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Re: Detectives on the trail of fossil looters (retry)

Mary Kirkaldy insisted:
The U.S. should not be in the business of licensing people to 
steal, just because they will do it anyway.

I haven't heard this style of argument in a long time, and I 
respect it.  I work on gambling for a State government here in 
the US, and this was an assertion used against legalization initially. 
 It's been pretty much dropped now, because it proved ineffective 
for anti-gambling forces.
If you're interested, the public favors entropy.  In many jurisdictions, 
there's usually a slight majority or plurality against gambling 
before it arrives, but once it's been around for a few years, 
at least some forms are favored by about 80% of the public.  
The 20% includes some people who play and oppose.
The main reason for authorizing gambling is money; given a budget 
shortfall and high projected revenue, many States have passed 
laws permitting a lottery or casinos.  
In limiting behavior that makes legislators squeamish, the amount 
of revenue counts.  During the legislative session this year, 
consideration was given to letting liquor stores open on Sunday. 
 The budget item had a chance when the revenue was projected 
at $12 million, but not with the later $6 million or even $2 
million estimates.
Those numbers might give a rough idea of how much would have 
to be 'promised' for collecting fossils to be authorized.  And 
please remember that no individual's life is ruined by collecting 
a fossil, so the opposition would have few dramatic human interest 
I think there's a chance that enough money would be persuasive 
in permitting for-profit fossil collection.  There's not much 
indication of pressure yet, that I've heard, but it is a reasonable 

You also noted:
Ivory used to command high prices, and the elephants didn't profit 
much from 
that trade.

>From what I've read about poaching, the market hasn't disappeared. 
 I hope at least some elephants have been saved because of the 
prohibition of the ivory trade.
I wonder how intensely fossils are now being looted in the US. 
 If substantial enough, then the current law wouldn't be providing 
much benefit.
There is money to be made in fossils, I think, and how much could 
determine whether a substantial push for private collection gets 

I noted a strategy which could be used to sell the idea of private 
fossil collecting to a governmental body:
I'm concerned that if this issue is presented to government and 

the public as a potentially large, profitable industry which 

can produce valuable information for science, but which is crippled 

by excessive regulation and the arrogance and exclusivity of 

experts, then we could easily end up with a less protective law 

than would be possible otherwise.
and you commented:
I don't follow your reasoning on this and will defer to the Real 

I respect your views on this, and I'll only say that I think 
anyone who has followed the debate on Alaskan oil drilling and 
other industry vs nature topics would agree that similar arguments 
have been effective.
My idea for consideration was that if there is a reasonable chance 
that for-profit collecting will be authorized, then people who 
care should define how such authorization is structured to maximize 
scientific value.  That's why I suggested as an example inclusion 
of the expert paid by the excavator and with authority over how 
the dig is conducted.  
To me, the idea of collecting for-profit is of interest only 
when compared to looting and to collecting and publishing after 
decades (which has the potential to disappoint me personally) 
or not at all.

As things stand, sounds like we can only wait and see if there 
will be a push for loosening of the rules, and hope that the 
looting is not too significant.

This, to me, is a tough situation.


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