Peer review in the Russian “Paleontological Journal”

There are two large Russian review papers on general nautiloid topics, which came out during the last years. Both papers are strange and are examples of how science should not be. In a rigorous peer review they would have had no chance to appear.

The two papers are: (1) Shevyrev (2006) suggested a new higher classification of the fossil cephalopods, and (2) Barskov et al (2008) published a review of the palecology of Palaeozoic cephalopods.

The two articles appeared in the Russian “Paleontological Journal”. The Journal is not free available in the net. But the classification of Shevyrev (2006) is outlined at Wikipedia.

The “Paleontological Journal” is the English translation of the “Paleontologicheskii Zhurnal”, which is written and published in Russian, it is distributed by Springer. It is important to understand this when looking at the papers.

Shevyrev (2006) reviews the systematic nautiloid literature since Hyatt (1884). His article is quite good to get an overview of the different classification concepts since the late 19th century, but is is really bad when it comes to his new classification approach. Shevyrev’s own classification seems to lack any concept, it looks like he adapts the ideas of his predecessors when he likes the idea and he rejects it when he dislikes it. The problem with this approach is that he provides no criteria for its decisions, and in almost all cases no evidence for its statements. Moreover the classification provides no new data, whatsoever and is full of serious mistakes.

One good example is his decision of placing the Lituitida into the Nautiloidea. He discusses Starobogatov (1983), Dzik (1984) and Mutvei (2002). Dzik and Mutvei could add substantial new data to the Lituitid-Problem and proposed a new classification of the Litutitida together with the Orthocerida. Shevyrev summarized Mutvei (2002) completely wrong. Obviously he did not understand the Mutvei paper. Based on this misunderstanding he placed the Lituitida in the Nautiloidea.

Another example is his statement that the Orthocerida are the stem group of the subclass Orthoceratoidea. His sentence “The Order Orthocerida, which possesses all the above characters [viz. the characters of the Orthoceratoidea, BK], is the stem group of the subclass” shows his lack of knowledge what a stem group is (viz. a group that lacks substantial characters of the crown group).  Moreover the statement is wrong, because the Orthocerida have lost some characters, which are present in other members of the subclass (see Evans 2005). Orthocerida possess no cicatrix bearing apex.

There are many more misinterpretations,and serious mistakes in this paper and his higher classification of the palaeozoic nautiloids cannot be accepted. The question rises, how such flawed argumentation coul survive the review system of the Journal.

The Barskov et al. (2008) paper is strange in a way that it directly refers to nautiloid research from the 1960s and before, but completely lacks the review of work of many western scholars. Entire schools of thinking and research are completely ignored. The authors drew conclusions from their review. However, because this reviews is basically based on pre-1970s literature the results are in each case a clear drawback behind the work done since. Moreover, the papers is filled with statements without evidence. It seems that simply the authority of the author as a specialist is proof for the stated opinion.

I will give one example:, Barskov et al. discuss the orientation of the cephalopod shell during life, but fail to mention and discuss for example the major works and reviews of Rex Crick (1989) and Westermann (1998), which are really essential in this context.
The 100+ page paper has not a single reference of Westermann’s work who devoted dozens of articles and monographs on the mode of life, shell strength, locomotion etc of ammonoids and nautiloids (see e.g. references in Westermann, 1998, or do a simple Google search on G.E.G. Westermann).
The authors discuss the nautiloid buoyancy regulation with completely ignoring the work of Harry Mutvei, who published since the 1950s many important papers on the siphuncle morphology and buoyancy regulation of (again a simple google search gives dozens of hits).
Moreover, Barskov et al. (2008) is full of illustrations copied from other sources without referring to them. Probably the authors have no access to the literature or they are simply ignorant and this is the reason, why they produce bad science.

My question is: How can this be published in a peer review journal?

I think the answer is simple. Because, it was written originally in Russian, it was peer reviewed in Russian. And obviously there is no competent reviewer left in the Russian palaeontology. So one can question the review system of the “Paleontological Journal” in general. When the papers are published in English and the journal should be taken serious as an international journal they should run an international peer review.

