Monday, January 27, 2014

The making of a paper: Spanish Amber edition

Recently this paper came out, describing the fauna of rove beetles in Cretaceous Spanish amber.

I thought  I would provide here some details on how I ended up collaborating with two people I did not know before.

About a year ago I got an email from David Peris, a graduate student in Spain. He had a large collection of fossil rove beetles and as part of his PhD he wanted to describe them. He had funds from Spain for a trip over the Atlantic and wanted to come here, at UTC, to work with me for a period of ~ month. It turns out that my University does not have a clue on how to host an international long term visitor  was working hard towards building in infrastructure for visiting scientists -- but nothing inexpensive was available yet. For a little while it seemed like things are not going to work out, but my good friend at the University of Kansas, Michael Engel, offered to host us both there.

David arrived in Lawrence in June and I got there a few days laters. We spent ~ 2 weeks describing and discussing beetles and I am rather proud of the end result. The bed bug bites I got at the Lawrence hotel were totally worth it (also, three new specimens of Cimex lectularius for the teaching collection). We finished all descriptions during our time in Lawrence, and then David spent a bit more time back home getting all the illustrations and photographs ready for the paper. I think we submitted the paper in September, got accepted in November and published online in January.

Also a side note about writing papers: very frequently I hear people (typically in a condescending tone) saying that taxonomists can produce papers very fast (I guess as shown above), so for example an ecologist producing 1 paper/year should not feel bad if a taxonomist produces n papers/year. Two things: (1) yes, writing a description is fast, but to get there it typically requires many years of prep work to figure out what is new and (2) productive people always produce many more papers than non-productive people, regardless of the field, simple as that.