[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]
tardiness, sloth and other things
I feel the need to comment on some of the recent postings, because
arguably I am one of the guiltiest of parties when it comes to taking
a long time to publish the results of research. However, I want to
try to make the case that this isn't always due to laziness; sometimes
the problem is inherent in the research project itself. Things don't
always turn out to be as simple and straightforward as you thought
they would, going into a project.
In 1980 I visited a newly uncovered dinosaur footprint site in
Texas. At that time I knew very little about dinosaur tracks. I
figured we'd map, measure, and photograph the prints and trails,
compare our findings with the literature on Early Cretaceous Lone Star
dinosaur tracks that I assumed existed, write up the paper, and that
would be that.
I was chagrined to discover that there was no such extensive
literature, so I'd have to create it myself. I therefore began
documenting dinosaur footprints at sites all over Texas, compiling a
huge database of measurements, photos, and casts. I published some of
this work, but I still haven't published the bulk of it, dealing with
the morphometrics and ichnotaxonomy of the tridactyl prints.
This is because the more I thought about these things, I became
increasingly worried that there was no real set of baseline
information to compare my footprints with. How much do footprints of
a single trackmaker species vary in size and shape? Do foot and
footprint shape change as the beasts go from hatchlings to adults?
Can you tell the footprints of closely related species apart? Is
footprint shape a reliable indicator of the phylogenetic relationships
of their makers?
Note that I could not possibly answer these questions by studying
my Texas prints themselves. I nonetheless believed that I needed to
get a handle on them before I would have anything new and intelligent
to say about my Texas prints.
So I began a host of preliminary studies:
1) Measuring the foot skeletons of different species of crocodilians
and birds, and of those dinosaurs for which foot skeletons are
available, to see how variable foot skeletons are within a species,
and whether you can tell the foot skeletons of related forms apart.
(For example, if you can't tell the foot skeleton of an allosaur from
that of a tyrannosaur, you probably won't be able to tell their
2) Measuring the "intact" feet (digital pads, claws, etc.) of modern
birds and crocs, considering the same questions as in 1) but on the
stuff that actually touches the ground and makes the footprint.
3) Measuring intraspecific (including ontogenetic) and interspecific
variability in footprints of ground birds, and seeing whether
footprints of closely related birds are more like each other than the
footprints of distantly related birds.
4) Considering the implications of this stuff for dinosaur
locomotion, and such matters as the relationships among foot length,
leg length, and body trunk length in bipedal dinosaurs, ground birds,
and _Cau_---oh, never mind. ;)
It has taken me well over a decade to work on this stuff (most
recently I've been a gator-wrassler), but the end is in sight. But
I've had to put a description of the Texas prints on hold till I can
answer the preliminary questions. I'd hate to turn my Texas dino
footprint project over to somebody else, even though I have now been
working on it for more than two decades.
My point is that scientific research is tough to predict. You never
know what questions will arise until you're actually doing it.
Please be patient, eh?