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Museology II

I guess I'll put my ten cents in, especially since I'm trying to do what I 
visualize right now.

I think there will be room for everything we have discussed. 

 - Skeletons in full size are not replaceable - they are the actual data and 
have their own important impact. However, I see them all being casts in the 
future because exhibiting real material in that way damages the fossils badly 
and we are just now seeing the result in our museum on some of our skeletons. 
Some sacrificial material will be out for touching but the real stuff out on 
display will have to be under vitrines and with some humidity and air control, 
or else they will decompose. Casts are much more flexible and have the same 
impact as mounts and can be a strong part of an exhibit with lots of real stuff 
out there under controlled situations. What will separate a museum from an 
amusement park will be the content and the presence of exhibited real material, 
which I believe is essential.

  - Reconstructed images a la Dan, Brian, Czerkas, Bob Walters, etc. will 
always be invaluable as well. They are more effective at showing options for 
the real look of the beasts, including 2-D and 3D, than any other way. The cost 
and value of the pieces should help avoid some of the incredibly stupid ways 
these important images have been treated in some places - including here - in 
the past. I think the big rise in dino popularity will help this, although 
there always will be art tragedies.

  - I think there is ample room for scientific content beyond the immediate 
dinosaur info such as one sees at the AMNH exhibits, which I like a lot. They 
managed not to paint themselves in a corner too much even given the volatility 
of cladograms. Technology will help insert that easier.

  - I also think there is room for historic exhibits such as the Peabody's. I 
grew up going to that exhibit and seeing the Zallinger mural last month still 
got the heart beating. Modern exhibits of any size cost $10-25 million, a 
university museum cannot approach that without a specific endowment for it.

I really see two aspects as the real future - that that is different 
significantly from now - and this is what we at the SI and other museum 
complexes are trying to accomplish. First, for the computer heads and those 
away from the Museum, massive outreach through virtual museums which will be 
more and more detailed as time goes on.

Second, since there is not a replacement for seeing the skeletons in the flesh, 
more or less, is the addition of some form of visualization apparatus for those 
walking through the museum where they can look at a part of an exhibit, say our 
Triceratops, and select an option where the skeleton or specimen is fleshed out 
and/or is made to walk, etc.  right there in front of their eyes- making the 
connection between the extinct beast and the individual more real, as well as 
making the contact of the visitor with the science more instructive. You do 
this by scanning in the fossils and building the models and animating them 
based on these accurate reconstructions - which are better for this than the 
artistic interpretations, although the two will converge more and more (heck we 
already have artists who do research and artistic paleontologists). Surprise, 
this is what we have done on the Triceratops project here and it is really 
going along great. Hope to bring in some artistic inter!
actors (new word here) such as Bob Walters soon to help flesh things out when 
we get there.

Anyway, my view of the visit to the museum in the future will be lots of 
off-campus visits using the net, which will be more and more realistic and will 
have lots of intricate learning paths and keys for specimens on display to the 
data base with the data. Also more specimens will only be on display in this 
way after scanning - and then nicely comfortable in their cases. At the museum 
itself will be the real stuff - not replaceable - but with skeletons made up of 
casts and real material in a more controlled way, which, through devices, will 
allow individuals to view the skeletons and then have them get fleshed out and 
animate (eg walk) as skeletons or fleshed-out material. That will be a great 
museum experience and I suspect we're less than a decade away from something 
right on the money from what I just summarized - and I hope it is here.

Ralph Chapman, NMNH