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Art in the service of science: You get what you pay for

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Last week, a very prominent artist in the paleontology community somewhat publicly blew a gasket. His tirade started a conversation that has been sorely in need of attention for some time now. At issue is a fundamental conflict of interests: between science and its tradition of cumulative knowledge, and the rights of the artists who contribute so heavily to such knowledge. It’s a conflict that has irked both artists and researchers, but as budgets tighten and opportunities dwindle, artists are increasingly getting the short end of the stick.

The paleoartist is Greg S. Paul. Over the course of his massively influential career, he had the unfortunate good fortune of coming up with an ingenious way to illustrate dinosaur skeletons for scientific papers. The style is known in the community as his and appropriately bears his name. He spent years perfecting it and its novelty was enough to build his reputation and sustain his career for close to 30 years.

Skeletal reconstruction of Camarasaurus supremus by Greg S. Paul from his book, the Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs. Image © Greg S. Paul, used with permission.

Paleontologists depend heavily on conventions so that they may compare scientific papers side-by-side and have some reliable way of making sense of a data set jumbled by millions of years. This has led to the adoption of standards when publishing bones and reconstructions so specimens may be seamlessly compared no matter where the fossils are located. Greg Paul’s style of dinosaur illustration combines multiple pieces of information: the skeletal anatomy, the body outline, and the missing parts of the skeleton in several standard views: lateral (side), dorsal (top), ventral (rear). It is so good at conveying this information intuitively that it has been widely adopted/imitated.

Skeletal reconstruction of Brontomerus mcintoshi. As far as I can tell, the image was "adapted" by Mike Taylor (see slightly confusing credit line in the Brontomerus press pack) from an illustration of Scott Hartman’s Camarasaurus grandis. Since Greg Paul’s outburst, Hartman has graciously conceded his point and has pledged to redraw his library of 100 or so skeletal reconstructions.

From a strict copyright perspective, this is illegal. Paul spent years developing this technique and his genius at combining disparate information into a clean, concise illustration should be rewarded with piles of work and mountains of cash (cue maniacal laughter, all the way to the bank.) From a scientific perspective, Paul invented a convention, and an invaluable one at that. It’s a convention that should be used widely to standardize the discourse that would otherwise be a jumble of hapless musings on fossil fragments scattered across the globe. Without convention, much information (and thus, progress) would be lost in the ensuing chaos.

As a staff illustrator, I defer my intellectual property claims on such matters in exchange for a regular paycheck and steady flow of work. In these cases where the interests of science conflict with my own interests as a business person (as all self-employed artists are), science wins, no contest. Simply put, I am an artist in the service of science. If I come up with such a good way of portraying information that it makes it all the way to the mythical status of convention, then hot-dog, I’ve just made a name for myself (hey boss, how ‘bout a raise?)

Greg Paul, or any other self-employed artist (read: small business owner), does not have that luxury. He must defend his copyrights and his intellectual property fiercely or lose valuable income in an extremely competitive field. And this territoriality is what shocks and irritates scientists who expect a culture of sharing information in exchange for merely being credited.

Unfortunately, being credited doesn’t pay the bills. And staff illustration positions, which strike a nice compromise for both parties, are increasingly rare. As staff illustrators retire at reputable institutions they are simply not being replaced. One of the more spectacular shows of illustration elimination happened last year at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, as three illustration positions were eliminated out of a total of four. This trend is bringing the science/art conflict to a head as researchers are forced to hire contractors to perform their illustrations. They pay a similar hourly rate as they would have their staff illustrators forgetting that contractors have to buy their own equipment, health insurance, and pay rent, not to mention find clients. To compensate, the artists give up fewer rights to their work which in turn infuriates the scientists. When they can’t simply modify the figure they paid for last year for a new paper this year they resent the artist. It’s a relentless cycle that puts everybody’s blood pressure on the rise.

At the beginning of last century, universities adopted tenure as a way to protect their professors and allow them to freely express ideas that may be unpopular, but ultimately revolutionary. Who in turn will stand up for artists in the service of science and protect their ability to move science forward without fear of starving? Science depends on it.


Greg S. Paul Illustration

Paul’s letter to artists, researchers and producers

Scott Hartman’s Skeletal Reconstructions

ART Evolved: Pandora’s Pencil Box: are there limits to artists’ intellectual property defenses?

Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs: The Great Debate in Paleoart

THE PALEO KING: Greg Paul threatens legal smackdown!

The Bite Stuff: Skeletal Posture

GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations, by Gregory Paul. Keep clicking on the "Thread Next" tab to see the rest of the discussion.


About the author: Kalliopi Monoyios is a scientific illustrator at the University of Chicago. Her work has appeared on the covers of Nature, Science, and Genesis and been ripped off by South Park (season 10, episode 12: "Go God Go"). She has illustrated two best-selling popular nonfiction books, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin, and Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne. She is convinced that by creating intriguing, intuitive imagery targeted to the right audience, scientists can make their research both interesting and accessible, ultimately leading to a more engaged and scientifically literate public. She blogs at An Eye for Science. Her portfolio can be found at

 The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 11 Comments

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  1. 1. anatotitan 1:26 pm 03/16/2011

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for contributing this to the Guest Blog. So many opinions flying around. We need more folks to be aware of this and for some of the higher profile artists, such as yourself, to be involved. It seems to be an issue made even more volatile by a generation gap between the old pros and young artists used to the landscape of the web.

    Mike Habib, a researcher at Johns Hopkins, is planning on proposing some solutions at this year’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting. Hopefully some good discussion between now and then will happen so some good way forward can be devised.

    And thanks for the link to my post!

    Link to this
  2. 2. Tiffany Miller 6:25 pm 03/16/2011

    As published in 1996 version of The Copyright Guide by Lee Wilson, the verbiage of the copyright statue: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodies in such work.”

    Styles and ideas are NOT copyrightable (that’s what trademarks, patents, and non-disclosure contracts are for.)

    I just need to get this out there before we do anything drastic, like redrawing 100 skeletal restorations.
    I’m still not sure what Greg means by “the Greg Paul look.” Greg is indeed a respected and influential force in the paleontological and paleoart communities. His concerns may be a little unsubstantiated (if indeed he is trying to make some kind of claim on possession on his restoration style) and not always plausible (“do entirely original
    restorations from beginning to end”) but he does raise very excellent issues on ethics.
    I have seen respected news magazines and scientific publishers (and tv shows) blatantly rip off published art without any permission whatsoever. I have seen in those publications a subpar illustrator redraw one of Greg Paul’s very recognizable action-dino-scenes and tack a `drawing after Greg Paul’ behind his own credits as if that made it okay. Let’s focus our attention on issues such as these, instead of whether or not running drawings through the negative filter in Photoshop would make them more or less offensive.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Glendon Mellow 9:27 pm 03/16/2011

    Paul’s messages have so much in them, and the overall message I am left with is: times have changed.

    Not all changes have been good – I agree institutions and editors seem to have abandoned workable wages in some cases. After the recession and with the ubiquity of uncited images on social networks, it almost seems petty for artists to ask for compensation.

    The nature of copyright continues to change also. It hasn’t settled yet, but it certainly won’t be settling on Paul’s side of the "get off my lawn" fence. Superstar artists are imitated. They can either attempt to throw down with their fans, or take a different path and embrace the notoriety. I’m reminded of the Dinotopia/Phantom Menace controversy.

    Kalliopi gets it right: scientists need the funds to make advances and part of that advance will always be couched in the visual realm.

    Link to this
  4. 4. David Marjanovic 6:43 am 03/17/2011

    The problem of paleoartists getting ripped off and not being able to make a living from paleoart is real, and I agree with Paul that organizing will go part of the way to fixing this problem. However…

    <blockquote>The style is known in the community as his and appropriately bears his name.</blockquote>

    You copied this from Paul’s website instead of talking to <a href="">the community</a>, right? This issue is much fuzzier than you portray it.

    The two things that are characteristic of Paul’s style of skeletal restorations are that they all show the animal running as fast as it could, pushing off with the left foot, and that they show the white skeleton surrounded by a black body silhouette instead of just being line drawings. By doing a very large number of reconstructions in this style, Paul has made these features widely known and used.

