Archive for January, 2009

Into the air!

Mike Habib (right) with Musings favourite Luis Rey

Mike Habib (right) with Musings favourite Luis Rey

This time out, say hello to Mike Habib‘s work on quadrupedal launching. Just how did those giant pterosaurs get into the air?

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Chinese Istiodactylids – what’s not to like?


OK, so I am being facetious with the title since very few people have even heard of the istiodactylids, let alone Chinese ones, and in this case we are mostly dealing with just a lower jaw. Still, you can get a lot even from a single bone when it’s the right bone and this is a nice demonstration of that. Or alternatively, it’s only of even vague interest to really obsessed pterosaur nuts, but as it is reported in a paper from the Zitteliana volume by my friend Jungchang Lü, you are going to have top read about it. Unless you have already clicked onto another site that is. Oh…
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Guest post: Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell

So first off in the ‘Wellnhofer’ series, Mark Witton takes time out of his busy schedule of not frantically finishing his PhD (since he’s actually done it now – well done again Mark) to tell us about a fantastically well, broken, pterosaur that he and Dave Martill have described. It’s not often busted pterosaurs are that interesting so take it away, Dr Witton:

For shame, I’ve only ever read one Sherlock Holmes story: The hound of the Baskervilles. I did enjoy it thoroughly: it’s a dead-good read and very hard to put down, so I thoroughly encourage you to track it down and read it for yourself if you’ve not done so already. Baskervilles reads in the highly accessible manner typical of other Conan Doyle tales: noble, relatively straightforward characters performing muted acts of heroism, a clearly and precisely delivered plot with elements of the fantastic but a firm foothold on reality, a sprinkling of Edwardian righteousness and the sensation that, although things may look a bit hairy before the novel ends, everything will work out all right by the final page. Being my first Holmes story, it was interesting to note that everyone’s favourite sleuth was presented in more-or-less exactly the manner you might expect, with his best party trick being his ability to deduce the habits of other characters with only a cursory glance of their appearance. You know: with a single look at your walking stick he could figure out where you work, where you live, whether you went to public school and which member of Girls Aloud you fancy most. That sort of thing.

Now, it seems to me that sleuthing abilities of that calibre would be very handy to have in real-life. Not only would it mean that you could, immediately, figure out who really did steal your last Rolo but, as a palaeontologist, it would make certain fossils make so much more sense. Enter, stage left, the strange mystery of SMNK PAL 4330…
Continue reading ‘Guest post: Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell’

Lots of pterosaury goodness

So the Wellnhofer volume was officially published on the 31st of December, 2008 (sneaked that one in!), hooray for pterosaurs everywhere. As I have already said there is a large number of very varied papers in the volume and I have managed to persuade a few of the authors to write up short reviews about their work as guest posts for the Musings, and I’ll be pitching in on my own paper and a review of a couple of the others. So expect rather a deluge of pterosaur related stuff over the next week or so.

Peter Wellnhofer

To kick off, I thought it would be nice to shove in my own introduction and dedication to Peter Wellnhofer from the start of the volume. I’ll put it below the fold for those who are not too interested, but come back over the next few days for reviews of new pterosaur research (hopefully around 10 posts over the next two weeks).
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This week the question is probably not of great interest to the average Musings visitor, but might be worthwhile for some younger readers (and I assuem there are a few). If nothing else it does rather demonstrate the variety of fields available in biology and the length of time it takes to qualify. Many people seem to think that getting a PhD is quick and easy, and it isn’t.

The question was “How do I become a herpetologist?” (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians). And if you want to see what was said, then the answer is this way.

How to review a paper

Continuing with the important theme of academic research and publishing it seemed high time I deal with the opposite side of writing a paper which is reviewing one. This should serve as a guide for those asked to referee a paper without much or any experience, and also for those simply trying to get a paper written and get it past the referees – it often helps to know what is going on on that side of the publishing ‘wall’ as it will help you deal with editors, referee’s comments and so on.

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Another from the Cobbett files, this time a beautiful rendering of Ornithocheirus. There is a post in the offing about pterosaurian taxonomy and this genus is a classic example where problematic fossils contribute to all kinds of problems of definitions and diagnoses further down the line and just add to the confusion. Still, it’s a nice picture, so that’s all that matters.

The whole BAD / BAND thing

I had always intended to avoid this topic on the Musings as it is a complex issue full of lots of details and subtleties about anatomy, functional morphology, phylogenetics, and evolutionary distances and temporal separations. I’ve nothing against tricky topics per se, but ones like this combine a whole raft of issues (some of which I am only partly familiar with) and often require a mind-numbing amount of detail to illustrate the problems (or more accurately controversies) correctly, and you can guarantee that many people will not be able to follow it well, and thus you leave the audience more confused than before you started. Alternatively you simply skim over the depths in such a way that you do not even really address the issues (or even list them all) and risk giving the audience an answer pretty much on your say so, and not presenting them with the evidence for your (or the scientific community’s) position on the subject.

The latter approach is actually the tack I’ll be taking here, and I hope that people will simply accept my summary of the issue at hand (as indeed they have in the past when the primary difference was perhaps the fact that I simply didn’t advertise that I was going to massively gloss over the issues). If you *do* want to go into the issues they have been dealt with in some considerable detail on various blogs and websites, in books, and even in plenty of freely available PDFs of research papers online, (many of which are reviews and perfectly accessible to non experts) and of course you can always leave questions on Dinobase or AAB.

So what is the topic exactly? What is a BAD or a BAND for that matter, and why has it apparently sparked so much controversy (apparently) and why is it so complex? These are all questions at least some of you might be asking rhetorically right about now, so in an inevitable bit of cheekiness, you’ll have to click on the ‘continue reading’ button to get the answer. Continue reading ‘The whole BAD / BAND thing’

My New Year’s Resolution

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More field stuff pt. II

fgh-399As before, this is just an excuse to churn out a few photos from my time in the field in Inner Mongolia this year to show off the great time I had in the desert looking for dinosaurs and dead bits of camel. That is all the blurb you are getting, so here they are:

Continue reading ‘More field stuff pt. II’

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