WikiProject Dinosaurs: Can You Dig It?
With 30 featured articles, 27 good articles, and one featured list, WikiProject Dinosaurs has a long track record of delivering strong content. Started in April 2004 by Fredrik, the project has grown to include over 100 members working on over 1,300 articles. The project maintains an open list of tasks, an image approval system, and a wealth of resources for editors to consult when writing articles. The project also has a backlog of unassessed articles that the project's members could use some help with.
This week, the Report interviewed six members of WikiProject Dinosaurs: Dinoguy2, HMallison, J. Spencer, Firsfron of Ronchester, Casliber, and Abyssal.
What motivated you to become a member of WikiProject Dinosaurs? Does your professional background involve dinosaurs or are you simply a dino enthusiast?
- Dinoguy2: I first started editing Wikipedia dinosaur articles in 2006. I don't have any professional paleontological training, just a long-time paleo enthusiast, but I saw a lot of gaps and important missing information in these articles (at the time) that I could use my own knowledge to fill in. I later began researching new information to add to articles that wasn't already in my head or available elsewhere online.
- HMallison: I am a professional vertebrate palaeontologist. My special field is biomechanics, the future of which I see with advanced computional methods that allow investigating topics that previously were simply too complex to compute "with pen and paper". Thus, computers are "always on my mind" – and with them, modern communcation tools, open access, and internet-based knowledge bases. Wikipedia is clearly the prime source for most journalists and laypeople, and increasingly displacing dinosaur enthusiasts' websites as the (apparently) best and most informative source of information for amateurs, and even for professionals who want a quick, general overview. I, for one, Google any new research interest in detail, and almost always there is a helpful Wikipedia page. Lots of information on Wikipedia is, by necessity, based on encyclopedic tomes, which (again by necessity) are always somewhat outdated. In a field in which each new decade brings a revolution, this is not especially helpful, and I feel obliged to contribute my meager knowledge to ease the lot of others in my situation. Thus, I started editing those articles I have expert knowledge on anyways, which is especially satisfying because they mostly concern dinosaurs that have been somewhat neglected.
- J. Spencer: Oddly enough, the thing that got me interested was the article on Palaeosaurus (most of the work was done in summer 2006, and the article is something of a fossil itself now; one of these days I'll have to refurbish it). I'd been registered since the fall of 2005, but hadn't really done much. It was this article that gave me an idea of the potential, that there could be detailed explorations of animals off the beaten path. I'm parts both an enthusiast and a professional in background. My current work does involve paleontology, but dinosaurs appear only occasionally.
- Firsfron of Ronchester: I started editing dinosaur articles in February 2006, beginning with Archaeopteryx (which is now a featured article). I do not have a degree in any paleontological field. In the late 1990s as a Biology major, I worked with Rana subaquavocalis, trying to save endangered Leopard Frogs from extinction with research and observation through The Nature Conservancy. Amphibians may become the "dinosaurs" of the future, as their numbers are in sharp decline worldwide.
- Casliber: I started editing in May 2006 when I found out I was going on a game show, for which I'd selected horned dinosaurs as a specialty topic. I'd just read a book on them and had been rabidly interested in dinosaurs as a kid and kept in touch with updates ever since. A lot of my early edits were to various horned dinosaurs to brush up. I loved the collaborative nature of an active WikiProject, which WikiProject dinosaurs was (it was also where I first learned to write featured articles). I have a science background, but there is little overlap between psychiatry and paleontology ...
- Abyssal: I'm a part-time evolutionary biology-geology double majoring undergrad who aspires to be a professional dinosaur paleontologist. I became a big fan of Wikipedia early in my career as a college student when I found just how useful it was for homework-related research. As a dinosaur nerd, I naturally took interest in Wikipedia's dinosaur coverage. I was impressed by its depth and thoroughness. The list of dinosaurs especially stunned me. Before my eyes was a list of literally every known dinosaur, each name being a relevant link to an encyclopedia article. It was like a religious experience. And I found that despite the depth, there was actually a lot that needed done. I rolled up my sleeves, got busy, and I'm still obsessed these many years later.
WikiProject Dinosaurs currently has 30 featured articles and one featured list. Which of these articles are you most proud of being involved with? Overall, what have been some of the project's greatest achievements?
