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Is there a finish line? (and how to get there)

September 12, 2012 14 comments

Yes. . .I hope there is a finish line. As with many things started with the best of intentions, the ODP (and its heads – particularly me) has gotten waylaid. That said, it would be a shame to let the numerous contributions and hours of volunteer effort go to waste. So, Matt and Mike and I have been having some serious conversations about finishing this once and for all! So, here’s the deal.

  • I want to finish this. You want to finish this. It just needs to be finished.
  • Analysis and write-up are the main things that need to be done. It requires a bit of concentrated effort (primarily on my part).
  • The way I see it, the most productive product of the analysis would be to examine limb disparity in ornithischian dinosaurs through time. This would entail binning the dinos and running the analysis. Riffing off of recent work by numerous authors, this would involve running a PCO (principal coordinates analysis) on the measurements for each bin. This can then be converted to a metric that shows overall morphological disparity. The primary question this asks is, “How did ornithischians diversify in their limb bone proportions through time?” Was it something that happened right away? Or something that happened later? A related question concerns how to accommodate phylogeny. As with many recent papers, the main thing we’re interested in here are ghost lineages. Given the incomplete nature of the fossil record, ancestral state reconstruction of some sort is probably needed. The problem, however, is that these methods are often. . .vague. . .at best. Perhaps maximum likelihood reconstruction in the relevant R packages? (see this link for an example ) Or perhaps skip trying to reconstruct stuff altogether and take the results with appropriate caution?
  • I envision three analyses: all limbs together (for all animals that are appropriately complete), forelimbs, and hind limbs. This would help account for animals that preserve only forelimbs, or only hind limbs.

Tasks to do:

Timeline:

  • Realistically, upcoming major events in the real world mean that I (Andy) have to get this thing off my plate by December 1 at latest. This is also best for Matt and Mike, too (and everyone, right?). This means a finished, submitted manuscript.
  • If the December 1 thing doesn’t happen, realistically we need a way to “cut the data loose.” Although we’ve had a general statement on the blog that we would rather others hold off on using our data until the paper is published, it isn’t fair to sit on the data for years at a time. So, this means that we would step aside from right of first refusal for publication with the data. This means that others are welcome to use the data without explicit permission (although the ODP should still be cited as the data source). The data would be archived at figshare, which provides a stable link, long-term archiving, and DOI for future linking.

Summertime, open ignorance, and finishing the project

May 25, 2011 7 comments

Hi, all. Thanks for your patience this spring. Sorry we’ve let things lie fallow for so long. Many thanks to everyone for keeping things ticking over while we were AWOL.

Like Andy said in the last post, it’s time to wrestle this thing to the ground and stick a knife through its heart (I may be paraphrasing a bit). Andy, Mike, and I have cleared some protected time in our summer schedules to finish the analyses and write the paper. The next two weeks may be a bit quiet on our end as we all work to get other things tied up and off our desks–and as Andy moves his residence!–but we should be ready to hit it hard by the second week of June.

There is a lot of work to be done, and there are lots of ways to contribute to the paper for everyone who wants to be involved, right now and continuing through the summer. I’ll give some suggestions in a minute. But first, an admission.

We don’t really know what we’re doing here. That’s obvious with the social side of the project, because nothing like this has been attempted before, at least not on this scale or with this degree of openness. But it’s also true on the scientific side. None of us (Andy, Mike, or I) has ever written a paper on this topic. There are some specific analyses that we need for the paper that we’ve never run before. So we are very much learning as we go–this is the open ignorance I alluded to in the title. This isn’t by accident. We could have chosen to do something simpler and less ambitious–perhaps repeat a project that we’d already done before with only the names of the critters changed. But we wanted to learn from the project–from you, the contributors, and alongside you–and to grow as scientists from having participated in it. And we want the final product to be a truly collaborative effort, and not to simply walk everyone through a series of moves that we already know by heart.

And it is working. We have been amazed at the level of enthusiasm and commitment that you have brought to the project, and our only regret is that we have not reciprocated with the sustained level of effort that you, and the project, deserve. So we’re committing ourselves to getting this done, starting now.

How can you contribute? Here are some suggestions:

  • Update the database. New taxa continue to be described, new descriptions of established taxa continue to be published, and older publications continue to become available. So if you have been wanting to do some (more) good old-fashioned ODP gruntwork, there’s still a little time.
  • Suggest relevant references, or read up on the ones that are already suggested. It might be a good idea to gather those references together so they can be made available to anyone who is working on the project. We’ll probably do a post specifically on this in the near future, but there’s no reason not to be pulling things together in the meantime.
  • Look at the outline of the paper, suggest improvements, and–if you are so inclined–start writing those bits that can be written right now. For now, feel free to post chunks in comments or send them to us. Jay Fitzsimmons’s paragraph on citizen science and the ODP is a good model to follow. We’ll definitely be posting more on the actual writing of the paper soon, but, as with boning up on the relevant references, there’s no reason to hold off if this is something you’re interested in working on.
  • Analyze data. Obviously there are limits to what we can do until we really finalize the database once and for all, but this is a good time for exploring the data and for test-driving analyses to be done on the finalized database. We have enough data that overall trends are not likely to change much, so anything that looks interesting now will probably still be interesting in the final version.
  • Work on a time-calibrated phylogeny for the dataset. This is a big one, again probably deserving of a post of its own. We’ll also need to update the “master tree” to include the most current phylogenetic trees for the included taxa. If you’re into trees, timelines, or both, the mothership is calling you home.
  • Figure out how to do disparity analyses. This is one of those things that we project organizers have never done before. We’re reading up on it right now, but if you know anything about it, let us know. Even when we get up to speed, we’ll still need your input. Like Project Mayhem, you can determine your own level of involvement.
  • Other stuff? The project is probably at its maximum breadth in terms of types of work to be done. Up until now we’ve focused mainly on building the database and outlining where we want to go, and in a few weeks we’ll have the database finalized and our efforts will narrow as we focus on running the analyses and writing the paper. So whether you’re brand new and want to get involved for the first time, or an old hand who wants to do something different, there is something around here that needs doing. Have a look at the tasks list, go back through the last few posts, and see what appeals to you. If in doubt, give us a shout.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more posts very soon. But don’t just stay tuned–keep posting ideas, data, references, bits of text, and whatever else you want to contribute. We’ll do likewise.

Categories: Housekeeping, To-Do List

ODP on hiatus

June 4, 2010 8 comments

Hi all,

You may be justifiably wondering where the heck your feckless leaders are. The sad answer is that we’re temporarily swamped. Andy and I have been caught  up in the end-0f-school-year activities at our respective institutions, and Andy leaves today for a round-the-world research trip that will take him to China, Madagascar, Kenya, and England. Mike is consumed with day-job responsibilities, and I am gearing up for summer teaching.

This is part of the ebb and flow of academic and professional life, and we knew it was coming, which is why we originally planned to try to get a manuscript off before the storm hit. Obviously that didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen in the next couple of months, so we (Andy, Mike, and me) are going on hiatus for a bit. We’ll get moving again toward the end of summer.

So, thanks again, from all of us, to everyone who has contributed. It’s been a great thrill for us to see that the ODP is actually working, and we’re sorry to have to bow out for a bit. But fear not, we will be back, and the project will go on to completion. In the meantime, the data are available for further tinkering, and we’ll leave the comment fields open in case you have any brainstorms.

Have a great summer, and we’ll see you on the other side.

Categories: Housekeeping
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