Archive for March, 2009

National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo

imgp1248This museum is rather odd in that its name suggests that it is a general science museum with perhaps a slight emphasis on natural history, but in fact the biological side of things take up over two thirds, and probably more like three quarters of the exhibit spaces. I won’t deal with those here (though some sections, like the technology hall were very interesting) and will just focus on the biological and palaeontological.
Continue reading ‘National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo’


This time out that vexed question of opposable digits in theropod dinosaurs. At least some of you will be aware of a rather special dinosaur that will hopefully flower in the literature soon with important implications for this area (and a few others) but for now you’ll have to stick to troodontids. As ever, follow the link to get to the answer to “did troodontids have opposable thumbs?”.

Just to make thngs clear after bit of recent confusion, the point of these posts is to link to interesting  discussions on the AAB website, you are not supposed to answer the questiosn here. The answers are already provided. That is not to say that I dont welcome further questions or disucssion on here (or additional questions on AAB) but that there’s not a lot of point is providing a simple answer here.

More from ‘Why Science’

I have muttered (perhaps even mused) on here a couple of times about ‘Why Science’, a website devoted to giving professional researchers a platform to talk about their research and th importance of science, education and communication in general. If you have not hopped over there before, do give it a look sometime.

Right now they have a new video up on their front page which is well worth a few minutes of your time and I’d ask that those in a position to do so pass the message on via their blogs / email / friends / colleagues etc. It’s all here and the video is at the top of the main page.

New issue of New Scientist

This has just hit the stands and I wanted to give it a bit of a promotion for three reasons:

1. It contains a nice big piece on giant sauropods that you can read on the link provided as well as in the magazine.

2. It is a great example of science journalism (after all my recent complaints) if in a magazine devoted to science (though today I note they stated that ornithischians had feathers).

3. I get mentioned in it (as is Dr Vector, a.k.a. Matt Wedel). And I am stupidly pleased about that fact, even if it is a couple of very short quotes.

Blah blah feathered ornithischians yawn

Base of tail of Tianyulong (modified from Zheng et al., 2009).

Base of tail of Tianyulong (modified from Zheng et al., 2009).

Ok, I am actually really rather excited by this development but as ever I don’t want to go down the route of simply reviewing the paper as that is what I suspect every other blogger and news outlet is doing right now. For those who are already lost, today in Nature a new paper came out showing an ornithischian dinosaur – Tianyulong – with large integumentary structures (protofeathers is definitely pushing it at this point and is a term I’ll be avoiding with respect to this taxon at least for a long time to come) which superficially at least look very similar to those of theropod dinosaurs that certainly are precursors to feathers in birds. The big deal of course is that now we have these kinds of structures in both ornithischian dinosaurs and saurischian dinosaurs (the really fundamental split at the base of Dinosauria) and not just in saurischians. This opens up the possibility that these kinds of structures were ancestral to dinosaurs and thus inherited by both clades and did not just evolve in the derived theropods. However there is much more to this than meets the eye, most notably the fact that this is manifestly not the first ornithischian to have been suggested to have such structures. Continue reading ‘Blah blah feathered ornithischians yawn’

The big biology conspiracy ‘revealed’…or not

I typically try to avoid the whole field of the ‘culture wars’ of science and religion and anti-science / anti-intellectualism, partly because it is being dealt with at great length and in great detail elsewhere online, and mostly because I want to deal with why real science is right and interesting rather than why the other stuff is nonsense and dull. There are however things that are pushed forward in apparent seriousness of such mind-boggling stupidity that I find it genuinely staggering. This one has come up again and again and it just stops my mind every time I encounter it. It runs in various forms and formats, but is essentially this:

Continue reading ‘The big biology conspiracy ‘revealed’…or not’

A few things to keep you ticking over

Obviously one cannot blog about everything one finds interesting, every book that has been read, relevant piece of literature, interesting idea and so on, and even those things that top the priority list can be neglected, or you can be beaten to the punch by your colleagues (and rivals) on the blogosphere. Here then are four things that I intended to blog about but was recent beaten too it by various people. I may yet get around to them myself, but at least they are all done and available.

First off, on the Catalogue of Organisms blog there is this post on the issue of publication dates for pieces of work when they appear now on the internet well in advance of a ‘paper’ publication, a serious and often complex issue for taxonomy and naming rights for new taxa.

Next up, Musings longtime colleague the Ethical Palaeontologist tackles the absolutely superb new book by Richard Fortey on the history of the Natural History Museum in London.

Chinleana deals with the Polyglot Paleontologist, something I should have mentioned long ago – a free site providing translations of palaeontological papers which are not in English.

