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Re: Stegosaurus preparation photos take two...

This is  an amazing group to say the least, what a brain trust!


I stand chastised on who was making the "noise". It was not meant personally to anyone in particular just a flawed, not well thought through observation (I believe I said perception). I didn't mean to suggest that paleontologist are created out of nothing but it takes an initiating spark (like life was created out of the soup) and one is born. I bet you always knew you were a paleontologist growing up only to discover when you actually became one, you weren't all along. Ahh, the delusions of youth. I believe my point was that paleontologists evolve and suddenly become real paleontologists upon the completion of a series of hurdles that have yet to become entirely clear to me. Gradualists need not apply. One day your not, and the next you are. Thus the punctuation analogy.

Apparently there is a broadly based opinion on the list that you have to be professional ie. published/degreed/underpaid and peer reviewed to be a paleontologist. I hereby agree that to be an "official" accomplished paleontologist you have to fulfill all these obligations. But I include a few more personal observations about obvious contradictions in the logic.

Though I am retired and ranching, I write a weekly local newspaper column about geology, all the locals consider me a geologist. I must admit I have occasionally have been introduced to groups of kids as a paleontologist, usually by the teacher and not by me. This will stop immediately.

As a result, I also suppose that paleontology, used as an adjective, will become more necessary when being introduced as a speaker (for example) to a mixed class from kindergarten to 6th grade from a local school. Since my highly detailed masters thesis was concerning biostratigraphic issues, I should be introduced to the kids as Mr. Bliss, Biostratigrapher just so I can watch the kids eyes spin in their orbits. It was much easier to steal (apparently) the title of paleontologist to explain an affiliation of interest and activity than to go into the fact that I am a 30 year experienced collector/preparator of old dead things, with hundreds of fossils in repository, who happens to have an advanced degree in a geological field with a pseudo-working knowledge of a few paleontological issues. I now will have to introduce myself as a paleontologically oriented biostratigrapher who happens to collect dinosaur bones on my ranch toward the furtherance of the science. I have a suspicion that I just lost all the K-third grade kids, most of the rest of them, and probably the teachers. It is hard to get kids back into your talk if you loose them on the first thing you say. This may be new to those of you that teach undergraduates/post graduates since they are lost before the discussion starts most of the time because of the hang over from the night before. I guess that all the glory and big money that I get from grade school talks, opening up with any kind of paleontological title will have to go by the wayside. I don't consider myself a paleontologist anyway so c'est la vie. I suspect it was just a linguistic conveyance to communicate the issue to young minds. I bet I am the only guy on the list though with 4 big tattoos of fossils on board. (I think this ought to be a prerequisite for the title because if you think you have suffered for the science, get a big trilobite tattooed on your shoulder and reconsider the point!) I always have my illustrations with me. ;-)

I always thought when you got paid regularly to do something that you were considered professional at it. (just ask the IRS, professional photographers and musicians) But that is flawed thinking here because professional collectors get paid for what they do and the SVP will have nothing to do with them let alone let any of them be called paleontologists (except for a few special cases perhaps?) Do you have to make a living as a paleontologist to be one? I am not sure if any paleontologists actually make a living as they should. But wait, the bigger money is with those that get big publicity. If I were being paid as a paleontologist, I would consider my self one BTW.

I do believe however, such issues are indeed fairly specific to this science because I have never heard of this before this week and I consider myself a pretty good observer of science. Maybe I should just stick with Geologist as my personal title, but wait, I have worked professionally as a geologic consultant, given advice to county and state governments, been a spokesman for and secretary of the board for a professional group of 30 plus geologists (the Geologists of Jackson Hole), but I haven't published any of it in the journals. I guess I am not a geologist either. I am trying to figure out why I spent 6 years in college, and got that masters degree. This becomes very messy doesn't it. I guess I am just a collector now. But wait, I have never been paid as a collector. Arrrrgh. That leaves rancher. Whoops ....... I forgot that ranchers never make money and they sure as heck don't publish very much. So much for professional ranchers. At least I am an EMT, no wait, I am a volunteer............................

