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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 
     footprints apart.)
     
     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?
     
     Jim Farlow