Published by the American Geological Institute
of the Earth Sciences
Paleontology has experienced tremendous growth and change during the past decade with exciting discoveries, advances in analytical capabilities and an increasing variety of tools for paleobiologic and paleoenvironmental reconstructions.
Nearly every issue of any science news magazine reports a new paleontological
discovery or a scientific breakthrough that is the direct result of paleontological
research. Even Hollywood has created respectable lead characters who are
paleontologists in some of the last decade’s most popular television shows
If training in the fundamentals of paleontology continues to decline, then we run the risk of not having enough expertise to provide the temporal framework and environmental interpretations that are critical to many applied and theoretical studies of Earth’s history.
Measures of the health of paleontology also include enrollments in paleontology classes, the number of faculty positions, the availability of research funding and employment opportunities. Unfortunately, these numbers are all on the decline. This issue of Geotimes investigates why and discusses reasons this trend should reverse.
Many areas of paleontological expertise are disappearing with the current wave of retirement among senior paleontologists, diminished funding for paleontological research and attrition of experienced industrial paleontologists. If training in the fundamentals of paleontology continues to decline, then we run the risk of not having enough expertise to provide the temporal framework and environmental interpretations that are critical to many applied and theoretical studies of Earth’s history. Handbooks and catalogs are no substitute for the knowledge mentors can pass on to new generations of scientists.
This issue’s authors are highly qualified to offer their perspectives on the current state of paleontology and the challenges that lie ahead. Bill Ausich of Ohio State University has taught and conducted research in paleontology for more than 20 years, and has helped to build one of the most successful paleontology programs in the United States. Martin Farley spent more than 10 years working as a stratigraphic palynologist with Exxon. John Armentrout built on his invertebrate paleontology background to become a stratigraphic research coordinator at Mobil, where he worked for more than 25 years. Both left Exxon and Mobil when the two companies merged last November.
In this month’s Comment, John Pojeta offers his perspective on the contributions of amateur paleontologists. Pojeta worked as an invertebrate paleontologist with the U.S. Geological Survey for more than 30 years. He was also president of the Paleontological Society and the Paleontological Research Institution and has written several publications that are guidelines for both amateurs and professionals collecting on public lands.
For the third feature, Geotimes staffers ventured out West to take a hard look at the controversies surrounding fossil collecting.
We hope this issue draws attention to current trends in paleontology
that may have negative long-term consequences for academia and industry.
Reversing these trends would not only benefit the geoscience profession,
but it would also ensure that all students, those studying science and
those not studying science, learn the wonders of Earth’s biological history.
Just imagine how far creationists would get if more state legislators took
a paleontology class when they were in college.
Geotimes Guest Editor
Curator of Foraminifera, Department of Paleobiology,
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History