Just some Notes on my Ineptitude

Hey there every peoples.

This is not my triumphant return. Despite many kind words and reassurances from friends and internet folk alike, I still feel like I’m not cut out for this. I learned that the hard way when I got into that whole mishigas. They of course had their little cadre to reinforce their narrative while I was pretty much alone to wallow in my failure (the support kind of trickled in, a little late however). This is yet more purging of my inept idiocy. So don’t expect any more after this.

A few weeks ago I was discussing some southern California museum when I got put in my place yet again. I bemoaned how those fossils were all the way in the American Museum instead of staying in the region. I was reminded that the museums I have been trashing (ever since I started this whole “museum quest” nonsense) recovered those fossils that would have otherwise eroded away had they not invested the time, resources, and work to recover them when no one else was. And that’s true. Blinded by my own self righteous stupidity I failed to realize the good work these institutions had done. Aren’t I the worst?

He tried to reassure me that it was just a sore point for him, since he and his colleagues had gotten so much local hate from their projects in Hemet (CA) and Tule Springs (NV). But I don’t understand it. For example, Tule Springs. Yes the fossils are leaving the reagion, but like the museums I maligned they are preserving the fossils when no one else is. Perhaps instead of ragging on them, you should try getting your local institutions (in this case, The Nevada State Museum and University of Nevada Las Vegas) to step it up. Maybe try to raise money so they can build (or upgrade) a curation facility so the fossils can stay local. Right now the only suitable place is over in California. Hell, he even told me once that if Tule Springs National Monument wanted to build a paleontology center (like the one at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument) he would happily return them. Not having a local repository in the area’s history of paleontological investigation is one thing. Having a capable institution in the region that has done little is another. But more on that later.

I get the hate from Hemet even less. The fossils were taken a grueling, punishing… 30 miles away. A half hour drive from Hemet to Redlands. The fossils were not only staying in the region, they are staying in the immediate vicinity. And I’m sure if the Hall Geological Wonders were ever finished, the Diamond Valley fossils would have gotten their own section. They would have been a stone’s throw away. If you wanted to build your own museum for the fossils (which you did) fine. But this is hardly the situation to hate on the people who actually did the work of excavating, preserving, and studying them. I had to learn that. Maybe you should too.

Now, I feel it is ok for fossils to leave their “homeland” if there is good representation. The American Museum is said to have the biggest collection from the Barstow formation. Berkeley has a bunch of stuff from there too. However, this didn’t rub me the wrong way since both the San Bernardino County Museum and the Raymond Alf Museum have significant collections from there. But when there is no local representation is where I see a problem. Especially if a new one is created and wishes to curate the fossils collected by previous institutions. I think they should be allowed to if they can properly care for them and are willing to do the work. This gets into the issue of fossil ownership.

I think the problem is museums thinking their collections are their personal property. This includes copyrighting them and not wanting to turn them over to another museum. That’s right, it’s time for the Anza Borrego Story yet again. At 2013 SVP, i had heard that the new fossil repository at Anza Borrego Desert State Park wanted all specimens returned to them. The L.A. Museum had a large collection, which i heard they fought tooth and nail to keep. But apparently Anza Borrego won out. And then guess what? That following spring the L.A. Museum was doing a field trip to Anza Borrego. Granted I don’t have the full story, but that sounds like a jaded institution bitterly trying to replace what it has lost. I mean yes you lost some of your collection, but shouldn’t you at least be glad they are going to a good home? If these fossils are truly “our heritage”, then them moving shouldn’t be such a big deal. Especially since they are going to another well maintained curation facility. This, if true, sounds like a case of someone made because they lost something belonging to THEM. Those were THEIR fossils! Again, just stuff I heard from others. But if true, it is just another sad case of a museum viewing specimens as property instead of a shared heritage.

