I want to end it at an apogee, I want to end on a high note. I want to end it on my own terms.
I simply think I have throttled, shook, used and abused the medium of blogging for all its worth. I still believe and am excited by the medium. Watching the evolution of an idea unfold; the immediacy; the interaction are all very good and fun things. Unfortunately we live in a culture where blogging is not a recognized form of science communication. Even the most liberal of scientists seem to walk in lock step with this notion. Technologically we live in a world where even a simple observation or comment can be archived and, potentially, cited. I do believe in a day where what you say matters more than who is saying it or in what format they are saying it in. Culturally that day has not come and we are still split up between the workers and the amateurs, between blogging and scholarly journals. I was never one for such binary distinctions - I don't believe in high brow versus low brow art for instance. I'm always caught between the ghetto and the glamour in my life. Maybe that is why drawing such a distinction is so problematic for me…
So instead of letting antediluvian salad devolve into an increasingly frustrating morass of success and failure - where I am consistently lauded for my ideas but ignored because they are "not in the literature" I decided to nip it all in the bud. Every minute I spent researching, writing, illustrating, and fawning over some new idea to be put into (scientifically unrecognized) blog format I was letting some other equally important idea languish in the background, also condemned to some weird limbo level of purgatory in blogger hell. Intuitively plausible to any knowledgeable reader but in a strict "no touch" sub level of academic discourse. Again, I don't agree with this system. I think a truly liberal open science paradigm shift would account for people like me inclusively and could archive even blogs as part of the academic discourse. But I know we are not there yet. And we will probably need to take baby steps to get there.
That is why I will be dedicating the time I would have spent blogging and documenting my ideas (both new and old) at antediluvian salad but instead archiving them on the open science paleontology platform PaleorXiv, spearheaded by Jon Tennant of the blog Green Tea and Velociraptors. I was completely ignorant that an actual open science paleontology hub was already in place when I wrote that piece on open science recently. Well the future is already here it seems. Jon is very prescient in establishing such an open science platform especially geared towards paleontology. So I will be going over some of my most promising ideas I documented in blog form, cleaning them up a bit, putting a nice bow tie on them and uploading them there. I know, I'm such a sell out. However the future of science is open science and to what ends I can spread and inform people about the benefits to such a system I will move in that direction. I think some of my higher profile ideas can create substantial excitement and knowledge of open science if archived at PaleorXiv.
I look forward to tinkering in this new format and seeing what we can get out of it through a new interactive form of open critique, review, and collaboration. I do think that once it grows into more of a community and people see the obvious merits of it, the dam will be split wide open, as it already is starting to break in other sciences. It should be fun for those people who have been along for the ride on antediluvian salad for some time to see the evolution of an idea from a blog post, to a pre-print, to a more finalized copy - and to know that they were in fact part of the whole process. I will be on the lookout for collaborators who want to give my ideas a more refined, finalized copy. I need people good at math, stats, all that numbers stuff, which my mind reels at. More visual artists needed. Bringing in multiple strata of people into scientific idea making and testing hypothesizing has always been one of my personal mandates for the blog and to see an avenue open up right now that meets those ends is a fortuitous synchronicity.
I have learned, through my introduction of new ideas and "outside the box thinking" ( I loathe that term btw) that people, for the most part, need to be coddled along into considering and accepting new ideas. I predict that this will be the path for open science as well. Small little baby steps are needed. The good news is that such baby steps will not be needed for the youth. If you are a young person reading antediluvian salad you might already have an intuitive understudying of open science and won't need your hand held like many adults. You grew up in an era of social media and the immediacy of communication. You will hit the ground running. You are the future.
There is a rational, evidence based approach to science that most subscribe to and advocate. Science by incrementalism where step 1 leads to step 2, step 3, and so forth… never skipping a step, never deviating and never jumping too far ahead of the prescribed format. As you may guess this is not the format of science I adherently subscribe to or utilize in mine own thinking. Some may say this means I am not a scientist… so be it. Instead of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…. I go 1, 2, 3, 4….7 - you can see I skip a whole bunch of steps. But by going straight to step 7 and skipping 5 & 6 I usually go to an answer that explains a whole bunch of stuff that step 1, 2 & 3 did not explain or simply ignored. And then later on steps 5 & 6 get filled in with new data and evidence and then step 7 - the step I skipped to - starts to make a whole lot of sense. Instead of step 7 being the weird, outlier it starts to look like the more pragmatic, utilitarian answer. Such a methodology comes naturally to me but I recognize that it may cause a lot of consternation to others of a more rational mindset… that is because it is not strictly rational per se but encourages a sort of intuitive, artistry of truth seeking.