Obviously there are many levels of achievement in any profession. A police officer that is a beginning road officer is still a cop as is the desk captain who has obtained a much higher level of achievement and training. The main confusion is not within this list anymore, but with the public and the public response to the publicity. I am not sure that some people who call themselves paleontologist (I mean the ones that apparently by quorum, don't deserve it.) mean it like someone claiming to be a medical doctor when they are not. As I explained above, it is a matter of expediency of communication that makes up for the difficulty in communicating ones general interest. I have no doubt that some abuse the title occurs.

Does the public as a whole actually grasp this publicity issue? Of course not, my point is that it is granted that highly educated and accomplished paleontological types have the right and should be able to call them selves what ever they want. Do they have an official lock on the title? Not yet. The SVP should press to get a law passed to governmentally license the occupation in order to prevent somebody from gaining from improperly using the title. (Oh boy, more government control!) There are licensed professional geologists now to go along with licensed medical doctors, psychs, etc, etc. There would be perks. A licensed paleontologist should be able to go on any government land and dig up what ever they please without having to go through the paperwork SNAFU. Fines should be slapped on transgressors of the title and the money used to further the science. Anybody caught with a fossil without a license would be in big trouble. Kind of like a concealed weapons permit for paleontologists. Keep the title out of the hands of children though and the safety on.

Sorry about the sarcasm, I hope I clarified my confusion.

I like the cladogram idea and it would be an interesting and probably publishable project. Sounds like a good use for an idle grad student.

Frank Bliss
MS Biostratigraphy
Weston, Wyoming
On Apr 27, 2005, at 6:33 AM, Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. wrote:

From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
frank bliss

I perceived it was the
"paleontologists" who were making a significant amount of the noise in
this discussion about the level of achievement necessary to be titled
as such.

Which is rather unusual, given the following observations based on the Dinolist Archives:

Using this post (http://dml.cmnh.org/2005Apr/msg00366.html) as the starting point, the relevant posters have been:
Varner (paleoartist) 7 posts
Schmidt (fossil dealer) 3 posts
Hartman (graduate student in vertebrate paleontology) 2 posts (1 sent multiple times)
Ohmes (?) 2 posts
Simon (?) 2 posts
Holtz (professional paleontologist) 1 post (okay, now 2 posts)
Cliff Green (artist) 1 post
Hirvela (?) 1 post
Dykes (amateur paleo-bookkeeper) 1 post
ReBecca Hunt (graduate student in vertebrate paleontology) 1 post
Rey (paleoartist) 1 post
Williams (professional paleontologist) 1 post
Pharris (graduate student in linguistics) 1 post
John Hunt (?) 1 post

Tim Williams and I are the only two professional degreed paleos (as far as I could see with my admittedly hurried glance) who have
posted on these threads. And I made it very clear in my posting that plenty of actual paleontologists (i.e., people who do
paleontology, which is a science) do not actually have degrees. So long as they are doing science, they are scientists, degree or

And yet time and time again people who don't actually do science (see earlier posting for definition) are introduced on talk shows
and such as "paleontologists". Well, no, they aren't. Sorry if that makes some people feel bad, but I'm not in the "make people feel
good business"; I'm a scientist.

Science cannot get done without a lot of help. We need administrators to run institutions and help find funding; preparators to
clean the specimens (although they may also be researchers in their own right: see below); artists to illustrate them; editors and
publishers to run the journals; and most importantly of all, field workers to help collect the specimens. (And, at some places,
graduate students to do all the work...) But the administrators, editors, and publishers don't claim to be paleontologists, and
those preparators who aren't interested in research are happy to call themselves preparators. Graduate students rightly and fairly
call themselves paleontologists in training, as already stated on this list and in stark contrast to Frank's assertion that the
professionals somehow believe that paleos are born fully formed ex nihilo.

Sometimes, I gotta wonder: do nuclear physicists and geochemists and microbiologists have this same issue...?

Incidentally, what does Horner have to say about the issue of preparators-as-scientists? Let's see... oh, here it is! _Digging
Dinosaurs_, p. 22 [talking about his days at Princeton]:
"A preparator's lot can vary greatly depending on his boss. He may be only a backroom technician, a hired hand with no say in the
research. Or he may work as a junior partner in the research, collaborating with his boss rather than just scubbing clean the
summer's haul of femurs and tibias. My situation was probably the best a preparator could hope for. My boss, Don Baird, and I worked
together on several research projects."

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
        Mailing Address:
                Building 237, Room 1117
                College Park, MD  20742

Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796