Archive for the 'Science Communication' Category

The Tyrannosaur Chronicles

Chronicles cover

So I’ve been keep this quiet for a while, but for the last year or so I’ve been writing what will become my first (and hopefully not only) book. It’s a popular science book with Bloomsbury Press and their new Sigma range of titles, all of which are science / natural history and it’s due out in early 2016. Obviously it’s a dinosaur effort and this is focused squarely on the tyrannosaurs. It tries to cover everything from their origin to extinction and that means evolution, taxonomy, anatomy, physiology and mechanics, and in particular my areas of special interest in ecology and behaviour. It’s not quite wall-to-wall dinosaurs since there’s the context of their environments, competing carnivores and potential prey and that means some other things do at least get a look it.

As will be obvious from the cover, Scott Hartman has been involved and in addition to the skeletals adorning it, there’s a bunch of his renditions inside too. (Those who read his blog might have spotted the recent plethora of tyrannosaurs and this book is part of the reason for his push on them). So that means at least some bits of the book will be accurate and in a desperate attempt to make sure the text isn’t too littered with errors, Tom Holtz has been good enough to plow through the entire thing for me (so I’ll blame any remaining mistakes on him going too fast). More seriously, I really can’t thank them both enough.

Right, that’s enough shameless self-promotion for now, so I’ll return to editing the thing and watching the Mexican standoff between my geckos. Thanks for reading the blog, and hope you might read the book.

 

Edit: it’s available for preorder at Bloomsbury here, assuming anyone is desperate / foolish enough to order it sight unseen. :)

Jurassic World and Science in the Cinema

This post is pretty much just an appeal. With a colleague of mine in the Queen Mary psychology department I’ve designed a survey about attitudes to science in sci-fi and other fiction films. The survey takes about 5 mins to complete and as an incentive there’s Amazon vouchers to be won (you can also complete the survey anonymously, though naturally then, you don’t get to be in the draw).

Please do go HERE and fill it in, and also please do share this as widely as possible and ping it to people who have seen the film. Obviously promoting it around I’m hitting lots of dino-fans and palaeo people and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m keen to reach a) more people generally, and b) more ‘non-experts’ / ‘general public’, so passing this on to friends, family, colleagues etc. is a huge deal for me.

Thanks a bunch!

 

 

More outreach and communications

So once more I’ve been doing outreachy stuff that’s not just the Musings and so want to spread the word on the off-chance that some of my readers will want still more Hone-generated ramblings.

First off, The Lost Worlds over at the Guardian still keeps on going and I’m still posting material there regularly. However, they have just updated their name and so any old links may no longer work and so you’ll be wanting to use this link now and update any you have on your own blogs etc.

Second, I recently did an interview for the Jersey Boys Hunts Dinosaurs site, talking about my research and the advice for students and young researchers hoping to break into palaeo.

Finally, I recently sat down the people from Faculti Media. This is an interesting new concept where they create short videos of researchers talking about their work to provide a platform for outreach. It was great fun to do (but tricky, although edited, it was close to being live with only a couple of takes at the thing) and I think it offers a new approach with nice little bite-sized chunks of science explained by the researchers. In my case, it was on sexual selection and socio-sexual signaling in dinosaurs and it’s come out quite well, (though clearly the camera was focused on the background, not me, whoops!).

 

Reddit

I’m about to launch a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’, with the screen name of ‘davehone’. Obviously I’ve answered tons of questions here before, but here’s a chance for something different. Cheers.

A fifth anniversary tyrant

The next few days are likely to be very busy for me and this weekend I’m off on holiday, so I very much doubt I’ll be blogging on next Monday. This is a bit of a shame as those who occasionally glance at the bottom half of the sidebar on the Musings will realise that it pretty much marks the 5th anniversary of the blog. Of course very longtime readers will know I was going for some months on the old Dinobase site before cranking up this version on wordpress, but this has for most people always been the home of my pronouncements, even if there is also now Pterosaur.net, the Lost Worlds, and various bits on other parts of the web too.

So I’m naturally really rather pleased to have reached this mark, having also not too long past gone over 1.25 million hits and 1250 posts on here. It has, obviously, been a lot of work. While naturally there have been plenty of short posts (even one liners, and those of just a single image) and a fair number of guest pieces, I’ve obviously poured a huge amount of time and effort into this over the years, and I’d like to think it’s made a fair impression on a goodly number of people. Plenty of great dinosaur blogs by interesting and talented researchers seem to have fallen by the wayside, so if nothing else I can claim a fair bit of persistence.

