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Peer Review - a few more comments (resend)
Since my message sent earlier this morning did not go through, I am reposting
Thinking about what I wrote late yesterday, and taking into account some
complaints I have heard/read, here are some tips for getting your ideas
published and accepted. Some of these I touched on yesterday, but bear
repeating (these are also what I tell graduate students, who like most of you,
are struggling for acceptance):
1) clarity of expression. Don't assume that you can bang on the keyboard and
have something clear the first time around. Accept that as a given and you
won't get bogged down word-smithing the same paragraph for hours on end. Get
your ideas down, then go over everything again and again. As you do so, ask
whether you are presenting a line of evidence A > B > therefore C. The nice
thing about word processors is the ease of moving sentences or paragraphs
around. Once you are through writing, walk away from it for at least a week,
then read it carefully. You'll be surprised how many mistakes, incomplete
thoughts, etc. you'll pick up. It is failure to do this simple step that can
come back to bite you in the rear if you went ahead and submitted the
manuscript. An alternative, is to have someone else read it. There are dangers
here, though. They may not give you an honest answer so as not to hurt your
feelings, or if they do, you don't like it, and it stains your
2) make sure that you have selected the appropriate journal to write for.
3) if you want to be taken seriously, you must "prove" yourself by becoming an
expert in one area/specific dinosaur, etc. Otherwise you come across as a
dabbler, with more personal opinions than scientific fact. This statement will
most certainly hit a nerve with some of you, yet it is VERY true. Think about
those dinosaur paleontologists who you respect. Chances are that they have
established themselves in an area of dinosaur paleontology. If I say Philip
Currie, you'd respond "theropods", Cathy Forster, you'd respond
"ceratopsians", Jim Farlow, "dinosaur tracks", Kristi Curry, "sauropods", me,
"ankylosaurs.". Does this mean that these individuals don't publish on other
topics? Not at all, but they are taken seriously because they have establish
themselves a reputation. You'd be surprise how little you really know once you
get into studying a taxon in detail, and I don't mean doing "book-report"
science. I mean getting in there and looking at real specimens. The comment ha!
been made (as justification) that professional paleontologists rely upon
published illustrations of specimens in discussing specimens (since they do it,
it must OK for me to rely fully on that). Yes, we do, but having spent a lot of
time with real specimens allows us to judge the reliability of the
illustrations. One thing is definitely clear, you cannot rely on other
publications as your sole source of information; you must look at specimens.
4) "But I don't have access to specimens." Are you sure? There are specimens on
display in museums. These can start as a basis of knowledge. Once you
understand the specimen enough to talk intelligently, doors can, and will open.
Not all doors, but enough so that you can get your foot in the door. The best
way to get a foot into museum collections is to volunteer in the
paleontology/geology section of a museum. It may take you a while for them to
get to know you enough to trust you around fossils, but if you persevere, the
world will open up for you. Remember: they have something you want (access to
specimens), you must come with something they can get from you (your labor). My
volunteers have published over 8 scientific papers, and have named 3 taxa of
dinosaurs. The door became open to them because they volunteer in my lab and I
was able to assess their capabilities. I had one volunteer who showed up for a
short while in order to do research (he wanted the "glory" of havin!
his name in print), but he didn't come in often enough for me to assess his
capability. since it was obviously going to take longer than he thought, he
dropped out. This lack of perseverance convinces me that he never had what it
would have taken to do thorough research.
5) "I don't have grants to do research". Maybe so, but then neither do I, Tom
Holtz or most of the professionals who are on this list (even if lurking). In
fact, all my museum research has come out of my own pockets, as has Tom and
Greg Paul. You have the money and time for what you consider important.
Kenneth Carpenter, Ph.D.
Curator of Lower Vertebrate Paleontology &
Dept. of Earth Sciences
Denver Museum of Natural History
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205
Image this: "a thundering herd of waddling ankylosaurs..."
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