- Dinoguy2: I think the project's finest achievement is still one of its first: the FA for Psittacosaurus. This is one of the best known dinosaurs in the world, scientifically speaking, with thousands of known specimens and a huge amount of ground to cover. I wasn't that involved with this one, but I think our editors did a fantastic job of summarizing all the relevant information in an understandable manner, down to in-house illustrations of each species. This is also one of the few examples of an article on a specific dinosaur genus that has spawned satellite articles on specific species, etc. For me personally, I'm particularly proud of our article for Amphicoelias, the largest dinosaur known but one that hardly anybody has heard of. This was my first attempt to really do some in-depth research and summarize every bit of published literature I could find in a readable way. With help from the other project members I've gotten this one up to a GA, and maybe one day an FA with a little more polishing, though it would be odd to have an FA covering a single, lost bone!
- HMallison: So far, I have only been mostly involved in minor edits on some large articles. The only GA article I was involved in (a huge thanks to all involved here!!!) is Plateosaurus – featured articles (FA) I have so far not found to be in need of my work! The people looking after them are doing an awesome job! However, there's a bunch of things out there that have been neglected, and that deserve being FAC-ed. One of my favorites is the Psittacosaurus article. I worked on that beast once upon a time, and if I had had those resources at hand back then ... I can't even begin to describe how important it would have been for a lowly PhD student back then! Certainly one of the greatest achievements, not only within the project, but on all of Wikipedia!
- J. Spencer: My favorites among the featured content are Allosaurus, Iguanodon, and Massospondylus. The most rewarding topics for me are those where there's been research from a number of different angles, as I like being able to present as many aspects to a given dinosaur (or group of dinosaurs, or what have you) as possible. Massospondylus and Iguanodon are complex, heavily-studied genera, and they took a lot of collaboration. Oh, and Psittacosaurus is also quite an article, so I'll recommend it too!
- Firsfron: The most rewarding moment for me was getting Massospondylus up to Featured Article; this was no easy task, as many journal articles on this genus flatly contradict one another, and several papers are very obscure; the collaboration on this article was very nice. I'm also quite proud of List of dinosaurs, where we keep the wikilinks blue as new genera are described. The project's greatest achievements, however, may be the series of excellent FAs on ornithopods, mostly written by J. Spencer, which include Iguanodon, Lambeosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Edmontosaurus, and Thescelosaurus. These articles are less frequented than the popular "scary" dinosaurs, and thus attract little vandalism and few POV edits.
- Casliber. Not sure. I guess the most input I did was getting some of the old names – Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Diplodocus – to featured article status, as well as helping on Iguanodon, which struck me as an enjoyable collaboration.
- Abyssal: Wikiproject Dinosaur's single greatest success: to have an article on every single kind of non-avian dinosaur. That achievement is far greater and more significant than any single article getting to wear a gold star in the corner.
Are all articles in your project about specific dinosaurs, or are there articles covering broader topics and other related subjects? What gaps in coverage exist that could be filled by new contributors?
- Dinoguy2: Early on in the project's development, we settled on a pattern of one article per genus of dinosaur (other zoology-based projects go down to species level) with a few exceptions, such as Species of Psittacosaurus. The big push initially was to make sure every dinosaur was covered with an article and that all the articles contained factually correct and verifiable information. Now that that goal has mostly been met, we have expanded into other dinosaur-related topics, such as the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction Event and the Bone Wars, as well as articles on notable paleontologists. I think this is one thing we could really use a hand fleshing out – I get a little OCD when I see a red link to a well-known paleontologist's name, though I don't usually have the time or resources to research biography myself. I've also been involved lately in fleshing out our numerous under-developed articles on specific rock formations. I find these really interesting because it's a chance to convey a specific point in time and place, and exactly what dinosaur lived together where. The problem is that while I have the resources to fill out taxon lists and editors like User:Abyssal have done a great job in formatting the pages with a consistent and easy-to-use style, we still need some qualified geology buffs to build out the actual article sections.
