FORGOTTEN GIANTS, #3: Andesaurus

Posted by Nima On Monday, June 18, 2012 4 comments

Well after a LONG time, the Andesaurus project is finally finished - for a while at least. While the open-access issue has been very important, it's time to get back to what this blog is all about - dinosaur art and the science behind it. And Andesaurus is one of the few titanosaurs often touted as being record-breakers which have never gotten a decent restoration until now. This dinosaur is still pretty obscure though it's been known longer than Argentinosaurus, Paralititan, Sauroposeidon, and most of the other new favorites among giant sauropods. Strange, that this animal is literally the demarcation line at the base of titanosauria, universally acknowledged (though not necessarily correctly) as the most basal true titanosaur, extensively used as a key phylogenetic reference taxon in all sorts of papers, every paleontologist studying sauropods knows about it, and yet it's so little known in the public.

A rather fanciful drawing of Andesaurus delgadoi with a not-so-possible serpentine tail pose, and a very flat Diplodocus-like head (basal titanosaurs should actually be restored with large nasal crests, similar to Euhelopus and Malawisaurus).  Artist unknown.

Oh, and another thing. It's BIG.


Well maybe not that big. One of the first things you notice about Andesaurus (assuming one of those rare times when you do come across it) is that it's a titanosaur from Argentina. The second thing you notice is that like some other, far more famous titanosaurs from Argentina, its length is listed as over 30m or 100ft in those few books that actually bother to mention it (the only mass-published "layman's author" who seems to give it any attention is Dougal Dixon, in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs). Andesaurus should be famous, then, if for no other reason than its size - any titanosaur a hundred feet long is pretty high up in the running for both longest and heaviest dinosaur. But don't hold your breath - this is all WRONG.

That's right, you heard me. DEAD wrong. Andesaurus isn't 100 feet long. Not even close. That length has been repeated in many places, Wikipedia among them (at least a few months ago). I don't know how many people have actually read the scientific literature on Andesaurus (which now includes the description paper, Calvo & Bonaparte 1991; the titanosaur comparative anatomy paper Salgado et. al. 1997; and an extensive redescription, Mannion & Calvo, 2011). And the number of people who have actually seen and measured the fossils, I could probably count on my hand. The dorsal vertebrae (what's known of them anyway) are absolutely dwarfed by those of Argentinosaurus - a bit odd for two creatures that were supposedly around the same size. Even plain old Brachiosaurus has bigger dorsals. Andesaurus is a lot smaller than we've been led to believe.

 Comparison of dorsal vertebrae of Andesaurus delgadoi and Argentinosaurus huinculensis in posterior and right lateral view, to the same scale. 
Seriously Mr. Dixon, one is only about half the size of the other!

Not that I knew that when I started drawing it. That's why I decided to make Andesaurus # 3 in my Forgotten Giants series (I'm starting from the biggest titanosaurs, in no particular order, then working my way down). In fact I assumed (before I was able to get my hands on the description paper) that Dixon's estimates would suffice for at least mapping out rough proportions. Not that it matters these days when you can digitally re-scale your sauropod, but it does get very confusing to check your measurements when everything you had believed about this creature turned out to be dead wrong.

The only photos of this beast that were available online were a couple of grainy mid-90s images...

                         Andesaurus delgadoi, posterior dorsal and two mid-caudal vertebrae.

Otherwise I had nothing to go on. Until 2010's SVP meeting in Pittsburgh, where by unexpected fortuitous circumstances I came to possess copies of both the description paper and Salgado et. al. 1997 (which actually has drawings of far more of the Andesaurus material). The resulting jumble of odd bone outlines was just enough to start piecing together this beast.

But inevitably some of the outlines were off. So it had to be redone.

A few reworks later, here's the progress. The little outlines outside the body are drawings of the bones from Salgado, et. al. 1997, scaled to the same scale. The pubis has no expansion at the tip - it just looks like a huge thumb.

Soon enough, a skeletal and a life profile began to take shape.
 And a front view...

And finally color tinting, shading of speculative missing bones, and inclusion of inset enlargements of the more interesting bits. This is literally all the known Andesaurus fossil material, all of it from the holotype (there are no other known specimens).

But all was not well in the Candeleros.... for one thing, this animal is colossal (at least in this initial version) and as we saw earlier, its vertebrae are only half as big as those of Argentinosaurus! Even the vertebrae of the Brachiosaurus holotype (which despite its huge size is only a teenager) absolutely dwarf those of Andesaurus. I scaled Andesaurus to 30m or 100ft initially due to having only Dougal Dixon's estimate and those two grainy photos to work from. But after obtaining the description paper and the Salgado paper, it became clear that the actual fossil material belonged to a much smaller animal.

Remember this picture? Andesaurus is NOT 100 feet long. Lets stop perpetuating size myths based on figures in non-technical commercial books which don't include any scale images of the actual fossils.

Andesaurus was no record-breaker. At most it was a mid-sized to moderately large titanosaur, with a tail of rather ordinary size and proportions, and no indication that its neck was exceptionally long for a sauropod either. There is an incomplete femur shaft, no shoulder material, and only a partial humerus, so limb lengths are speculative. Even the length of the torso is uncertain, since the anterior dorsals are missing. Indeed, it may have been only 50-60 feet long. 65 is a stretch. So it needed a rescale, among other modifications. Easy enough, since the scaling is based on the scale bar and human figure - they just had to look larger.


In addition to scaling down Andesaurus to the likely maximum size of the holotype, 66ft, I also bulked up the limbs, widened the torso, and added more fusion to the sacrals (perhaps still not enough, but we don't have the sacrals and the degree of sacral spine fusion varies among basal titanosaurs and titanosauriforms). 

Also I looked at Mannion and Calvo's new redescription paper of Andesaurus (unfortunately this paper is now paywalled by Wiley) - ultimately it didn't call for any major changes to my skeletal, though it did give me an idea of how laterally crushed the original fossils were (and how laterally compressed the tail naturally was even when you account for crushing). Finally, after a bit of checking the scale, I resized the Sandow figure to match up with his real height (depending on who you ask, about 5'9" or 5'10" which was relatively tall for his time).

