Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Paleo List Etiquette

I've been a member of the Dinosaur Mailing List (DML) and VRTPALEO internet mailing lists for over 10 years. They're fantastic resources, both for learning about the latest news in paleontology as well as a means to get connected with colleagues in far-off locales. In addition to being a fantastic resource, the lists are also a fantastic opportunity for people to make a big fool of themselves (however inadvertantly). Not that it will do any good, but this post is devoted to a discussion of recommended "do's and don't's" on these lists. Maybe I'm just old and crotchety, but here goes. . .

PDF Requests: Half of the traffic on the lists these days are requests for this or that PDF. It's easy to sympathize with the requests - after all, many of us work under library limitations of one sort or another. But. . .why not just write the author? It gives him or her a big ego boost, and it doesn't clutter up the list. As for requests for some obscure German monograph from 1903 on emu ovarian histology. . .if it's not findable on Google, there probably isn't a PDF available. How about trying a library?

Proofreading: it looks r3ally unprofesionil 2 send messages like this to a mailing list. You never know who is reading - or what they think of you based on your emails. Keep your correspondence professional - in content, grammar, and capitalization.

"Me too": If you agree with someone's post, let them know in a private email. Don't tell the rest of the world - it clutters the inbox!

Inane speculation: I know, I'm a fun-killer--This problem is particularly prevalent on the DML. But I really don't care to see a debate about whether or not Chuck Norris could beat Velociraptor in a cage match. In fact, discussion of theropods should pretty much be banned in general. Ornithischians (and sauropod vertebrae), please.

Not checking the reply address: I've done this more than once, to my embarrassment. VRTPALEO automatically replies to the list - not the sender. It happens to all of us!

What to do, then?
Exhaust other options first. Of course the lists are for finding information - but the members won't do the research for you. Make a good-faith effort to research your topic before making a request! People are really helpful, especially for those who have clearly done a little background reading.

Be part of the community. The neat thing about VRTPALEO and DML is that anyone can make a contribution. It's fun to know the answer to someone's question, and learn that your reply was really useful.

Check the reply address in your email program. Did I mention this already? Man, I'm embarrassed by that time I didn't. . .

And I'm off to the field tomorrow!


ReBecca Hunt-Foster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ReBecca Hunt-Foster said...

Excellent post!
Have fun in the field. Give me a call if you ever get out to the North Horn.

Nick said...

I don't like PDF requests either, but I made one in order to get a copy of the letter I wrote to ABT. Oddly enough, a PDF request is one of the things I think helped me make a contact that led to my current job.

Instead of no more theropod discussion, I'd rather just see a moratorium on discussions of the origin of flight.

Andy said...

I certainly didn't intend to criticize making a request for your own paper (or the other occasional request - I've done it too!). The main thing that bugs me are those who just don't do basic Google research first (i.e., ten requests from the same person on the lines of, "can anyone send me all of the papers Brown wrote on Albertosaurus?", when a quick search would point them straight to the AMNH digital library).

And a bird flight moratorium, yes! But I still stand by my request to turn it into the "Ornithischia Discussion List". ;-)

Nick said...

Ah, I understand what you're getting at now and completely agree!

To be honest, I don't know where to take discussions of non-dinosaurian Mesozoic life (with the exception of pterosaurs--which seem to be overly welcome on the DML--perhaps it should be renamed the "Non-ornithischian and Non-sauropodomorph Stem-Avian Mailing List"--NONOSSAML)... ;-)

Anonymous said...

hey Andy, great post and a much needed list of eticut :) spelling is soooooo 1990s

i've sorta always found the dinolist either a bit shrill or quite fantastic, but recently both listservs have fallen out of favor because of many of the issues you list and both may find themselves extinct as subscriptions to my inbox. i'd almost suggest you post your comments on the page, just to start a new metadiscussion and inbox-filler.

see you in a month hopefully

Zach said...

I'm kind of torn on whether to join the DML. On the one hand, I like dinosaurs. On the other hand, I hate quote pyramids cluttering up my inbox.