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State Dinosaur Legislation Creates Controversy in Massachusetts


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Fossildude19

The solution is simple. Have training for amateur collectors on how to collect properly.

 

Paleontologists should work with the amateurs instead of flat out banning the practice.

Most amateur collectors would be happy to work with museums and paleontologists.

They have more time, money, and enthusiasm for collecting than the museums do.

 

If there were some program to license/certify/permit amateurs and vet any finds made for scientific importance, it would be a win/win for all concerned.

Not all amateur collectors are looking to make a buck from selling fossils.  Some of us do actually want to move science forward.

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Tidgy's Dad
1 hour ago, Fossildude19 said:

The solution is simple. Have training for amateur collectors on how to collect properly.

 

Paleontologists should work with the amateurs instead of flat out banning the practice.

Most amateur collectors would be happy to work with museums and paleontologists.

They have more time, money, and enthusiasm for collecting than the museums do.

 

If there were some program to license/certify/permit amateurs and vet any finds made for scientific importance, it would be a win/win for all concerned.

Not all amateur collectors are looking to make a buck from selling fossils.  Some of us do actually want to move science forward.

Though I agree with this in principle, I notice that you write 'most amateur collectors". "Not all amateur amateur collectors" and "some of us". What are the percentages, I wonder? Even if it is a minority, as is so often the case, a few spoil things for the many.   

The license / permit idea is great in theory, but will the naughty folk sign up? And if they do, are they really going to bring their more unusual fossils to be examined by the authorities? 

And how long before said authorities get bored of dealing with 600 dinosaur embryos and eggs every day? :BigSmile: 

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I suppose with respect to having to manage a lot of eggs and embryos, patience and education is key (a bit like we exercise here). There is precedent, though... Before Covid, the Royal Ontario Museum used to run a volunteer "clinic" of sorts where people could bring their finds to be examined by professionals. I'm sure they had their fair share of rugose corals being presented as raptor claws, but they seemed to manage that with patience and grace. :) 

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Fossildude19

As in anything worth doing, there would be hiccups. There would be bad apples in the bunch. There would be frustration with pareidolia. 

But, making some sort of effort is better than blanket banning of all efforts to collect, and letting fossils get destroyed by erosion.  

 

There is no reward in letting fossils weather away. "Future generations" cannot study what is no longer there.  :unsure: 

 

It makes more sense to educate people and get them on board to helping the pros, rather than alienating them, thereby creating a black market/illegal acts. 

Ultimately, restriction will lessen scientific finds. One need only look at our Partners in Paleontology forum topics to see that amateur collectors have made some great discoveries that DID end up in museums and garnered scientific study. 

 

Unfortunately, government rarely makes sense.  :shrug:

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Agreed. The reward far outweighs the risks. I like to think most people are fundamentally good, and would be more motivated by the satisfaction of contributing to science than seeking a payday (I may be naive here :P ). 

 

And if it goes to a permit/license model, those who are proven to be naughty might see said permit/license revoked for breaking the good will of the collaboration. Making these conditional on good, ethical behaviour might be a way to mitigate the potential abuse. 

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Haravex

What about people making an income from collecting common fossils so many places where there is fantastic sites are miles away from anywhere and a lot of communities rely on collecting fossils and farming such is the case in Morocco and to a certain extent Niger. I'm also sure cattle ranch farmers have a rather hard life making money and supplement it with fossils being found and sold. I'm very much a believer if dinosaur teeth from example are common in the formation (for example; Hell Creek, Kem Kem, Elrhaz) then there is no issue with selling them there is only so many you need in a museum, possible bones and definitely articulated specimens are a totally different kettle of fish.

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1 hour ago, Haravex said:

What about people making an income from collecting common fossils so many places where there is fantastic sites are miles away from anywhere and a lot of communities rely on collecting fossils and farming such is the case in Morocco and to a certain extent Niger. I'm also sure cattle ranch farmers have a rather hard life making money and supplement it with fossils being found and sold. I'm very much a believer if dinosaur teeth from example are common in the formation (for example hell creek, kem kem, elrhaz) then there is no issue with selling them there is only so many you need in a museum, possible bones and defiantly articulated specimens are a totally different kettle of fish.

I'm sure selling fossils in moderation would be acceptable in many cases if the fossils are not scientifically significant (this may get a bit bumpy and complicated when we consider dinosaur fossils out west, of course, or those areas in Morocco where it is the primary source of a local economy). As long as commerce does not become mercenary or predatory at the expense of science or the enjoyment of others, I'm sure it can happily coexist. :) 

 

The best outcome is when there is agreement among professionals, amateurs, and sellers.  Each play their key roles, and there is so much to gain through collaboration. 

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Harry Pristis

 

Perhaps these tensions between amateurs and professionals (and their institutions) are more enduring than generally realized. A clue to the scope of the problem may be found in the proceedings of the 1987 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists.

