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RE: Bambiraptor (comment on Brochu's comments)
I'm sorry, but some of this requires a response:
>Art historians wouldn't agree with Chris that art is different - if there is
>a Van Gogh or Rembrandt from a critical period in the artists life that they
>can't study they are just as upset.
Agreed. But the research context is very different - historical one one
hand, scientific on the other.
However, in most cases private art
>collectors allow access because it enhances the value of the art work for it
>to be studied.
>In many cases that is what private dinosaur collectors do, but sadly not all
>cases. There are disreputable private collectors, but clearly not all of
>them (as Chris says).
>This is an area where it is very difficult for anybody to claim to have
>completely clean hands.
>For example, who makes some of the biggest purchases of fossils? Museums.
>They want trophy specimens, and many museums want to display dinosaurs, but
>do not bother to support dinosaur palenontology on an ongoing basis and
>discover their own specimens.
This does not describe the majority of natural history museums. I can
think of a handful that have been involved in this kind of think in recent
years, and certainly many were during the 19th century, but most museums do
not, in fact, buy the majority of their specimens, nor are they regularly
among the biggest buyers. Sue was an exception (for many reasons) - and
the Field Museum certainly does support field work, and has recently made
an offer to someone to be dinosaur curator.
So they buy trophy specimens at auction, or
>deal with commercial collectors. Without museums as customers commercial
>collectors would be out of business.
I disagree. Most commercial dealers sell to other private individuals.
Most museums do not regularly buy specimens.
>I don't mean to put Chris on the spot, but the Field Museum bought Sue from
>a source that many consider to be highly disreputable (Marice Williams).
>It's not worth going through the whole Sue saga again, but this is the guy
>who sold the specimen more than once, and got it back by a process that
>caused his own tribe to sue him (no pun intended).
>After the Field Musem hired Chris because they previously had no full time
>people in dinosaur paleontology. Their sudden interest was because they got
>the trophy specimen.
I'm sorry, but this is incorrect. The museum decided to hire a postdoc to
work on this fossil before it placed a bid. It decided during their
deliberations that this would be purchased as a research specimen as well
as a display piece - the Field Museum has a long history of research
prominence, and it will not purchase (or otherwise permanently acquire)
objects that will not meet some research need.
And to say the Museum had no full-time dino people before me is also
incorrect - Elmer Riggs, early in the 20th century, spent lots of time
working on dinosaurs (including sauropods). I would agree that other
research topics were central to Field Museum personnel for much of its
history, but from the Museum's perspective, the fossil was going to be
sold. There wasn't anything it could do about that. It belonged in a
museum. Ergo, it had to be purchased.
Moreover, they also decided during deliberations to consider opening a
dinosaur curatorial line here at the museum. This has been done, and an
offer has been made. I am not at liberty to say who has been given the
>The Field Museum could have hired Chris and mounted annual expeditions and
>found their own specimen - it's not like active field programs are
They could, and almost did. That I would rather work on crocodylians
explains why I'm going to Iowa City next year - I will really miss the
museum, but my own research proclivities lie elsewhere. And they are
hiring a new dino curator who will build a field program.
>You can say that the Field was courageous for "saving" Sue so Chris can
>study it and write all about it. At a lower price, and with less publicity
>that might be the case. But the huge price paid has distorted the market
>for dinosaurs so much, and caused so many changes with private land owners
>that it is may not be worth it. Yes one great specimen MIGHT have been lost
>to science, but it is not clear that the net loss to the entire field was
>worth it. And a private buyer might well have offered it for study.
Or might not have. And a private buyer would almost certainly not have had
the curatorial or preparatory facilities - remember, the fossil was not
completely prepped when it was acquired.
>I have commented in previous posts about the practice of exhibiting original
>specimens rather than casts - which I consider to be an unethical
>contributor to the problem. It is part of the trophy mentality, and it
>encourages the big auction sales. It is hard to convince donors to spend
>the money if you tell them that the originals are only back in the lab and
>"all" that will be on display is a cast. So they build the mystic of the
>"real" bones on display. It's another area where museums like to one-up
>each other("but we have the REAL bones"), without contibuting materially to
>the science of paleontology.
There actually are stats available showing that the public DOES care about
the difference between seeing real material and seeing casts. I will
provide the references if asked.
>It would be a lot better if museums bragged about the number of
>paleontologists they had on staff, the size of the field programs, or the
>number of scientific publications they produce.
They don't? Hmmm. Most museums I've worked with make a big deal about
precisely that. Our "Dinosaurs and More!" festival two weeks ago or so did
involve Sue, but we also had John Flynn talk about his Malagasy work, Darin
Croft discussed South American mammals, and Clarita Nunez (our mineralogy
collection manager) discussed the meteorite collection. And whenever I
visit the American Museum, the Natural History Museum in London, the LA
County Museum, the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum of
Minnesota, or whatever, I always see some sort of prominent exhibit
discussing the work done at that institution.
Christopher A. Brochu
Department of Geology
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605