In its original oversized form this was the first ever scientific schematic of Andesaurus, and now with the revisions, it's doubtlessly the best. All the scale bars have been corrected and rechecked.

And the title font is a little less boring. :)


Apparently despite all the negative attention and criticism of Elsevier's abuse of wealth and power to stifle scientific knowledge behind steep paywalls, the executives of the corporate academic publishing giant have no regrets and simply have not gotten the message, despite their precious RWA bill being D.O.A. in congress.

David Clark, the incurably arrogant and patronizing senior Vice-President of Elsevier's physical sciences division retorted contemptuously to his company's critics:

 There is little merit in throwing away a system that works in favour of one that has not even been developed yet...

...access to journal content has never been better. Despite difficult economic times, Jisc Collections, which represents more than 100 UK universities, entered into new five- year agreements with Elsevier and Wiley Blackwell in December, welcoming the new and improved terms offered by both publishers. This is a different world from the 1990s, when journal articles were only available in the print libraries of major research universities.

This is an outrage - the "system" Clark speaks of only "works" for him and his corporate cronies. For the scientist who is forced to sign away the rights to his research FOR FREE to Elsevier, only to have Elsevier turn around and charge 33% profits on the same article, the system is broken and insanely unfair. And you expect us to believe that access to journal content has never been better, Dave? Don't you mean to say that your shareholders' bottom line has never been better? It's certainly bounced back since 2009, though unless you're a billionaire owning untold scores of their class-A stock, the actual percent return on investment is pretty ho-hum and blue chip-ish.

Furthermore, there IS an alternative system to Elsevier, and it works just fine - plus it's been around for quite a while. Ever heard of PLoS, David? Of course you don't talk about it, because it's the vanguard of the new open-access academic publishing wave of the future. The wave which will bury Elsevier's outdated and feudalistic business model. This business model is indeed fantastically strange: 'Write, edit and review articles for us for free, and we will then sell them back to you at enormous cost'. It should make anyone with a shred of justice and ethics want to vomit all over Elsevier.

If you have not yet signed the petition to boycott and divest from Elsevier over at The Cost of Knowledge, please head on over and do so. I've done it already, and as of today over 8,000 scientists and concerned citizens have done so.

Also be sure to sign the Alliance for Taxpayer Access petition. You pay taxes, you deserve to have access to taxpayer funded research! It's only logical. Don't let corporate publishers steal science. And if you have any news on the hypocrisy of El Serpiente executives, feel free to post it in the comments here. If Elsevier wants to steal the fruits of our labor, lets make it a burning, painful theft they will sorely regret.

Hot on the heels of the (now temporarily down) PIPA-SOPA bill debacle, comes another nasty threat this time specifically geared towards the free exchange of information.  Lets break it down more simply this time.

The entire world RELIES on science. More specifically, the world relies on science for the free exchange of knowledge and new discoveries, which are often vital to people's livelihoods and lives.

If scientists can't get access to papers without giving up an arm and a leg, they will not have the most current information available to publish their own research, and this will hamper their ability to get grants and other funding in the future. Science itself will become stifled by the restriction of access to information by non-scientist corporate bureaucrats who run most of the for-profit journal publishers.

And for a while now, a wave of rage has been roiling the professional blogs of scientists regarding the emergence of the vile, disgusting Research Works Act, a congressional bill written by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and sponsored by the likes of Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and other corporate academic publishing goliaths. The RWA is a bill that virtually calls for the death knell of all independent and unbiased science research available to the public. Up until now, any research papers that were funded by government grants (translation: YOUR taxpayer dollars) have to be made available as free open-access papers to the public that funded them! That's only fair, and that only makes sense. RWA would remove the federal requirement of making all publicly funded research accessible to the public, and force the public to pay up to thousands of dollars per person just to access the articles that were funded with their own tax money! Talk about privatizing profits and socializing losses...

Congressman Darrell Issa. Corporate lackey and political Snake of Sacramento. As a California resident myself and having never voted for him, I'd love to see this career crook impeached.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Corporate lackey and mealymouthed bribe-swallowing New York Gumbata to the textbook and academic journal publishing Mafia (my apologies, no digital manipulation here - I'm not sure how you could make her look any more ugly or asinine)

P.S. If she were younger I guess she could probably get away with that half-hearted Dr. Blight hairdo.

But those of you in the Paleo-Sphere may ask, "I know that if this bill passes I won't be able to access my favorite titanosaur ontogeny papers, but how does this affect the wider world beyond dinosaur researchers"? Well it affects EVERYTHING. Consider medical journals. These days the medical journals of America (many of which are controlled by the same publishing conglomerates - Wiley, Elsevier, GSW, BioOne, and Bentham - that own most of the paleo-journals) are becoming ever more restricted in terms of access. If doctors already chafing under years of student debts have to cough up even more money just to access the latest research on life-saving new medical procedures for their patients, the prohibitively high costs of doing do for every relevant journal will mean that patients' lives are literally being profiteered to death. Today there are so many journals in which someone, somewhere in Iceland or Croatia, has pioneered a radical new natural cancer treatment or a highly effective remedy for slowing the progression of MS or Alzheimer's, but thanks to the absolute and often INTERNATIONAL chokehold that big corporate publishers have over peer-reviewed journals, the vast majority of top doctors in the relevant fields have NO KNOWLEDGE of this new research, since the prohibitively high costs of subscription mean that fewer doctors can buy this information, and fewer still circulate it among their colleagues! The patient who could have been saved by open-access which his or her own taxes helped fund, is killed by unavailability of information which his doctor could have used to save his life. That's right, die taxpayer die!

To put is simply, the old pay-out-the-nose racketeering business model of science publishing is not merely unjust and apathetic, it's actually KILLING people. It's not just Big Pharma that's suppressing the research and getting involved in some very corrupt and dangerous dealings with suspicious lobbies - it's the publishers themselves. Elsevier (formally known as Reed Elsevier) is just one prime example.

Elsevier is the giant of the scientific publishing world, with a history reaching back centuries and a truly international reach. Based in the Netherlands, they have a literal galaxy of journals and publishing interest all over the planet. They are also very influential in international politics and steering the environmental and foreign policies of both the United States and many European governments through supposedly "independent" think tanks.

