Paleonet: Two new pleas (VERY IMPORTANT)

Shimada, Kenshu KSHIMADA at
Tue Nov 19 18:58:23 GMT 2013

Dear All,

Needless to say, I am very glad how things turned out regarding the SDNHM case.  I remained optimistic that we would be lucky if we could just save the Xiphactinus skeleton, so the museum's complete withdrawal from the auction came to a big (welcome) surprise.  Although the museum administrators' original plan to sell those fossils was simply a very poor (frankly, a BAD) idea, I think the administrators' brave decision has really saved the museum from being remembered as the first major natural history museum that carried out commercialization of fossils, and we should commend that.  My biggest fear was that, if such a reputable high-profile museum went on to selling those fossils, we could have seen a chain reaction worldwide for other museums to consider selling their collections (and remember that AAM guidelines are just for American museums).  The SDNHM administrators clearly had its own justification for the sale, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what the reason may be if administrators in other museums begin to consider their own collections as monetary assets.  Hence, I thought the issue was the greatest threat ever to all fields of collection-based scientific research.

The SDNHM is currently re-evaluating what to do with its fossils withdrawn from the auction.  Personally, I wish most (if not all) the Sternberg-collected specimens from Kansas being donated to the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas, and I will note that the Sternberg Museum does have a keen interest in accepting them and it has the money to cover the shipping cost.  This auction case has also brought to our attention the existence of a major hole in the AAM's deaccessioning guidelines.  Please rest assure that SVP is on this issue to work with AAM, and I hope the work would also extend to guidelines internationally.

So, is the issue over?  The answer is clearly 'no.'  Today, many more scientifically significant specimens will likely disappear from science through Bonhams' auction, and the situation will continue if we (as paleontological community) don't do anything about it.  So, including my personal plea regarding the SDNHM, here are a couple of requests to all:

Plea #1: The SDNHM must have taken a major financial hit by completely backing off from the auction since I presume it had to break the contract with Bonhams.  While I and many others took necessary actions the way we took, now is the time to ask everyone's help to assist restoring the public image of the museum and supporting the museum.  All those out there who threatened to cancel your museum memberships, please don't, and if you live in southern California, please visit the museum as frequently as you can.  I would like to remind that the administrators' poor decision (that is now thankfully corrected) does not negate the value of its paleontological research, displays, and public activities, and please be mindful to all the paleontology staff members there who were caught between other professionals and the museum administration.  I have no doubt in my mind that they must have had a tremendous influence to the museum administrators to shape the outcome of this ordeal.

Plea #2: I believe our success stems from SVP's clarification to the museum administrators about the fundamental function of natural history museums for scientific research, and I hope this reasoning has also clarified to people who might have wondered why 'professional paleontologists' always want specimens in museums.  Generally speaking, it's not their ego that they want fossils in museums, but simply permanency and accessibility of specimens that give the reproducibility of data are the prerequisites to carry out scientific research and to publish scientific data.  I think we should not muddle this core scientific requirement by talking about the ethics of fossil commercialization, since while posing ethical questions to others is okay, imposing one's ethical view to others will simply not take the issue anywhere as everybody's background is different.  So, here is my request.  Spread the following notion as widely as possible:  Maintaining the permanency and accessibility of natural history collections that allows the reproducibility of data is the main function of science-based museums.  Why this is important?  My thinking is that the more people are educated about this, there will be more chances people with scientifically significant fossils in private collections or potential buyers at auctions and through Internet may incline to donate their fossils to museums.  The more we educate people about this, it may even discourage commercialization of fossils and may lead to giving auction houses harder time finding buyers.

If you do care about the science of paleontology, I do hope these are reasonable requests.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Before I close this message, I take this opportunity to thank Cathy Forster and other members of the SVP Executive Committee as well as Bruce Schumacher, Mike Everhart, Laura Wilson, Brian Switek, and everyone else who played roll in the effort that ended with an incredible success.  Thank you!  As one of my colleagues put it:
>>>It's not very often you get a "best case scenario" ending.

Kenshu--Proud member of SVP
Kenshu Shimada, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental Science and Studies
   and Department of Biological Sciences
DePaul University
2325 N. Clifton Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614, USA
Research Associate in Paleontology
Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS 67601, USA

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