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Re: SVP Ethics statement

While I highly respect the SVP and it members, I would like to express the following.

There is a serious flaw in this threads thinking. Bartering/sale should include both parties so any institution (like a museum) that purchases (particularly the curators that buy or trade for such specimens) are out in the cold. They would have to be since paying to acquire a vertebrate fossil by anybody or institution supports the "discouraged" industry. I don't care how you present the facts it turns out that way. I am not a member of SVP but would support the organization except for high and mighty rules such as these. I have been a paid up card carrying member of the Paleontological Society since 1980. However if I collect a vertebrate fossil like SUE, spend 30,000 hours digging and preparing it, and sell it to the highest bidder which happens to be a museum, I too should be not suitable for membership. Heck, a private individual could have gotten it during the auction so what is the difference?

While I have never sold a fossil in my life, I have given hundreds of Tric spitter teeth, trilobites and all sorts of other "common" material away to children and educators. It could be argued I bartered my tric. teeth (or squandered valuable fossils) for the opportunity to speak in front of the group and get our children interested in science. I must be unable to sign up now. (Is there anyone out there wanting to do a statistical analysis of broken tric spitter teeth from an upper Cretaceous microsite of Montana??? What, no takers? I have wheelbarrows of predepositionally broken fragmented bone from my bone bed, anyone want to fly out and collect just the fragmented stuff???? Free lodging to any interested researcher.)

I believe such hard and precise rules are contrary to the science and stand on a principle (however correct in theory) that does not stand up in the real world of acquiring rare, hard fought for specimens by private individuals who invest time and money in their harvesting. Many specimens would fall to weathering and be destroyed waiting for purebred, "principled" educational researchers to come by and collect them. Three years of digging "scientifically valuable" Cretaceous mammal material out of the ground on my ranch, publicizing it on the web, sending a general letter out to all interested parties, has brought only cursory interest from researchers who are understandably busy with their own things. If I wait around for some purebred researcher to show up, the stuff would 1: not be found, 2: not be collected and 3: not be available. How would trading or bartering that "scientifically valuable" material for cash or other material (from anywhere) make a private collector different than an academic that turned in his credit card bills to his institutions to pay for gas. I might just use that cash or other bartered material to start the training of a new "purebread" academic researcher. The chain of custody of the rich guy that bought the fossils will probably evolve toward a museum anyway when the old stinker dies. (The loss of context applies of course and is a consideration but where else would an executor of an estate place a complete Dinosaur previously on display in a living room.) The difference is, a private collector doesn't get a salary, or his gas bills paid for up front. They do it on the back side by getting that stuff paid for after the fact. If it wasn't for private collectors (who can't always afford it like I can) to take the time and money to collect and prepare fossils, much would be lost to science. Seeing an articulated fossil on display for 30 years in a private environment is a small price to pay to save the fossil from loss.

I consider myself a "purebred" educated paleontologist though more of an spineless one except when it comes to what I perceive as misguided ethics. I agree only in principle to the rules and one has the right to join or not to join SVP. Any particular organization has the right to set up rules of membership. I just think it is high and mighty of the rules committee to require such things when they get their salary and expenses paid up front. I say again, I would never sell a fossil but only because I made a promise to a beloved professor 25 years ago that I wouldn't. Anything I collect will go to repository. Private clubs are by definition, exclusive.

I go out this globally warm northern wyoming afternoon in February, to investigate a "old bones sticking out of the ground" report by a local rancher who has never let a researcher on his property but because I am a local, I get to see it and potentially collect the specimen. (Sounds from the description like some rib bones in proper anatomical position to me). We will see. Without private collectors, the SVP would loose a valuable resource.

"Discourse is the essence of science", I just hate to see the intercourse of the private collector because of a flawed principle. The society must have a better way to deal with this issue than a lame statement in the bylaws. I hope this discussion makes its way to the halls of the SVP hierarchy. All in favor say Aye......

Sincerely and with respect,

Frank Bliss
MS Biostratigraphy
Weston, Wyoming

On Feb 23, 2005, at 10:36 AM, Tim Williams wrote:

don ohmes wrote:

Just curious- why only vertebrate fossils? Any comments?

Probably for no other reason that this is the Society of VERTEBRATE Paleontology. That would be my guess. I would also guess that their attitude would be the same for the barter, sale, or purchase of scientifically significant non-vertebrate fossils as well.



danvarner wrote:
I'm taking the liberty of  reposting this from the
vrtpaleo list. DV

<< The following SVP  Ethics statement on the sale of
vertebrate fossils is
posted on behalf of SVP  President Annalisa Berta.



The SVP Executive Committee is concerned with reports
about the sale of
vertebrate fossils by some members of SVP.  When
individuals join SVP, they
an agreement to abide by the bylaws of the  Society,
including the code of
ethics, which states, "the barter, sale, or  purchase
of scientifically
significant vertebrate fossils is not condoned unless
it brings them into or
them with, a public trust" (Bylaws of SVP, Article
12, Code of Ethics, Section
6).  We are compelled by our Bylaws to enforce  the
Code of Ethics.

We wish to make clear our position on this  subject.
As of March 1, 2005, we
have a standing committee to investigate  reported
incidents involving the
sale of scientifically significant vertebrate  fossils
by SVP members to
destinations other than recognized scientific
organizations.  This committee
make a recommendation to the Executive  Committee,
including the possible
termination of membership in SVP of those who  fail to
abide by the Code of

Annalisa Berta, President  SVP


Annalisa  Berta
Professor and Associate Chair
Department of Biology
San Diego  State University
San Diego, CA 92182-4614

phone: 619-594-5392
lab:  594-4584

email:  aberta@sunstroke.sdsu.edu