Auspex

Please Help Craft New Guidelines

53 posts in this topic

I'm going to throw this is as well since I'm in kind of a contrarian mood. When I guy (gal) posts a request for ID and 6 guys chime in with guesses which range from the somewhat possible, to the holy cow where did that come from guess, it doesn't really enhance the veracity of the forum as a source.

If there are posting guidelines for requests, how about posting suggestions for ID's.......like no guessing. If you don't have a really good idea, just wait for someone who may know. There are a ton of guys here who want to provide input and have something to offer.

If you want a totally accurate apprasal, then mail it to me and wait 5 weeks. It will cost $200. :)

Otherwise, from the horrible photos and the lack of proper formation information, the best people can do is throw out wild guesses and bounce ideas off eachother.

And, holycow, it is fun to see what people drag up, and how can a person surpress their excitment by some of it? Isn't that the fun of having a group like this? To share the excitement?

:drool:

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I would like to suggest people have logical and informative topic descriptions. I'm hesitant to click on stuff that says "What's This?". So, a topic header that says "Found clam near Austin Texas" at least has some info about the thread.

1 person finds this informative

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A valuable part of what we publish lies in the process of evaluating the available evidence, wild guesses and all. It is especially informative (to all readers, not just the ID seeker) when the reasons for the various suggestions are presented. :)

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It is especially informative (to all readers, not just the ID seeker) when the reasons for the various suggestions are presented. :)

Absolutely agree. I've worked in many areas of scientific research and bouncing of ideas around is not only the fun stuff, but teaches logical deduction.

But people need to keep their cool while the sausage is being made. :D

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That brings up an old story of mine...

My son came home from middle school one day with a list of process steps that scientists use to do their "thing". I read it over and started to laugh.

Then I told him stories about how it REALLY comes about... real science is NOT pretty!

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Identifications on The Fossil Forum are ALL guesswork . . . to some degree of probability.

After all, we are identifying three-dimensional objects using only the two dimensions of an image. The probability of a guess being correct is correlated to the quality and completeness of a series of images, as well as the experience and perspicacity of the 'guesser.'

And, tmaier is correct, when he reminds us that the title of the request thread should 'hook' potential guessers by describing the object to some extent. There are too many posts for every potential guesser to read them all. "Clam found near Austin, Texas" is a hook for invertebrate collectors and for Texans, and such a title is far more likely to receive attention from the many knowledgeable collectors on TFF.

Identifications on TFF are not the ultimate answer unless the fossil-owner accepts that standard. The best use of a 'guess' here is as a lead for further research in books, on-line, or with institutions like museums.

Edited by Harry Pristis

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We would do well to acknowledge the limitations on what anyone can do with an image on a screen.

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We would do well to acknowledge the limitations on what anyone can do with an image on a screen.

Yes, that's probably true. However, some of the photographs presented on this forum allow me to see things I would never notice on my own. Of course, I am not a bona fide fossil addict, so I'll crawl back behind my rock. :)

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I second Harry and Tmaier's suggestions about more informative titles - I don't have enough free time to open up every single post, so I tend to open up posts where it's obvious that A) the person has a fossil from a group I study and am familiar with (marine mammals, marine birds, sharks, etc.) or B) the fossil is from a locality I'm familiar with. As a result, there are a lot of posts I never click on because "bone? rock? whatsit?" isn't enough to pique my interest. If it's got whale or dolphin in the title, for example, it's a guaranteed click. Thankfully helpful guys like Rich message me many of the posts that slip through the cracks.

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Very good point!

Even when the poster hasn't a clue about the identity of their mystery piece, some kind of information (especially where it is from) should be in the topic title. "Not A Clue" may be an accurate statement, but it conveys no useful info to attract the attention of those with potentially useful input.

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Another issue that is not being addressed are some tips for people who want to answer the question. People should try to be informative in their answers. If you see something that leads you to believe it is one thing or the other, give the diagostic points that are driving you towards that answer. Don't assume people know what you are talking about.

Also realize that there are many amateurs who are reading it and it is a learning experience for them, so some images or links to informative sites helps round out the experience to become less about just identifying that one fossil and more a whole of understanding that critter.