If you can name even one corrupt or inhumane sort of political business dealing, chances are Elsevier has plenty of fingers in that pie.

* Sponsoring secret Arms Dealer Conventions for some of the most brutal human rights violating regimes in the world: 

"It can feel like a sick joke to connect each kind of weapon of death and injury displayed at an Reed Elsevier arms fair to a journal, book or article published by Reed Elsevier which describes how to treat it. But it is important to realise that it is not us making the joke. The sick joke – and it is sick – is being played on us by Reed Elsevier and the punchline is the unknowing complicity of medical professionals in the system of death and injury which they have dedicated their lives to opposing."

-Tom Stafford, Journal for Peace, Fall 2006 Bulletin (September 20, 2006)

* Producing FAKE ad-laden "journals" sponsored by Big Pharma corporations and falsely marketing them as unbiased peer-reviewed journals, despite REFUSING to disclose the sources of funding:

"It has recently come to my attention that from 2000 to 2005, our Australia office published a series of sponsored article compilation publications, on behalf of pharmaceutical clients, that were made to look like journals and lacked the proper disclosures." 

- Michael Hansen, CEO of Elsevier's Health Sciences Division

* Bribing college professors to give Elsevier's textbooks 5-star reviews on

 "Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to Clinical Psychology. Now that the book is published, we need your help to get some 5 star reviews posted to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble to help support and promote it.... For your time, we would like to compensate you with a copy of the book under review as well as a $25 Amazon gift card. If you have colleagues or students who would be willing to post positive reviews, please feel free to forward this e-mail to them to participate... "

- Chain letter email send by Elsevier to professors who contributed to the textbook. [Clearly they are trying to bias science to line - nay - flood their own pockets, by handing out little brownies to adults]

* Suing their own customers (in this case libraries!) for disseminating information from Elsevier journals they had ALREADY paid for!

"The publishers that have filed the lawsuit [Elsevier, Springer, and Thiele] want to prohibit this service on the grounds that they themselves offer these articles online, although usually for about 30 euros per article, several time what access through the ETH library costs. By their suit, the science publishers want to subvert a provision of Swiss copyright law that explicitly allows the copying of excerpts from periodicals."

- Neue Zurcher Zeitung (the New Zurich Newspaper), Jan. 25, 2012

*Turning American Congressmen into PAID PUPPETS in order to restrict your access to research which was funded with your own tax dollars, through the fascist "Research Works Act":

"So, given the history of their campaign contributions to Rep Maloney, I’m not really surprised to find that Elsevier’s fingers would be all over this bill and Rep Maloney’s defense of it.
We (my colleagues at PLoS and many others) have spent over a decade fighting to secure public access to publicly funded research. We finally start to make some progress – imperfect as the NIH Public Access Policy is, it is an important step in the right direction. And what happens? A member of Congress who faces no threat of defeat in the upcoming election disgracefully sells out the public good in exchange for some measly campaign contributions, and then doesn’t even have the decency to defend her actions with her own thoughts and words."

- Dr. Michael Eisen, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
 If the RWA passes, you can say goodbye to science as we know it. Everything will be at the behest of the publishing corporations and their cohorts in big pharma and big oil. And the profits there publishers gouge from their subscribers are ridiculous, considering that scientists who publish in big corporate journals are forced to give up the publishing rights to their written papers essentially for free and don't get to see a dime of that money!

 Look at these outrageous profits as a percentage of revenue for commercial STM publishers in 2010 or early 2011:
  • Elsevier: £724m on revenue of £2b — 36%
  • Springer's Science+Business Media: £294m on revenue of £866m — 33.9%
  • John Wiley & Sons: $106m on revenue of $253m — 42%
  • Academic division of Informa plc: £47m on revenue of £145m — 32.4%

Dr. Mike Taylor of SV-POW explains: I wanted to be sure that I was assessing this fairly, so I looked through Elsevier’s annual reports for the last nine years — happily, they make them available, if not particularly easy to find.  What I found is that they have been consistently bringing in profits in the region of 33% throughout the last decade.  Specifically:
  • 2002: £429m profit on £1295m revenue – 33.18%
  • 2003: £467m profit on £1381m revenue – 33.82%
  • 2004: £460m profit on £1363m revenue – 33.75%
  • 2005: £449m profit on £1436m revenue – 31.25%
  • 2006: £465m profit on £1521m revenue – 30.57%
  • 2007: £477m profit on £1507m revenue – 31.65%
  • 2008: £568m profit on £1700m revenue – 33.41%
  • 2009: £693m profit on £1985m revenue – 34.91%
  • 2010: £724m profit on £2026m revenue – 35.74%
(I have not been through the same exercise for Springer, Wiley or Informa, but there is no reason to expect that the results would be any different.)

What does it all mean? Yes, publishers have a right to make a living.  Not only that, but they have a right to make as big a profit as the market can bear (though of course when they form a cartel that distorts the market monopolistically, that changes things).

But here’s what it means to scientists that Elsevier’s profit is 35.74% of revenue:
You just have to ask yourself whether that’s where you want your money going.

The good folks at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week have already exposed the massive corrupt conspiracy behind RWA, that infects both sides of the artificial "this or that" political spectrum in America. Read about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Ooooh, the outrage!

Elsevier, or as I like to call them, ElSerpiente (Spanish for "the snake") has crossed far too many forbidden lines to have any credibility to REAL scientists who take the integrity and public value of their research seriously. And just who is this Michael Hansen who claims that fabricating fake "journals" to hide blatant big pharma advertising under a veneer of unbiased science was NEVER a policy of Elsevier? And who is that Nick Fowler, who claims that Elsevier's obscene 30% profit margins off the work of scientists who get NO compensation from Elsevier whatsoever is simply a result of their company's efficient operation? Let's unmask the guilty parties, one by one. Welcome to the Paleo King's interrogation room...

Youngsuk Chi
AKA Young-sucker Cheapo,

Nick Fowler
AKA  Nick Foulbreath,
Director of Strategy/Dictator of Travesty
Lecturing others on efficiency when he can't even make his company's website user-friendly.