Right, well to ‘celebrate’, here’s some pictures of a Tyrannosaurus mount from the Tyrrell that I was going to post anyway (so hardly the greatest party ever thrown really). Still, it’s hardly an inappropriate thing to include as I have done my share of tyrannosaur work and this is a neat mount. Oddly, I wasn’t too happy with the photos originally, you can’t see too many details, but I rather like the way this looms out of the murk with the animal trailing off into darkness.

IMG_2151

IMG_2153

Although the skull looks great from either side, once you get a shot up the nose, it’s rather clear how distorted this is. There’s quite a bit of difference between the two sides and it’s obvious there’s been a fair amount of squishing to the bones to give this rather asymmetric appearance.
IMG_2152

Well, that’s it for now. Not sure if there will be another 5 years, but I’m not planning on stopping just yet and I’ll be annoyed at least if I don’t reach 1500 posts having gone this far, though with my other commitments, it may take a good long while yet.

All my circuits papers

Regular Musings readers might have noticed that I do, technically, have a research page on Google. I set it up a few years ago more or less as something a bit more formal to hold records of what I’d published etc. in the days before Google Scholar metrics and which was more public than an Academia.edu profile and rather less blog-like that, well, this. I have updated it from time to time, but never found much use for it, and didn’t have the nous or time to turn it into a more ‘proper’ (and at least nice looking) site.

Doing an update the other day, I spotted a file upload option which I must have either overlooked or ignored previously. I have a for a while been looking out for a way to make my papers publicly available but really didn’t have the incentive to start yet another site just for that, and if I’d realised I could have done it on the Google pages I’d have done it years ago. Still, water under the bridge, they’re now all up.

So, if you go here and scroll to the bottom of the page you can download (nearly) all my papers. Some are still ‘in press’ so I don’t actually have anything I can upload, though as a bonus, there’s a couple of extended abstracts and unreviewed comment-type papers in there too. Hopefully it’s pretty clear what they all are, but regardless, the real issue is that they’re now accessible so go ahead and read ’em.

Palaeocasting

I do have a couple of bits lined up for the Musings over the next week or two, including my traditional end-of-year roundup. The Lost Worlds has been rather more quiet of late than I’d have liked owing to massive teaching commitments. These have finally cleared up, leaving me time to err, catch up on all the work I’ve let drag owing to the teaching commitments, so blogging is still a bit behind.

On the upside, I did find time recently to record an interview with the Palaeocast guys and you can catch it all here. It’s a potted history of my research and with some thoughts about sexual selection, feeding behaviour in theropods, the great rush of Chinese fossil discoveries and sci comms material like Ask A Biologist. So in the absence of more text-based stuff, drop on over there and have a listen.

Outreach roundup

I realised the other day that I have all manner of little posts, podcast contributions and the like spread around the net where I’ve made small contributions or guest appearances on various forums. While I’ve mentioned at least a few of there on here at one time or another, it seemed sensible to put them all if one place if only so I could find them again. Still, at least a few readers might be interested in some of these so I thought I’d make a post out of it and leave it here. I can’t find / remember everything so actually if you do know of something I did that’s not here, err, can you let me know?

Video:

Discovery Channel -Daily Planet on UV light and feathered dinosaurs

UCD Youtube on Linhenykus

UCD Youtube on Zhuchengtyrannus

Tyrrell Museum conference talk on science communication & fossil preparation

QMUL video of the undergrad fieldcourse to Alberta

Faculti Media piece of sexual selection in dinosaurs and pterosaurs

My talk at the Royal Institution on dinosaur social behaviour

Interview on This Week in Science on my Daspletosaurus project, outreach and crowdfunding

Audio:

Futureproof on dinosaur tails

Futureproof on Yutyrannus

Podcast with the Naked Scientists on tyrannosaur behaviour

Science, sort of on Yutyrannus

Science, sort of on pterosaurs

Science, sort of on dinosaur tails

Pod-Delusion on theropod carnivory

Pod-Delusion on science funding and tyrannosaurs

Palaeocast on my research

Enlightenment on dinosaurs

Enlightenment dinosaur special

Journal of Zoology Podcast

Print & Blogposts:

My huge Reddit AMA stream

BBC website on theropod gut contents

BBC website on the Tyrrell Museum

Sunday Telegraph Magazine on Jurassic Park

Palaeontology Online, Fossil Focus: Pterosaurs

Huffington Post on dinosaur body sizes

Huffington Post on tyrannosaur cannibalism

Why Science on why taxonomy is important

Why Science on applications of palaeontology

21st Floor on zoos

21st Floor on fossil collecting

21st Floor on Jurassic Park

Interviews:

