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.


  1. I note with some regret that your appendix may also be necessary for some of us scientists, too. The sad reality is that solid, comprehensive descriptive work is undervalued by many, even though it forms the bedrock (no pun intended) of our discipline. One only needs to turn to the bevy of underillustrated, underdescribed specimens that dot the literature to see ample evidence of this problem! I can think of more than a few specimens for which their accompanying cladistic data matrices are more in-depth than the descriptions themselves--yet the matrices are not easily verifiable, because the accompanying description/illustration is so abbreviated!

    At any rate, that's all a long way of saying, "Keep fighting the good fight!"

    1. Hi Andy! Thank you for your positive response and for pointing out that issue, with which I completely agree. I elaborate on where I think descriptive works should head in Entry #20, which corresponds to what you have said here.

  2. Completely agree with Andy. Btw, what's the best way to cite this in progress work? Is it just you as author, so "Carr, in prep."?

    1. Hi Mickey! Although I'm doing the heavy lifting on this one, it is a multiauthored work; so it is best referred to as "Carr et al. in prep.".