Friday, December 19, 2014


Pausing for a photo op with the cast skull of Jane, moments before leaving the collections. Stepping out the door after the final time given on a specimen is an existential moment that never fails to elicit a deep twinge in my psyche - if a descriptive detail or a measurement is found missing, there is no going back. Over the winter solstice I will be nowhere close to the Burpee Museum, and I plan to have the manuscript submitted for publication before I leave on an extended research trip to the Museum of the Rockies in January. Ahead of me are several intensive weeks of editing the manuscript and adding to it new photographic plates, so by far this will not be the last diary entry. Photograph taken by Josh Matthews.

December 17, 2014
9:02 am: Back in collections for another busy day!
10:31: I’ve started with documenting the distribution of immature bone grain on the skull bones as well as lesions. There’s still a lot to do in addition to this! I’ve only just reached the jugal.
12:16: I am done with the immature bone grain of the skull and lesions! Time for lunch.
12:18: IL will be ready for lunch in 10 minutes; I’ll measure pedal digits in the meantime.
~12.30: Leave for lunch.
1:30: Return from lunch. Time to photograph the ribs, gastralia, and the cast of Jane’s skull.
2:36: The camera batteries are running dangerously low, so I’ll keep them in the recharger for half and hour; in the meantime I’ll take any missing metatarsal and phalanx measurements.
3:05: I returned to photographing the last of the gastralia, and then the cast of the articulated skull in multiple views.
3:45: Stopped; 601 pages reached.


December 16, 2014
10:10: Late arrival today owing to a three-day migraine headache and staying in bed for an extra hour on account of it. My focus today is taking care of the descriptive loose threads (i.e., gaps) in the ms; I’m saving the photos of the dorsal ribs and gastralia for later when I need a change of pace.
12:04: I’m hungry; it’s time for lunch.
12:51: Back from lunch (Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, and coffee). Resuming with the loose threads of the lacrimal.
3:17: Dammit, MW just crashed upon another attempt to paste in a short paragraph of text. I dread when the time comes for me to reorganize parts of the manuscript.
3:25-3:45: Discussing with IL Dinosaur 13, which I haven’t watched. He said that there are plenty of good, current stories on dinosaur research that could be the subject of a good documentary instead of that old news.
Yeah. That’s a real slap to the face.
4:25: I just returned from the mounted skeleton in the gallery, where I had a look at the contact between the ilia and the sacral spinous processes. WI held the ladder steady!
5:03: More back and forth between the gallery and collections for pelvic characters and measurements.
5:47: A later than usual day since I am staying overnight in Rockford, but I am wrapping up now. After a day of taking care of loose threads, the manuscript has reached 590 pages.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


December 11, 2014
9:40: Arrived at the Burpee Museum.
9:55: I am now set up to complete the descriptions of the gastralia, following the lead of Claessens (2004).
11:56: About halfway through in writing up the muscle scars of the medial gastralia; time for lunch.
12:56: Back from lunch.
3:10: Finished with the gastralia description a while ago, and I just took the primary measurements of the dorsal ribs. Now I will complete the photographs of the hemal arches and move on to the dorsal ribs and gastralia if there is time left.
4:19: Done with photographing hemal arches; next is the premaxillomaxillary articulation of both sides.
4:32: Premaxillomaxillary suture photographed on both sides.
4:48: IL stopped by to get caught up.
4:54: Packing up. 584 pages reached.
References cited
Claessens, L. P. A. M. 2004. Dinosaur gastralia; origin, morphology, and function. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24:89-106.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Mug shot of one of Jane's premaxillary teeth. Imagine that it takes at least an hour to write up the tooth, measure it, count its denticles (if present), and then photograph it from all sides. And after that, the same routine for the other seven premaxillaries, and then for about thirty maxillary teeth, and then thirty more dentary teeth...written in complementary pairs, of course.
 December 9, 2014
9:54: Back at my desk in collections! I see that dorsal and caudal vertebrae not here – they’ve been put back on the mount in the gallery. Today’s tasks: (1) measurements of the hemal arches, (2) measurements of the ribs, (3) description of the gastralia, (4) photographs of arches, ribs, and gastralia, time permitting.
~12:40-1:40 pm: Lunch.
1:40: Finishing up the hemal arch measurements.
2:32: Finished with measuring the hemal arches! I will move on to item (3) of the list, since time is running short. I am following Claessens (2004) as a template for the description.
4:50: After a general description of the medial segments, I reached the lateral segment a short while ago; stop. 575 pages reached.
References cited
Claessens, L. P. A. M. 2004. Dinosaur gastralia; origin, morphology, and function. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24:89-106.

