From: chris brochu <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Bambiraptor (comment on Brochu's comments)
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2000 21:27:12 -0500
> Nathan Myhrvold wrote:
><< I don't mean to put Chris on the spot, but the Field Museum bought Sue
> 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
> 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).
> Cute stuff, but you ARE putting Chris Brochu on the spot and he has no
>business being there. All throughout what I am sure he is begining to
>is an absolute ordeal from hell he has steadfastly been nothing but
>professional, as well as have the team of workers who have worked on this
>specimen. They have made an enormous contribution to dinosaur science as
>opposed to Tyrannosaur fairy tales.
> Perhaps it might be worthwhile for you to go through the whole Sue saga
>once again from the perspective of reality, or would you rather just
>your $50,000 crocodile fossil or dozens more fossils in your home or
>warehouse? And that's Maurice Williams, by the way. Next time run it
>spell check. Dan Varner.
Thanks for your kind words. But, let's be fair to Nathan as well - he does
have a valid point in that the high price paid for Sue seems to be causing
problems for other paleontologists. I still think the Museum did the only
thing it could (I don't say "right" here, because "right" and "wrong" both
take second-stage to "necessary"), and really think the problems he is
discussing are not long-term (sooner or later, landowners will realize that
the money made on Sue is not going to happen again), but they are occurring
I really had to do some soulsearching when the Sue position came up. I,
like other paleontologists, was uneasy with the money spent on this fossil.
But how else could we guarantee its curation in a museum? It was a matter
of pragmatism, not principle. I believe the other views I've expressed
also reflect pragmatism: I want published-on fossils to be in museums not
because of some high-falutin' concept of who should be in charge, but
because repeatability of observations is extremely important, and a museum
is really the only place this can be guaranteed within human limits. When
I state that fossils out of context are as useful as fossils that remain
uncollected, this reflects reality - if we don't know where they come from,
there is really little we can say, like it or not.
Several on this list have cried out for a middle ground solution. In my
eyes, the best solution is one that lets people see museums for what they
really are - *public trust institutions*. The curators here at the Field
don't "own" the fossils; that's what "curator" means in its Latin root, "to
care for". In Britain, curators are sometimes called "keepers." In fact,
if fossils are found on public land, the museums themselves do not own them
- they hold them for the public, which collectively owns them.
We need to let collectors (commercial or avocational) see that their
important discoveries do the most good when they are held in perpetuity by
a public-trust institution, where they can become part of the common pool
of data we all rely upon. The butterfly collectors alluded to earlier
formed the backbone of modern lepidopteran entomology not because of the
numbers of people looking, but because their collections of butterflies
and moths (along with locality information) ended up in natural history
museums. The same is true for many early fossil collections. Several
prominent museums (Denver Mus. Nat. Hist., Florida Mus. Nat. Hist, and
Cincinnati Museum Center come to mind, but are surely not the only ones)
have done an excellent job of reaching out to the local amateur
communities, and the amateurs begin to look on themselves as adjuncts of
the museums. Important specimens end up in the museum (where they belong),
and the collectors learn more about a subject they love.
I am not necessarily saying they should always be donated (though that
would be ideal); I could not say that and go to work on Sue tomorrow
without being a hypocrite. I know full-well that some commercial
collectors keep excellent locality data - including the Larsons, who were
actually responsible for Sue's collection; it may have been purchased from
a disreputable individual, but this individual was not responsible for the
information content. I also know that many object to fossils being placed
in a drawer where they will not be seen for decades; we scientists need to
get people to realize that those are the most important fossils of all, as
without them, we have no data. If fossils are viewed as commodities that
anyone can buy and sell, regardless of the informative value they might
contain, the scientific enterprise loses out.
off soapbox mode.
enjoy your Thanksgiving theropod.
Christopher A. Brochu
Department of Geology
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605