Calvert Marine Museum in Solomon, MD
University of Florida 3-D workshop Gainesville, FL
By Lee Cone
I have invested a considerable amount of energy in writing about the FOSSIL Project, since my introduction to it in 2014 at the NAPC. The FOSSIL name stands for Fostering Opportunities for Synergistic STEM with Informal Learners. My energy has been directed to the FRIENDS in an effort to introduce its members to the program. I invited Bruce MacFadden, one of the contributing architects of the program to speak in 2014, and we secured doctoral students, Catalina Pimiento and Victor Perez for 2015. Several members of the AFM BOD heard Dr. MacFadden speak in 2014 and realized then how important the FOSSIL Project is to Paleontology and the Aurora Fossil Museum. The more involved that I have become with the program, the more important and far-reaching I believe the program is. Both the Friends and the Aurora Fossil Museum have received national attention because of our support and involvement with FOSSIL. The NSF (National Science Foundation) has invested almost 2 million dollars in FOSSIL and another 7.5 million in a UF technology offshoot called iDigBio, which seeks to digitize biodiversity collections nationwide. The program, myFOSSIL, seeks to bring together amateur collectors and professional paleontologists into coordinated contributions to these programs. The amateur has the opportunity to contribute on equal par with professionals, providing useful data in iDigBio for research worldwide. In order to achieve this, so that data entered by the amateur is actually useful, there is a growing need for the professional community to educate the amateur fossil collecting public. This can be accomplished through the network of clubs and societies around the country and through outreach to teachers and educators. Much like in genealogy, a single path branches into incredible numbers of connections, just as generations’ branch over time.
We have come to a juncture in the road of amateur collecting, and we must face the bare truth. Collecting is becoming less and less a freedom and legal maneuvering at the state and federal level seeks to reduce collecting all together. You may be aware my support for the myFOSSIL program is overwhelmingly positive, but let me be the first to say that FOSSIL is NOT, nor should it ever be, a political advocacy group one way or another. We, though, as part of the amateur community, have a major part to play, and we have the potential to preserve our freedom to collect by understanding and adhering to the principles set forth by FOSSIL and the professional side of paleontology. I have truly come to believe that the FOSSIL Project has the potential to impact paleontology to levels never imagined, and prove it to be one of the most productive programs and dynamic resources ever created in paleontology. If the amateur community embraces myFOSSIL, and demonstrates its ability to confide in, contribute to, and forge relationships with the professional side of paleontology, then the amateur’s value will be recognized to levels beyond their museum contributions or financial donations.
Amateur contributions are widely accepted in so far as tangible assets, but are not well known through data base research contributions. That is where organizations, such as the Friends, must educate its members. Most amateur collectors are not aware, nor are they knowledgeable about protocol and ethics in paleontology. We must teach this to our members, and it must be part of our charter and membership objectives in order to develop the character of our membership into a force, which is valued and necessary to the professional. If the entire professional community finds that the amateur contribution to paleontology is outstanding and worthy of research quality data, maybe the efforts to thwart amateur collecting will disappear. I feel as though the “ball is in our court”. Bruce MacFadden and the FOSSIL Project directors have given us the stage to show what we really can do. They have made it possible for us to become an asset, not a liability. They have provided a platform, and they have funded and organized it for us. Now it is up to us to prove that we are in fact responsible enough to carry this torch and educate those within our organization as to professional care and protocol. If we do this correctly, we can work with museums, with the universities, and with the post grads, providing insurmountable amounts of educational material for their use from our collecting.
The willingness of FOSSIL to assist and work with the Friends of the AFM and other groups is well documented and their efforts in outreach to clubs and societies have been demonstrated through speakers at our educational lectures, through engaging activities at the Aurora Fossil Festival, through invitations to many of our members for the Calvert Marine Museum Mini-conference in Solomon, MD (May 25-26), the 3-D Educational Workshop in Gainesville, FL. (June 15-17) and the upcoming Nebraska Badlands paleontology collaborative field conference scheduled for August 11-15.
What I have noticed at every event that I have been a part of is a genuine feeling of respect. Not once have I seen even a hint of professional snobbery or condescending elitism. In every case the professionals embraced the amateurs as equals, as friends, and above all with utmost respect. We were welcomed. This is not always the case in some professional/amateur relationships. The difference is that the FOSSIL professionals have one focus, which is to educate and reach out to amateurs who want to learn, want to listen, and want to be a part of this program. As amateurs we need to hear what is being said, and we need to understand why things are being said. We need to know that our support for this program gives validity to the amateur community, and provides the opportunity to demonstrate how much we can contribute as amateur and as avocational paleontologists. If all collectors in all of the fossil clubs and societies entered their notable finds into iDigBio, the contributions from amateurs would be significant and very noteworthy. It is vitally important that we, as club/society presidents, lead our clubs/societies in the direction of the FOSSIL Project. We need to develop outreach programs within our organizations to teach our members how to use the FOSSIL tools. We have the opportunity to add massive amounts of quality data to the research database, which would dramatically and instantly demonstrate the importance of the amateur collector to the professional world of paleontology.
CMM mini conference participants included SWFFS, Friends, myFOSSIL, FMNH and other organizations
Calvert Cliffs geology (CMM mini-conference) Rare associated Hemipristis in plaster jacket
Getting out in the field
Prep lab at CMM In preparation, almost intact but very fragile
The full text of this article as it appears in the Friends newsletter can be found here in PDF format.