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Moon rocks and dinosaur thefts
"Suspect in moon-rock theft arrested, co-defendant charged with dinosaur thefts"
Thad Roberts was a busy guy in July of 2002 but should be earning some
well-deserved downtime in the future:
In his own words, his interest in collecting dinosaur and other fossils:
(edited below to bring you the most inspiring passages)
NASA JSC Co-Op: Thad Roberts
The following document was reprinted from the NASA JSC Co-Ops website.
Hello! My name is Thad Roberts.
I guess that you are interested in what type of people get selected for the
coop program here at NASA, so I will tell you a little about myself.
I was born in Utah in 1977. I am an undergraduate student from the University
of Utah aspiring degrees in Geology, Geophysics and Physics. I am a junior in
all three degrees.
As a member of the cooperative education program, here at the Johnson Space
Center, I alternate between work and college.
As you can tell I love to be involved with many things. I volunteer at the Utah
Museum of Natural History on campus where I have been trained to prepare fossil
samples. My current project is a Sauropod vertebra that is about a half meter
cubed in volume.
Kaydee and I go out on Dinosaur digs on some weekends with Mike, Mark and
Monica who are with the museum. On one of our excavations, we were digging on
the first and only T-rex to be found in Utah so far. During lunch we were
prospecting within a quarter of a mile from the dig site and I found the 5th
tyrannosaurid tooth to ever be found in the North Horn Formation. That was very
Kaydee and I collect minerals in Utah and we often go out on weekends on what
we call treasure hunts, where we find beautiful Topaz, Bixbyite, Red Beryl, and
many other crystals. We also collect fossils from Utah, especially plant
fossils and trilobites.
I also volunteer for the Curators office in the Geology department.
The University of Utah is probably missing its specimens a lot more than it
misses Roberts' input/output.
For a brilliantly written piece on Roberts, NASA, egos and a similar situation
at the Smithsonian, see Barbara Weitbrecht's post at:
The theft of moon rocks from the Johnson Space Center [previous post] may have
been minor news for most of the media, but here at NASM it has become an
obsession. A colleague at JSC sent us the names of the interns involved and the
URL of Thad Roberts' personal home page. Of course this knowledge rapidly
diffused around the building.
"I can't imagine why anyone would be interested in thisâegotistical child," a
curator responded. I understand the comment, but I personally find Thad Roberts
fascinating. He is a perfect example of an evil that we in the museum community
see too often--a member of the inner circle who goes spectacularly bad.
One reason the NASM staff is reacting so strongly is that we had our own Thad
Roberts. A member of the curatorial staff--not a curator, though he described
himself as one--was stealing the artifacts in his care and selling them at
auction. The first we knew of it was when FBI agents showed up at the
Registrar's office. The offender spent six months in prison, but to our
amazement he continued to work in the aerospace museum community. Through sheer
force of personality he convinced prospective employers, not to mention his
wife, that the charges against him were fabricated--the result of a personal
vendetta by the Smithsonian administration spawned, apparently, by jealousy.
Like Thad Roberts, our traitor was a golden boy. He was young, handsome and
privileged, with expensive hobbies and a "willful personality" (a phrase used
to describe Mr. Roberts in a press release included on his website). His life
seemed dedicated to proving to the world at large "the wonderfulness of ME!"
And the world was mostly convinced, though not as fast or as fully as our
would-be curator had hoped. In the end, his raids on the collection seem to
have been as much about revenge as the need for money. Tellingly, he defended
his thefts by saying that the items were not being properly cared for. This is
an interesting justification, considering that the parts of the collection
raided were his responsibility.
Was Thad Roberts' fall similarly motivated? I have not doubt of it. The
"egotistical child" was obviously not stupid. He also obviously had high
ambitions in the geology and aerospace communities. He was, in every sense of
the word, a golden boy. But at JSC he was a very young fish in a large and
privileged pond. His superiors were older and duller. No doubt many of them
seemed like lazy government bureaucrats. They did not appreciate the
wonderfulness of HIM.
And so he took his revenge. Nobody was paying attention to that safe. It would
serve them right if their precious moon rocks vanished under their noses, prey
to the superior man, the golden boy with the willful personality.
It was stupidity. But it was also the arrogance of Lucifer, a pride both sinful
and deeply human. We who toil in the mines of "the increase and diffusion of
knowledge" watch the fall of the meteor and shiver, because we buy into the
golden boys' myths and share their rage against bureaucracy. The enterprise of
knowledge is noble and sacred; those who administer it are often dull-witted
plodders. It is easy to become disillusioned.
But disillusionment is ultimately egotism. Disillusionment is the world not
living up to your expectations. It is the conviction that the world is not
worthy of your labor, your love and integrity--that it is not worthy of the
wonderfulness of YOU.
I would say that a number of the fossil stealers (oops, dealers) fit into this
category. And weren't academic paleontologists supposed to be jealous of the
success of commercial collectors? Aren't fossils going to blow away as dust or
be hidden in drawers unless _someone_ takes them?