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more fossil theft



Tom wrote:
>Yes, very funny, and indeed true.  However, what Paul has missed from the
>last several postings was that A) none of the specimens discussed were
>collected from U.S. federal land and B) several of them were apparently
>stolen from the hands of private collectors (either citizens or musuems). 

Aw c'mon Tom lighten up a little. My post didn't even reference the cases
you're talking about. I started a new subject line with some lighthearted
comments about the broader issue of fossil preservation. 

Tom wrote:
>Would Paul be quite as funny if someone broke into the Black Hills
>Institute and stole all the specimens that are still there (i.e., those the
>U.S. government hadn't confiscated)?  I don't think so.

Bad analogy. As far as I'm concerned(along with lots of other people)
the BHI have already been the victims of "theft" by their own government.
As you well know, their *prime* specimen and perhaps the greatest find in
the history of paleontology has been taken from them on what even the
gov't now admits was an invalid premise. In a sense, the gov't has
"stolen" SUE from everybody and to quote Dr. Bakker, "that's a tragedy".

Neil wrote:
>I agree with what Thomas Holtz wrote.  I do not think that what Paul 
>wrote was helpful.  I don't know who Paul is, but from what Thomas 
>wrote, I presume he works for the Black Hills Institute.

Your presumption is incorrect. I don't work for the BHI. I don't even
know them very well. I met Pete Larson for the first time in Feb 1994 
at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show. I spoke with him for a grand total
of about 10 minutes. My support for them dates back to when I saw the
segment on Prime Time Live in January, 1993. I knew nothing about them
prior to that.

Neil wrote: 
>Many specimens from these localities are sold at rock fairs around the
>world and, in the process, have lost most of their data of scientific
>value.

This issue bothers me too, Neil. I suggest we attack it from the consumer
end. Let's not buy fossils unless we can get documentation with them.
Tell the dealers in your area, they need to do a better job documenting 
their specimens. To be fair, many dealers do an excellent job
at this, but it can always improve. My experiences at the largest show
in the world(Tucson) were that if the dealer had large, hero-type mounts
or specimens, they really knew what they were talking about and could 
give you anything you wanted including videotape of the excavation.
The lousy documenters tend to be Ma & Pa shops selling trilobites, etc.

>I could go on......but basically I am saying that 'erosion is acceptable;
>thefts from sites, collections and museums are not'.             

So Neil, what you are saying is that the loss of over 99% of specimens to
science is acceptable to you, while this fraction of one percent is not.
I totally agree with your position on the fraction of one percent. Theft
is wrong and should be punished whether it's fossils, diamonds, or VCRs. 
However, I find your cavalier attitute about the loss of over 99% of 
fossil specimens to be bizarre for someone interested in paleontology. 
For myself and many others, the 99% loss is also unacceptable and we feel 
obligated to do something about it. And we are not a bunch of criminals
either. We can discuss the pros and cons of everything from commercial
collecting to gov't policy to museum practices, but IMHO it all pales
in comparison to the continuous specimen loss through erosion. The science
of paleontology is about specimens, and the fact that over 99% of the
available specimens are lost to erosion is a scandal. When a fossil is 
lost to the elements, ALL the data is lost forever. And over 99% are 
being lost right now. What we need are some creative new ideas on how 
to make fossil preservation and data collection self-funding, so that
orders of magnitude more fossils can be rescued each year.

Since you guys seem so eager to take shots at me, I'll tell you right
where I stand so you wont have to make any more presumptions.
Erosion is the bogey man of paleontology. We have already discussed the 
Baucus vs House Bill. I support the House Bill along with the set of 
recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences(1987) with regard 
to access to fossils in the field. My earlier post on "fossil theft" is 
consistent with these policy statements. I'm not sure where Tom and Neil
stand on these issues, but it seems that some of their collegues 
believe in the following philosophy:

1) Let ME dig for fossils.
2) Lock up and fine anybody else who picks one up.
3) Let erosion destroy the other 99% of specimens. 
4) Allow no fossils to be bought or sold, just bring them to ME.

I'm reminded of the old Cope-Marsh tradition, where they would smash
bones rather than let the other guy get them. Surely you guys don't
feel that way, do you? What are your views regarding this larger
issue of fossil preservation? Do you ever think about what it would
be like if we had (at least) an order of magnitude more teams in the 
field each year? 

-Paul