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The place of Books in Research



Hey Gangoids:

Now that the sometimes nasty discussions on feathers have temporarily
started to relax a bit, I wanted to bring up something that was at the
original core of the debate and get your opinions because I really want to
know what people think and, personally, have a very open mind on a final
conclusion - specifically, what is the place of books in the ongoing
research stream?

I'm not talking about edited volumes with journal-like papers. Most of these
seem to be getting peer review these days and it is certainly reasonable
that those papers should be a full partner in the ongoing stream.

But what about general books by a single author? Greg was royally po'd that
some of his work in Dinosaurs of the Air was not considered or mentioned by
Nudds and Dyke but does he have a reasonable argument? The research
literature has been getting incredibly voluminous over the past decade with
multiple hundreds of papers coming out on dinosaurs a year. It is very
difficult just to keep up with the onslaught even in relatively specific
areas. Now these are just standard peer-reviewed journal articles (and those
in edited volumes) and the pace of publication is really breathtaking given
that some of us can remember years when only a handful of papers - if that -
would come out during a year on any specific topic. I think we can agree
that these peer-reviewed papers must be considered and probably be a bit
more understanding if an author leaves one out because they missed it. That
is, of course, what the reviewers should help with by pointing out those
papers that are very relevant and were missed, but reviewers can be flaky -
as anyone who has ever submitted a paper knows.

But what about books like DOTA? There are lots of books coming out as well
and they tend to long and, in many cases - Greg's books perhaps a bit of an
exception - expensive and difficult to get in something like a pdf format.
Further, do these books really go through a comparable review process and do
they tend to do the same job of documenting the ideas in them and giving the
references that they should? My copy of DOTA is still packed after a recent
move so I can't go back and check right away but this is really a key point
about books in general. Do researchers really have a responsibility to cite
a large and mostly "popular" book like DOTA like they would a refereed
paper? I would suggest we leave Greg as a specific author out of this and
treat this as a general discussion - I have enjoyed his books and am making
absolutely no suggestions of his or his books wanting in quality etc. Just,
as more and more of these things come out, what are our responsibilities as
researchers and where within all these books does it end. A
juvenile-oriented book on pterosaurs (note: not what Greg did for DOTA and
the Field Guide) might still have some unique, cool ideas. So what do you
think?

I will say, especially as morphometrician and paleontologist, that some
books have been real seminal in my development and have been understandably
cited a zillion times - specifically, On Growth and Form (D'Arcy Thompson of
course), Simpson's Major Features of Evolution and Olson and Miller's
Morphological Integration to name a few. Probably, for me, Gould's Ontogeny
and Phylogeny as well, although that is a bit different as it was written by
a friend of mine. I would also point to Raup and Stanley.

So was Greg right to be PO'd or is this inevitable as the paper trail
(including virtual journals) gets bigger and bigger. And let me repeat
myself, Greg is an old friend and I have always respected him and his work
so assume what I recall from DOTA, that it is a quality piece of work and
keep answers more generic and, of course, thoughtful.

Thanks, Ralph



Ralph E. Chapman
Deck & Chapman LLC
New Mexico Virtualization, LLC
102 El Morro St.
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505) 672-2240
(505) 500-5266 (Cell)
ralphchapman@earthlink.net
ralphchapman@nmvirt.com