 

At that meeting, the vast majority of professionals voted to reject the 1987 recommendations of the National Research Council on regulating paleontological collecting. The NRC recommendations are a blueprint for reconciling the interests of professionals, amateurs, and even commercial collectors. For most of us, it is hard to find fault with the insights, the logic, and the compromises recommended by the NRC panel of experts; but, the SVP professionals manage to do so. 

 

What motivates vertebrate paleontologists (and their institutions) to reject compromise, to want it all their way? Their argument is well known: "There is a Sacred Duty to collect, curate, and interpret the limited vertebrate fossils resources in order to add to the pool of human knowledge."  It's as though paleontology were a religious pursuit, and the professional paleontologists were the priests, the only people worthy of handling the sacred objects.  

 

Whether or not they believe in the Sacred Duty concept, some professionals (and institutions) seem to find it a convenient rationale for lobbying governmental agencies to control amateurs. In the professionals' view, amateurs are usually a necessary evil, sometimes a curse, rarely an asset; amateurs and commercial collectors are the competition!

 

The reality is that professional careers are built on acquiring significant fossil material. Significant material means institutional prestige. It also leads to publishable research; publication leads to a better job, tenure, grant money, status among peers, travel, and other good things. Getting significant fossils can mean the difference between being curator at a prestigious museum or teaching earth science at a community college.

 

Considering the importance of significant fossils to the professional, it is understandable that he may perceive amateurs as unreliable and undesirable competition. In this light, it becomes clear just how useful to an ambitious professional the "Sacred Duty" rationale can be: it is at once the moral high ground AND an excuse for actions which would be unthinkable in another context.

 

  Holding this self-erected moral high ground and driven by ideology or career ambition, perspective and sense of fair-play can become distorted. Fossil collectors, both amateur and commercial, may be seen as the forces of chaos and destruction which must be defeated or, at least, controlled (permits). Compromise may be viewed as a victory for evil. I think these are the notions which may cloud the judgement of professionals and their institutions.

 

Despite the Sacred Duty demagoguery, there may still be professionals who try as best they can to deal honestly and equitably with collectors. There will always be misunderstandings and misperceptions in this arena of conflicting interests, but a totally predaceous professional probably is as rare as a collector motivated solely by greed.

 

Collectors will seek out the cooperative professionals and institutions to share information, sites, and fossils; and they will avoid the predaceous ones, if they can. Unfortunately, the good guys are not always readily distinguishable from the bad guys in this arena.  Collectors should learn to shop for a professional paleontologist as he would for any other professional, say like an automobile mechanic. How has the professional dealt with other collectors? Is he accessible? Does he perform as promised? Is he honest?

 

When getting access to significant fossils becomes more clearly tied to reputation for fair-play, professionals will be more inclined to enter into cooperative, non-exploitive relationships with collectors. There is, after all, a duty which transcends the professionals' "Sacred Duty." That transcendent duty is usually called the Golden Rule. 

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Well stated, Harry. :dinothumb:

 

I know, for my part, I have good relations with the professional community from curators to researchers, but I also know to select those who are good with whom to work. I cherish and respect those relationships, and they do, too. There is an understanding we're all "on the same team." Those who cleave to the belief that amateur collectors are some kind of agents of chaos and ruin are likely clouded by their own very individual goals (to a hammer, everything is a nail). 

 

We get a lot more done together than operating in confrontational silos. 

 

Not to be overly sentimental, but spaces such as TFF are a testament to bridging those divides, where we have avocational folks, pros, and sellers with our compass point being the highest goal of all, which is the science of what comes from what we do, and the passion that we share.

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DPS Ammonite

I read the proposed legislation; it relates to the creation of a study of existing laws that protect paleontological, archeological and geological resources in Massachusetts. 
 

I find it interesting that a geologist, suggests that fossils found on private land may need approval from the government to collect them. I know of no laws in the US that give any government ownership rights in fossils found in private land. The government may dictate how you collect them if environmental or zoning laws apply. For example, you might not be able to turn your city lot into a giant quarry.

 

Quote from article with link at bottom.

 

“State laws, McMenamin said, mostly gives priority to the owner of the land where the artifact is found. But it's not entirely clear from the laws whether the landowner can do excavations on their own land without permission and if they do need permission, it's not clear who grants it, McMenamin said.

 

"For example, should you be asking the state archaeologist for permission to dig a paleontological dig? That's not entirely clear. So we need some clarity. And just some clear guidelines on how to proceed," he said.””

 

 

https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/story/news/2021/07/23/dinosaur-bill-concern-outdated-laws-digging-up-fossils/8069763002/

 

The easiest thing for Massachusetts to do is pass a law that prohibits all fossil collecting without a permit that only professional paleontologists or similar can obtain. That is the way Arizona did it with state lands.

 

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