Bill "Godforsaken" Godfrey
Chief Information Officer and Head of Global Electronic Product Development/ Chief Inflammation Officer and Head of Global Embezzlement Product Devilry

 Michael Hansen
AKA Michael Handslob
Chief Executive Officer, Health Sciences / Chief Executive Offal, Hell Sciences

Gavin Howe 
AKA Gavin Howlermonkey
Executive Vice President, Human Resources / Executive Vice Primate, Unhuman Recourses

 David Lomas
AKA David LoMass O'Brain
Vice Chairman, Elsevier Management Committee and Chief Financial Officer /Vice Chairthing, Elserpiente Microcephaly Committee and Chief Fraudster Ordinaire

Ron "Mo' Bedbugs" Mobed
Chief Executive Officer, Science & Technology / Chief Executive Offender, Pseudoscience and Technobabble

Adriaan Roosen
AKA Adriaaaaaaannnnnneeee Looser
Executive Vice President, Operations / Executive Vice Proliferator of Obfuscations

Mark Seeley
AKA Mark Stealey
 Senior Vice President and General Counsel / Senior Vice Plunderer and General Crony

My goodness, so many presidents and CEOs.... what a wonderfully "efficient" business structure, Mr. Nick Foulbreath! No wonder they have such a bad name... the only way they can generate 30%+ profits for their shareholders and pay top salaries to so many superfluous executives is to literally GOUGE your last dollar out of you for even the rights to access just one article!

And Elsevier is not alone in their attempts to monopolize science for obscene personal profits. There are plenty of other heads on this anti-scientific corporate hydra.

J. Wiley And Sons ("Whiney"). 
Extorting professors and strangling students for 42% profits ever since Thomas Jefferson was in the White House.

 Taylor and Francis - spreading Corruption on Earth worse than a Jinn since Queen Victoria's reign. Even the formerly ethical and independent Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology is now their slave.

Routledge publishing - throwing freedom of access into the gas chamber since Queen Victoria's reign.

 Bentham Science - Getting the academic field high on overpriced journals since 1994

 Springer, AKA Scammer publishers. Hiding academic gift horses' bad mouths from unsuspecting subscribers ever since Richard Owen invented the word "dinosaur".

 GeoScience World (GSW) - they've gone through a few logo changes, and acquired some annoyingly controversial sponsors aside from the usual gang of western Big Oil conglomerates.

 It doesn't matter how patriotic of an American you think you are...whether you're publishing in GSW or subscribing to it, you're all bowing to King Abdullah (and Saudi Aramco).

Of course this is all harsh, but it's meant to be a real wake-up call. I'm not sure the average researcher on a graduate stipend really has much time to worry whether their subscription fees are being funneled towards international terrorism, but I'm sure they do care that their professor's hard work is being expropriated and then hoarded for 30-40% profits by powerful international publishing cartels. Some of the copyright terms the big publishers impose on scientists are downright Orwellian. Losing any and all rights to reprint your own work in a different journals, or even to pass out free copies to colleagues from other universities. If they catch you doing this with a journal you ALREADY paid for, you will still be sued, and probably end up in prison for a few years. Remember, these publishers are worth billions of dollars and the average professor makes nothing from giving them all the rights to his own work - plus they can sue you for so much as making a copy of your own paper and giving it to a friend for free. Greg Paul only wishes he had that kind of legal muscle.

Mike Taylor and the others at SV-POW make a great point when they urge people to write to their congressman. But with all the junk mail that those dismally unpopular politicians are flooded with every week, I doubt it's a very effective strategy. Especially when the issue at hand is something that barely gets any media attention, and thus probably is not the subject generating the most mail. I suggest a more direct approach, to cut off the head of the Snake. Write to the scientists themselves.

Every time I talk to paleontologists at SVP, I know that a good number of them will either be people who regularly publish in closed-access FOR PROFIT journals, or donate their time for free as peer-reviewers for those same said price-gouging journals. While I personally consider such a gift of time to such monstrous corporate thieves to be little more intelligent than giving away extra money to the government as a charitable gift on top of your compulsory taxes, in the vain hope of helping pay down the national debt.... that doesn't mean that we shouldn't express our dismay at those who continue to contribute to such corrupt journals and publishing houses. Even if Taylor and Francis has bought out part of the SVP, and its flagship publication, the JVP, we can still hit them where it hurts: the reputations of their "scientific" collaborators.

Forget writing to your congressman - write to your favorite scientists! Write to all the people whose papers you have wanted to read, but couldn't because they are kept under lock and key by greedy publishers who demand a subscription whose price is shooting up far faster than silver. Write to Jack Horner, whether you agree with 'Toroceratops" or not, urging him not to publish in JVP any longer. Write to Jose Bonaparte and Bernardo Gonzalez-Riga urging them NOT to publish any more papers in Elsevier-owned journals like Cretaceous Research (as was sadly the case with Ligabuesaurus). Write to Octavio Mateus not to publish in Systematic Palaeontology, another locked-access Elsevier journal. Write to Jeffrey Wilson not to publish in Paleobiology, which is now the property of the Saudi-funded GSW. Write to Greg Paul telling him to stop publishing in GAIA, Paleobiology, or other locked-access journals that don't contribute to the free flow of scientific knowledge across borders and campus walls. Let your scientists know that you won't stand for them giving away their rights to their own research only to have it locked away from the public to line some greedy publishing bureaucrat's pockets. Tell them they must publish in open access journals like PLoS One, Palaeo-Electronica, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, etc. to retain any credibility as ethical scientists. Let the membership and the board of directors of the SVP know that RWA and the big corporate journals are hurting science and often hurting people, in ways that fossil-poachers simply can't.

