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Re: Bambiraptor (comment on Brochu's comments)

>>> chris brochu <cbrochu@mail.fmnh.org> 11/21/00 09:00AM >>>
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "chris brochu" <cbrochu@mail.fmnh.org>
>To: <dinosaur@usc.edu>
>Sent: Sunday, November 19, 2000 7:12 PM
>Subject: Re: Bambiraptor
>> A couple of responses here, folks.  Sorry if I'm beginning to sound
>> aggressive.....
>> >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?

Those who collect information with the fossils are not disreputable.  (To
be clear, I was using an alternative form of "wrong," which is what Eric
Lurio said).  A disreputable person is one who collects fossils as
commodities and not as scientific resources, and who will not consider the
needs of the scientific community when important material comes to light.

In short, we are to determine who is disreputable by actions.

>Are all private individuals who have personal collections of fossils 

No.  In fact, I know the person who owns the pterosaur you are working on,
and saw his collection over the summer.  Although I disagree with his
political orientations, he is not disreputable - he works hard to keep the
information with the fossils.  Although I disagree with the concept of
publishing on fossils in private hands (I would rather see this person
donate and/or sell the fossil to a museum before you work on it, and you
are limiting the number of possible publication venues by working on it
prior to curation), this is clearly a specimen worthy of description, not
only because of its informative content, but because the important
contextual information was preserved.

>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].

Willis, Salisbury, Langston.

>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?

Not "better off" - that was certainly never my point.  My point is that
such a fossil is no different than if it had not been collected.  So we are
in the same shape as before.

>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.

Too bad under the conditions you describe the important points it whispers
were never transcribed.

>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.

Not nice - _necessary_.  And if we cannot say where it comes from, we are
not better off for knowing about it.

In point of fact, I've actually seen fossils that might overturn parts of
my work.  The locality/temporal information was so bad that I could not, in
good conscience, include it.  Remember, parts of my work include
stratigraphic and biogeographic congruence - if I don't have that
information, it does very little (if anything) to move us forward.

>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.

I don't either, but we seem to disagree on the solutions.


Christopher A. Brochu
Department of Geology
Field Museum
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605

phone 312-665-7633
fax 312-665-7641
electronic cbrochu@fmppr.fmnh.org 
Looking this over, I have to say that we are being dragged down into a debate 
from which there may be no solution. Compromise is neccessary, and one thing 
compromise means is that no one will be satisfied with the final answer. 
However, if we are to allow peace and love and harmony to rule once again on 
this list, we may have to start looking for middle ground.

A few years back, I got into this same discussion with a friend of mine over 
private/commercial collection of fossils. This was at the same time the feds we 
dealing with how to handle to whole "Sue" situation. He had grown in Montana, 
and had frequently been out walking where hundreds of fossils are weathering 
out of the rocks, and would (if not for the private/commercial collectors) 
never be collected. Having grown up in central Ohio, where fossils are either 
very rare (mammoths and other megafauna) or very abundant (brachiopods), we 
never had that problem - all fossils of possible scientific value were 
collected, then given to various museums for curation. Anyway, this discussion 
was never solved - any compromise we reached did not satisfy either of us 
(typical of most compromises). And we were close friends! This nearly destroyed 
our friendship. Luckily, we decided to not worry about it - we would just agree 
to disagree. A couple years later, he was the best man at my weddi!

Sometimes we will never find a good answer. (See also recent presidential 
election...) However, we have to find middle ground. This list is possible 
because we are all interested in a common field. It would be horrible if we had 
to split it up based on any one topic in that wider field...

Brent : )