Currently I would suggest simply to ignore these two papers, or read them with great care.

CRICK RE (1988) Buoyancy regulation and macroevolution in nautiloid cephalopods. Senckenbergiana lethaea 69:. 13-42.

EVANS, D. H., 2005, The Lower and Middle Ordovician cephalopod faunas of England and Wales. of the Palaeontographical Society Monograph, 158, 81 p.

WESTERMANN, G. E. G. 1998a. Life habits of nautiloids. In: Savazzi, E. (Ed.), Functional morphology of the Invertebrate skeleton, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester & New York, pp. 263–298.

2 comments to Peer review in the Russian “Paleontological Journal”

  • [...] This question is easily answered by neontologists: Nautiloidea (subclass) are the others beneath the soft bodied cephalopods, the Coleoidea (subclass). Of the several hundred known living cephalopod genera [Felley et al. 2003, 1], only two are nautiloids, Nautilus, and Allonautilus. For neontologists, nautiloids are the few cephalopods which have primarily an outer shell [Lindgren et al. 2004, 2]. More problems arise for the classification of fossil cephalopods. Because nautiloids, are simply considered as stem-group cephalopods, nautiloids in the broad, classical sense are thus all old cephalopods that are not coleoids or ammonoids (this is the practice of the Treatise). However, the evolutionary history that lies between the appearance of the first cephalopod and between the appearance of the first coleoids is long and complex, thousands of extinct genera are known. Here, the neontological bipartition of cephalopods into nautiloids, and coleoids causes a great dilemma for the classification of fossil cephalopods, because it does not allow for the erection of new total groups that would express phylogenetic hypotheses, above the subclass level fixed by the Coleoidea. There are only few exceptions. Some extinct large monophyletic offshoots (plesions) can be excluded and treated as additional subclasses (e.g. ammonoids). However, for several proposed subclasses, such as actinoceroids, and bactritoids it is not clear if they represent paraphyletic/grade groups, or even polyphyletic groups [Kröger and Mapes, 2007a, b ]. For others, such as the Orthoceratoidea it would be appropriate to include new higher taxa above the subclass and below the class level, in order to classify extinct cephalopods in total groups that are transitional between coleoids and Nautilus. One approach to do this is that of Lehmann and Hillmer (1980), which distinguish between the Palcephalopoda and Neocephalopoda. The Neocephalopoda contain the ammonoids, coleoids and the diverse cephalopods with straight and coiled shells that are classified within the “Orthoceroidea”, and “Bactritoidea”, and the Lituitida. The Palcephalopoda are the remaining stem-group cephalopods. When accepting the bipartition of cephalopods into Neocephalopods and a stem-group grade than, the Palcephalopoda would  be a subjective junior synonym of the Nautiloidea. In fact, this is the implicit usage of the term “nautiloid” that I use since a few years in my own papers and that also has been practiced by the e.g. Manda and Turek (2009): nautiloids are stem group cephalopods exclusive ammonoids, bactritoids, coleoids and orthoceroids. Here I will call them “nautiloids sensu stricto”. In contrast the classical nautiloids of the Treatise, and that of the neontologist are all non-ammonoid cephalopods with an external shell. Here I will call them “nautiloids sensu lato”. A completely different classification was suggested by Shevyrev (2005), who divided cephalopods into eight subclasses. The subclasses itself comprise very different groups (paraphyletic/grade groups, plesions, and a crown group) many of them are considered as problematic and need serious revision [see here]. [...]

  • John McDonnell

    Doesn’t whether or not the Lituitida is included in the Nautiloidea (as opposed to the Ammonoidea) depend on what constitutes the Nautiloidea. As I see it the Nautiloidea comprises all externally shelled cephalopods with retrochoanitc siphuncles and concave septa (looking from the front). Major subdivision are below the rank of Subclass, i.e. superorders sensu Wade 1988. Plectronoceratoidea, Orthceratoidea, Nautilitoidea, etc. So by this reconing the Lituita may be included in the Orthoceratoidea ( I question that conclusion), but it still is a Nautiloid.

    Just the prespectives of an amateur paleontologist and student of fossil cephalopods.

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