Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is this publishable in some form?

I just re-read this post (to get Manabu's feedback) and noticed that, aside from some bad wording and grammatical errors, it's a pretty strong post. With some feedback from all of you readers out there, I could make it better. The point is, I was wondering if a piece like this--which is essentially a gigantic musing about spinosaur behavior--could find a home in a print journal. Maybe not JVP, Nature, or Science, but something.

I think it's a great post in need of some edits and further information, and it's one of the only things I've ever written which I feel is strong enough for potential publication. Thoughts?


Julia said...

I may not be the best person to offer advice as I have yet to have anything published properly. But my thoughts are - yes, if you increased the number of references (for example - "Bears use their large paws to bat fish from the water onto land." - is there a bear behaviour paper that documents this? If so, bung it in), and if you remove the personal references (e.g. change "What is immediately apparent to me" to "What is immediately apparent").

References back up your arguments because you have an anchor for the facts you're basing your theorising on. Referencing what is already known also reinforces the new stuff. A reader knows if there isn't a reference it's something you've come up with in THIS paper.

Losing the mention of "me" makes it less of an opinion piece and more of a new theory. While you're a long way off "My theory of the Brontosaurus that is mine", you don't want to distract the reader by reinforcing the fact that it is your speculation (for want of a much better word).

Does that help?

Mambo-Bob said...

I agree with Julia in that, if you include references to the behaviours you cite in modern animals, then it would be stronger.

I am thinking along the lines of the Roach and Brinkman's (2007) paper on Deinonychus hunting behaviour - I know a lot of people disagree with their conclusions but I like their style - I think its a good idea to have a lengthy review of behaviours in modern animals which is then used to infer fossil behaviour. The more analogous or possibly analogous examples the better.

Simple biomechanics like ratios of moment arms would also strengthen your argument.

Zach said...

Thanks, guys! Maybe you can help me with bite force, Manabu. The bear thing has been gleaned from 1)Living in Alaska, and 2) countless nature shows/"Grizzly Man" showing bears hunting fish.

I'll work on it, though. Thanks again! I really think this speculation has legs. ;-)

Neil said...

I should preface with the same caveat as Julia's: I don't have any peer reviewed publications yet. That said, I've heard that highly speculative papers tend to get ripped apart unless they are written by "proven" authorities. That's not a discouragement, just a warning.

I do think you've advanced some nice hypotheses about Spinosaur ecology. And some of Bakker's early papers were along this line (e.g. 1971 "Ecology of the Brontosaurs" Nature 229, 172 - 174 doi:10.1038/229172a0) perhaps providing a decent model to work from.

I agree with all of the suggestions that Julia and Manabu have made...especially the idea of doing some quantitative biomechanics to test some of your ideas.

I have a few additional suggestions that I hope might be useful:

1) Marshal as much comparative data (both behavioral and anatomical) as possible. Obviously you'll want to
look at the range of ecological and anatomical variability amongst extant crocodilians especially the largest taxa.

Of course as you've already noted Ursus arctos makes for an interesting comparison, but only a small subset of brown bear populations rely on seasonal fish runs right? Is there morphological variation (body size, dentition etc...) among the subspecies that reflects this? [While it might be counterintuitive, the larger spinosaurs might have relied more heavily on fish for food (if brown bears are any indication) than say Baryonyx. If Spinosaurus is moving between highly localized food-supplies (e.g. short-lasting spawing runs) perhaps those elongate neural spines really are about scaffolding for body fat that could help sustain the gorge and fast lifestyle. Osteological work might offer some insight, though unfortunately it might have to rely on photographs heavily.]

Apologies on the speculative digression! Terrestrial crocodilians, proterosuchids, champsosaurs and phytosaurs are some other groups worth looking at!

2) Make some explicit statements about what sorts of evidence might support or reject your hypotheses. This might really be the lasting value of your paper. Assuming we find more Spinosaurus material someday it would be awesome to make some predictions.

3) Put your ecological speculations in context. What do we know about the paleoenvironments that Spinosaurs were living in? What were the fish/terrestrial faunas (and even floras) like? Is there any evidence for extensive scavenging on fossils from these sediments? These kind of indirect data can really help to build a robust picture.

4) Be cautious about including speculations that are probably beyond the limits of what could ever be tested with fossils. The presence of a tongue-lure for example is a cool idea but probably something we'll never be able to know. These kind of "untestable" speculations will probably draw the most flak so it's best to only include that which might conceivably be approached with scientific analysis.