Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Paleo Paper Challenge: Who Has Accepted?

After our posts issuing the Paleo Paper Challenge, we have had a number of very brave souls step up to the plate. We're dusting those old papers off of our hard drives, finishing them up, and making a commitment to get them through into review!

Of course, it wouldn't be a challenge if we weren't holding our feet to the fire with the possibility of public embarrassment. All of us have signed on the dotted line, and committed to getting these puppies out the door by January 1, 2010!

It's not too late to sign up yourself! There's always room for one more - so join the party!

Acceptors of the Paleo Paper Challenge

Tor Bertin:
Manuscript on mystery specimen

Andy Farke:
Myledaphus paper
Final dissertation chapter

John Foster:
Unspecified paper

Casey Holliday:
Articular cartilage paper

Dave Hone:
Unspecified paper

ReBecca Hunt:
Unspecified paper

Bill Parker:
Revueltosaurus manuscript

Heinrich Mallison:
Plateosaurus CAE (is waiting for the two other diss chapters to come out of review)
sauropods rearing
alligator muscle cross sections
non-Plateosaurus at MFN description
sauropodomorph rapid locomotion

Anthony Maltese:
Unspecified paper

Mark Mancini (Tanystropheus):
Redondosaurus cranial description

Eric Snively:
Chicken electromyography and implications for big theropod neck muscles.
Atlas of gekkotan lizards of the Paris Basin.
Artiodactyl vs. Stegoceras head-strike mechanics.

Mike Taylor:
The Archbishop description

Matt Wedel:
Final dissertation chapter

Adam Yates:
Early sauropodomorph pneumaticity
Rauisuchians of the Elliot Formation

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Does Anyone Read Our Papers?

Writing papers is fun, but rather pointless unless anyone reads them, uses them, and cites them. How do we find out if anyone reads our work? Gross citation counts are nice, and easily provided by ISI Web of Science (easily, that is, if your institution coughs up the money to pay for the database) or Google Scholar (free, but not always as comprehensive as ISI's counts). These services also provide links to the papers with the citations. This is useful, but everyone knows that more people read the paper than actually cite it. The problem, of course, is that there is no way to know how many are reading the darned thing.

Until now. Public Library of Science (the publishers of PLoS ONE, PLoS Biology, and other open access journals; in the interests of full disclosure, I'm an academic editor for PLoS ONE) has just completely shifted the playing field. Free, article-level metrics are now available. Easily. With one click, you can find out how many page views a research article has had and how many people have downloaded the PDF. Better yet, you can track trends through time and download the data into an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis.

Just for fun, I checked out the stats for my co-authored paper on Triceratops horn use, which was published in January of this year. To date, the publication has had over 7,000 page views, 851 downloads of the PDF file, and 1 citation. The paper on Darwinius, which came out shortly after the Triceratops paper, has had over 66,000 page views and over 5,800 downloads of the PDF file. PLoS ONE also provides summary tables for selected disciplines - a paper on evolutionary biology (which includes paleontology, for most purposes) published in 2008 could expect to have racked up at least 2,200 hits by now.

So what's to like here? Well, an author gets an immediate sense if someone is paying attention to a publication. Page views and PDF downloads are a valuable tool for gauging community interest. In concert with citation data, it's probably a far better gauge of a paper's worth than the impact factor for the journal that the publication happens to show up in. The data are also freely available, transparent, and frequently updated. The latter is particularly important because it may be years before a paper's full impact is known. An open-access metric for an open-access world.

And are there any problems? As with any metric, the unfortunate answer is yes. Page view counts probably include a lot of casual readers, who read the abstract and promptly forget the existence of the article in question. These counts could also be gamed by "click contests" - one need only smell the stench emanating from the hordes of Pharyngula's zombie fanboyz as they lurch towards the next on-line poll to realize just how malleable page view data potentially are (although to PLoS's credit, they have attempted to filter out any robot and web crawler traffic). The metric will also be abused by administrators, who will still make career-ending decisions based on a number (although at least it's a hopefully more relevant number this time). Once again to PLoS's credit, they provide explanatory and cautionary pages candidly outlining the pros and cons of the metric.

