[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: Stegosaurus preparation photos take two...

OK, time to stick my hat in the ring...I have no idea why, since Scott, Tom, and a few others have made essentially all the points I would, but clearly some people aren't getting it.

   In addition to the EMT analogy, let me proffer a few others:

* Are chefs, bakers, and brewmeisters chemists? Certainly, they are doing chemistry for a living -- mixing chemicals, subjecting them to various and sundry laws of physics to produce chemically distinct (and generally delicious) results. I have little doubt that some chefs and bakers, and probably all serious brewmeisters, have investigated the actual chemical reactions that occur under various conditions in an attempt to regulate and manipulate them to very specific ends. Are they chemists? Would they be able to teach a full chemistry class? Could they publish in a peer-reviewed, chemistry journals and present papers at chemistry symposia? If one can say "yes" to those questions, then I would agree that person can be called a chemist (and I have little doubt that some chefs, bakers, and brewmeisters could indeed say "yes" to those questions!), completely regardless of whether or not they have any sort of formal degree (i.e., piece of paper written in Latin hanging on their wall) or whether they are self-taught. If they cannot, then they are _not_ chemists, despite the fact that they are doing chemistry. _Doing_ the activities does not make one a specialist in the formal field of those activities.

* Is a person who works in a pet store or a kennel a zoologist? Is a person who works in a nursery a botanist? (No, not _that_ kind of nursery....language is a stupid form of communication!) They work with plants and animals every day, and certainly know some things about them. Some are doubtlessly keen enough on the subject matter to have done some serious reading and self-educating, and very probably make interesting observations on their subjects -- they go through the initial stages of the scientific process. They probably _could_, were they so inclined, get the training needed to complete the scientific process and then publish, present, teach, etc. But most do not. Are they doing valuable work? Of course! But they are not zoologists and botanists.

Yes, paleontology _is_ one of the fields of science in which amateurs make valuable contributions -- I'd go so far as to say that there would be very little paleontology without their activities, since far and away most discoveries are made by amateurs, not by professionals. (I'd also say that there would probably be more amateurs involved in other sciences, too, except it's kind of hard to be an amateur quantum physicist when you don't have several billion dollars handy to build your own particle accelerator, and so on.) And I agree that there are "degrees" of paleontology -- self-taught amateurs abound and are an invaluable resource. Many progress so far as to be on a scientific par with the formally-trained paleontologists -- they do research, publish, present at meetings, and even teach courses. I would consider them paleontologists without any hesitation. I know far more people who have a keen interest in fossils, evolution, and the history of life on Earth, many of whom are well-read and self-taught. But they have no real interest in doing research, writing papers, presenting at (or even attending) meetings, teaching classes, etc. Are they valuable people? Again: of course! Not paleontologists, but not having the label doesn't make them worthless people. Americans are obsessed with labels and attaching value to those labels; this is a disgusting habit and anyone who thinks that someone is being egotistical by saying "this person is a paleontologist, this person isn't" needs to stand back a ways and look at the larger, semantics-based issue here. To be sure, the word "paleontologist," like all words, exists to express a specific thing for the ease of communication; by attempting to expand the word to encompass a much larger group of people (basically, anyone who has ever laid eyes on a fossil) renders the word meaningless and instead just creates a need for new words to describe the various sub-categories therein, and the complaining would start all over again ("I want _that_ label!"). It's a bloody, freakin' _word_. Let it define what it defines -- that's what words are _for_; it's nothing personal; ego is a complete non-issue. Deal with it, move on.

I will expand on one other issue: at the heart of science is the fundamental understanding that it is, in the long term, apolitical. Ostensibly, science is for _everyone_ to reap the benefits. We could go on endlessly about how politics (and economics) has perverted science time and again for the specific gain of just a few people, rather than the world as a whole, but we're going to look at the larger picture here instead. The general intention of most scientists is to do research and publish papers in order to make their research, and all its implications, available to the rest of the scientific community and any interested members of the public -- in short, to advance the human understanding of the universe in which we live. Again, this is not something that it takes a formal education or a degree to do or to comprehend. However, anyone working with fossils with the specific intention of _not_ making any results of that work publicly available probably don't deserve the label of "scientist." They are going through all the motions of science except this very critical one.

Oh, and Luis -- my guess as to why Americans got rid of all those extra "a's" in words like "palaeontology" -- probably some vain attempt to reduce the number of completely pointless silent letters. Too bad Webster didn't eliminate all those "e's" at the ends of many words... ;-D

Jerry D. Harris
Director of Paleontology
Dixie State College
Science Building
225 South 700 East
St. George, UT  84770
Phone: (435) 652-7758
Fax: (435) 656-4022
E-mail: jharris@dixie.edu
and     dinogami@hotmail.com

An expert is a man who has made all
the mistakes that can be made in a very
narrow field. -- Niels Bohr

After one look at this planet any visitor
from outer space would say "I want to
see the manager." -- William Burroughs