Write to your scientists. If you're in a different field like physics, chemistry or medicine, so much the better. They don't have to be just paleontologists. Write to ANY scientists who publish in closed-access journals owned by Elsevier or any of the other academic publishing conglomerates backing the vile RWA bill. And if they don't listen or give a bad response to your emails, then write them up. I will personally list the names of those who are willing and unrepentant collaborators with ElSerpiente or any of the other gougers. Nothing is more damaging to scientists in academia than a loss of reputation - and the threat of this may finally get them to abandon the very publishing houses that are so used to abusing and enslaving the researcher. Forget a mere toothless boycott, we need nothing short of a show trial. Scientists who continue to allow unscrupulous non-scientist bureaucrats to steal and hoard up their research for sky-high profits are just as bad as the corporations they are supporting, enemies of science, and deserve to be exposed and denounced as such. If they can't afford the publication fee for open-access journals, there is always Acta Paleontologica Polonica, which can do it for free, or they can also use research grants to cover open-access publishing fees. There is no victory without intentional planning and sacrifice. If we really expect to bring Elsevier and its ilk to their knees, or even to their sense, then the scientists have to stop publishing papers in their journals, PERIOD. To really get the house of cards to fall, you have to remove the struggling exploited academics at the bottom of the pyramid. And for those that sell us out, heads will roll at the next SVP.

Wake up, O people of science and learning. Raise yourselves out of your deathly torpor, break your shackles, cast off your chains! Now is the time to reject the cruel coercion of the Serpent in scientists' clothing. I say once again, wake up!

Together we can drive the point clear to the Robber Barons ruining the free progress of science and ideas: Wer Beim Elsevier Kauft ist ein Verrater!


Posted by Nima On Tuesday, January 17, 2012 5 comments


I decided when I started this blog that it would be devoted to science, not politics. But politics has interfered in the future of the blogosphere in a very nasty way. And no other paleo-bloggers seem to be speaking out on this.

The good-for-nothing U.S. congress with its self-serving members and their 80% public DISapproval ratings is trying to ram through two bills into law which would decimate the freedom of the internet under the deceptive auspices of stopping piracy. ANY site or blog which links to other sites that contain copyrighted material could be falsely banned or shut down under the draconian provisions of the PIPA and SOPA acts, and bloggers like myself and many of us in the Paleo-blogosphere may be forced to shut down because of over-reaching government meddling in private rights of citizens. ANY activity relating to links to another site or posting material from other websites for mere educational non-profit purposes could be construed as a "copyright infringement" even if properly attributed to its authors, and may result in lawsuits, harassment, and even indefinite arrest under false charges of "piracy" without access to any legal representation.

In addition, many internet programmers and companies will be crippled by all the convoluted clauses of these bills which allow government to interfere at any point in the delivery of online content to consumers. It will damage the economy even further than foolish wars and corrupt bank bailouts, to the point that most businesses that advertise or sell online will end up having to spend even more money on lawyers to cover their backsides and fight arbitrary censorship, this time against unscrupulous FCC cronies and their Wall Street paymasters. That’s why AOL, EBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga wrote a letter to Congress protesting the bills, saying these bills “pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation.” And small businesses, which make up the bulk of the private sector, will be forced to close their doors or suspend their websites altogether due to prohibitively high legal costs of warding off frivolous government accusations of "piracy", laying off millions more employees in the long run. More than 200 entrepreneurs have slammed these bills as dangerous to the economy and destructive to innovation and job growth. And the brain-dead pork barrel congressmen and women (who seem to keep getting re-elected despite their dismal track records) want to tell us that THIS is the freedom that we need to export to the rest of the world on the back of tanks and Apache helicopters? I didn't vote for this Orwellian crap. Nobody was given a choice.

And the worst part is that these bills were written by ignorant lazy media conglomerate shills who don't even have a clue how the internet works. You can tell just based on the vague language of the things how these politicians are totally behind the times and are trying to police the web based on intrusive stone-age protocols. Half of them don't even know what twitter is and are trying to convince the country that dinosaurs and humans lived together in Eden. And they're trying to claim they know better than you and me what needs to be done with technology. What's more, their sad excuses for anti-piracy legislation are USELESS at stopping online piracy.

For those of you outside of America, don't think that this problem doesn't involve you. Whatever the United States government can get away with in domestic economic policy, the rest of the world will likely follow suit, if not do even worse. The problem of government censorship of the internet could very well spread to your shores if it is not stopped while it's still just here.

PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION on Google's website to tell Congress that you are not just going to sit there and swallow their coercion like a fool. Censorship does not belong on the internet. And neither does the act of collectively punishing the entire web for the acts of a few software pirates. If you do nothing... then welcome to Oceania.

P.S. this post is meant to criticize the draconian broad-brush punishment favored by your congressmen/women, not to defend the crime. I am not advocating piracy of any sort. However the PIPA and SOPA bills are not a solution to the pirate problem, and they are actually creating far worse hardships for the economy and threatening liberty itself.

P.P.S. to all those deluded teabagger neocons out there who think this is 100% Obama's fault - it's congress that wrote these bills, and none of your wall street-funded candidates has done anything to stop them so far either, despite all their empty promises to "shrink government" and "reduce intrusive regulations on business". 
(BTW I'm not referring to Ron Paul here, he's the furthest thing from a neocon or corporate lackey.)

Rethinking "Brouhaha-saurus" - what if it were real?

Posted by Nima On Saturday, January 7, 2012 15 comments

The previous post on Bruhathkayosaurus has given me some thoughts on an interesting possibility: what if this animal were indeed real?

It's no secret that I'm seriously skeptical of the remains that Yadagiri and Ayyasami found in 1989 and labeled as "Bruhathkayosaurus". First they identified it as a very large predator, then later on others suggested it must be a plant-eating sauropod, and probably a titanosaur at that. Most of these theories are pure conjecture. But from the size of the remains it really only makes sense that if this animal were real, it would have to be a sauropod.

But how should we interpret these remains, which are now the lost victims of a monsoon flood? The discoverers are notorious for describing stuff that isn't what seemed at first. Dravidosaurus, the supposed Late Cretaceous "lazarus" stegosaur, really turned out to be a very badly eroded and fragmentary plesiosaur. The alleged stegosaur back plates were really the sternals of a marine reptile, so weathered as to be barely identifiable at all.

