Archive for February, 2009

How to contribute to a paper

This one is rather off-centre, but my guess is that it might well be useful for some students. I think most people get their first papers published either working alone, or by collaborating with their supervisors or perhaps another PhD student, and thus you are in a familiar environment with people you know well. It can be intimidating to contribute to a paper with a couple of senior researchers or even to try and handle a big research group on your own as a senior author on a paper. While this micro-guide is aimed at the former situation, it should also serve to help with the latter as well.

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Basic advice to budding researchers

In addition to the various ‘how to’ posts that I have put up here in the past (check out the science basics section for those who have missed them), I thought it high time I offered a less directed and more general set of advice for young or aspiring scientists. This is the first in a big series this week trying to add substantially more to the existing ones which I hope will build up into a decent collection of useful short essays on being a scientist.
So here is a more or less random list of ideas, points, tips and hints that I have found useful to stick to over the years. All of them I am fairly sure will apply to pretty much any scientific or even academic field and while most are probably blindingly obvious, the difference between something you know and something you know that you know, or that you do can be profound, so here they are written down…

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Continuing with the theme from last week, it’s another AABQOTW focusing on evolutionary theory. The big question this time, which leads to an interesting discussion on the use of terms in different settings, is “what is meant by ‘survival of the fittest’?“.

Dinosaur mounts again

workshop-2Normally it would be hard to make the average dinosaur be more manly, so how about dinosaurs and welding! Rock on! This photo was taken in a warehouse in Berlin where the mounts for the new displays for the Museum fur Naturkunde were being built. I was there looking at Brachiosaurus and Dicraeosaurus, two *very* different sauropods. This is the crew from the fantastic Research Casting International (boy does their website include some cool stuff) constructing a metal armature mount for the bones of Dicreaeosaurus. It was a great experience to see them at work and it taught me quite a lot about how good mounts are designed and built, and well as seeing how the old ones were constructed in the early 1900s.

Some of you may have already seen this photo over on SV-POW where Mike Taylor used it to show the work in progress next to his photos of the completed mount on display, but hey, it’s a great photo and I’m sure not everyone has seen it.

Darwin in Beijing

imgp1674Charles Darwin of course never made it to China on his very extensive travels, but inevitably this year, and indeed on this day, he has a presence at the IVPP. I mentioned briefly before about a planned exhibition that has gone through with typical Chinese speed (in the end it was too short notice to include English notes for the admittedly few foreign visitors to the galleries, so I barely did anything for this) and was unveiled this morning.

It’s mostly a series of panels covering Darwin’s life and works and showing how modern evidence (most notably fossils in the IVPP of course) supports the theory of evolution by natural selection. As I say, it’s in Chinese, so few of my readers are likely to get much from it, but I took a couple of quick photos to show off a few of the panels, and especially the nice world map that shows the voyage of the Beagle and key events or finds from the journey. (Sorry about the odd angles of some of the photos it was necessary to avoid the gallery lights reflecting).

Three great protagonists, but probably not as they saw themselves

Three great protagonists, but probably not as they saw themselves

It’s good to see so many museums and institutes using this year as an excuse or motivation to get across some of the inspiring ideas and works of Darwin, and what has followed, plus to dispel a few of the worse and more perpetuated fictions. My only complaint would be that while an opportunity like this is too good to miss, (and certainly more funds and interest would be available than in other years) it is just a shame that something like this is needed to trigger it.

imgp16581While many museums have exhibits or even whole galleries on evolution, many small and even large ones do not even mention it. Surely something this fundamental to a natural history / science museum (and this goes for botanical gardens, aquaria and zoos as well) needs to be featured, and prominently at that? I honestly can’t think of a non-permanent exhibit to Darwin or evolution as a whole that I have ever seen in any museum (though as ever I may have just missed them). Many do have them, great, but for those that don’t, to have to wait for such an anniversary seems a bit silly to say the least.

Still, the work is being done and the word is being spread. For this we must be grateful, and I am certainly pleased that the IVPP are doing their part.


Just some nice (living) archosaurs

imgp1446Blah, blah, short post, no time, pretty pictures. These ones come from the Ueno zoo in Tokyo, a truly super inner-city zoo. There were some wonderful rarities and personal favourites among the collections and while I have lots of photos of mammals, amphibians and fish too, given the tile of this blog, I thought I should stick to the archosaurs. For those who have not yet read the ‘what is an archosaur‘ post, among living animals it the birds and crocodilians. And here they are:

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Why biology is hard – the physics of cats

The little thought experiment that forms the basis of this post is taken from Professor Charles Marshall via Musings regular Corwin Sullivan and aptly demonstrates why an awful lot of biology is really quite hard to study when compared to the other sciences (most notably physics and chemistry).

