Amateurs: Parts 1 and 2

Part 1. Outside Paleontology
Ira Glass, host of “This American Life” from WBEZ and broadcast on NPR might have said it best, “Today on our program, amateurs, the fact that they are not professionals, that they do not play by the book, that they have time on their hands to try whatever makes it possible for them to accomplish things the pros simply never will.” Transcript here. Audio episode here.

Glass’s hypothesis has been tested here.
Do professionals have the time to look at something like 1000 taxa, reconstructing them, adding their traits to a growing matrix and promoting them? Probably not. But it needs to be done. There are many false paradigms out there… and they have been tested here.

Part 2. Inside Paleontology
The Dinosaur Mailing List brought to light the following report and later diatribe from the Leonid Schneider blog : Jingmai O’Connor (url) vs. Mickey Mortimer (url).

According to
O’Connor’s written answers to a list of printed questions published at Cell.com“Jingmai O’Connor is a Professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IVPP), where she studies the origin and early evolution of birds. She became interested in evolution through her first mentor Donald Prothero at Occidental College, where she finished her BA in 2004. As a Graduate Student in Residence at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum she studied Mesozoic birds with Luis Chiappe, receiving a PhD in Geological Sciences from the University of Southern California in 2009. Since graduating, she has been employed by the IVPP, where she also conducted research during both undergraduate and graduate studies. Although her background is in geology, she seeks to understand feathered dinosaurs and early birds beyond their skeletons, utilizing the incredible preservation of soft tissues in Chinese Jehol fossils to try to understand the developmental and molecular mechanisms that underlie this major evolutionary transition.”

In that interview O’Connor answers this question:
What’s your view on social media and science? For example, the role of science blogs in critiquing published papers?”
“Those who can, publish. Those who can’t, blog. I understand that blogs can be useful in affording the general public insights into current science, but it often seems those who criticize or spend large amounts of time blogging are also those who don’t generate much publications themselves. If there were any valid criticisms to be made, the correct venue for these comments would be in a similar, peer-reviewed and citable published form. The internet is unchecked and the public often forgets that. They forget or are unaware that a published paper passed rigorous review by experts, which carries more validity than the opinion of some disgruntled scientist or amateur on the internet. Thus, I find that criticism in social media is damaging to science, as it is to most aspects of our culture.”

Schneider reports
“O’Connor’s last reply, to a question of academic commenting via blogs and social media, produced a Twitterstorm of indignation. Many on Twitter were debating: did O’Connor really accuse all blogging scientists of being incapable of proper academic publishing? Did she really mean to say, as Lenny Teytelman summarized it, “Good scientists publish. shitty ones blog”? Is doing both mutually exclusive?”

The rest of the Schneider blogpost
is best read in its entirety. You might think that Science is a dispassionate discipline. Not so on several fronts, as you’ll see. Some of the discussion in that blog focuses on O’Connor’s work with Chiappeavis and Mortimer’s thoughts on that paper, which I disagreed with here.

Best advice following what you’ll soon read:
Blog and bitch only when you’re sober.

 

 

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