Is Bruhathkayosaurus similarly misidentified? Might it be a chimera of unrelated animals, or, as was the case with Dravidosaurus, not a dinosaur at all? Some have suggested it might even be petrified wood. And sole testimony of its authenticity rests with Dr. Sankar Chatterjee, who himself has incorrectly described (and some might even say largely invented) a number of extinct creatures known from very poor and dubious material (notably Protoavis).

But what if? What if Bruhathkayosaurus really was authentic and a titanosaur at that? What might it look like?

The photos reveal little, and need some guesswork to interpret. Here's Steve O'Connor's take:

The red-tinted areas are the bones. The top of the hip socket it easily visible (if a bit oddly triangular) in the second photo. The front end of the ilium is broken off, but would be to the left of the second photo (regardless of what the confusing and likely incorrect captions seem to say - there should not be hip socket processes sticking out of the top or rear of an ilium!).

Here is the material without tinting, and with my own interpretation of the outlines and corrected captions under the original ones:

 And finally with tinting of different areas:

 There seems to be some sacrum material in the photos that wasn't initially identified. Sacral ribs at least. The green area is an unusual bit of bone or some other substance which is not part of the hip structure. The ilium, unusually, has a very long posterior shelf. It's elongated almost into a cylinder. There are few sauropods that have hips like this, and the one that immediately comes to mind is an undoubtedly bizarre one - Opisthocoelicaudia.

Opisthocoelicaudia skarzynskii - skeletal by Jaime Headden

The ilium shelf in Opisthocoelicaudia is strangely similar to that of a tyrannosaur in general shape - long, low, and with a substantial rear process not seen in many titanosaurian sauropods. This may have something to do with Yadagiri and Ayyasami's initial identification of the material as a giant theropod.

T. rex skeletal (based on AMNH specimen) by Greg Paul. Posted for informational purposes only.

Indeed there IS a bizarre parallel between the rear shelf process in that T .rex ilium and the one for Bruhathkayosaurus. But I doubt "big Bru" was anything other than a plant-eating sauropod. the anterior process of the ilium's hip socket is elongated similarly to Alamosaurus, and most titanosaurs and brachiosaurs, rather than resembling the short anterior socket process in theropods. The ilium was described as 1200mm long, larger than that of Giraffatitan, which makes anything other than a sauropod identity next to impossible.

However, it's not certain if this length of 1200mm refers to the portion of the ilium which was recovered, or to the likely size of the whole thing. In any case, though large, such a length for the ilium makes it very unlikely that Bruhathkayosaurus was anything close to the biggest dinosaur. Indeed, the hips of "Brachiosaurus" nougaredi were 1300mm long not including the missing first sacral vertebra, and would have been at least 1500mm long when complete. So from one point of view Bruhathkayosaurus may not have all that big. For comparison, the ilia of the holotype of Argentinosaurus, when complete, would have been around 1800mm (though the sacral centra would have been shorter at around 1300mm width of the Argentinosaurus hips could have been as much as 3000mm or 10 feet). However, even given those numbers, it's likely that Bruhathkayosaurus, if it existed, was still a very large animal of Argyrosaurus or Paralititan class.

The "tibia" was estimated at 2000mm, which is unusually large to go with tie ilium. If it's a real bone (and not, as I suspect, petrified wood), then it may belong to a different dinosaur, something far larger. Even the tibia of Argentinosaurus doesn't come close to 2m, so the figure could be grossly overinflated or not valid at all. But whatever it is, the "tibia" is not likely to belong to the same animal as the ilium. There is other material supposedly found at the site: a caudal centrum 750mm wide - downright huge even by the standards of Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus vertebrae - and a partial femur with a condylar width of 750 mm and a shaft width of 450 mm. According to Zach Armstrong,

"The femoral condyle width was 750 mm, compared to in Giraffatitan, where it is about 580 mm (going off of drawings by Janensch in Taylor (2009)). This means the Bruhathkayosaurus femur was about 1.28 times as long, assuming if we scale roughly off of that, then Bruhathkayosaurus was about 2.1 times has heavy, or roughly 67 tonnes. Again, far from being the largest dinosaur, and also shows why going off of appendicular proportions can be quite misleading."

67 tonnes (which I assume is based on admittedly error-prone limb bone allometry equations) is not too far from my 70-ton estimate for adult Argyrosaurus, which overall would have been about 15-20 feet longer than Giraffatitan HMN SII and about twice as massive due to its far more robust proportions.

So basically what we appear to have is an ilium and partial femur that belonged to an Argyrosaurus-sized animal with Opisthocoelicaudia-type body design, along with a caudal vertebra and a "tibia" from a much larger creature, both of which are currently labeled Bruhathkayosaurus, and no longer exist even as fossils. If, that is, they can be trusted to be real. I have never seen a picture of the caudal vertebra OR the femur, though the dimensions of the femur are at least a bit more believable. The two different-sized sauropods (assuming the larger one is valid at all) could just as well be two unrelated animals as different-aged individuals of the same species.

The ilium and femur are definitely not from the biggest dinosaur yet known. But the tibia and caudal centrum could be, if both were legit remains. Problem is, we may never know, as it's all been washed away and destroyed. Dr. Ayyasami reportedly told Armstrong:  "Only thing is that I did not visit the site again to check for further bone collection. I may do so next year as I plan for a visit to the Cretaceous of Ariyalur." We all anticipate the results, though given how these things usually go and stretch out over many years just to prepare for in places like India, Dr. Ayyasami's expedition may not materialize anytime soon. If and when it does, I highly suggest that this time he take a digital camera with spare batteries, and invite a real artist along to sketch the bones for good measure. So that we may have better drawings to go on than this embarrassing scrawl:

Happy New Year, everyone! A lot of new dinosaur discoveries in 2011, and 2012 promises to be even better. BHI's dueling dinosaurs (a large Nanotyrannus and a previously unknown chasmosaurine ceratopsid) await description, and there several remains of Chinese theropods contemporary with the Ruyang/Liudian sauropod fauna that have yet to be described. "Xinghesaurus", "Liaoningotitan", and "Nurosaurus" round out the list of sauropods mounted but not formally described or named, and of course there are those colossal French titanosaurs popping out of the hills of Champagne.