Appendix. A note for nonscientists.

In recent weeks nonscientists have barbed me regarding the amount time that I have taken with writing this work, showing they do not realize the amount of labor the process requires, nor the bloody-minded determination that is needed to see it through to the end. This note is for them, and for students who want to get a sense of the scope of commitment it takes to finish a description of detail.

Writing up a skeleton – especially one as complete, well preserved, and disarticulated as Jane - is a truly huge undertaking that amounts to the conversion of the continuous form of dozens of bones into the discontinuous structure of words under the theoretical rubrics of Darwinian Natural Selection and Hennigian Phylogenetic Systematics.

It’s a task of transliteration and, as my PhD advisor Chris McGowan once said, it is the bread and butter of our profession - it doesn’t matter whether we want to do it or not, we must for the integrity of our Science. As individual scientists, close study of actual specimens – a lot of them – keeps us intellectually at the top of our game and enriches our publications for the benefit of all.

A descriptive project of this sort takes real time to complete. I have not yet tallied up the exact hours of this Fall’s collections visits, but for the past four months I have put in at least one 6-hour day with Jane's bones each week. Adding several multiple weekly visits gives a minimum of 21 days or 126 hours.

Rolled together, it has taken me a month to summarize neurocentral suture closure in the vertebral column, measure all of the vertebrae on the mounted skeleton, and describe, photograph, and measure cervical vertebrae stored in collections, all of the cervical and dorsal ribs, hemal arches, gastralia, tibiotarsus, and fibula. In addition to the writing and taking hundreds of measurements and photographs, I have read the relevant literature along the way – with bones in hand - to ensure completeness and depth.

All of that is excluding the hours I put in at home over the weekends, when I incorporate the relevant tyrannosaurid literature into the manuscript. I have not yet counted up the average number of pages written during each visit.

Keep in mind that I am not counting the time spent on writing the monograph before this Fall, which included the skull, dentition, and the bulk of the axial and appendicular skeletons.  In the end, all of the time and effort made is necessary to produce a maximally useful contribution for Science.

Also, my time taken on the monograph is in addition to teaching two sections of Senior Seminar and a lab section of introductory biology, grading, participating in the College senate and one of its subcommittees, cataloging with my preparator the fossils we collected from Montana last summer, and overseeing the activities in the paleontology lab.

Aside from three nights in a local hotel and several lunches, which I greatly appreciated, this project has been entirely self-funded. Each day I go to the museum, my primary expense is the gasoline for the four-hour return drive on a tollway.

The bottom line, nonscientist friends, is that (1) Science takes care and it won’t be rushed, and (2) I want to see it done as badly as you do.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


December 8, 2014
3:23 pm: Starting on Larson (2013).
 “In part due to the absence of additional specimens, the validity of Nanotyrannus came under question by various researchers, culminating in 1999 when Carr assigned the specimen to Tyrannosaurus rex. Carr presented a compelling argument…”
[Clarification: What I did was show that all of the differences between the Cleveland skull and adult T. rex are identical to the differences that are seen between juvenile and adult Albertosaurus libratus, and that it shares similarities with adult T. rex that are best explained by the small skull belonging to the same species, namely T. rex - the only tyrannosaurid in strata of the Late Maastrichtian of the American West.]
“Carr’s 1999 paper kindled a debate that has grown hotter by the year.”
[The scientific literature, as penned by actual scientists, does not show a debate beyond the dissenting view in Currie (2003). Carr et Williamson (2004) did not engage that article since it was submitted for publication - and possibly in press - by the time the 2003 article was published.]
3:40 pm: Stop.
References cited
Carr, T.D ., and Williamson, T. E. 2004. Diversity of Late Maastrichtian Tyrannosauridae (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from western North America. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 142: 419-523.
Currie, P. J. 2003. Cranial anatomy of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 48(2): 191-226.
Larson, P. 2013. The case for Nanotyrannus; pp. 14-53 in J. Michael Parrish, Ralph E. Molnar, Philip J. Currie, and Eva B. Koppelhus (Eds.) Tyrannosaurid Paleobiology. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.