Finally soemthing that may seem esoteric, but in fact is very pertinent to understanding how at least soem people percieve science, or how they percieve others percieve science. Yes, this is about the supposed new advertising launch by Pepsi as covered by the imperious Bad Science. Do make sure you get hold of the full document, it’ll only take ten minutes to read and will make you laugh, cry and develop uncontrollable anger or incredulity in about equal measure.

More hows and whys

I’m basically in transit for the next day or so heading back to Beijing after a thoroughly enjoyable trip to the UK and Germany. In order to keep things ticking over while I am in the air (or in airport lounges) and recovering from jet lag and the time difference, here are a few other things for you all to read. I have put this in Science Basics as these fit nicely with that theme.

First off, here is a review on how to review or critique a paper by those good people at Nature.

Similarly, there is advice from Science on writing papers (though it is very brief and general) via River Continua.

More generally Matt Wedel has a big series of posts on general science communication between scientists and how new ideas are often generated and discussed. It’s a nice take on a rarely discussed area should be of interest to young academics and the general public alike. I’m not if he is finished yet, but he has so far produced four parts to the series. Read them here, and here, and here and here.


Data for palaeontological research can come from a variety of unusual and unexpected places. Without direct fossil evidence, some things can be almost impossible to determine, but not necessarily. So, how do you know if extinct big cats had a mane?

A picture of Dave

No, not me, but the ‘other’ Dave. Many dinosaur (and indeed other fossil) specimens get given nicknames by researchers or field teams, it’s a convenient shorthand when chatting about them as opposed to using catalogue numbers or ‘that one we dug up last year with the good manus, no, the other one, from the big ridge’. Sometimes these reach the general public (I suspect many people have heard of the T.rex named ‘Sue’) and become famous in their own right. One of these is the Sinornithosaurus* commonly called ‘Dave’, famous for being one of the first ‘feathered’ theropods to hit the world stage. Dave is a single specimen split in half to form two mirrored parts, and these are held in different museums, which is why this image only shows the ‘right’ half since that was all that was on display in the National Geology Museum in Beijing where this half is held. For plenty more on Dave, there is a superb travalogue of the history of the specimen and it’s description by Mark Norell and colleagues, here on the AMNH website.


* I should probably add ‘probably’ here, my understanding from some of the more senior theropod people is that there is a bit of a question mark over exactly what taxon this specimen represents. It is a juvenile which obviously complicates things, and while it *looks* amazing, the preservation of the individual bones, and the way the skull has split hides a lot of important information meaning it’s exact affinities are uncertain, or at least, not everyone agrees on this designation.

Terrestrial predators such as…oh

One comes across the oddest things in the press (yes, I’m going after the journalists again). This time out it’s a particularly bizarre one which fits my ‘checking’ hypothesis. Journalists (and bloggers alike) get complex or unusual or important facts from trusted sources (or Wikipedia in most cases I suspect) but fail to check things they think they already know. On occasion this leads to them getting complex ideas right while screwing up the simplest ones. The effort below is a brilliant example. The author correctly identifies a pterosaur as a flying reptile and not a dinosaur, gets the size right, includes a nice size analogy, and (since I assuming she is referring to Quetzalcoatlus specifically and not azhdarchoids in general) the location data is right. Most significantly, the point is very up to date including the recent work of Darren Naish and Mark Witton on terrestrial hunding in azdarchoids and getting it bang on (and let’s face it while this paper was well advertised, it’s not necessarily going to be picked up and remembered by every journalist, or they may not get the central concept correct). However, the last word lets the whole thing down with the kind of deflation normally assocaited by someone with ice-skates taking a turn on a bouncy castle. Here then is the source of my incredulity:

“A flying reptile the size of a spitfire aircraft and with a wingspan of up to 12m lived in North America. Although it could fly, scientists now think it hunted for food on foot, like today’s….

Continue reading ‘Terrestrial predators such as…oh’

A few landmarks

Just a bit of admin really this one, though overaly I’m quite pleased. This week has seen my 200th post on this version of the Musings. Last week saw my second ‘2000 reads in a week’ stat click up, and I now have had over 750 comments (even if a lot of them are by me or trackbacks) and one of my posts has now been read over 1000 times on its own.

All of this self-centred backslapping does lead me to ask if there is anything people want to see more of on here? I blog pretty much at randon, putting things up when they occur to me or depending on what mood I am, (though I try to keep a mix of reviews of topics, science comms stuff and interesting pictures) and I do tend to avoid reviewing or talking about new papers since a great many others tend to cover them and I’d rather do soemthing different. A little feeback is alwasy good, and despite asking on the Facebook Group, I’ve yet to have any replies so I’ll stick this up here. Are more ‘science basics’ required? More on theropods? More on sci comms? Anything else? Just add a comment to let me know, and I’ll see what I can do (though don’t expect much on ornithischians or crocs anytime soon)>

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