Category Archives: Silliness

Research projects are like cats

Author: Brianna

I have come to an important analogy-realization. This is great because I spent the four years of my undergraduate research career being spoken to in elaborate analogy (see: Edward Davis’s use of 7 football maxims for basically any mentorship discussion). And that means that I, too, must develop my stable of eye-rolly but ultimately enlightening metaphors!

So here’s my new favorite.

Research projects are like cats.


Adorable, cuddly, wonderful cats.

Everyone wants one. (If you do not like cats, feel free to substitute dog/bird/child/expensive car/whatever.) It is good to have a cat. Especially if cats are something you want in your life, it is kind of sad to be hanging around not having a cat and looking at all the adorable cat pictures being posted by people who do have cats.

So you get your first cat and it’s really really exciting. Maybe you even soon get another one! That’s great. You spend much of your free time snuggling with this cat and thinking about how awesome it is that your cat is the best, most loving, cutest cat in the whole world.

Louise 2

And life is good.

But cats take up time and attention. You generally know where they are in the house, more or less, and if you have multiple cats then you might get really nervous if they are off in some other room and things suddenly go mysteriously quiet. Your energy and focus is divided.

At some point, you have Too Many Cats. Just keeping track of them is a chore, let alone doing anything fun with them. They keep you up at night, meowing and knocking things over and clawing the furniture. Your feline carrying capacity (catpacity?) probably increases throughout your career, especially if you have collaborators helping you take care of some of them, but early on that number may be limited.

So you have to…get rid of some cats? By publishing. (This is where the metaphor breaks down a bit if you are too literal-minded, as all eye-rolly metaphors do. Maybe you are a foster home for cats, and you need to find them loving journals – er, homes…)

Therefore it is important to not wind up juggling too many cats, lest you lose the focus that lets you help them along into happy home/journals.

I have a few too many cats prowling the halls right now. They are all totally great projects and I love them! But some of them need to go out the door. They’ve been lingering a little longer than I’d really like. Happily one should get submitted, if not next week, then by the end of July; it’s about 95% there. Another is clicking along fairly rapidly, and two more are sitting in the corner waiting for me to stop being annoyed about having to rewrite semi-substantial sections. Then there’s the shiny new one I started as a first-year project at Harvard, and the even shinier plans I have for my dissertation…

Too many cats. Good thing I really like them.


Harmful or Helpful? YouTube Edition

Author: Kelsey

Greetings friends and colleagues! Today we would like to introduce a new, ongoing segment that takes a critical look at popular cultures’ interpretation of paleontology. Someday we promise to cover the incredibly handsome elephant in the room, Indiana Jones, but today we are going to focus on YouTube videos.

YouTube is a popular, inexpensive way to convey ideas. While most of us initially associate YouTube with hilarious feats mortification or iconic movie clips, an impressive number of successful “TV shows” have established themselves from people’s basements all around the world. In fact, these shows have become so successful that they become self-sustainable and all mass media companies today make sure that they are represented on YouTube in some way.

Some of these are more or less educational and delve into the concept of extinction! If my hotlinking has not derailed you by now, here are some examples of paleontology in popular media shows:

1)      Good Mythical Morning (Subscribers: 2,072,139)

Comments: While I applaud the use of the more unusual animals, it was disappointing to see that they just Google searched for facts and images about these animals instead of reading any actual research. The also mispronounced “Miocene” and never connected the idea of extinct animals with the term “Paleontology.” Is that so hard?

Comments: Rhett and Link exonerate themselves here by linking Paleontologists with dinosaurs. Good job, boys. The Cenozoic spirit in me is still a bit disappointed. Perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, this is a comedy show first and a science show second.

2)      DNews (Subscribers: 803,950)

Comments: DNews is part of the Discovery Communications Network Inc. (which includes the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, How Stuff Works, Hard Science, SourceFed.. etc.). The hosts are likable, come from diverse backgrounds, and share the ability to talk fast and clearly. From the look of the show they have more time to whip up sweet graphics and research. My favorite part is when they mention how much of the dinosaur was ACTUALLY found.

