About protohedgehog

Palaeontologist, working on a PhD at Imperial College in vertebrate biodiversity and extinction. Digs science communication, science policy, and opening up the research process. Tweets vigorously as @protohedgehog.

Making the Local Global: The Colonialism of Scholarly Communication

Holy hell, everything about this post is on point. How to be meaningfully inclusive in conversations about establishing a global scholarly commons.

At The Intersection

Last week, I was invited to participate in a meeting of the Force11 Scholarly Commons Working Group in San Diego, California, U.S.A. The group, consisting of a mix of researchers, librarians, publishers, and other stakeholders has been using grant funds to examine what it would look like to build a commons centered on open scholarship. During a previous meeting in Madrid, Spain, the group put together a set of 18 principles that would guide participation in the scholarly commons. This current workshop was meant as a time to reflect on and validate the application of those principles.

I really don’t have much to say about the principles. As several of my fellow librarian colleagues pointed out at the meeting, we tend to participate in conversations like this all the time and always with very similar results. The principles are fine, but to me, they’re nothing new or radical. They’re the same…

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Beginning my journey to nowhere

I have been gifted with a rare opportunity.

The next step in my life is what I’m calling my ‘Journey to nowhere’. (#JourneyToNowhere on Twitter and Instagram)

My PhD left has me quite mentally and physically drained. I wanted to do the best damn job possible, and sadly that comes at a cost sometimes. I wouldn’t advocate making this sort of sacrifice to anyone (see my previous post about mental health and your PhD), it was a decision I made myself.

It took me about 3.5 years into my PhD to recognise that I had achieved what I wanted, and done as much as was possible with my time. I’ve got quite  a successful social media presence, have campaigned relentlessly for ‘open science’ practices, have written a dinosaur book for kids, and have 5 more which I’m consulting on now as a result. I’ve become a freelance science writer for venues like Discover Magazine, and have published 11 research papers at the end. I’ve been invited to lead numerous workshops, give talks, and attend a variety conferences around the world. I don’t know how you measure the success of a PhD, but these seem like decent indicators if anything.


Decided to start keeping a notebook for the adventures🙂

But at the end of it all, I have sacrificed relationships, and some times other aspects of my social life for this, so there has been a cost. And one which I don’t regret, but would not wish upon anyone, unless they thought deeply about it and recognised that this is the pathway for them. My ethos was always ‘work hard, play harder’, and the experiences of both have been unforgettable. But after several years of burning as bright as possible, I’m a bit out of fuel and need some time to recover.


Leicester Town Hall. Doesn’t look bad, but smells a bit dodgy..

My plan is to start at home, in Leicester. From there, to London for my PhD viva (eek!), then Budapest to explore, then Utah for a conference, Brussels for a keynote talk about Open Communication, London for a panel discussion on the future of peer review, Washington DC for OpenCon, Berlin for our OpenCon Satellite event, and then December-January in Thailand. After that it’s still a bit open, but chances are I’ll explore Cambodia and Vietnam alone for a bit, depending on visa things. I will be using these experiences to grow as much as possible in a personal and professional capacity.

So with this blog, I don’t know what’s going to happen either. I don’t want it to become another wanky ‘look how awesome traveling is’ blog, but if I do have some useful realisations or learning moments, I might share them if I believe they can help others a little. I recognise that the opportunity I’ve been granted is a rare privilege too – I’ve managed to save up enough cash to travel a bit (after being utterly skint for 10 years as a student..), and am lucky enough to have a flexible job that allows this. I’ll still be working for ScienceOpen on the way and hopefully freelance science writing/consulting, so am not completely disassociating myself from that part of life (also money is good).

It’s gonna be tough and bumpy along the way. I have no expectations of what will come, who I’ll meet, or what will happen at the end. All I know is that it’s needed, a rare opportunity that I have to embrace, and whatever happens I’ll emerge stronger and ready to take on the next big phase of life! I’ll see some of you on the journey too🙂

Note: I realise that a lot of information about the potential catalyst for this has been shared by certain parties (*epic side eye*) around on various social media platforms. All I ask is that if you have seen these posts that you reserve any possible judgements until you have spoken directly with me, and I will be more than happy to answer any questions. I’m quite loathe to share sensitive personal information in public, and would rather keep it that way.

Shit I learned during my PhD

Doing a PhD is one of the greatest trials you will ever experience in your life. It is physically and mentally grueling, you will be challenged and pushed to the limit every single day, and the pressure levels are so high they will bust you right into the sixth dimension if you’re not prepared or strong enough.

So yeah, they are not for the faint of hearted. That is, if you want to succeed by pushing yourself to the limit, excel in everything that you apply yourself to, and grow to become more powerful than you can possibly imagine (compared to the wimpy undergrad you used to be). But I imagine you wouldn’t even be doing a PhD if this wasn’t your mentality anyway.