December 7, 2014
[Dear reader,  A short distance into the future I will have censored this entry. My intent with these accounts was to give an unsparing account of the progress of this sort of work, but some thoughts - despite their veracity - amount to self-inflicted wounds when uttered publicly and so they are best sent to the distal coasts of biography. Ergo, the amplitude of these lines only yield to ripple.]
10:28 am: Back to Larson (2008).
10:36: I’ve reached where he makes mention of Jane, identifying it as Nanotyrannus; here’s his table of characters for various tyrannosaurid taxa...
11:32: Second page of the table.
12:45 pm: Time to take a break from this.
~5:35 pm: Resuming.
5:48: Stopping.
6:20: Making a table of comparative measurements.
6:34: Done with the characters in the table; I’ll save the excitement of the section on sexual dimorphism for later. 570 pages reached today.
References cited
Larson, P. 2008. Variation and sexual dimorphism in Tyrannosaurus rex; pp. 102-128 in
P. Larson, and K. Carpenter (eds.) Tyrannosaurus rex, the Tyrant King. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


December 6, 2014
10:17 am: I am back to adding characters from Carr (1999); it feels like ages since I last worked on the manuscript, but it’s only been since Tuesday. When I work on a manuscript I keep music off and all other distractions away.
I’ve reached the section in Carr (1999) where I set out the evidence that the Cleveland skull conforms to the morphotype of a small Stage 1 Albertosaurus libratus; i.e., it is a juvenile and not a small adult. This is the sort of use that I had hoped that tyrannosaurid workers make of this work, for distinguishing phylogenetically informative variation from the strong overprint of ontogenetic pattern. Since that time the scientific literature has shown that it has been largely cited for other purposes.
Today my task is to identify features in Jane that are transitional between the Cleveland skull and adult T. rex, which serves as a test of the hypothesis of ontogenetic transition that I proposed for A. libratus in particular and Tyrannosauridae in general.
11:33: I’m making good strides through the article, I started at the premaxilla and now I’m at the postorbital!
12:17: I am done with Carr (1999)! Next up are two articles of Larson (2008, 2013); these amateur works can't be avoided since they're in an edited volume of scientific articles and they are squarely critical of my published work. Time for lunch; 566 pages reached.
5:04: Starting in on Larson (2008), with the goal of putting his purported “Nanotyrannus” characters into the comparative context of the ontogenetic changes that are seen in A. libratus, and between the Cleveland skull and adult T. rex (Carr, 1999).
5:23: Good grief - his assessment of my first article (“thoughtful and compelling”) and breezy dismissal of my subsequent works on T. rex ontogeny (“...the growth series argument of Carr…is in question”) makes my head swim (Larson, 2008:110). He does not bring evidence against the growth stages I proposed for tyrannosaurids; instead, he just ignores the hypothesis because someone else says it’s O.K. to do so (Larson, 2008:110). It makes me wonder at the editorial standards that were at work here; oh, right – Larson was one of the editors.
It’s time to put this down and return to it tomorrow. I don’t want to lose patience and become dismissive; that would be unprofessional.
References cited
Carr, T. D.  1999.  Craniofacial ontogeny in Tyrannosauridae (Dinosauria, Theropoda). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19: 497-520.

Larson, P. 2008. Variation and sexual dimorphism in Tyrannosaurus rex; pp. 102-128 in
P. Larson, and K. Carpenter (eds.) Tyrannosaurus rex, the Tyrant King. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Larson, P. 2013. The case for Nanotyrannus; pp. 14-53 in J. Michael Parrish Ralph E. Molnar, Philip Currie, and Eva B. Koppelhus (eds.) Tyrannosaurid Paleobiology. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.