Another video from DNews.

3)      Sesame Street (Subscribers: 935,401)

For our younger readers, I even looked up the screamingly popular Sesame Street to see what they had to say about Paleontology!

Comments: Okay, so if I were a five-year-old I would know that paleontology is a thing, maybe something having to do with helmets and shovels. It’s also worth noting that the main topic of conversation in the comments is Elmo’s voice. Considering I start seeing red if I have to listen to Elmo longer than the length of this clip, I’m not sure how anyone can tell.

4)      Dark 5 (Subscribers: 166, 477)

Comments: To be honest, this one just creeps me out. Between the lack of a host (I’ll never understand the trend to just put up text in a video) and interpretive windchimes (plus a lack of cited sources), I’ll have to give this one a “meh.” Why does this have over two million views?

Here is another video in the same vein, this time about animals that will go extinct, thoughtfully set to bagpipe music.

5) The Brain Scoop (subscribers: 218,584)

Whew- ok, let’s end on something a bit more uplifting.


Comments:  The Brain Scoop is hosted by Emily Grasile at the Chicago Field Museum and includes a whole variety of episodes, from Q & A’s to interviews to dissections and random bits. The Brain Scoop is closely associated with a network of progressive science YouTube channels, including SciShow, Michael Aranda, Vi Hart, and Minute Physics. Emily has captured the museum side of a biologist’s (here I include paleontology within biology) life perfectly! One reason why we love our jobs almost obsessively is because it really is a variety show. There is even occassional singing and dancing (much to my co-worker’s chagrin).

And, yes, like all scientists, paleo peeps deal with social issues as well. That’s honestly my primary motivation for blogging in the first place. Now if we could just get more people to watch The Brain Scoop with dinner (or after digestion for the squeamish), maybe paleontology could become known for its content, not “what those khaki-wearing people do in action movies.”


Paleontology has a long way to go in popular culture–the standard response is still, “Oh, like Indiana Jones?” or “Oh, like Ross from Friends!”– but I think we knew that already.  The number of subscribers as well as the number of $$$ backing the show really dictates quality and accuracy.  Good Mythical Morning has the largest audience (and is easily the funniest show on this list), but is pretty lazy when it come to conveying actual facts. DNews has accuracy, but less than half the audience. Sesame Street needs to up their game if they want to create the next generation of a critical, informed public (and entertain that generation’s parents), while random people making quick pseudo-science videos add little to the conversation.

What is needed is a show that is poop-my-pants funny and accurate (The Brain Scoop, you are almost there). This is asking a ton out of society, though, so in the meantime perhaps us scientists can make ourselves more available to entertainment. Popular media has no idea how many scientists would be willing to contribute/do the writers’ work for them if given the chance. Ring me up!



How to stay warm at scientific meetings: The Four-Step process

Author: Kelsey

We are currently at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. (There’s a sweet twitter feed, so check it out for snippets of awesome research from attendees!) Thanks to that polar vortex or whatever, it’s 21 degrees outside. So much for a winter conference in Texas, right? After a few miserable moments, we have decided to codify conference thermoregulatory strategy for you, our lovely readers. You’re welcome.

1) Assume the rooms will be over air-conditioned

We understand that it’s hygienic to keep the rooms cooler than your average pub or college dorm room (both excellent breeding grounds for both ideas and bacteria), but sometimes whoever is controlling the magical climate-control nob gets a little over zealous. Also, sitting still for an hour or more leads to heat loss.

2) Dress in classy layers

Sadly, winter hats are usually not acceptable in a conference room, even though we lose a fair amount of body heat from our heads alone! It helps to have warm and cool layers- thinner shirts underneath thicker sweaters and warm coats. Scarves look awesome AND are warm, and gloves are a good call if you have a bit of a walk to the conference center from where you’re staying. We suggest upper body layering for the conference itself, as it is much easier to take off a coat than try to unzip an outer pair of pants without alarming the entire room. Also, you can’t go wrong with smart-wool socks.