Dinosaur Couch

Dinosaur Tracking

Jersey Boy Hunts Dinosaurs

And of course:

Pterosaur.net

Ask A Biologist

The Lost Worlds on The Guardian

The Complete Dinosaur, 2nd edition – a brief review

The original ‘Complete Dinosaur’ book was one of those I never quite got around to getting my hands on. I only really became involved in dinosaur research sometime after it had come out (way back in 1999) and it was (obviously through no fault of it’s own) starting to date by then. It was quite clearly a great and compact synthesis and review of a huge amount of data and in the days before wikipedia represented and excellent and authoritative volume and the kind of thing too rarely produced for scientific disciplines.

So here we are, a good decade on and a new edition is out. In fact it shipped a while ago but authors outside of the U.S. have been slow to get their copies. Mine turned up at the weekend and so obviously the following review is naturally brief and based on little more than a flick through and a skim of various chapters and concerted reading of only a few choice bits and bobs. It’s a mammoth 1100+ pages so I doubt anyone will be coming with a full review anytime soon, but the basics are rather obvious and that’s what will form the basis of my thoughts here.

First off, to get it out of the way, the bad. Naturally any subject like dinosaur biology is going to have some controversy in it and no one is an expert on everything, and of course you have multiple editors and authors to satisfy which is going to cause conflict. In short, there are some bits presented as ‘correct’ that I think many, if not most, researchers would disagree with as being incorrect, out of date or just off (the short section on pterosaurs buried in one of the chapters is, well, not good to say the least). That’s a bit unhelpful for something billed as up-to-date and new and aimed at a broad general audience. The layout of the chapters is a bit odd too in places – there’s a chapter each of stegosaurs and ankylosaurs, but all non-avian theropods are lumped into a single block. While I’ve not read them yet, there’s three whole chapters devoted to dinosaur physiology (in addition to a chapter on growth and one on heterochrony) which seems excessive. Some of the figures don’t print too crisply (though this might be more to do with the paper or of course just my copy, but I don’t think so) which is a shame, but no real information is lost. The one thing I really dislike is the huge waste of space. The margins of each page a fully a third of the width, and while figures are spread across the page and some headings appear in the margins, there are dozens and dozens of pages where only 2/3rd of the space is used. It’s a horrible waste of paper and of course this is only exaggerated in a volume that over a thousand pages long, and of course rather egregious when it’s a scientific volume and scientists if anyone should appreciate and understand the concern in wasting resources.

Now to the good and there is much of it. What the book tries and succeeds in doing is bridging the gap between ‘typical’ dinosaur / palaeo books and the scientific literature. There’s a liberal use of scientific terms and citing of research, but all of the terms are explained in the text and the citations aid, and don’t dominate, the statements made. Someone with a real interest and enthusiasm who has gobbled up all manner of books like Tom Holtz’s or Darren Niash’s would still probably really struggle if you plopped them down with a copy of The Dinosauria or a handful of published papers. This book will get them to a point where they could probably appreciate these works, and that’s some achievement.

That this is possible is down in good part to the layout of the book. It’s not an encyclopedia as such or just a procession of chapters on various clades etc. but a series of long essays each tacking a subject of dinosaur research. While birds, sauropodomorphs and marginocephalians are tackled in chapters for example, we get sections on footprints, how fossils are mounted in museums, the basics of biogeography, excavating fossils, taxonomy, context from historical discoveries, basic osteology and myology and so on and so on. While it might be a slog for the non-expert to get through 50 pages on physiology say, the writing is aimed at a non-expert audience and with a style that helps to try and elevate the reader and put everything in context with clear examples and illustrations and laying out the basics of the problems, evidence and solutions.

There’s nice coverage of issues rarely looked at in research papers as well. A chapter on reconstructing dinosaurs and art by Dough Henderson is a particular joy as he dissects his piece on Coelophysis which is a personal favourite of mine to boot. Things like excavations are covered too which do tend to be learned ‘on the job’ when it comes to palaeo training with no obvious paper or manual that I’ve seen in the technical literature, but again here there’s a great short section that would give any novice an idea of what can and should be done when prospecting and digging up material.

