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Re: Bambiraptor (comment on Brochu's comments)
----- Original Message -----
From: "chris brochu" <email@example.com>
Sent: Sunday, November 19, 2000 7:12 PM
Subject: Re: Bambiraptor
> A couple of responses here, folks. Sorry if I'm beginning to sound
> >It seems that some PhDs
> >would rather see some fossils rot than to have the "wrong" people dig
> >them up.
> In fact, having them end up in disreputable hands is no different from
> having them rot in the field.
Please forgive me, but I must again mount the soap box.
I disagree with Chris Brochu's seemingly rash statement. First of all, I
would ask how we are to determine who is disreputable? Are all private
individuals who have personal collections of fossils disreputable?
Secondly, I would ask Chris to consider a hypothetical situation in which a
new specimen of a crocodilian comes to his attention. This crocodilian
provides sufficient information to overturn all the phylogenies of Clark,
Norell, and Brochu [sorry if I've left anyone out--I'm not as up on
crocodilian phylogeny as I might be]. Unfortunately, the specimen was
collected by a commercial collector, has only the vaguest locality data,
uncertain stratigraphic position, and is in the hands of a private
individual, perhaps even a disreputable private individual. So I ask you
Chris, would we be better off if the specimen had never been collected and
had been allowed to weather away to dust? Perhaps so, but I don't think so.
I think that specimen died and spent tens of millions of years imprisoned in
a rocky limbo so that it could come to us and whisper in our ears of its
world and relations. Who are we to ignore its whisperings just because it
had the misfortune to come to us with an incomplete story? Yes, it would be
nice to have accurate locality data; yes, it would be nice to have accurate
stratigraphic data; yes, it would be nice to know the circumstances
surrounding its deposition; yes, it would be nice to have it in our museum;
but despite all those shortcomings, it is a scientifically informative
specimen and we are better off for knowing about it.
Chris Brochu is clearly concerned about the problems arising from commercial
collection of fossils--I, too, am concerned, but I do not think that the
problems necessarily outweigh the benefits. Regardless, it may be that we,
as a profession, have created the current situation through our efforts to
popularize paleontology. Fifty years ago the general public knew little of,
and cared little about, paleontology. While there were commercial
collectors (e.g., Sternberg), they sold to museums, and private indivduals
did not buy important specimens as curios or investments. In the last 20 or
30 years we have worked hard to educate the general public about
paleontology, and we have done a good job of it. There are quite a number
of reasons why we should want to popularize paleontology. One of them was
that we hoped that increased funding for our science would follow increased
public interest, and it has worked. The increased public interest has lead
to better funding, perhaps not as good as we would like, but better than 50
years ago. However, that increased public interest almost certainly has
also lead to the proliferation of commercial collectors, fossil dealers, and
specimens in private hands as curios and investments. Things would
certainly be simpler for academic paleontologists if there were no
commercial collectors and all specimens were either in the ground or in our
museums, but I think that despite the problems we can learn more about
vertebrate history by considering any and all fossils we can get access to
than we could learn by ignoring all fossils collected by commercial
collectors or in private hands. Certainly ignoring the specimens collected
by commercial collectors is not going to make commercial collecting go away.
In this message and my previous message I have argued against inflexible
positions that will necessarily limit our ability to learn from fossils.
Wishing will not make the problems associated with commercial fossil
collecting go away. Instead, we need make the best of the situation by
being flexible enough to obtain the maximum information out of all fossils
I'll be away from my e-mail for a couple of days (eating a 12 lb dinosaur!),
but I trust that when I return we will have resolved these issues and peace,
respect, and love will once again reign on the dino-list.
S. Christopher Bennett, Ph.D.
Asst. Prof. of Basic Sciences
College of Chiropractic
University of Bridgeport
Bridgeport, CT 06601-2449