I’m a strong believer in committing yourself fully to something if you believe in it, and doing everything within your power to achieve your goals. A PhD is basically a 3-4 year long single project that you can, and should, dedicate yourself too. Now that I’m nearing the end of my own challenge, I wanted to share some simple things with you all that might help in some way.

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The social, economic, and academic impacts of Open Access – done, and done.

For the 3-4 regular readers of this blog, you’re probably aware that a while back we published a paper with F1000Research reviewing the evidence behind the societal, economic, and academic impacts of Open Access.

Today, we submitted what I like to think of as the ‘final’ version of that paper. We have taken on an enormous wealth of feedback from the community through formal peer review, comments, open discussion on social media, and personal conversations, and integrated all of this into the manuscript. This discourse has greatly improved the content, and I hope you all find it to be a useful basis for further discussions of Open Access.

I consider this to be the final version, as thanks to this extensive ‘peer review’ I feel there is little more which can be significantly altered. Of course there will always be future developments and debates in Open Access, but rather than adapt the paper fluidly with this, I’d rather consider it to be a good reference point on which to base these discussions.

That does not mean that everything in the paper is perfect. I strongly encourage further discussion and debate on the article itself, continuing the rich comment thread that exists already. If something major comes up that we have failed to include, then we will open up considerations for a new version.

Finally, please do share this paper with your friends and colleagues. It’s such a damn important topic, and well-worth being informed about. Remember, Open Access isn’t about policies, mandates and embargoes – it’s about freedom, equality, and democratic access to our core global knowledge base. That’s something worth fighting for.

Brain anatomy convergence between crocodylians and their epic carnivorous cousins, the phytosaurs

If I ask you to think of a large, extinct carnivorous reptile, what do you think of? I’m gonna guess that pretty much all of you went straight for a T. rex, or if you’re a bit weird (or vegetarian), maybe a Stegosaurus.

But if you think back in time of when the dinosaurs were around, and especially when they were just getting kick-started, there were so many other bizarre and spectacular groups of animals around.

Let’s go back to the Late Triassic, around 230 to 200 million years ago. Earth was pretty different to how it was now – you wouldn’t recognise any of the modern groups we know so well like birds, mammals, and amphibians. The continents were in disguise too, collaborating to form the giant supercontinent Pangaea, which sat over the equator ready to rupture at any second (slash million years or so…)

One of these groups were called phytosaurs, and are hideously under-appreciated beasts. They were a group of large carnivores, closely related to the earliest dinosaurs and crocodiles. It has often been pointed out that they even look suspiciously similar to some modern crocodylians, such as gharials, as both share elongated, tooth-filled snouts. This snout form is known as a ‘longirostrine’ morphology. (source for images below)

But beyond this superficial similarity, we actually know very little about crocodylians and phytosaurs.

Research by Stefan Lautenschlager and Richard Butler aimed to change this by investigating the resemblance between phytosaurs and crocodylians in terms of the structure of their brain cases, research that has only recently become possible due to the wider application of CT scanning technology.

This method allows us to scan the fragile skulls of fossils, and reconstruct them as digital 3D images. From here, we can explore and compare their anatomy in details that was not possible beforehand, and opens up a whole new realm of research possibilities for palaeontologists.

Parasuchus (left) and Elbrachosuchus (right) - physical specimens and digital representations!

Parasuchus (left) and Elbrachosuchus (right) – physical specimens and digital representations!

What they found is that phytosaurs have a very unusual and near-unique endocranial anatomy (the endocranium is the basal part of the skull that surrounds the brain). They have a really elongate olfactory tract, which means that they probably had super-reptilian senses of smell. The general structure of the brain architecture was also arranged as a series of longitudinal segments, a very distinct feature for phytosaurs.

Rather neatly though, it seems that modern crocodilians and their ancestors, collectively known as Crocodyliformes, share this general endocranial morphology. Modern crocodylians, including Crocodylus and Alligator are similar, as are other longirostrine and now extinct species including Pholidosaurus and Cricosaurus. Like phytosaurs, these extinct species would have spent all or most of their time out to sea.


Endocranial anatomy of Ebrachosuchus neukami


Endocranial anatomy of Parasuchus angustifrons

Differences between the endocranial structures in phytosaurs can likely be explained by differences in their sensory evolution, related to adaptations to different modes of life and behaviours. For example, we might expect that phytosaurs that spend more time in water have greater sensory adaptations towards detecting movement of prey in lakes and rivers.

We’re only just beginning to understand the ecology and evolution of phytosaurs, and this study provides an exciting new step. By comparing them with crocodylians, we gain an additional dimension by being able to look at how similar living, breathing relatives behave. This is so important for developing our collective understanding and vision of phytosaurs not as fossils, but as animals that were once real and alive.


Lautenschlager, S. & Butler, R. J. (2016) Neural and endocranial anatomy of Triassoc phytosaurian reptiles and convergence with fossil and modern crocodylians, PeerJ, DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2251.

Full disclosure: I was one of the referees for this paper.

This was originally posted here for the PLOS Paleo network.