Although another part of my conversation with my friend struck a nerve. He said he had gotten into a debate with some other scientists about fossil horses. He said they were wrong about whatever they were discussing. They brushed it off because he was just a masters holder and worked at a small museum. People tell me how archaeology and ancient history aren’t actual sciences. But if can put that shallow prejudice aside, you can learn some interesting things. Like how in most societies throughout time positions of power were usually earned through bloodlines. Such respect and confidence was placed in the power of relations that it often didn’t matter how good of a hunter or warrior or leader you were. It didn’t matter if you were a maverick or an imbecile, benevolent or just an asshole, what mattered was what clan or family or house you belonged to. And that is what is going on today.

I usually refer to the PhD as a fancy piece of paper. This gets a range of disgruntled responses from “it proves you’ve done the work” to “it’s your license to find fossils” to “it’s the key to being a paleontologist”. However it seems to be used as the new clan system. It’s used to automatically discount anyone who disagrees with you or to lock out anyone but the elite few. Don’t get me wrong, a PhD is quite the accomplishment. But I don’t think a lack of it should be used to dismiss someone out of hand. What happened to experience? What happened to merit? What happened to good old fashion hard work? Look at my friend. He has 30 years experience in the lab and the field, including two of the biggest paleo projects around (Diamond Valley and Tule Springs). In fact his work on one of those led to the recent creation of a national monument. How many people can say they have helped create a national monument? He has published innumerable papers on fossil species and presented at dozens of scientific conferences. But he is automatically wrong because he doesn’t have the fancy piece of paper.

And what does that accomplish? From the sound of it: the preservation of ego and academic dogma. How is that in anyway science? When did the old system of lineage worship accomplish anything? Say what you want about the Aztecs but at least they were meritocratic. Sure it was through war but you could become part of the nobility if you were good at it. Genghis Kahn was only able to conquer half the world by uniting the 5 mongol tribes. He accomplished this by not rewarding family ties but rewarding prowess in battle. According to legend, an enemy warrior wounded him on the cheek. Rather than killing him in retaliation, Kahn instead admired his skill and gave him a rank of honor. A PhD should be a step up. Not a get out of jail free card. There is more than one route to becoming a scientist. I have to take the back door approach because my learning disability prevents me from going any higher than community college. So am I just fucked? Should I give up my life’s passion and find some other line of work because I can’t get the ridiculously high standard? I think that if you have done the work and can show you know your stuff, it’s shouldn’t matter whether or not you have the fancy piece of paper. This use of the PhD as a means to stifle dissent or exclude others, like the treatment of specimens as private property, is a trend that just needs to die (preferably by acid bath or impalement).

But what do I know? I’m not a scientist. I’m not even a grad student. Just as they say, I’m noting more than a “hateful idiot with a point to make”. Those folks (at least one of them) were scientists. They have done the actual work. What have I accomplished? Nothing. A few fossils found (one on a pay-to-prospect field trip) and a virtual museum that was dead on arrival because all the specimens are copyrighted. What do I have to offer the paleontological community? Just delusions of grandeur fed by stupidity, blind hate, and wishful thinking. I am able to go to SVP, so I guess there is the threat of me killing brain cells there. And what if I encounter any of those people? I’m no good at confrontation. Thought that may not matter. I’m a nobody, a minnow in a sea of sharks. I’ll just melt into background like I always do.

So sorry to disappoint you all. I’d like to come back but I feel like I’m not fit for this.

One thought on “Just some Notes on my Ineptitude

  1. Just read this and had to comment: Egos, power and recognition. The downfall of many. And in the end, there’s only a few people who routinely bow down to the Phd (usually other Phd-s!). The rest? Well, they form their own opinions and no matter what the current “science” says, the vast, overwhelming majority of human life on this planet will believe exactly as they want to. Perhaps, that lack of control (“idiots! They’re not listening to us!!”) is what really irks this tiny, microscopic subset of society who make up this academic clique. This is a lesson the media has discovered (painfully) that opinion can’t be controlled and with the numerous dischordant voices clammering for attention, a message (true or otherwise)can be overwhelmed and unheard. Far more powerful, is a voice such as yours which can explain and interpret science in a non-threatening manner to the millions who find paleo interesting….and have lives as such that they don’t have a Phd…(and many have normal human relationships too.) …and THOSE millions like museums and will help fund them. Open minds. All things are possible.

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