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Re: F-W's Book- Amateur vs Prof and esoterica (Long)



Hello All,

I've been following (for the most part) the three  hot topics currently
bouncing around on this list some of which have cross-posted to and from
other lists, and have been mulling over when and if I should jump into the
fray. (I know that just makes  your day for some!). Thanks to John Wagerís
recent posts regarding cladistic shorthand,  
one possible answer to these vexing questions came to me...

To briefly recap the problems which I refer to, and paraphrasing...

1) The Amateur vs. Professional thread and semantics applied therein thread
2) The problem with the media's power to "popularize"  scientifically
incorrect  or inaccurate "facts" as law thread,

Which leads to 

3)The use of Paleontological jargon and vernacular ("Scientifically Correct";
"SC"). 

 Let me start off by first stating that I am not trying to start a flame war,
nor am I singling any one person or group with the following  but I will be
blunt where I feel it is necessary.

Once again we encounter the old argument of SC vs. "popular" culture.
Naturally, the overwhelming body of opinion falls between two camps which
also naturally clade out to amateurs (lay persons, avocationalís etc) and
professionals ( academics, grad and undergrads and the like) who unite at a
common node (Paleontologists). Then there is that outgroup (fossil dealers
and privateers but I won't get into that right now. For more info, see my
Paleontologist classification posting on the list's archives from 93' I
believe).

It has occurred to me the fundamental problem of our time with regards to SC
is getting our message out. Getting the message out in it's proper context,
vernacular and when possible, pronunciation but where the content of the
information is digestible to the masses. How do we do this? We take a lesson
from Spileberg and his media minions. Pop culture is not created over night.
It is a product of endless audio/visual bombardment of the public with their,
the media's, editorialized, sanitized, politicized and often hyped ad nauseum
repetition of the same old crap, over and over again until it (whatever they
want to program into us)  becomes second nature. This I believe is the
fundamental power of the media. It has resulted in a lethargic,  largely
disinterested, couch-potato public which feeds on televideo trash!  Of course
there are exceptions but they are few. And, I only speak, in this case, about
the problem here in the US based on MY observations. 

While we ( the scientific community) do not own our own theaters, tv, or
radio stations with which to disseminate  scientific information ( other than
journals) to the public we do have a powerful recourse, one that will help us
lead the way into the 21'st century and hopefully, to a better informed
public which in turn should improve the public's perception of scientists in
general.

I have said this before in several related rants against the Media. We have
the Internet! We now have the ability to compete with the media nearly on par
if we only take the time to use this medium to our advantage! As personal
computers get faster making high definition graphics and other video effects
comparable to movies and video and "Net" and Web access becomes available to
more individuals and schools, we will have an unprecedented and possibly the
only opportunity we will ever have to get the word out _in_the_
form_and_manner_ we want it to be. Witness personal Web pages constructed by
many of us currently on the list! Here is your chance to be heard! to make
your points without editorial bias from the media! Witness the advent of
on-line journals. Journals accessible to anyone! To make this idea come to
fruition we MUST take a page from the media's own play book. Using the
Internet (sensu lato) we should lead by example (as has been previously
suggested). By this I mean  that we return to our scientific roots when we
communicate with each other via mailing lists , on our own web pages, and
anything that is accessible to the lay public, in the proper context and
vernacular that is utilized by OUR field. And keep using it regardless of the
whines of a few out there who complain of it being too esoteric. By doing
this we would actually be doing those that read our posts a service by
teaching the reader  if not indirectly , by our example alone. They will be
encouraged to investigate, look up or research things and above all, they,
(we) all benefit.  Those that for whatever reason object to the nomenclature
will either adapt or go extinct. As long as paleontologists are the driving
force behind this medium, then we have a fighting chance against the 'narley
dudes' of  pop culture. If we stick to our guns, and not give in to this
contemptible, mentally bankrupt "pop culture" maybe a few people will take
notice.  No member of  this list is here because they were forced to and my
belief is that it will weed out "the men from the boys" so to speak. The best
way for students, amateurs and lay persons to learn paleontology, if, that is
why you are on this list,  is by _doing_ paleontology with all it's nuances.
Communicating in the vernacular of the field is essential to the field .
Paleontology is more than just talking about finding fossils, or  reading a
few  popular books. The terminology utilized by paleontologists was not
created  because of "elitism" or some other "us vs. them" paranoia. It is the
language by which all paleontologists communicate. Get a Latin and Greek
dictionary!  Remember the old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans"? Would
it not be prudent and proper for an English speaking individual who is
visiting a non-English speaking country to at least TRY and learn a few key
words, phrases and customs of the country being visited? I believe that it is
terribly arrogant of the person who does not even try! Likewise, when ones
car is having mechanical troubles, what do you tell the mechanic? The thingie
is not engaging the whirly-gig and the car wont go? If that's how you deal
with mechanics, then I've got some good deals on bridge deeds to sell you!
 You need to know at least _something_ that a mechanic can relate to if he is
going to accurately diagnose your car's problem.  In the above example,
knowing your distributor is the problem tells the mechanic and likewise he
telling you, makes communication of the idea so much easier and you don't
have to be a genius or even mechanically inclined to comprehend!  Similarly,
another fundamental aspect of paleontology is the classification of extinct
species using either Linnaean or Cladistic methods with even more esoteric
terminology. Here's where John's posts set the light bulb off for me. 

Let me digress momentarily to qualify my position. I am not yet a
professional paleontologist. I would never presume such credentials at this
stage in my career. Nor do I consider myself an amateur. But to some  of you,
I am sure there will be disagreement.  I am currently an undergrad working
 towards a PhD and hopefully a salaried job in paleo.  And I freely admit
that there is much I need to learn.  I have been doing field work, largely on
my own, for over 8 years at the lone remaining Early Cretaceous dino site on
the east coast and have many well known  professionals to thank for being
where I am now. Eventually, all of my material will resideat the Smithsonian
for all to see one day. I keep NOTHING!  Naturally, I am more sympathetic to
the academic side or more specifically, I am devoted to the _scientific_ side
of things.

Which brings me back to the other point. I had barely gotten down the
Linnaean classification scheme for dinosaurs when I first signed on this list
when I encountered intense use of  Cladistic nomenclature. I still do not
understand Cladistics all that well but I have learned far more from posts
like John's, Tom's and others as well as arguments against it, mostly from
George, than I have had I only read some book. In fact, such posts encouraged
me to learn more and of course, and yes, I finally bought a book on
cladistic. I get several journals and periodicals laced with the stuff  so
hat I just have to learn the system ! See my point!  This virtual classroom
we call the Dinosaur Mailing List, is essentially free, presided by some of
the premier scholars of our time, and best of all, NO TESTS! ( I just had to
say that!) 

I applaud John's recent posts on cladistic shorthand. This is a perfect QED.
I would  like to encourage John to continue writing posts in this manner .
Likewise, I would exhort all members of this list to follow John's, Tom's ,
and George's example.  If you don't understand something, ask someone who
does! Look it up!  The tools are there so use them! 



And from Dinogeorge's reply to the following,

<< All the whining about raptor-this
> >and t-rex that isn't going to change human nature. >>


>What most people call "human nature" is actually "human stupidity." And no,
>that's not going to change much, either--except perhaps to increase in
>quantity and virulence.

Hits it right on the head! But the other guy has a point as well. So we must
use the tools we have at our disposal viz. a viz. the Internet, as our means
to level the field with the mass media. Pound out the SC way repetitively in
everything we say and do publicly , lead by example, and some of it is bound
to rub off  After all, wasn't this the way students used to be taught ? We
cannot stop human stupidity but we can mitigate some of it's effects! 


Regards,
Thomas R. Lipka
Paleontological/Geological Studies