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Peer Review - a few more comments



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 
relationship/frien!
ds!
hip.

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!
s !
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!
g !
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 &
Chief Preparator
Dept. of Earth Sciences
Denver Museum of Natural History 
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205

Fax: (303)331-6492
email: KCarpenter@DMNS.org
++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Image this: "a thundering herd of waddling ankylosaurs..."
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