Let us consider a standard billiards table (though bar billiards should be recognised as one of the greatest games ever, it is perhaps not the best for this example, and a cannon billiards table might be even better, but so obscure I doubt even many British readers have come across one, anyway…) and on this table lets put three balls in a row evenly spaced across the width of the table. Now, hit each ball in turn gently, aiming straight down the table as evenly as possible (that is, try to make each shot have the same power and no spin). What will happen to the balls? Continue reading ‘Why biology is hard – the physics of cats’

The European Association of Vertebrate Palaeontologists

Before he decided to run off and start his own blog, Dino Frey asked me to do a post about the EAVP (an organisation with which he is heavily involved) and I am happy to oblige as I am a member and I like both the society and it’s meetings a lot. The society is really quite small with just a few hundred members and has only been going for six years, but is growing slowly, and while I doubt I have few readers who would even be interested (I know most of you are in the US and UK and thus already have SVP and SVPCA readily available), if this generates just one more member or gets a few people to link to them, it will be a good thing.

The society was started to encourage European palaeontology, especially in Eastern Europe and sprang out of the long running European Workshop on vertebrate palaeontology to form a full society with better organisation. There is not much to say beyond this really, small, European, palaeontology, good. They do (occasionally) produce the journal Oryctos which is also worth a read if you can get hold of it (sadly distribution is rather limited).

Anyway, this post is rather timely as the arrangements for the 2009 meeting in Berlin were released not too long ago, so I would suggest you give it serious consideration. As I say the meetings are typically very good (and all the talks are in English for any language phobes) and enjoyable, not to mention quite cheap. It seems to be that the British can be a bit isolationist with these kinds of thing and it would be excellent if more people made the trip onto the continent and certainly more Europeans are starting to come to SVPCA. A joint meeting has been mooted in the future but yet to reach fruition, but I personally have high hopes for more ‘all in’ European meetings and societies in the future. (Oh, and they do have bursaries for students to attend to if you are short of funds).

If you want to learn more or join up, there are all kinds of information on their website here , as indeed are details for the 2009 if you want to attend.

Back in Beijing

img_4487I have now been back in China for a few days following my thoroughly enjoyable trip to Japan. We took in the National Museum of Science in Tokyo, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum and the Hayashibara Museum, Okayama, as well as the amazing Osaka Aquarium and the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. As I have already mentioned on the Musings, my return has plunged me into a maelstrom of deadlines, e-mails and unfinished projects that I want / have to clear out before the end of the month. There will still be lots of regular posts on here as I do have a large backlog of unpublished pieces, but those promised pieces on the various museums and institutions that made up the trip might take a while to produce. Coming up though, expect my thoughts on peer review, ‘experts’,  a big new ‘how to’ series for young researchers, and the EAVP.

In the meantime, I do want to publicly express my thanks to those who helped organise, arrange and fund my visit, and especially my Japanese colleagues who provided such hospitality and generosity of time and material and I hope that it will spawn many future collaborations (and indeed has already started a couple of new projects). Pictured are myself and Corwin Sullivan in the collections room in Fukui, going over bits of Fukuiraptor and with a mount of Gallimimus In the background. (Image courtesy of Masateru Shibata).


Obviously I have missed a few AABQOTWs of late with my illness and trip to Japan, so it’s good to get them going again. I know these are not the most exciting posts (and cerainly are not that often read) but thanks to Darwin, the evolution questions are really hotting up and there are some superb questions and debates appearing about evolutionary theory. I really think both this week’s effort and soem of the others are well worth your time. This popped up only this week and relates to an important issue in the theory and philosophy of science – just want predications can you make from evolution?

More for the palaeoartists

I have been asked by Trumador Tyrannosaur to promote a new blog carnival based around palaeoart work online. So I am. All the pertinent details are here, and it looks like first up are the ceratopsians. It will start properly on the 1st of March giving people time to get their entries in, enjoy. I’d make this post longer, but really I can’t add much.

More on the media

Few outside of the UK, and indeed plenty from there, will know about Charlie Brooker a wonderfully satarical and subversive writer with a particular penchance for the media, even while working for or with them. His latest article is especially nice as he provides us with some new media terms and definitions. Cutting and accurate he provides a nice little swipe at one aspect of science reporting, as regularly trashed by bad science:

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