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Another issue that is not being addressed are some tips for people who want to answer the question. People should try to be informative in their answers. If you see something that leads you to believe it is one thing or the other, give the diagostic points that are driving you towards that answer. Don't assume people know what you are talking about.

Also realize that there are many amateurs who are reading it and it is a learning experience for them, so some images or links to informative sites helps round out the experience to become less about just identifying that one fossil and more a whole of understanding that critter.

This is what ultimately enriches to Forum :)

The Fossil ID forum is arguably our most fundamental means of public outreach.

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Perhaps it would make things less frustrating for the experts if the fossil ID new topic would have blanks that need to be filled in for dimensions and location before it would post? A simple flag button that generates an auto response to the poster for unclear or inadequate photos might be helpful also, especially if it automatically linked to the most relevant improve your photos threads. Keep in mind that not everyone owns expensive cameras and professional photo editing software, and some of us are old enough to have never taken a computer class in our lives.. I wish I had a way to easily label my photos with arrows and text, but my software with that capability is very user unfriendly and degrades the image with every edit. The end result is just as frustrating for the poster as it is for those trying to help with an ID.

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I doubt that the process can be reduced to a form without discouraging those who are "seeking the answers to questions unknown" from even trying. Asking for the basic info, if known, will get things started, and the respondents will be able to ask salient questions and direct the course of inquiry. How an answer is arrived at is half the education :)

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I am suggesting adding a few more blanks under the blank for title and tags to collect basic information like dimension and location. I would actually like to see more discussion in the ID threads. The only way to learn is to ask questions, but it isn't always easy to word the question when you aren't an expert on fossils.

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On that note, some sort of an FAQ on how fossils are identified - and how we identify fossils (e.g. comparison with specimens, reference to the literature, vast research libraries of photographs from museum collections) could be informative. It could be instructive to note that for many areas in paleontology we don't have (yet) some all-encompassing atlas of fossils that permits identification of every bone in the vertebrate skeleton (some exist for Pleistocene terrestrial mammals, but for fossil marine mammals, we're hosed). Also, many vertebrates are described from incomplete skeletons, so if bone X is not yet known from Species A, and someone finds bone X from the same locality but without overlapping parts, it may not be possible to identify the bone until yet another partial skeleton is found with bone X and preserving overlapping elements already confidently known for Species A.

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Very often, folks coming here for the first (or twenty first) time don't know what is important to present about their mystery. A good set of guidelines, presented as a 'tip sheet' aimed at achieving best results, will help (and will be educational in its own right).

We cannot expect that a quester will even know enough about what they have to intuit the steps. Neither can any guidelines we compose anticipate every type of fossil and preservation. The list of 'best practices' would be nearly infinite! We will always have to ask for more information, or different pictures, or some clarification or other. Most of all, anyone coming here for help should get just that, and they should never be put on the defensive.

Basic guidelines with instructional illustrations will help a lot. They will be highly educational in and of themselves. They will shed light on the vast complexity called paleontology that most people never dreamed existed. They will never result in a perfectly tidy 'app' for even simple identifications. We can at least hope to keep the process as user-friendly as possible.

I agree with Auspex, some of us understand proper angles, views needed and so on, but new folks lets not chase them away. This is not a professional peer reviewed forum even if some of us are more technical than others. Comments on location also a caveat. General locations (near a town, along a stream) are sufficient if I as the collector prefer not to share my new location. I have seen awesome locations destroyed by over collection and when you ask for "location, location, location" it appears to me that you want more than I would be willing to give as a professional. IF I have a special site I will take people depending on circumstances but never post specific detailed locations. Just my practice sorry...if it is a known site, not secret then post as much as you know of course....

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Good points - again, these would be recommendations, but if someone prefers to keep their locality secret, I can sympathize with that. I have all sorts of localities I'd rather not share data for except with other researchers - I've seen one too many cetacean skulls butchered by impatient idiots (or, specimens illegally poached from public/federal land in private collections where local authorities refuse to prosecute for fear of angering locals).

