Letters

The Extinction of Paleontology?

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Science  14 Nov 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5341, pp. 1209-1213
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5341.1209b

The recent discussion of the demographic crisis in paleontology (R. Stone, News & Comment, 10 Oct., p. 219) makes sobering reading for me and my colleagues. Over the last 15 years, the proportion of paleontologists approaching retirement has increased dramatically, while the number of younger workers has dropped steeply. If this trend continues, the entire discipline will dwindle rapidly to extinction. The same article proposes a way to help rejuvenate the discipline: an international program to support 20 up-and-coming young paleontologists a year, at an estimated annual cost of $1 million. I note with irony that according to the article on the facing page (News & Comment, 10 Oct., p. 218), McDonald's Corporation has just donated funds for a fossil-preparation lab at the Field Museum of Chicago, where Sue, an exceptionally well-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex, will be readied for display. The price the museum paid for Sue—$7.6 million—could have provided the entire discipline of paleontology with a much-needed shot in the arm for almost a decade. The message of this juxtaposition of articles rings clear. There are potentially huge sources of funding out there. It is up to us to convince them that their money is better spent, not on the rocks, but on the people who find them, interpret them, and give them their scientific and cultural value.

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