3) Jackets are worth it

I (the Kelsey-half of Fossilosophy) always tuck my very thin and warm jacket into my relatively small bag. It’s come in useful several times for me and my colleagues, but it’s light enough that I don’t regret bringing it if I never use it. Microweight down jackets, light windbreakers, etc go nicely in this category.

4) Hit up the hot coffee and tea frequently

Some people might call this the tea break time, but it’s really all about the hot coffee, don’t believe Brianna. That being said, any sort of hot liquid and calories you can ingest will keep your core temperature up longer. The hot cup can also warm your hands. Really, it’s kind of like a ski trip in this way. For bonus points, bring your own travel mug so you can fill up a larger cup during the break and have hot, delicious coffee hours later when the mean people have taken the coffee service away.

Cold-weather whining aside, it has been a most excellent conference. I hope these handy tips will save you from shivering away and missing the nuance during the kickass symposia at your next conference.

Mental conversations I have with myself during finals week

Author: Brianna

Hey, self.
What are you doing?
…looking at pictures of cute animals on the internet.
Hmm. What should you be doing?
Probably working on things on my insane finals week to-do list.
Oh, did you actually want to finish that list?
And what do you have to do to finish that list?
…do the things on it.
And what are you doing now?
…not the things on it. Can I go get some chocolate?
No. Shut up and write.

(A finals week vignette brought to you by lots of tea.)

Phrases from scientific papers that would make excellent band names

Authors: Brianna and Kelsey

Every once in awhile, a phrase comes up in conversation that just rolls off the tongue. “That would make a great band name,” someone says, sarcastically or not. Well, we sometimes do this in other situations – like when reading scientific papers. Because sharing is caring, we bring you phrases from papers that really ought to be band names, divided by category and of course with citations.

Iguana iguana album cover
The first release from our fictional (but totally awesome) punk band Iguana iguana. Image by Kelsey T. Stilson.


Extant Galliform
Hutchinson, J.R. and M. Garcia. Tyrannosaurus was not a fast runner. Letters to Nature 2002.


Spatially Explicit Hypothesis
Waltari, E., Hijmans, R.J., Peterson, A.T., Nyári, Á.S., Perkins, S.L., et al. Locating Pleistocene refugia: comparing phylogeographic and ecological niche model predictions. PLoS ONE 2007.

Volcanoes, Rocks, Footprints, Fossils, Stars
Cleland, C. Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method. Geology 2001.

Resampling the Dead
Miller, J. Size-biased modern bone accumulations can accurately record whole-community paleoecology. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting 2013.

Kotarba, M.J (Ed.) Polish and Ukrainian Geological studies (2004-2005) at Starunia- The area of discoveries of the woolly rhinoceroses. Państwowy Instytut Geologiczny 2005.


An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles
Possibly apocryphal quote from J.B.S. Haldane, in: G.E. Hutchinson. Homage to Santa Rosalia, or, why are there so many kinds of animals? The American Naturalist 1959.

The Osseous Labyrinth
– or –
Palpebral Conjunctiva
T.M. Oelrich. The anatomy of the head of Ctenosaura pectinata (Iguanidae). Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan 1956.

Hybrid Swarm
O. Seehausen. Hybridization and adaptive radiation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2004.

Bonus category: fieldwork-isms that might also make good band names

Goat Mocha: what you get when you pour chocolate goat’s milk in with your morning field coffee. (Did I mention my undergrad advisor is the best for letting us get chocolate goat’s milk as part of our field rations?)

Cheese Lemmings: what the graduate student thought you said after a really, really long day. You said something about the constellations, but really, who’s counting?

But The Cake Was Delicious: follow-up to any situation that may or may not have led to death. Inspired by our thoughts on almost getting crushed by a garbage truck while driving out to the field to deliver said advisor a birthday cake.

Got your own scientific band name suggestions? Leave them in the comments.