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Abstracts & Illustrations

I know of many cases where seeing a specimen in person is neccessary to
evaluate it properly.  Too often, remains are illustrated in only one view,
or not illustrated at all.

Yes, this is true fairly frequently, and, as noted, an unfortunate casualty of space restrictions in journals like _Nature_ or _Science_. However, the "poorness" of some diagrams is _not_ due to dearth or insufficiency, but because the illustrations were originally published to emphasize the points of the original author. New (and, by definition, future) researchers may be studying new aspects of previously illustrated elements that were not emphasized in earlier drawings simply because they weren't the focus of earlier research. This may involve seeing things in view perspectives that were not previously drawn; it may entail viewing relationships between bones; it may entail the fact that some bones were drawn from some distance where tiny details cannot be rendered adequately and are left out. This, of course, is why viewing a specimen firsthand repeatedly is often necessary, but I don't believe that authors of older papers should be chastized for not adequately predicting the needs of future generations! Heck, a few decades from now, publishing CT scans of every specimen may be the norm, but is anyone studying specimens now publishing those _for_ the future generations?

And, as always, we have to keep in mind that publishing is _expensive_ -- more drawings, while nice, greatly lengthen a paper and incur page costs that many can't afford to pay. Thus, a balance has to be struck between absolutely necessary figures and nice-but-unnecessary ones. Of course I agree that many papers really would have been better off with _more_ figures (or bigger or better ones, at any rate), but there's no universal yardstick for how many, or what types, are appropriate.

This isn't only true of Chinese taxa described decades ago either.
The various taxa published in Nature and Science recently are often worse
off. We have no detailed descriptions, and tiny photographs or skeletal
line drawings to work off of. Most often, the majority of information comes
from the codings in the "supplementary information" data matrices.

Yes, but keep in mind that _Nature_ and _Science_ are, with rare exceptions, the places where initial and preliminary analyses are announced; these are not journals for lengthy, detailed analyses. They are not "final word" publications. Most things announced in these two journals are _being_ studied in greater detail and should be followed later by the publication of longer, more detailed, and probably more heavily illustrated. But research takes a while, and there's a necessary time gap between the announcement and the detail. (Sometime it seems _interminably_ long, but that's another story...)

Jerry D. Harris
Dept of Earth & Environmental Science
University of Pennsylvania
240 S 33rd St
Philadelphia PA  19104-6316
Phone: (215) 573-8373
Fax: (215) 898-0964
E-mail: jdharris@sas.upenn.edu
and     dinogami@hotmail.com

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