But for all the new discoveries coming out of the woodwork, there is one that must be laid to rest and buried. For all the fans of giant sauropods, this is disappointing news, but not altogether unexpected. Bruhathkayosaurus, long considered the biggest or second-biggest dinosaur, is NO MORE. Whatever little evidence of it there was, is now completely gone, and so barring the discovery of another specimen, it will never be studied and its purported dimensions can't be verified. I have a lot of people asking me "what about Bruhathkayosaurus?!" since I posted my list of obscure giant dinosaurs, and I also get that question every time I say "Puertasaurus (and now Alamosaurus too) is the biggest dinosaur we have rock-solid physical evidence for as of NOW." So I'm doing this post on Bruhathkayosaurus to clear up all the questions about this bizarre case of skullduggery and sasquatch-sensationalism trumping hard science.


Personally I am beyond skeptical about this animal's validity, (in my view it's a hundred times more dubious than even the long-lost Amphicoelias fragillimus) but before I explain my reasons, take a look below at Matt Martyniuk's blog post on this mythical super-sauropod from December 21. (reposted below):

Bruhathkayosaurus is Dead. Again.

Bruhathkayosaurus is Dead. Again. 

 Above: Working sketches for a speculative B. matleyi reconstruction by Steve O'Connor. Click here for Steve's final drawing.

I don't know how common this knowledge is, but this is the first I've heard of it so humor me while I mourn the possibility of ever re-assessing the intriguingly large sauropod specimen known as Bruthathkayosaurus matleyi.

B. matleyi was known from fragmentary remains of the pelvis and limb bones found in the Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu, India. It was first described by Yadagiri and Ayyasami in 1989 as species of giant allosauroid. This classification was widely doubted online, but little follow-up work was ever done. The initial description is widely regarded as exceedingly poor in quality and not much can be discerned about the specimen due to poorly detailed drawings and insufficient text. Tom Holtz has even stated that "the hypothesis that this is no more than petrified wood has not been falsified yet to my satisfaction." However, Mickey Mortimer later noted that the tree trunk hypothesis "is questionable given the non-cylindrical bones preserved such as the ilium. Additionally, Chatterjee has personally examined the fossils, and while he has a bad record of misidentifying taxa, I give him enough credit to not confuse a tree for a limb bone."

Sankar Chatterjee did indeed apparently examine the material and told George Olshevsky and Tracy Ford that he believed it to be a titanosaur, as reported in 1999 here.

Holtz responded to these appeals by noting that "not all units are the Dinosaur Park or the Djadokhta. In some preservation is really, really, really crappy. You might get all sorts of autogenic growth on the fossils, or alteration of the original material. In outcrops like that, it isn't out of the question to be fooled into thinking bone is wood and vice versa, especially from simple superficial appearances. This is why a section of the fossil would help resolve if it is bone or wood." So, there's that. We'll now never be able to take that section.
While B. matleyi was a near-mythical celebrity among "semi-apocryphal gigapods", its legend loomed larger than (published) reality. While most online sources (such as the DML posts quoted above) had long since agreed that the specimen was probably a gigantic sauropod and not a gigantic carnosaur, no actual published reference to the species as a sauropod existed until five years ago (Krause et al. 2006).

And what a sauropod it was, maybe! Obviously with such a paltry footprint on the scientific literature, reliable size estimates for such a poorly described specimen are hard to come by. Luckily, some researchers have done the best they could with the available data and determined that, if B. matleyi was indeed a titanosaur with similar proportions to say, Argentinosaurus, it would have been very large indeed. Matt Wedel over at SV-POW has estimated the size of this animal in life at 139 tons. Mickey Mortimer has estimated its length at up to 34 meters. That would position it as one of the largest species of land animals ever, second only to Amphicoelias fragillimus, possibly.

And now, it appears that B. matleyi has suffered the same fate as its atlantosauroid rival for the record. In the comments at another SV-POW post about semi-apocryphal gigapods, Wedel reports that the type and only specimen of B. matleyi was at some point washed away in a flood. Any hope of verifying the stupefying claims about this species' size now seem to be lost. And unlike A. fragilimus, which was described and well-illustrated by a mostly reputable source with no obvious errors, the poor state of the B. matleyi description will forever doom this creature to the realm of dubious claims. After all, given the poor state of the description, it seems possible that a simple scale bar error or other mix-up could have tainted the data, and therefore all of our size estimates.

So here's to Bruthathkayosaurus matleyi, a beast (or possibly, a tree?) that died 70 million years ago, raised its spectral head (or crown?) again for one tantalizing moment and then, like Hitchcock's Ornithichnites, sunk back beneath the earth before we could really learn anything about it.

The only known photograph of Dr. Ayyasami, who along with his colleague Yadagiri,
described Bruhathkayosaurus and the similarly over-hyped and misidentified Dravidosaurus.

In fact there is some more to this story...

The rumors of the Bruhathkayosaurus material being washed away in a monsoon are confirmed here: Zach Armstrong has confirmed with Dr. Ayyasami that the remains were lost in floodwaters..

"From email correspondence with Dr. Ayyasami, it appears that the material was never actually properly prepared and was left exposed to the elements so when heavy monsoon rains struck the region the fossils were carried away in the rains. He says that the material was definitely dinosaurian in nature, and apparently Dr. Sankar Chatterjee also was able to confirm its dinosaurian (and apparently, titanosaurian) nature. However, as you note, both of these guys have not had the best track record in identifying fossils."

My reactions to the remains having disappeared was hot.

"Why did Ayyasami not prevent the loss of this material, surely if he believes it was one of the biggest dinosaurs it would be valuable enough NOT to repeat what Cope allowed to happen with Amphicoelias fragillimus!

I know you're not supposed to take this stuff personally in Paleontology, but I'm honestly furious with the guy for not taking any photos or even making a good DETAILED drawing of the bones. Seriously, is film that expensive? It wasn't too costly for Lydekker to take photos of Argyrosaurus way back in 1893! I doubt Yadagiri and Ayyasami didn't have any access to a camera, especially considering how much press coverage their discovery got, even up through the 90s. It's like the people who prepared this thing just didn't care. I'm beginning to fear the whole thing may be a hoax taxon. Like over 95% of the other titanosaur material dug up India and Pakistan.... sadly... 