That being said, if someone prefers to keep that information a secret, that's their prerogative - including some very basic information, even as general as "Pliocene, Northern California" or "Lee Creek" or "Oligocene, South Carolina" would be sufficient to get various people's interest. Any of those would be enough to pique my interest, for example. I don't think anyone is demanding that any further detail be included - and again, this is moreso to give post titles a way to be better at standing out when sifting through the list of recent posts.

Does that sound reasonable?

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Certainly it is reasonable to recognize that prudence takes precedence, and that you can't force someone to reveal something they prefer to keep private. :)

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Many years ago somebody gave me the location of a cambrian site, but asked that I not pass the location information along. I had a large web site for fossils, so I just gave the location as "north Georgia" and the name of the site "The Smelly Dog Site". I got the name "smelly dog' because the guy who gave me the direction said "when you get to the intersection, there will be a gas station that has a very smelly dog., then turn left.".

Thus, the name...

This is a devious name because most ALL gas stations in north Geogia have a smelly hound dog. :D

At LEAST one.

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Auspex - Tethys is quite right about the new fossil submission form needing blanks to fill in specific information. Of course you're right that you don't want to discourage those who know nothing about what they've found, but you could simply have the blank entitled, "Best guess ID:". As for not wanting to divulge specific loc. data, that blank could say, "Location - as much or little as you wish:". Some posters do know the age, so a blank should say, "Age, if known:" As Tethys wrote, just having a blank to fill out encourages getting the basic data needed for an ID. Too many posts now say nothing whatever, but provide what's needed when prompted by members.

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I do need to revisit this. The last thing we want is to discourage someone with no experience from asking for help. So many IDs need a level of informational sophistication that cannot be reduced to a format. Asking for more info seems to be a preordained way to work an informed identification, as 'tell us all you know' doesn't help when someone doesn't know what's important.

The basics of sharp. bright images of all sides, size (with a rule for scale), and location of find hold true for all fossils. After that, it's basically Q&A.

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A basic concept I have noticed that needs to be encouraged when posting for ID's is the initial poster should be encouraged to tick the "follow this post" box so as to find their request for id's or they can quickly become lost or alternately could it be setup automatically if you do not tick a box.

The other thing and again a job for someone or possibly a select core group would be the ability to add additional key search "tags " under the title where a ID is fairly comprehensive thus allowing members the ability to find and refer to previous ID threads for the same or similar fossils or rocks. Some finds will never permit additional tags but many need them.

Not living in Europe or America I will probably never Id anything down to the scientific name for any of fossils in those countries but I like to search and look at those fossils that are tagged "cretaceous marine" as they are the fossils I find and like to compare to those I find or have seen, sometimes I have been able to suggest down to the family and other then have been able to fully id. The point is if I searched for cretaceous or marine I would only find 5 to 10% of the fossils that actually belong in that group and only some from the advanced members. I many cases cretaceous, preferably albian and marine or terrestrial would be more helpful than the formation in some cases where the id is comparative.

Mike

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Here's hoping that the next version of the software will include a provision the edit/add to the topic tags.

If it's buried in here somewhere, I have been unable to find it.

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Hi all, What about a drop box system as in a standard word spread sheet with some of the fields being compulsory to allow the post to upload, I am sure that an agreed set of criteria could be set up and a simple example of this is like any purchase made on line it askes for info and if its not completed it pushes you back to the relevant part to be completed.

IE

1 - Where did you find the fossil

2 - What do you think it is ( this could then have a drop box that has a list to chose from)

3 - Please up load an image including a ????? for scale showing top side and bottom view.

4 - and then any more that may be required.

However as someone who teaches root cause analysis remember the 5 Whys that will normally lead to the root cause.

I think that the forum is a wonderful place for people to come to for information and that if it becomes to complicated then people will stop using it and it would diminish the forum, remember we all started out as amateur's and needed guidance when you see an answer form a forum member who is classed as an advanced member with thousands of posts you would probably feel that the person will be giving accurate information and be please with the resulting answer.

As already stated we have a wealth of knowledge available on the forum and the likelihood of your find being ID will be high.

Well that's the longest post I have ever made so I will finish with "I am positive that we can come up with not just a solution but the right solution as long as we don't over think it"

Regards

Mike

Edited by Mike Pocock

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