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Re: Stegosaurus preparation photos take two...

First of all, Frank, please accept my sincere thanks for your work as an EMT. While I support the importance of basic scientific research, nothing I will ever do in this field will have the immediate level of impact and emotional importance that saving lives has. That is truly awesome.

I don't, however, think it's entirely fair to suggest that "...there is an emotional need to make a distinction between a "paleontologist" and a 6 year old who just found their first fossil. You both are on the same team. One just has more ego than the other."

I'm not sure it's the paleontologists who are desplaying an ego trip. For example, imagine (actually, you can probably just use your personal experience) that you were at the scene of a horrific accident. And in this case an EMT was being interviewed by a local television crew. What would the other EMTs have thought, let along the nurses and doctors, if on the evening news that EMT had kept referring to himself as a doctor? Like, "In my opinion, as a doctor, I knew the person would not survive as soon as we arrived on the scene"? Who, in this case, is displaying an emotional need to benefit their ego? I don't think it would be the doctors who went through medical school, I think it would be the EMT who apparently (and wrongly) thought so little of his job that he or she felt the need to grab a different professional title to sound more important.

I am happy to be the first to agree that people who dig up fossils are extremely important to paleontology. It would be awfully hard to do the science without them. Likewise, fossil preparators are incredibly important. But if a fossil preparator refers to him or herself as a "paleontologist" I still think they are the ones trying to inflate their sense of self worth, not the paleontologists. Worse, it is belittling the all-important contribution that preparators make.

I have published a few minor papers and made some presentations at professional meetings, so in theory I would fall under my own minimum definition of "paleontologist." That being said, I still would feel uncomfortable using that term to refer to myself in an interview. I'd use "student of paleontology" until such time as I can contribute more frequently to the science. In all likelihood this will happen near the end of grad school for me. On the other hand, with a number of years of field experience, I can certainly refer to myself as an experienced field hand (although it's been a few years now, so I'm probably out of practice). I also have prepped a number of bones, but that was even longer ago, and I was never terribly skilled at it, so I don't ever refer to myself as a fossil preparator.

Now, why should fossil collectors of any ilk have the emotional "need" to call themselves something they aren't? Certainly when the public hears the term "paleontologist" they think of someone who is a scientist. Not to sound like I'm picking on fossil collectors either; we all know that there are some paleontologists don't do much field work, and I think we'd all think it was equally wierd if they publically referred to themselves as excavators, expedition leaders, or field hands.

I do think you hit the crux of the matter when you said "we're all on the same team." Because, of course, some paleontologists do question whether all collectors are in fact on the same team as the scientists are. That's a discussion for another time (and another list), but surely we can all participate in this debate without some people asserting they are scientists when they are not, in fact, doing science? I thought that was just common decency.

Scott Hartman
Zoology & Physiology
University of Wyoming
Laramie, WY 82070

(307) 742-3799