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RE: Fieldwork or bust? (Was: Stenopelix valdensis)

To add my two cents. . .

I think it largely depends on what you want to say or what you want to be.
If you want to say anything about biostratigraphy, paleoenvironments,
paleoecology, or taphonomy, you sure as heck had better be in the field. I
would argue that there is no way you can get a complete understanding for
any of these topics without field experience.

If one's interests are in systematics, phylogenetics, or funky morph, a
field emphasis probably isn't as necessary. In fact, you could probably
spend your whole career without ever setting foot in the field, and be
perfectly adequate in these regards. But, it might be a little hazardous to
say anything definitive on the topics in the above paragraph.

So, to answer Mike's specific question on what special insights are gained
from the field and not from the museum or literature? I would argue that
biostrat, paleoecology and taphonomy can only be studied in a very limited
way without reference to the actual rocks. Taking a stratigraphy paper on
faith can be a very dangerous game (unless you really know and trust the
stratigrapher!). Same goes for taphonomy. . .one worker's debris flow is
another worker's overbank deposit, and one worker's sauropod track is
another worker's load cast. And so forth. . .there are very few things that
aren't worth a second look!

Personally, perhaps the best argument for fieldwork is that it produces a
well-rounded paleontologist. At least that has been a big benefit for me. .
I have learned so much from my field experiences. It is no huge secret that
I have a bias towards functional morphology, and towards ceratopsians. This
aside, my time out west (in Utah, SD, and Wyoming, primarily) and in
Madagascar have been some of the best learning experiences of my life.
Because Madagascar has been the most recent and longest duration of my
projects, I'll say just a few words related to that. The best thing about
fieldwork is that it has helped me - indeed, forced me - to improve my
comparative anatomy skills. There aren't a whole lot of ceratopsian skulls
on that island, so I've learned (mostly by trial and error, with some
instruction from patient co-workers) frog, turtle, fish, abelisaur,
titanosaur, and croc bones. I will never forget what a titanosaur frontal
looks like, thanks to Kristi Curry-Rogers. And, I will always remember that
the inside of a titanosaur vertebra bears an astonishing resemblance to a
frog skull, fish bone, theropod braincase, or croc scute, so I will never be
so frustrated again after spend 45 minutes uncovering a total piece of crap
chunk of bone (thank you, Mike Getty, for delicately pointing this out to
me). On the geology side of things, Ray Rogers taught me so very much about
the stratigraphy of the Mahajanga Basin, and he also taught me to be
critical of stratigraphy (and trying to place fossils within it!), unless
I've seen the section myself. Also, my field experiences have helped me
understand just how prevalent collecting bias can be, for very logical
reasons of time and resources. Aside from this, there is the camaraderie and
fun that goes with a well-organized field camp (even if Krause is in
charge!). You don't have to go to an exotic locale to experience all of
this, either. And finally, you'll have a lot easier time finding something
new if you get out to the rocks!

Of course, all of these statements are my own opinion. I do not mean to say
that someone who mainly practices cladistics is necessarily a horrible field
paleontologist, or that a field paleontologist shouldn't do functional
morphology. I certainly can't hold a candle to many of my fellow colleagues,
when it comes to some aspects of fieldwork (or even functional morphology).
As Tom Holtz said in his post, we all need each other!


> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu [mailto:owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu] On Behalf Of
> Mike Taylor
> Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 6:22 AM
> To: Dinosaur@usc.edu
> Subject: Fieldwork or bust? (Was: Stenopelix valdensis)
> Not at all wanting to get caught up in Denver and Mickey's argument,
> but as I was reading a recent post in that thread, my eye was caught
> by this fragment:
> Denver Fowler writes:
>  > You cannot gain a true appreciation of time, stratigraphy,
>  > variation, or the fossil record as a whole, unless you actually go
>  > out into it and dig.
> Would most other DMLers perceive this as true?  What specific insight
> into the fossil record can only be gained in the field and not from
> studying in collections or the literature?  I am genuinely curious.
>  _/|_  ___________________________________________________________________
> /o ) \/  Mike Taylor  <mike@miketaylor.org.uk>
> http://www.miketaylor.org.uk
> )_v__/\  "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not
>        entitled to their own facts" -- U.S. Senator Pat Moynihan.