I suspect that other journals will follow suit - it may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. We may be seeing the death of the traditional, sometimes tyrannical, "impact factor." Let's hope we don't replace it with a new despot!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Paleo Paper Challenge

Dave Hone of Archosaur Musings and I were recently chatting online and were lamenting the inevitable problem of ‘the unfinished paper’. Most researchers have a project or two (or anything up to 20) that were started and then kind of stalled for various reasons – uncooperative co-authors, being unable to find the elusive essential paper, other projects taking priority, or just general malaise. It’s left as a few pages of notes, or unreferenced, without figures or a key analysis complete or whatever. It’s good science and publishable, it’s just not done. Without a good incentive to get them finished off (like a rival group) or them getting out of date (the stuff is interesting but not ground breaking and will not revolutionize the field when it comes out, but it’s not old either) these things can last for ever. Sometimes, all the manuscript needs is one day of solid work to kick the thing out the door!

Both of us have these kinds of papers knocking around and we are far from the only ones. As such with SVP around the corner we decided to issue the Paleo Paper Challenge (or Palaeo Paper Challenge, if you're so inclined). If you have a palaeo paper that really needs to be finished off then we challenge you to sign up here and get it done this year. If so, simply leave a note in the comment thread and we’ll total them all up in a few days and create a register of those taking part (so you can’t back out!). There is no need to let everyone know exactly what it is you are working on (if people want to keep things private, that’s fine) but of course juicy details will be welcome. Dave and I will also both be canvassing at SVP, and if you want to encourage others to join, do please mention this on your own blogs etc.

This should serve as both self-motivation to get the project done and a nice little race to see who can finish first and get their paper(s) submitted or in print. The real challenge of course is simply to get it done, so we are setting January 1, 2010, as your ‘official’ deadline – if you are joining the challenge you’ll have about three months to get it done. There are hundreds if not thousands of these papers languishing on hard drives so let’s try and get a few of them out there!

[NOTE: This post was largely written by Dave. . .I've modified it slightly for posting here. Perhaps this laziness is why I have so many half-finished papers sitting on my hard drive right now.]

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Big (and Crazy) Announcement

A few months ago, Matt Wedel (of SV-POW! fame) lamented the lack of measurements in most contemporary scientific papers. As a real numberhead, his post resonated with me. It got me thinking. Despite the shortcomings of some papers, there are a lot of measurements out there in the literature already. With measurements, you can do science. Potentially some really cool science. But how could I collect all of these data? This could take years!

The gears in my brain started turning. One idea led to another. A plan was forming. Something crazy. Deeply, insanely crazy.

So what happened next? I teamed up with SV-POW's Matt Wedel and Mike Taylor to create a research project in dinosaur paleontology that anyone can participate in. The Open Dinosaur Project. We (yes, "we" includes you) will comb through the literature (which, thanks to a number of open access publications and archives, is quite data-rich) and pull out measurements for further analysis. The process - from data collection to analysis to publication - will be completely open. Every step of the way will be blogged. And. . .all contributors are invited to join us as co-authors. The project: look at the evolution of the limbs in ornithischian dinosaurs.

Thus was born The Open Dinosaur Project. Consider this your invitation to join us. Read more about it at the project blog!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Big News on the Way

Research of catastrophic proportions. Another piece of the Shiny Digital Future. An unholy union between members of SV-POW! and The Open Source Paleontologist. Bigger than Ida. A cast of dozens. . .hundreds. . .thousands! Visit here on Tuesday morning to find out what the hyperbole is all about!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A New Reference Manager to Watch

Nearly two years ago, I ran this series on a bunch of reference managers available in both commercial and open source models. Some things have changed since then, and others have not. Bibliographic has pretty much stagnated, Bibus has undergone incremental improvements, and Zotero has leap-frogged ahead to a function-rich 2.0 beta and survived a lawsuit from the makers of Endnote (which remains the commercial standard for reference management).

Today, a post at Bora Zivkovic's Blog Around the Clock higlights yet another new bibliographic offering, Mendeley. It is free, but not open source, and still in the beta stage, but it looks like it might offer some interface improvements over programs like Zotero and Endnote. Definitely worth following - do any of you readers have experience with Mendeley?