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Re: Museology

Since I've made my position fairly clear here, I'll just add a few
points to clarify, and be done with it.

---Jeffrey Martz <jeffmartz@earthlink.net> wrote:
>       Giving the laregly conjectural artistic interpretation of the
> the front seat to the evidence it is based on is exactly what you are
> advocating.  There is still going to be a great deal more
interpretation and
> subjectivity involved with a restoration then with showing the
actual fossil
> bones.  Look at Greg Paul, Mark Hallet, James Gurney, Brian Franzak,
> Doug Henderson's Tyrannosaurus rex restorations.  All are cutting
edge, all
> are plausible and give a sense of how the living animal MAY have
looked, but
> they all look different.  Which would you choose to emphasize in the
> exhibit?  The science can only take a restoration so far.

I agree with that, but as I've said I don't think we should be quite
so dogmatic in polarizing life restorations and skeletal restorations.
 I feel that the current work of the paleolife artists has progressed
to the extent that we can feel confident that a good life restoration
is a reasonable image of the real thing.  Consider that people like
Greg Paul were thought to be "fringe-ies" but their hypotheses are now
pretty much theories.  I would absolutely mark a life restoration as
"the interpretation of [artist's name]," and am alarmed that some of
the big life restorations do not have this. (Does the T. rex at the
Fernbank?  I don't think so.) 
>          Are you saying that 19th century scientists actually
beleived the
> that dinosaurs walked without tissue and organs?

No.  Rather, there was a side-show element to nineteenth century
scientific display.  Find the thing, display that thing.  "People have
read about the big bones coming up out of the ground.  So let us show
them the bones."  Similar displays featured the bodies of deformed
people and severely diseased organs.  Dinosaurs, those giant, bizarre
bones of ancient monsters, were part of the curio display.  

> I think everyone today and then is fully aware that dinosaurs did
not walk
> around without thier skin.

I agree.  All the more reason not to display them as such!

"Dinosaurs were certainly not big skeletons walking around without
skin and muscle.  So here, take a look at them walking around without
skin and muscle."

>  I could use  your reasoning to say that
> life-size models propogate the fantasy that dinosaurs stood
perfectly still,
> or that robotic dinosaurs propogate the fantasy that dinosaurs stood
in one
> place making the same movements over and over again.

Taken to absurd extemes, this would argue that only living, breathing,
real dinosaurs are satisfactory displays.  I'm not arguing that.  

Look at it this way. 

Jeff, let's say, speaking purely hypothetically, you're called by
aliens to lead them in their crusade against an evil alien race.  They
pluck you off Earth and arm you with a pulse rifle in the 40 megawatt
range.  Well, everyone on earth wants to know what the galaxy savior
looked like, but we can't find any pictures of you except your dental

The masses want to see Jeff Martz.  Would they rather look at your
dental x-rays or a restoration of your face done by an expert artist
in close consultation with your friends and family?

(I actually hope this happens so I can prove my point.)

>         Life models would in fact be propogating fanatasies of thier
> namely that the dinosaur in question has exactly the color scheme
and soft
> anatomy structures seen in the model, which are largely the
> plausible creation of the artist.  

There are definite limitations to life restorations, to be sure.  But
I'd argue that, even within those limitations, they are far more
useful as educational tools than a mounted skeleton.
> >What people really want to know
> >is what the animals looked like.  I think they'd readily forgive the
> >conjecture in order to walk away with a real sense of the animals as
> >living, breathing things.

>       Thats ALL anybody who visits the museum wants to know?  I'd
> that some museum goers want to LEARN something, not just have images
to feed
> thier imagination (although subordinate scale models and paintings can
> provide).  

This dichotomy -- that you can *learn* about dinosaurs by looking at
their skeletons but can only *feed your imagination* by looking at a
life restoration -- puzzles me, and I can only say that I don't
understand the premise.  What is there innately educational about a
bone that becomes rampantly imaginative and speculatory, even
fantastic, when you put flesh on the bone using strictly scientific

As to scale models, I have a consideable affection for these but they
don't convey the scope of the living animal as much as a full-scale

> >It's virtually colloquial that many people think that dinosaurs are
> >"just a bunch of dusty old bones in a museum."
>       Really?  

Yes, really.

>That should make museum attendence at AMNH, DMNH, and other
> museums with walking skeletons take a nose dive.  An awful lot of
people do,
> and always have, enjoyed looking at those dusty old bones.

Well, your premise doesn't *necessarily* follow my statement.  How do
we know how many people would be going to exhibits, would be more
interested in dinosaurs, would be more willing to invest in dinosaur
science, if displays relied less on mounted skeletons and more on
realistic life restoration?
> > You realize
> >of course that the skeletons are not displayed as they are for study
> >by paleontologists.
>     They are not neccessarily on display for people who don't care
> anything skeletal morphology either.

I will honestly say that precious few of the people who visit a museum
go to examine skeletal morphology.  An informal poll of visitors the
next time you go to your local museum should be very instructive.

>  It seems like you want to polarize
> everbody either as a stodgy, well educated, technical detail obsessed,
> unimaginative scientist or a ignorant red-neck museum visiting
family with
> screaming kids who want to be entertained and go home.

Well, no.

I wouldn't characterize the two groups that way at all, or even say
that there *are* two groups.  I'm in neither group, frinstance.  Nor
would I say that the scientist types are "unimaginative," and I don't
recall having said anything to that effect.  For that matter, the
people going to see the dinosaurs are certainly not "ignorant
rednecks."  When my folks, who are elderly and not ignorant rednecks
(despite the fact that they do now live in Altanta) went to the
Fernbank, I can tell you that they lingered at the life restorations
more than they did anywhere else.


Like most people, they have precious little (if indeed any) time to
absorb paleontology starting with geology, learning cladistics,
morphology, etc.  They also do not have the education to integrate it
all into a coherent, vivid world as science enthusiasts do (or, like
me, at least aspire to).  But they are still fascinated by these
vanished worlds, and want to reach out and see the animals, to
understand what they were like.  This in not in any respect the
opposite of education.  After all, what paleontologist does not hold
that as his or her ultimate goal?  

I'd argue that it's the paleontologist's job to dig deep into complex
subjects to establish theories about these animals so that others can
understand them without having to do all of that work.

My folks walked away from the T. rex at Fernbank mighty impressed. 
They imagined it standing there right before them.  I think that
that's results.

>        P.S. What's wrong with the American Museum's T.rex feet?

Even as I write this I think I hear a keyboard being furiously pounded
in Maryland ....

The third was asked which animal was the smartest of all, and the Brahmin 
replied: "The one we have not found yet."
---From Plutarch's biography of Alexander the Great


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