    But on the one hand, he didn’t invent them, he popularized them. The pose (running at maximum speed, pushing off with the left foot) comes from Robert T. Bakker’s (1969) life restoration of <i>Deinonychus</i>, <a href="">as Paul has sort of acknowledged</a>, and was used in life restorations and skeletal reconstructions in Bakker’s 1986 book The Dinosaur Heresies before Paul took off with his 1988 book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World.

    On the other hand, Paul popularized this style so successfully that it became an industry standard. Scientists and paleoartists deliberately and consciously imitated it in order to make their skeletal restorations comparable to most existing ones ( = Paul’s). The situation strikes me as similar to how Sony popularized the word "walkman": it was originally intended as a brand name, but so successfully became the generic name for a kind of device that a court found a few years ago that Sony had no rights to the word and should have come up with a word for the kind of device right away (as Apple later did with "smartphone" vs. "iPhone®").

    On the third hand, most scientific journals require that authors of manuscripts sign over all rights to the manuscript, the illustrations, and their firstborn over to the journal. Paul has published scientific papers in such journals and illustrated them…

    To close the circle, <a href="">this blog post</a> mentions a case where scientists and a fossil collector took a Paul reconstructions, didn’t even modify it, put a new name on it and credited it to the fossil collector. That’s evil.

    Link to this
  5. 5. David Marjanovic 7:10 am 03/17/2011

    Incidentally, while Paul’s *Camarasaurus supremus* and Hartman’s *Camarasaurus grandis* look similar at first glance, they clearly depict different animals (closely related ones as their names say, but still) — Hartman did his research, he did not take Paul’s reconstruction and slapped a new name on it. The neural spines on the front half of the tail are lower, those on the back are vertical instead of being inclined backwards, the back is completely straight instead of slightly arched, the ribs at the back of the neck are much longer and straighter, the elbows are more prominent, and the forelimbs aren’t held at the same angle to the direction of walking. In addition, there are stylistic differences – the neck is straight instead of S-shaped, and the hindlimbs aren’t quite in the same phase of the step cycle.


    "Ventral" doesn’t mean "rear". It means "belly-side", the opposite of "dorsal" = "back-side". Paul doesn’t do reconstructions in ventral view; what he sometimes does are reconstructions of the trunk in cranial (head-side) and caudal (tail-side) views.


    Usually, Paul does _not_ indicate which parts of the skeleton are actually known. He even includes elements that probably consisted of cartilage, not bone, in the living animal and therefore have next to no chance of being preserved in fossils.

    Others do this more regularly – Hartman for instance.


    Scientists aren’t well-situated financially themselves. They and their institutions are not paid for the quality of the illustrations they use in their papers; only how often their papers get cited has any influence on their careers and grants. Add to this that scientists don’t make money from publishing. Quite the contrary: many journals have page charges that the authors have to pay. In many journals, the right to publish a color illustration even costs the authors on the order of _nine hundred US dollars_, payable to the journal, even when the authors of the manuscript did the illustration themselves.

    The real problem, as far as I can see, is that demand for paleoart is almost entirely limited to penniless students and hardly richer scientists. (If I could, I would stuff this apartment with paleoart, but I can’t afford that, so I don’t.) Creating demand from people who can pay what paleoart is worth will take a while and is a political problem (public school systems and such are involved).


    I’m out of space again…

    Link to this
  6. 6. David Marjanovic 7:21 am 03/17/2011

    What adaptation Taylor did is obvious: he drew the bones known for *Brontomerus*, inserted them (in white) into Hartman’s *C. grandis* reconstruction (which he turned gray), and exchanged the scale bar for one that fits *Brontomerus*. This is standard practice. The idea is that skeletal reconstructions are science just like the text of a paper is; to use them for your own papers, you only need to cite the sources correctly.

    It is not clear to which extent such skeletal reconstructions should be considered art and/or science; of course, the implications for copyright are very different. In the discussion I linked to, Paul seems to (at least sometimes) take the stance that they are all art, so that modifying such a reconstruction and then publishing it would be a copyright violation – but even though he has been asked directly and repeatedly about where to draw the line in which circumstances, Paul still has not even tried to answer this question.

    Many paleoartists sign their reconstructions. Paul does not. This might – might! – indicate that he considers them scientific data instead of artwork, contradicting the stance he has apparently taken in the discussion.