- HMallison: The general rule is (apparently – I am a noob here!) one article per genus. With most genera covered, interesting articles start popping up that cover the history of dinosaur palaeontology (and what a colourful area that is!), while others cover topics that deal with the palaeoecology and -biology as well as the palaeoenvironment that concerned dinosaurs. In the end, this will lead to a description of "the whole picture", the dream-come-true for anyone interested in dinosaurs.
- J. Spencer: People who are interested in the human aspects (the paleontologists and the history of study) and geologic aspects would certainly help our coverage. In terms of specific groups, our current editors are mostly concentrated in theropods, with some people working on prosauropods, horned dinosaurs, and ornithopods. The sauropods and armored dinosaurs are the laggards at this time. Also, because we work mostly at the genus level, some of the higher-level groups are thin in coverage.
- Firsfron: Most of the project's work has focused on individual genera (kinds) of dinosaurs, or families of dinosaurs, simply because more readers are interested in Allosaurus than its describer, Othniel Charles Marsh.
Writing articles on the taxonomy and anatomy of living creatures can become fairly technical. I'd assume that writing about prehistoric creatures adds a whole new dimension to the kinds of research needed to write a good article on a dinosaur. What can the average editor contribute to dinosaur articles, even if they don't have specialized knowledge in the field?
- Dinoguy2: Collaboration is key. We have a great stable of editors, both professionals and amateurs, with a wide knowledge base. So if one of us is particularly knowledgeable about the taxonomy of a group, you can bet another will know something about their biology, the history of research into the group, and their anatomy or ecology. Average editors have a lot of potential ground to add bits and pieces to, or maybe a general enough knowledge to let us know when we're getting tunnel vision or the writing has gotten too technical because we're too close to that particular field to have noticed.
- HMallison: One thing most laypeople do not realise is the dearth of information on many dinosaur species or specimens in the scientific literature. Money is tight, few people work in the field, and thus many fossils that have been described a hundred years ago now rot unregarded in some cellar. Literally. Therefore, it may be sufficient to read two or three publications, check an encyclopedic work such as the famous "The Dinosauria", and – lo and behold! – you know all there is to know about this beast! Adding such information to a stub is invaluable! Additionally, there is always the task, for each and every article, of gathering the widely spread tidbits of helpful information. The little asides in publications with titles suggesting they deal with a different universe. When several amateurs pool such knowledge, it is amazing what they can achieve.
- J. Spencer: A fresh viewpoint is always helpful, but beyond that, there's a lot that can be done. Heck, somebody who's got a copy of the electronic appendix to Tom Holtz' dinosaur encyclopedia (can be downloaded here) can do a lot with sourcing basic information; I use it for size estimates, for example.
- Firsfron: We always need new (and serious) editors, and we rarely have more than six or eight active editors at any time. The articles at the bottom end of WP:DABS need major improvements: sources, verifiable content, illustrations, etc. If you're interested in joining, please do. We want to recruit editors to the project who are interested in sourcing and verifying content; we do not need editors who add unsourced material. We get enough of that as it is, natch.
- Abyssal: One method I've found useful is to just crack open a paleontology book or journal article and start going sentence-by-sentence looking for information that hasn't made it to Wikipedia. A lot of the time it only takes a couple of sentences before finding something worth adding (properly attributed, of course) to the relevant article. It's not as tedious as it sounds and can be a very rewarding way for a wikinoob to leave a mark. I've spent many hours doing this.
The project maintains a category of approved dinosaur images. What kinds of dinosaur images are preferred for encyclopedic articles and why?
- Firsfron: Dinoguy2 headed up this part of the project back in 2006, and he's been dedicated to removing bad images ever since. Although everyone else has pitched in, the WikiProject would have been left with tons of undesirable illustrative material if it were not for his efforts.
- Dinoguy2: I was part of the first push to ensure that the quality of images in our articles matched the quality of the text, and I helped set up our current image review process, which I think has helped enormously. I'm an amateur paleo-artist myself, so including really accurate images that reflect current knowledge is very important to me and a big part of my current participation in the project. Basically, I and other editors agreed to a set of standards for images that says unless an image is of cultural or historic value to an article, they must meet very rigorous standards for accuracy. Part of the reason for this is that I know I personally am very visually oriented, so if a person like me comes to an article, they can be easily misled about any number of topics just by looking at an inaccurate image. Is the subject dinosaur anatomically correct, and exhibiting a pose or range of motion consistent with current biomechanical studies? Depicted in the correct environment, interacting with species that were actual contemporaries? If any of these elements are off, a casual Wikipedia browser could come away with bad or outdated info, even if the image is contradicted by an accurate description in the text. In short, contributing artists need to have really done their research, but I think it's worth it to have such a strict vetting process.