This wouldn't be the first time Yadagiri and Ayyasami pulled this kind of thing either. Dravidosaurus was another one of their bogus "dinosaur" discoveries. It turned out to be some battered barely recognizable scraps of marine reptile - probably a plesiosaur - but they claimed for certain that it was the last surviving stegosaur, lasting well into the Cretaceous! Have these guys EVER dug up anything legit?"

Apparently not. It seems their only published discoveries were Bruhathkayosaurus and Dravidosaurus, both possible hoaxes which are anything but what they seemed to be. Though Yadagiri and Ayyasami actually DID take some photographs of "Big Bru", as I later found out - it's just that these SUCK. And since 1989 apparently no other photographs have been taken of the remains, leaving us to boggled figure out just what the heck they were spending film on:

 You can't really make out much of anything, it's hard to tell in the first two photos if you re actually seeing an ilium or just some random bits of rock, bone and petrified wood thrown together. The bottom photo (supposedly of a tibia) doesn't actually seem to show much of anything. The remains are so badly weathered that Yadagiri and Ayyasami originally described this animal as a meat-eating theropod before they decided it was really a sauropod. I mean if you can make that kind of mistake so easily despite having a PhD in paleontology/biology/geosciences, then either you're really starved for good specimens (or fame/fortune/funding) -  or a PhD simply doesn't mean what it once did.

Also it's apparent that they never actually removed the fossils from the ground, let alone brought them back to the lab for study. The fossils were not transported to the nearest museum, they were just left in the ground (the intent probably being indefinitely).

To quote Mickey Mortimer:

"Very interesting to learn the material was washed away. So not only were the authors terrible at drawing and describing, they didn't even try collecting the specimens..."

It's frustrating to learn that the material is gone. Based on the images in the description it's not even certain the supposed 2m long 'tibia' was a tibia.

What's more, Dr. Sankar Chatterjee, who looked at the material and claimed it's real and a titanosaur, doesn't exactly have the best record of identifying dinosaurs correctly either. A lot of his discoveries are based on very shoddy material, and most of the time he got the identity of the animal wrong. Such as the following cases:

*Shuvosaurus - named for his son, Chatterjee described it as a Triassic ornithomomid (I know, sounds bizarre... considering even basal maniraptorans didn't evolve until late Jurassic times) - It turns out Shuvosaurus wasn't a dinosaur at all, but a rauisuchian - something much more closely related to modern crocodiles. Few recent descriptions of new fossil taxa have been that far off the mark.

* Technosaurus - this strangely named creature was initially labeled as a basal ornithischian by Chatterjee, something similar to Fabrosaurus perhaps. It was actually a chimera of at least three different animals: a "prosauropod", a Shuvosaurus, and finally jaw fragments that could be from just about any random archosaur. None of the bones fit Chatterjee's description as an ornithischian dinosaur.

* Alwalkeria - Chatterjee's diagnosis as a theropod was wrong, and its unserrated, unspecialized teeth make it either a very basal dinosaur (similar to Tawa or Eoraptor) more primitive than theropods or any of the later major groups - or perhaps put it outside of dinosauria altogether.

* Protoavis - the infamous "bird before the first bird", which Chatterjee claimed pushed the origin of birds back to the Triassic, far before that of Archaeopteryx, and supposedly meant that birds, rather than evolving from dinosaurs, only shared a common ancestor with them. The claim made Chatterjee an overnight celebrity and lightning rod in the scientific arena, and Feduccia and the other BANDits instantly ate it up. But Protoavis was based on a few very badly worn fragments, so that even the likes of Phil Currie and Greg Paul can't agree on what it really was. We do know it wasn't a bird though. There's no trace of feathers, nor any uniquely avian features. The known remains (such as can be identified) are very "reptilian" in form. Possibly it's a chimera of bits of early dinosaurs, lizards, crocodylomorphs, and other assorted odds and ends. Chatterjee got a lot of media attention for this artificial creature, but after a while the story just evaporated and Protoavis - nothing more than some beat-up fragments just barely recognizable as archosaur bones - was largely forgotten. There's really nothing in the (very crappy) fossil material to identify it definitively as anything beyond a generic archosaur, let alone pinpoint it as a bird.

In his definitive analysis of the material, The Rise of Birds (1997),Chatterjee failed to illustrate the Protoavis fossils via pictures or sketches of the fossils proper, and instead offers the reader artistic reconstructions. For this, Chatterjee has been sharply criticized. Such an approach is unscientific in that it idealizes the material at hand, and obscures the very fragmentary nature of the fossils, and their poor state of preservation. Today most paleontologists consider Protoavis totally invalid.

The very same could be said for Ayyasami's crude and stylized drawings of the bones of Bruhathkayosaurus.

And Chatterjee, for all his years as a professor, is not exactly a titanosaur specialist. He has never described a single titanosaur, not even as a co-author. Most of his research is in little broken-up pieces of Triassic archosaurs that may not be dinosaurs at all. I'm not sure how well he'd be able to identify titanosaur remains beyond the need for a second opinion, considering how poorly he's done with the critters for which he DOES have years of experience under his belt. Unfortunately his opinion is all we have, since the bones of Bruhathkayosaurus are gone forever.

Frankly, the bizarre narrow opening of the hip socket indicates the entire ilium may be a false construct. And in fact the entire socket seems to be constructed of two separate fragments. For all we know they could have been found hundreds of feet apart and have no relation to each other or to the upper shelf of the "ilium". The tibia is so blurry in the photograph that it may just be some small ridges of rock that happen to form a rough pattern.

I believe Bruhathkayosarus is either a hoax or a very hastily cobbled chimera of things which were never properly identified. How convenient for the authors that the thing just lay around outdoors for years and got washed away with no high-resolution photos ever taken. Oh it WAS the biggest dinosaur, we found it alright. Where is it? Oh well after two decades of leaving in the ground, we lost it in a monsoon, so sorry. But you should have been there to see it, Watson. You should have seen it!

Laugh me a river. For anyone that still wants to believe that Bruhathkayosaurus was for real, and a bona fide titanosaur at that, I have this to show you: