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Re: [Fwd: Re: NOVA]

Michael D. Miller wrote:
> On Thu, 27 Feb 1997, Jennifer Auld and Dave Pelley wrote:
> > --
> > Whoops!  Sent it with the wrong address the first time!  Sorry!
> >
> The mindset, though, is that when people talk about scientists, they (I'm
> sure sometimes we also) think only those in the academic field.  But a
> scientist would include more than that.  I wouldn't hesitate one second
> to call Pete Lawson a scientist because that is what he is!  He may have
> spent less time in the field than Horner or anyone else and he may do
> things differently, but his primary concern is scientific, even though he
> runs a business off of what he does.  If we don't call him a scientist
> because he digs fossils as a business venture, then would it also be in
> place to call a biochemist who works for a private company a scientist?

I would also call Peter Larson a scientist, as I would his brother Neal 
(just published a great book on Pierre Ammonites).  Their museum will 
be a show place. I like them. They are good guys. They were screwed for 
everything they could be caught on because they were a symbol. There is 
a real spectrum of commercial paleontologists. The good guys, who try, 
who go to the meetings, who if things had gone differently might be 
major players in museums as we speak. There are also bums, just out for 
a quick buck who would leave your corpse rotting in a dry wah somewhere 
if you were stupid to walk up and say you shouldn't be doing that. And 
there is everyone in between.   
        As an academic paleontologist, who considers himself relatively 
pragmatic, I see the problem as scientists are getting shut out of many 
vast regions of the US. None of us have much money to do research. Many 
of my collegues go long periods without any funds to go out into the 
field. In large areas of the west, where much of the land is private, 
you cannot do field work without paying off the landowners. None of us 
have the funds to do this. I'll stretch a few thousand out over a field 
season (no one gets paid). Most of my collegues are paid to teach, 
research is done as they get funds to do it from the shrivelly agencies 
out there.
         I am paid to run dinosaur expeditions (public participant 
funded research), but even from that the program only pays the salaries 
of those of us running the program with none left over. Thus, my 
research in areas where expeditions would not work or are not wanted 
(ex. BLM and state lands of Utah) is based on my generating my own funds 
the same as anyone else. It is also very difficult to generate money for 
preparation, photography, drawings ect.
        A lot of my collegues and myself included are jealous of 
commercial paleo. They do not have to teach, write proposals, publish or 
perish, illustrate their finds, or write endless reports and permit 
applications. The dig, prepare, sell and dig somemore. The fun stuff! I 
am so sick of the efforts needed to do the work I could just scream. 
Sometimes I see all the efforts to stop commercial paleo from being 
conducted on public land, as nothing but the inadvertant generation of 
piles of new regulations that those of us that theretically are being 
encouraged to do research and obey the rules have to live by (hoops to 
jump through). 
        Think about who is doing research in the US, mostly local 
western and small museums. The big boys work overseas mostly. One reason 
is they can not depend on being able to continue long term projects on 
private land and many are sick of all the hoops they have to jump 
through to work on public museums. Another fear is that western states 
are going to start calling back their collections. One collections 
director from a major museum told me that if that happens, they would 
never work on state or federal land again in any capacity.
        The commodity value of fossils is the major problem. THE SALE! 
Scientists were able to conduct there research pretty much as they 
wanted prior to the vast inflation of fossils prices and perceived
value. If the Larsons were not selling fossils (they love them as much 
as I do), they would probably by ecking out a so so living as several of 
my friends who are contract paleontologists (Our paid by institutions 
specifically to collect under permit). You have to develop a hell of a 
reputation for producing the goods to make a living this way (the 
Larsons are this good). With reduced funds, the big instituitions do not 
have as much to spend along these lines.
        As a scientist my main concern is learning about and documenting 
the history of life. Now NOTHING can be considered science unless it is 
testable or falcifiable. Also all experiments must be repeatable! You 
can not go and dig up a fossil again so repeatibility is based on good 
field records being preserved and the resultant collections being 
available for future researches to examine (many important discoveries 
are made by studying museum collections). When collections are spread 
across the planet, they can not be studied!
        Now do we have enough fossils in collections for science ??? The 
vast majority of dinosaurs are known from one partial skeleton. Getting 
collections that we can do population studies on would be great. You 
cannot go out and study a herd. Growth studies, population studies, 
sexual dimorphism... It could could be hundreds of years before we can 
begin to answer some questions (the need for statistically valid 
samples. In the Morrison Fm. (studied intensley for over 100 yrs for 
dinosaurs) over the past decade two new dinosaurs a year have been 
        Do fossils weather away faster than we can dig them up. It 
depends on the formation and local climatic conditions. Some erode 
rapidly with new things exposed all the time- badlands under temperate 
semiarid rainfall patterns. Sites I have been observing for more than 
ten years in the Morrison have show no change except when vandalized. In 
Mexico, we find skeletons that from the desert varnish may have been 
lying on the surface for 1000s of years. One inch or so of rain a year 
means low erosion rates. If you gleaned the area for surface material, 
it would take 100's of year for significant new materal to weather out.
        Now I'm just venting. Basically none of the laws being proposed 
will change anything, but make more of a buearocracy for the "good guy". 
If people are serious about stopping the illegal trafficing in bones, 
make it illegal to sell or export them (never happen). If you want 
fossils found in your state to stay in your state, fund local paleo 
programs and go dig them up. These are complex issues and simple 
solutions will surely screw everything up.

Jim Kirkland
Dinamation Int'l Soc.