    Link to this
  7. 7. MikeTaylor 8:02 am 03/17/2011

    Thanks, David, for saying most of what would have said in response to this article. Mostly it’s very good, and I really should emphasize (although I’ve been very critical of Greg’s recent assault) that I <i>do</i> agree he has some real points in among all the bluster.

    That said, there is a crucial error in the article: it says that Greg’s convention for depicting skeletal reconstructions "is so good at conveying this information intuitively that it has been widely adopted/imitated. From a strict copyright perspective, this is illegal." No: copyright has <i>nothing</i> to say about adoption of a convention: Greg would not own that convention even if he had invented (which he didn’t, and to be fair to him hasn’t claimed to). Of course, there have been violations of Greg’s copyright, and they are to be deplored; but adoption of his convention isn’t one of them.

    Link to this
  8. 8. MikeTaylor 8:03 am 03/17/2011

    [Why the heck does this blog platform, unlike EVERY OTHER BLOG PLATFORM IN EXISTENCE not allow HTML tags? I had to shout just now instead of using italics :-) ]

    Link to this
  9. 9. JDahiya 9:31 am 03/17/2011

    I second that heartfelt cry for html tags.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Heinrich Mallison 9:42 am 03/17/2011

    - Paul seems confused about copyright ownership: he demands that people desiring to use a skeletal reconstruction made by him and published in a scientific journal, with copyright transferred to the journal, contact HIM, not the journal, about using the drawing. No matter that e.g. his 2008 paper on iguanodontid taxonomy in Cretaceous Research is (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd., his 2000 paper on neoceratopsian forelimb posture in Palaeobiology is (c) 2000 The Palaeontological Society, etc. OBVIOUSLY, Paul retains the copyright to his originals, so if you ask him you may get a higher-resolution version. The version published in the paper is no longer his to decide on.

    - In 1987, Paul published an article titled:
    THE SCIENCE AND ART OF RESTORING THE LIFE APPEARANCES OF DINOSAURS AND THEIR RELATIVES. A Rigorous How-to Guide. (in Czerkas, S.J. & Olson, E.C. "Dinosaurs Past and Present, vol. II". University of Washington Press). In this article Mr. Paul describes how he creates his skeletons – no word that others should use a different pose! No word on how others should refrain from publishing their science results in different formats.
    In the abstract, as the last sentence, he claims:
    "At their best, when rendered with daring and boldness, restorations are also a form of art."
    Quite clearly, he saw them as a scientific contribution of importance, and as art only in special circumstances.
    Now, over 20 years after this influential paper, he seems to claim that he owns the rights to anything produced following the "guide", to see all as art, and to demand special copyright rules for it. He wants to make a living off this – I, for one, have never been paid for a scientific paper, nor for part of the content, nor do I know any scientist how was. Obviously, there is something wrong with Paul’s view: he does an a posteriori flip-flop, which now sounds very much like a desperate money-grab.

    - Paul has a long history or touting the scientific accuracy of his drawings. In fact, because he emphasized speed and comparability to much, at least some of them are highly inaccurate. Check e.g. those of Plateosaurus assessed here (shameless self promotion) – apparently, Paul didn’t follow his own guide, didn’t read the papers he took the bone views from, and ever since then never read any new paper on the issue.
    Does this make his drawings (bad) art instead of science? No, it makes some of them sloppy science, and correcting them and publishing the results is nothing but GOOD science.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Strangetruther 12:38 pm 03/23/2011

    From my latest blog posting

    "…Science has certainly got a ridiculous bargain out of him, as have the natural history enthusiasts who call themselves scientists. Judged by his contributions he certainly deserves followers for his ideas on protecting artists, but judged by his appreciation of this follower, he deserves nothing. He will have some effect but I can’t remember any time he’s even wanted to practice skilled use of his supporters. “When Trotsky spoke, we clapped. When Lenin spoke, we marched!” Paul might have had even more of an effect on people than he did if he’d only tried.

    "Due to his lumping of the famous Deinonychus in with Velociraptor, it was because of him the modern meaning of the term “raptor” became popularised. How often now he must see a modern fighter and be glad of the 1% of 1% royalty he got on every F-22 Raptor commissioned! ;-) "

    Link to this

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