A Look Back at the Bite Stuff, 2013 Edition

So this past year, now as freshly 2014 (by my calendar) as it can be, lends me the ability to measure the productivity of the blog, and I must say, some things are surprising, and some are not.

1. Most Popular Post (of the Year)

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me

The continued disbelief in the science linking the origins of birds to a small group of theropod dinosaurs, and thus the conclusion that birds are living descendants of dinosaurs — that they are, in fact, dinosaurs; by the same token that Russians are humans — plagues the minds of a few (and I do mean “a few,” as their numbers are very, very small) scientists. Delivering what seems to be the annual traditional response of the BANDits (Birds Are Not Dinosaur-its) to all research ever performed on dinoaur-bird relationships, Dr. Alan Feduccia managed to break no new ground, using the paper to plug his latest book “Riddle of the Feathered Dragons,” and even failed to cite relevant literature countering his arguments, while throwing a lot of time to citing the countermanding work of his colleagues. The opinion piece is just one of a continuing series to appear in the editorial section (right at the front) of The Auk, which means the journal is giving prime access of this “science” to a belaguered and outright unscientific view. My incredulity over the obstinancy and the lack of any seeming integrity to discipline and divorce from personal belief led to the title of the post, and it was widely disseminated via Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth, hence it’s popularity.

2. Most Popular Post (of All Time)

Making Lip of It

Since I wrote this post, and for the last few years, this post consistently generates the highest percentage of traffic to my blog than most of the rest of my contnet. Occasionally, something inches up to second, and that’s going to be the most popular post of that year (see above). Making Lip of It was a seminal piece of a long-standing project of mine discussing the hows and whys of facial integument and sub-dermal tissue homologies in extinct sauropsidans, a subject that directly bears on and influences artistic, and thus public, representations of very strange, exotic, and wonderful animals. It does not perplex me that there are people who disagree with this argument: some of the raw science behind this argument isn’t there yet, and many of my conclusions are based on extensions of logical premises.

3. Most Popular Post (by Responses)

The Enfluffening

Over the course of a discussion with Brian Switek, I inadverdently coined the term “enfluffen” to describe a process whereby the drive to depict dinosaurs covered wholly or in part by some form of fathery or filamentous integument would lead to either an overzealous urge to put this stuff everywhere, and a reference to the need that waybe we should actually do this — because the science is looking like it should. This has been picked up by others, and it led to a long discussion about homology and purpose in our art and science. I like this post for many reasons, because I am very much ambivalent on its effect, and I’ve described it as a warning that we might go too far, but at the same time a promise that we are not going far enough. A recent news report based on an unreleased paper suggests that by tallying skin impressions and other forms of preservation from various dinosaur specimens, that the “majority” of dinosaurs (by named taxon) were scaly, knobby-skinned animals. Thus, that it is more likely that integument for dinosaurs would be squamous. We’ll leave aside the arguments for that paper until it gets released, but it involves the first prong of the “enfluffening,” which is to say that we might be going too far (we have a reasonable chance that all ankylosaurs and hadrosaurs were squamous, as well as probably all sauropods, but for the most part that’s it).

4. Most Popular Image

Skeleton of Longisquama insignis

Featured in my post You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me, of an animal discussed the paper which is excoriates, my OA (CC-BY) skeletal illustration for Longisquama insignis depicts the known material and impression extents of this Triassic archosauromorphan from the Fergana Valley of Kyrgyzstan. Following in second are perennial favorites the illustration (not OA: CC-BY-NA-ND) of Velociraptor mongoliensis‘ skull, and a reproduction of the only surviving photograph of the mounted holotype skeleton of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.

5. What I Find Worthy Of Your Time

I cover a lot of topics on this blog, mostly dealing with art, reconstruction from data like soft-tissue, and how this extends to soft-tissue’s appearance in life and of diet. But I tend to cover a lot of taxonomy issues as well, which has included the issues of disagreement over the nature and identity of putative adult but juvenile-seeming tyrant dinosaurs like Raptorex and Nanotyrannus, and of the “Toroceratops” “debate.” I posted baout the plethora of new oviraptorosaurians this year, and of the controversial renaming of “Ingeniayanshini to Ajancingenia yanshini, and all the feathers it has ruffled. I reviewed a few papers in as much as I can review, and Mark Witton’s book Pterosaurs — which, it should be reiterated, is the best pterosaur book out there, bar none. Two substantive posts reflect on soft-tissue analysis and nomenclature, that of the layering of oviraptorid soft-tissues and that of the specific arrangement and identity (and homology) of the postcranial pneumatic diverticulae that arise from the avian-style lungs of such oviraptorids. I touched on the re-orientation of the cranial crest of the “dickhead” hadrosaur Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus, which brought the post up to the least-viewed post to break 1000 views this year.

On my own work, I’ve started rolling out the basic interpretive underpinnings of muscle structures, identification, and relationships of oviraptorid jaw muscles and their functions. An organic integration of cranial air sacs, jaw muscles, dietary relationship to hard tissues across tetrapods and some non-tetrapodan osteichthyans, is underway, but is a long and laborious process requiring detailed work (these things take time and for a person with a limited education and funds, much, much longer).

There is more to come, and hopefully I won’t be so busy with other things as I was this year and be more productive. Despite the dearth of this productivity, I have amassed more hits this year than any year previous, which goes a lot to interest in the blog and what it has to say, cross-linking (from places like Brian Switek’s blog Phenomena, William Parker’s blog Chinleana, or from the guys at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs)

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