose I could prepare a presentation of my material that, after several
iterations of rejections, would pass some money-granting agency's criteria
somewhere and gain me the funding to work at dinosaur publishing full time.
But this is far from a sure thing (as you point out), and rather than putting
lots of effort into this, I choose to work differently.

If I had a subscriber base of 3000 instead of 350, I could work at this full
time and produce all kinds of neat and interesting articles on various aspects
of dinosaur paleontology; I have lots and lots of raw material at my
fingertips in my files. But I don't have the subscribers (yet). Surely in a
country of 260 million people, there are 3000 who are interested enough in
dinosaurs to read and enjoy and get something out of what I write. Where are
they? The SVP alone has this many members.

<<Sorry, George, many of us do not have our hands in your pockets. We spend
our money out of a love and dedication for the subject, so your whining gets
little  sympathy from us. I am fortunate that the Denver Museum pays for my
trip to  SVP, but that is not true for all my professional colleagues. As for
our published accounts, we try to get it right, but we are human and yes, we
make mistakes. But that is OK. Correcting each others mistakes is what science
is all about.>>

No, Ken-->getting it right< is what science is all about, and correcting
mistakes is one route of several to this goal. I would refuse to support any
endeavor whose purpose is to publish a pack of mistakes and, later, their
corrections and more mistakes! The latter is >not< what science is all about.

Now, I would match my love for and interest in dinosaur paleontology with
those of any professional paleontologist you like. I'd like to be more
dedicated, but experience has shown me that this is the fast track to poverty,
at least in my case. This certainly wouldn't serve me or my readers well. (I
do have a life outside of dinosaur paleontology--and indeed, it is high time
for me to get back to it. This response alone has cost me about $100 in lost
work time: the gross revenue from selling 20 copies of _Dinosaur Folios_ #1.)