This is also a work that will benefit and be used by professionals. Some areas of research and anatomy do lack good, solid reviews and can be hard for PhD students or even seasoned researchers to get to grips with. I’ve never really had to do much with braincases (for which I am grateful) and each time I have even a passing dealing with them I have to crack open a raft of papers and try to get back to speed and cross reference various bits and pieces. Here though is a chapter on dinosaur neurology with various endocasts shown, labels for all the classic cranial nerves and their typical positions and each section of the brain labelled and discussed. It’ll be the first thing I reach for the next time I need to check something or as a simple reference that reviews the basic information if I want to make mention of the subject in a paper.

In short, while I obviously have at least a slight hand in this as the coauthor of a chapter and friend and colleague to many of the authors and editors involved, it’s hard not to give this a hearty recommendation on balance. As I said above, I really have only look at this superficially and read barely a few dozen pages from various chapters, and there is a vast amount to catch up on, but it looks great and will provide much information and detail for huge numbers of researchers, students and general enthusiasts alike. I look forwards to digging into it more fully, but for now I’m very happy with it and I think a great many readers will be too.

Chunk of this are visible with Google Books for those who want to take a look. Bonus Musings points are available for anyone who spots me in there, I did sneak into one photo oddly enough.

Increasing my reach

So my little talk Tuesday night went well. A great crowd of science savvy people showed up including at least one biology lecturer and biology teacher and a variety of others. I was pleased with things and all of the feedback has been very positive which is always nice. Much as stuff online is good as it can be archived and reach huge numbers of people, talks can be so much more engaging and interactive and really enthuse people so I do like doing them too.Having such an audience is great as the questions can be really quite in depth and insightful, and of course you can often pitch your answers a little higher than when dealing with kids or a more general audience. The weather was sweltering so after the talk, we retired to the evening sunshine on the balcony for the Q&A as seen below.

In this case, I was also collared by the PodDelusion crew afterwards for an impromptu interview for their next episode. That has just gone up online here if you want to hear me rambling a little about dinosaurs. One of the questions they asked was about my most recent Guardian piece on persistent dinosaur myths so this blog post bringing things almost full circle with a blog entry, podcast, public lecture and mainstream media bit. Phew!

My thanks to Paolo Viscardi for the invitation to this PubSci piece, great fun was had by all (well, I didn’t get heckled).

Tonight in London: Dave on Dinosaurs

Just a reminder to those who may have missed it or forgotten, tonight in Brixton I’ll be talking about my research on theropod dinosaurs and their feeding and hunting habits. Drop in to hear me, or to talk dinosaurs before or afterwards.

All the details are here.

A few thoughts from Saurian Saturday

So as I mentioned a few days back, on Saturday I hosted / presented a full-day event at a London Cinema on dinosaurs in the movies. The idea was to try and combine some history of dinosaur research with their various appearances on film and the changing techniques used to bring them alive. As such we touched on Owen and Mantell, The Lost World and One Million Years BC, stop-motion and rubber suits and everything from the Dinosaur Heresies to Reptilicus. All of this was bracketed by showings o the 1933 King Kong and Jurassic Park on the big screen.

For me, it was exhausting. basically a 12 hour day and I was talking for more than half of that. I’m not doing that again in a hurry, or at least I need to space it out better, but it was certainly an experience and in terms of presentation I think I learned a fair bit. Chatting to various people I do think the pitch was about right for the audience and they seemed to keep up with what I was saying and absorb things. They seemed engaged and I got some good questions (though not too many).

King Kong really hasn’t dated too badly at all. The introduction was much longer than I remembered (and Peter Jackson drew it out still further), with things only really kicking in and getting exciting in the second half with rather too much lead in time. There was also very little chemistry between the leads, or for that matter, Anne Darrow and Kong – something that the Jackson version did improve on massively. The effects were great though – there were some nice details I’d missed before and the way the layers were put together was excellent. Only a couple of moments really jarred which given that this is some 80 years old is very impressive.

On the other hand, Jurassic park does seem to have dated rather badly. Sure I loved it when I first saw it, and have fond memories of it. While for a long time, I’ve thought of it as being actually quite a poor film with some great moments and great effects, I have to say that some of the CGI looks really ropey in hindsight. Sure this it also getting on and it was brand new technology when created, but I did watch JP just a couple of years ago on the TV and it looked fine – in full cinema size, less so. The T. rex attack especially, there are parts where the whole animal seems glossy and with a sheen, that’s only apparent when it’s computer generated, and it looks much more natural and ‘dusty’. In short, I’d probably rather watch KK again tomorrow than JP.

Oh yes, and I got to meet Himmapaanensis too, who brought along a lovely card of a hadrosaur he gave to me which was lovely.

Overall it was fun, but also tiring and stressful. I hope people enjoyed it and learned something, that’s about as much as you can wish really.

 

 


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