Paleontology and Society: It's More than Bones

One of the most dangerous myths about being a paleontologist--indeed, one that even is perpetuated by some paleontologists--is that we have no time or use to engage outside of our immediate profession. Time not spent doing research is time wasted. This attitude might work well for short-term publication output, but it is a recipe for long-term disaster. As professionals, we have an obligation to step out of the quarry, step out of the collections room, step out of the prep lab, and step out of the classroom, in order to speak out for our field. If we don't, who will?

Paleontologists have a significant opportunity to advocate for the importance of one National Science Foundation (NSF) program that supports paleontological collections. The Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) program has funded conservation, care, and access to a variety of fossil specimens, and is now on hiatus for review. This means that (currently), no more new funding proposals are being considered. This in turn means that no new money is going from the program into the curation, access, and preservation of fossils. The situation is a major negative for paleontology. Elsewhere, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has posted a summary of the situation as well as effective ways for anyone to get involved.

Since its inception, CSBR has ensured the long-term accessibility and care for numerous fossils that showcase the origins of humankind and our primate cousins, demonstrate the effects of climate change and extinction, and document the amazing creatures that once lived on our planet. Without accessible and permanent fossil collections, science simply doesn't happen. Even with major advances in digital technology, the original fossils hold secrets that no scan, photo, or database can ever capture. Even if you are not at an institution that has been funded by the CSBR program, you have almost certainly benefited directly or indirectly, whether by access to fossils at a funded collection or use of certain digital databases. Again, check out the SVP summary to learn more.

If we as paleontologists and paleontology enthusiasts want to continue to benefit from CSBR and its support for paleontological collections, we need to speak up. Members of SVP are eminently qualified to speak to the importance of the program and how it makes a daily difference for our profession and for the general public. NSF needs to hear from us. So, take a few moments to write a letter of support. Be a voice for our profession, and be a voice for the world's fossils.

--Andy Farke is Augustyn Family Curator at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology.
Posted: 4/8/2016 5:47:31 PM by andyfarkeadmin | with 0 comments
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