- Abyssal: We have spectacular, dedicated artists in the project. Their prolificity and commitment to accuracy (thanks in large part to the image review) is remarkable. We owe them a great debt. I think the best kind of image for an article is a well thought-out sideview illustration. They're artistically a bit sterile, but they are the best at doing their job – exhibiting the anatomy of the animal as it (might have) looked in life.
- HMallison: I am usually quite unhappy with images. That is mostly caused by bad museum mounts, which a photographer can't correct, and by incorrect reconstruction drawings in the literature, on which artists base their reconstructions. The review process in place at the Dinosaur project helps a lot, mainly because it vets out a lot of nonsense that amateurs can't catch on their own.
Has your project developed particularly close relationships with any other projects?
- Dinoguy2: WP:Dinosaurs has some close ties and many overlapping editors with our "sister projects" that cover other prehistoric animals, such as WikiProject Pterosaurs and WikiProject Sea Monsters. WikiProject Paleontology even has its own image review now, following the lead of WikiProject Dinosaurs, so that scientific standards have begun to be applied to other prehistoric animal images, from prehistoric birds to fishes.
- Firsfron: WP:DINO works with WikiProject Birds frequently, and they often review our articles at FA and GA (and we try to reciprocate). They're a great team over there, with dedicated editors interested in sourcing and verifiable content, and it's fun working with them.
- J. Spencer: WP:DINO overlaps extensively with other paleo projects, and at times members work with WikiProject Birds or WikiProject Mammals concerning prehistoric members of those groups (although this was mostly before WikiProject Paleontology took off).
- Abyssal: The membership lists of Wikiproject Dinosaurs and Wikiproject Paleontology have almost one hundred percent overlap. How's that for a close relationship? :P
What are WikiProject Dinosaur's most pressing needs? How can a new contributor help today?
- HMallison: An area that needs a lot of work is that of language and style. Lots of articles read like a hybrid between a children's Book of Dinosaurs and expert articles. Getting this smoothed out, and adding in the bits that make for smooth reading, such as short sentences on erroneous "common knowledge", why it is wrong, and how the new, hopefully correct hypothesis was developed, are a major task, and one that people with a love for a certain type of dinosaur usually have the right touch for.
- Dinoguy2: One major need right now is development of the articles not based on specific types of dinosaur. Articles like Dinosaur classification and other related topics, like the ecology present in specific rock formations, are still in the early stages of development. Of course we always need help keeping our thousands of dino-specific articles up to date whenever new research comes out, which can be a full-time job in itself. And we definitely need more people with a strong interest in ornithischians and sauropods ... I know theropods are much more interesting, but I'm man enough to admit that the herbivores need some love too!
- Firsfron: The end of WP:DABS lists the articles with the most pressing need for expansion and sourcing. A few of these articles can easily be doubled in size by adding just one or two sourced sentences. We need more editors interested in sourcing content, particularly in neglected articles concerning fossil material which has been neglected for decades or centuries.
- Abyssal: Crack open a paleontology book or journal article and start going sentence-by-sentence looking for information that hasn't made it to Wikipedia. A lot of the time it only takes a couple of sentences before finding something worth adding (properly attributed, of course) to relevant article. It's not as tedious as it sounds and can be a very rewarding way for a wikinoob to leave a mark. I've spent many hours doing this.
- Casliber: Where does one start? All the above answers are bang on the money. Some articles like Apatosaurus would be great to buff up, illustrating famous adventures in paleontology. Others such as the periods Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous are important to really help fill out knowledge to the masses. Any of the group articles like Sauropoda help flesh out evolution and changing attitudes of these beasties.
Next week, WikiProject Report will feature a project that would make the inhabitants of Mount Olympus proud. Until then, feel free to read past reports in the archive.
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