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The Open Access Dinosaurs of 2014

As we enter 2015, it’s a good time to reflect on the state of paleontology and the state of open access. Because I’m a dinosaur paleontologist (my apologies to the other 99% of life that ever lived), this post will of course address that clade in particular!

<i>Ziapelta</i>, one of the new open access dinosaurs named in 2014. Illustration by Sydney Mohr, from Arbour et al. 2014. CC-BY.
Ziapelta, one of the new open access dinosaurs named in 2014. Illustration by Sydney Mohr, from Arbour et al. 2014. CC-BY.

Thirty-eight new genera or species of dinosaur were announced in 2014 (according to my count based on a list at Wikipedia and the Dinosaur Genera List), spanning everything from sauropods to tyrannosaurs to horned dinosaurs. Seventeen of these were published in open access or free-to-read journals. This works out to around 45%.

PLOS ONE continues to dominate the world of open access dinosaur species–9/17 were published here. I will be very interested to see if this trend continues into future years, particularly as more open access journals enter publication. Seven other journals hosted open access or free-to-read papers on new taxa. These included publications hosted by professional societies, “big publishers,” museums, and the like.

You’ve probably noted by now that I’ve been parsing a difference between “open access” and “free to read.” The former category includes those that are fully BOIA-compliant; usually this means publication under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. This freely allows redistribution, repurposing, translation, and other uses, as long as the author is credited (interestingly, I note that many critics of CC-BY conveniently forget that authors must always be attributed). 11 out of 17 species were published under a CC-BY license. The remainder were under a variety of licenses (e.g., CC-BY-NC-SA). I will confess a certain amusement at the “NC” (non-commercial) clause, particularly when used by very much for-profit and very much commercial publishers (to their credit, a strict CC-BY license is now the default offering for NPG’s Scientific Reports).

Overall, 2014 (17/36 new taxa are free-to-read) doesn’t reflect a big change from 2013 (16/38 free to read). I would be interested to see what percentage of the overall paleontology literature (not just alpha taxonomy) is freely available–anyone up to collating this?

Full disclosure: I was an author on one of the papers naming a new dinosaur this year, and was handling editor for some of the other papers naming new dinosaurs. 

Appendix: The Data

Taxon Freely readable CC-BY? Journal
Adelolophus No No
Arcovenator No No
Augustynolophus No No
Changyuraptor No No
Daurosaurus No No
Eousdryosaurus No No
Gobivenator No No
Gongpoquansaurus No No
Kulindadromeus No No
Kulindapteryx No No
Laquintasaura No No
Mercuriceratops No No
Panguraptor No No
Pentaceratops aquilonius No No
Plesiohadros No No
Qianzhousaurus No No
Quetecsaurus No No
Rhinorex No No
Vahiny No No
Zaraapelta No No
Zby No No
Allosaurus lucasi Yes No Volumina Jurassica
Datanglong Yes No Acta Geological Sinica
Dreadnoughtus Yes No Scientific Reports
Fosterovenator Yes No Volumina Jurassica
Rukwatitan Yes No Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
Huangshanlong Yes No? Vertebrate PalAsiatica
Anzu Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Aquilops Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Chuanqilong Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Leinkupal Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Nanuqsaurus Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Tachiraptor Yes Yes Royal Society Open Access
Tambatitanis Yes Yes Zootaxa
Torvosaurus gurneyi Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Yongjinglong Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Zhanghenglong Yes Yes PLOS ONE
Ziapelta Yes Yes PLOS ONE

Note: The taxa Camarillasaurus and Oohkotokia were published “officially” in 2014, but made their initial (pre-print) appearance in past years, so I don’t include these open access dinosaurs on the list.

  1. What is your opinion of Ulansky’s new basal thyreophoran and stegosaur taxa? Both Wikipedia and the Polychora dinosaur genus list currently treat them as “valid”.

  2. Good question. I left them off the list, because although I see they are registered with ZooBank, I’m not certain as to their validity at the moment (anyone who knows the in’s and out’s of ICZN rules have a thought? I can’t check on ZooBank at the moment because the website is down, but does the paper have an ISBN or methods for long-time archival mentioned on ZooBank?). That paper itself makes me a little uneasy in other ways–although I certainly support broad participation in paleontology and understand the thrill of naming a new taxon, the research itself seems to have been done without direct examination of many (?most) of the specimens from the newly named taxa. This is hazardous at best.

  3. I should also add, without apparent peer review. Not that peer review is perfect, of course, but it is almost always beneficial to a paper!

  4. Thanks for the comment…I agree that it makes sense for a commercial publisher to use it–sort of a backdoor “exclusive right to publish” clause. My main point (based on conversations with colleagues) is that many authors forget that academic publishing is very often a commercial enterprise, and assume that slapping “NC” on it somehow means that their paper isn’t being commercialized at all.

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