And now after some time many of my ideas are beginning to bear fruit and a palpable shift in perspective is being witnessed. Plesiosauromorphs are undergoing a bit of renaissance; it is now generally regarded that they were substantially plumper than depicted in the past; notions of complicated social groupings and mesopredator inclinations are gaining traction. Dinosaur integument is still very wide open; neither feather nazis or scale loyalists stand on firm ground, I like this chaos and uncertainty. More and more data is coming to light discrediting the notion of cursorial T. rex; opening up the playing field for night-stalker rex. Various skin derived display features are now common place in dinosaur art; even vulturine dromaeosaurs is becoming a meme at this point. Talk of omnivorous ankylosaurs is now common place; some would say even tentatively accepted. Spinosaurus… well people need to be coddled along with that one for just a bit more, but more and more people are coming around to what I have suggested. People at least have the breathing room to talk about unorthodox facial tissue on saber-toothed predators without being laughed out of the room (which is what my point was all along). While I can't lay full claim to all of these ideas you can trace back a lot of the discussion stimulated and thought provided from this blog. And for those reasons I consider the blog and the thoughts and ideas pushed forth from it a resounding success.
But let it be known that the genesis for my ideas is not strictly "rational" although rationality is the ultimate dividing line between those ideas I scrap and those that I continue to develop...
The Four Table Legs of Truth Seeking
Truth seeking is like a table with four legs that are needed to stand up - cut off one leg and the table topples.
One leg is intuition - that insight, that emotional plea that causes interest and an unyielding curiosity to dive into a particular avenue of discourse, even when it offers no immediate reward. You don't know why you are interested in this particular subset of a field and that it gobbles up all of your free time. When you start to neglect social obligations, work, eating. Listen to that intuition, it is there for a reason!! The greatest horror of modern science culture is that it has so negated intuition in favor of rationality that whole personality subtypes are being eschewed from the process. Intuition is perhaps the greatest leg needed for advancement but is perhaps the most discredited and neglected. That intuition is often credited as a feminine trait and that both intuition and females are neglected in modern scientific culture I don't consider a coincidence. I know intuition is important in science because every single one of my insights and ideas occurred in a flash - through a subconscious reaction where knowledge met insight. Not strictly rational.
Another leg is creativity. This is the anarchic throw everything at the wall approach to truth seeking that is so difficult for many that have shifted too far over into the rationalistic approach to reconcile within the confines of modern science. Truth seekers need this freedom and more than anything they need permission to make mistakes. Everyone needs a little bit more permission to make mistakes and to be able to acknowledge that mistakes were made. The problem is not mistakes being made, it is doubling down on mistakes after they occur - because of the ego - that is the problem.
Spirit is a leg needed for truth seeking. I prefer to speak of spirituality in the most nebulous terms capable: the subtle acknowledgment that the universe within is in a two way communication with the outside universe. When inward looking truth is compromised by outside ego-mediated mandates (i.e. organized religion) then spirituality gets a bad name. Right now scientific culture is beholden to the ego. Scientists need to disavow the ego in its most extreme permutations in order to advance science. This is a spiritual struggle in science. A little ego is good for the fight, good for passion. But too much can hold new ideas and thoughts at hostage - where simply the power of ones name is enough to hold sway over better dissenting opinions and thoughts. It should not go unnoticed that open science offers a path to remedy this malady that modern scientific culture is thrall to. When you are walking the path with your spirit in lockstep towards truth seeking things will start to happen, synchronicities will occur. Don't bother trying to convince others or even argue about it. Just take the subtle acknowledgement that the universe within is - and always has been - in communication with the outside universe. And that the outside universe is giving you a gentle nudge and an "atta boy" in walking your path...
The fourth leg in truth seeking is rationality. Many consider this leg the only leg that matters or is of importance in science. This is a table with only one leg, it is inherently unstable. Even with a broad base, lean on that table too much in any one direction and it wilt topple. Inversely a truth seeking paradigm based wholly on intuition is also unstable, liable to topple and easily poisoned by the ego. Rationality is the filter, it is the final step in filtering out the noise of information that intuition, creativity, and spirit foster us with. But a culture of science that advocates rationality - and only rationality - is doomed for failure. I will say it already is failing us and one need look at the outside world to see proof of this.
When a table sits with all four legs flush and equal in length and strength - it will stand strong. When scientific culture begins to accept and laud the values of intuition, creativity, spirit, and rationality - not placing one before the other, lauding some but disavowing others - then science and scientific culture (because the two are separate and don't always walk in lockstep) can walk the path towards truth seeking and become truly unstoppable. The future is not wholly Dr. Spock nor is it wholly Captain Kirk - but a blending of the two. Rationality and logic acting as a filter to intuitive creative anarchy, all moving with a cadence of emotionally charged synchronicity.
Many fear that we are moving into a new sort of dark ages… you know of what I speak of... even towards end times - an extinction event that we should not be too confident that we will get through. This is entirely possible. That these collapsing systems of institutionalized power of the press, government, science are presenting us with a vacuum to be filled with all of the wickedest things. Which is entirely possible. What is discouraging to me is not that the center is not holding; not that systems are collapsing; not that the worst of things are often times creeping into newly opened spaces; what is discouraging to me is that often times our first instinct is to assume that the worst of things will and should be assuming power and precedence in these newly opened vistas. That our de facto response should be that not only is the fox in the hen house but that it belongs there. Pessimism and lack of faith in humanity have replaced any sort of courage or audacity in the vacuum created by change.
It is also entirely possible that the darkest hour is before the dawn: that the dissolution of traditional institutions offers a vacuum to be filled with all of the best things. That we are in fact on the edge of an old cycle poised to start a new cycle. Know that at each step in the advancement of human consciousness there were nay sayers stipulating you can't change the way things are because; "that is just the way things are"; "that is how the real world is"; "know your place son"; "don't rock the boat if you are in it". There has always been that voice in humanity saying "don't play with fire you will get burnt"; "don't question the king"; "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down"; "don't challenge the slave master"; and "act like a good little boy/girl should ". That these voices are and have always been around and that they (your parents, relatives, teachers, friends) purport to act in your best (short term) interests is self evident. You will in fact have a safer, more secure and probably happier life by following and not questioning the system. Until you wake up one day and realize that the system you are living in is really a nightmare. That the people who have loved and coddled you your whole life have been working in your best short term interests - go to school, get a good job, get married, procreate - are in fact unwittingly codifying a system that is killing us and killing the planet.
Modern scientific culture serves too many masters - academia, business, ego - and it has lost track of the original intention of science, an unfettered and free quest for knowledge. For these reasons science will continue to lose its battle for the human soul and scientific culture has nothing to blame for this except its lack of self correction. It seems science can correct all of the world's problems except its own - a self imposed slavery towards ego, academic culture, and business - all at the expense of expanding a scientific citizenry and a truly open and free scientific discourse.
Ok last rant on antediluvian salad, so I had to give it a little extra oomph…
To end on a slightly less dystopian nod…
Some of the things I am most proud about from antediluvian salad:
I always wrote with the mindset "what would 13 year old Duane have wanted to read about?" and tried to convey my ideas in a language easily grasped by a relatively knowledgeable young enthusiast, unencumbered by overly technical language. I wanted to at least impart the sort of enthralling, immersive experience I got when I was a young grommet and I got hold of books like Robert Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies or Gregory S. Paul's Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. I don't know how well I succeeded in this? Some have told me as such, that they looked forward to my posts and got a certain evocative thrill from them. I think in part paleontology and even dinosaur paleontology has lost some of this evocative story telling as it has strived to become a more respected science. The problem that occurs when paleontologists stop telling speculative, amazing stories is that franchises like Jurassic World write the stories, they get to own the narrative… and we know how that panned out.
I always maintained an artistic integrity and wrote from the heart about what I was interested in at the time. This means that I never took requests for articles because I did not want things to come off as too contrived. Even if I wrote about highly exposed items (i.e. T. rex or Spinosaurus) I always think I added something new and captivating to the subject. I also never put those ugly blogger ads on my site. I did not market myself as a commercial venture. These ethics might not be important to the average reader but they are important to me.
I laid myself bare. I never pretended to be without strengths and weaknesses, implicit biases of mine own. As much as I could I tried to come to terms with how mine own intrinsic likes and tastes color mine own interpretations and depictions of things. I know that this "wallowing" in mine own biases probably put off some, I say that they were put off by my honesty and courage of expression. That I lay bare an uncomfortable truth that other paleoartists might be averse to coming to terms with for fear of appearing less scientifically "legit": how their own intrinsic likes and dislikes colors their own creations. There always is some of the artist in their art. Personally I don't think this is something to run away from in both the artist, scientist, and creator.
I broke the top down flow of information in paleontology. There are only so many paleontologists out there and in any one speciality they all tend to know one another. It is a social group and they do exchange ideas, photos, manuscripts, and specimens all the time. Stuff that the general public is not privy to. When a new "revelatory" paper is unleashed I truly doubt it as all that "new" to a great many career academics. They have heard about it, maybe even reviewed it. They feign surprise on social media but a great many probably knew its coming down the pike. Embargoes due to fear of pilfering of information and ideas is usually cited. l consider these practices all part of the old skool academic mentality thrall to egos, "first authorship", and priority. Such notions are discontinuous with an open science paradigm shift and will become transparently ludicrous with some cultural shifting. If I introduced a new idea or hypothesis on my blog you can rest assured that the 13 year old enthusiast is getting it just as soon and as transparently as the career academic. Open science would allow us all to see the genesis of an idea or hypothesis from start to finish, a much more inclusive and exciting process.
I maintained academic honesty. I never once fabricated or misled people on primary data. Despite covering very controversial and unsettled subject matter and often taking stances contrary to or opposed to prevailing sentiment or consensus I have never once been found in corruption of telling the truth as goes source material. A bit sloppy on always writing full zoological names or spellings or compiling neat and tidy reference lists - yes. But never once have I willfully misled or misstated others data or stances on issues and ideas. I have tried as best I could to make a distinction between what I think is going on and where and when the settled science starts and my speculation begins - if others can't make that distinction I'm sorry but I can't let that fear sway me from mine own thought process. As best as I could I tried to include ideas and arguments counter to mine own and unflinchingly consider them. I have and will continue to evolve my thinking and have changed my stance on a number of issues, including scrapping some of my own ideas. I consider this a trait that sets me apart from many of the "fringe" players in paleontology who continue to double down on outdated ideas/methodologies. Even some career academics are guilty of beating the dead horse of a bad idea for far too long. For this legacy I am proud of having achieved this during the several years and hundreds of posts I wrote at antediluvian salad. I think this is no small feet.
I laid eggs in people's brains, some of the eggs are hatching. For me my crowning achievement and what makes me most proud of antediluvian salad is not when a reader replies with praise or reverence, or that there is unanimous agreement on some idea or notion I bring up (that kinda annoys me tbh), but when they simply say "that really made me think". Thinking and causing others to think and question things is, and I'm only just beginning to realize this at age 38, no simple feat and not to be taking lightly. Maybe I take the notion for granted because I am always thinking and poring things over in my own head. Maybe my brain is just wired a little differently? Sometimes it is like an open faucet that I need to shut it off. But I wonder just how much active thinking, questioning, and analysis goes on in others heads. When I look back at a lot of my ideas I documented here at antediluvian salad they are due to not some intricate morphometric analysis or computational algorithm but simply flipping the paradigm of how we think about things. Inverting the equation. When I did that , what happened more often than not is that "flipping" or "inverting" an idea caused a whole bunch of other problems and issues to simply melt away.
Sometimes I look at science communication or simply information exchange as one brain opening up and barfing its contents into another persons brain with no filter. An exchange of information yes, but are we teaching how to discriminate the good from the bad? In any exchange of information - a blog post, science editorial, or peer reviewed paper - there is invariably going to be some good stuff and some bad stuff to varying degrees. How to tease apart the relevant and the useful from the not so relevant and not so useful is a skill that I feel needs sharpening.
There are some recurring themes that should have become quite apparent to regular readers. These are sins of paleontology that, upon analysis, show themselves more and more.
If a researcher posits an animal as a "failed evolutionary experiment" run to the hills. Failure to explain a feature or trait of an extinct animal reflects more on the failure of the researcher than the animal itself. Failed evolutionary experiments are a myth. If they were so prevalent in the past, then where are all the failed evolutionary experiments of the present?
When an extinct animal is consistently failing the test regarding believability maybe it is time to look at it with fresh eyes. When you start to look at potential problems as potential positives and then other issues start to melt away and vanish, you are on the right track.
All things being equal if you have to choose between a trait being adaptive, negative, or neutral always side with adaptive. Part of the legacy of Gould's Spandrels of San Marco is that adaptive explanations have become frowned upon. Gould was less than precise in actually giving many good examples of modern Spandrels of San Marco in biology but the damage has already been done. It somehow become wittier and more precise to say a feature has no value or negative value than simply putting forth a cognizant and logical argument that a feature does indeed have positive adaptive value. Not all adaptationist arguments are good: some are rubbish but simply to dismiss everything as non-adaptive and under the control of genetic controls of the bauplan is not good and needlessly dismissive.
Popular culture and modern ecosystems does influence paleontological thinking, even amongst researchers.
As I mentioned earlier I will be dedicating more time to cleaning up some of the more promising ideas I advanced on antediluvian salad to be archived on PaleorXiv. This includes some of my more high profile pieces and it is my hope that uploading them there will create a system to reference and site them as well as spreading awareness about what open science actually is. Of course there is a downside to this in that I have to put on hold many ideas I have not even put forth on my blog. Again, the stopping of antediluvian salad has nothing to do with my own mental state, or frustration with critics, or lack of inspiration on my own part - I'm caught amongst the cogs of a scientific machinery that has no home for my ideas as I currently put them forth. This is the crux of the problem in that on one hand I'm getting lots of page views, supportive comments, and generally feedback that a lot of my ideas are valid and need more attention but I'm caught against a system that does not recognize blogging as a valid form of scientific communication and documentation. PaleorXiv is at least ethically consistent with what I'm aiming for.
Unfortunately for my readers that means that I will not put forth bloggery type pieces on my ideas yet disclosed on ankylosaur mastication; ornithischian cheeks or lack-there-of; dinosaur sexual politicks; komodo dragon envenomation; plesiosaur buoyancy control; new plesiosaur necks and feeding hypothesis; theropod omnivory and beak evolution; why sauropods survived but prosauropods did not; amongst others. Hopefully I will document these ideas on PaleorXiv after cleaning out the closet of my older promising ideas. I do hope that those who have been along for the ride on antediluvian salad come over to PaleorXiv and encourage other researchers to submit there and grow an open science community. If I do choose to breath life into antediluvian salad in the future it will be of a more typical blogger/researcher format, basically to augment or supplant my research on PaleorXiv. You will not see the mega-posts I have been doing. They simply take so long; take a lot out of me for energy and spare time; and people will not reference them anyways… There is a price to pay for change and growth, some things must be dispensed with.
A book(s)? I have been asked several times if I'm planning a book or told that I should write a book. I have entertained the notion and I think I have at least one potentially important book in me. I would aim for a no holds barred Dinosaur Heresies for the new millennium type book, something that communicates to a popular lay audience my ideas on dinosaur ecology, behavior, eating biomechanics, plant-herbivore interaction. It will, like Dinosaur Heresies actually was, be unapologetically speculative in some areas but touching upon more rigor and testability in others. I think it could be quite profound. The point of the book would not to be "right" about everything as the Dinosaur Heresies is most certainly not right about everything as well. The purpose is brain stimulation and intellectual fodder.
I then have an idea for a comprehensive book on plesiosaurs - that is much needed actually. Probably compile skeletals and illustrations on all species/specimens and give some review on necks/locomotion/feeding/and the whole intricate history of research into this group. I want to make it good and comprehensive. Such a volume has never been attempted before for this group to my knowledge. I will be seeking out collaborators for this project.
There probably is a book on theropod predators. It would draw an ecological distinction between predators and omnivovores/herbivores so I would forego most maniraptorans except for dromaeosaurids but include phorusrhacids, teratornids, and vultures/birds of prey/skuas/petrels. Go across all of the ideas I have advanced and maybe even a timeline comparing theropod predators to synapsids.
I probably have a book on herbivorous dinosaurs/plant interactions/ and Mesozoic ecosystems terra forming in there too somewhere.
I also have the skeletal outline for a paleofiction novella taking place in Hell Creek. Let me tell you this: it is brutal. I'm comparing it to a cross between Game of Thrones and Pulp Fiction. There are no good guys, no heroes - you will have no one to root for. It will make Raptor Red look like Blues's Clues. You will come away slightly disturbed and icky feeling.
So I hope that by seeing the ambitious list of projects I want to complete that it now becomes evident why I have to discontinue blogging. It was simply gobbling up too much of my time, energy, and resources, especially when you consider I usually work 6-7 days a week often 9+ hour shifts. So instead of mounting frustration and disillusionment I'm going in for the clean kill of antediluvian salad - it must die. I have a lot more to say but I feel in my heart that this piece of me has run its course. But blogging is like a toy for me that I can't be trusted with… I do have so much fun with it and the immediacy and lack of filter is compelling but I fear I will never get off of it if I don't kill it now.
Even writing this now and this part of the journey palpably coming to an end I feel a bit misty eyed. I know that I have a small but dedicated group of followers and I hope that you understand why I had to end it, that I had to end it on a high note, and that by ending it like I did on my own terms I will have the time and energy for much more permanent and audacious projects.
Of course life is unpredictable and my mind wanders so I can't hold myself to any one of these projects as of yet because I always follow my muse. That is just part of the deal. I can't promise when I will be back but for now I just have to decompress from constant blogging fatigue.