NON-ACADEMIC PALEONTOLOGISTS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF PALEONTOLOGY: LESSONS FROM THE CINCINNATI SCHOOL
Rarity explains ethical contrasts between vertebrate paleontology and invertebrate paleontology. All fossil collecting removes sources of potential information, so vertebrate paleontologists generally oppose avocational collecting and commercial fossil trade, and this view has shaped policy. Invertebrate paleontologists require relatively small samples and often work with common taxa. Academic invertebrate paleontologists routinely depend on avocational collectors and generally do not object to commercial trade. No information comes from an undiscovered fossil.
Most scientifically valuable invertebrate fossils have little or no commercial value, and those that do are often not as rare as perceived, and are not marketable without the added value of the collector’s labor, which is compensated by sale. Furthermore, the process of excavating these fossils results in the discovery of other fossils that are truly rare or exceptionally preserved. Lacking adequate funding for excavation, free access to these finds is invaluable to the academic paleontologist. Many scientifically significant discoveries from the Late Ordovician rocks of the Cincinnati area would not have occurred without the direct involvement of amateur and “commercial” collectors.
The new regulations greatly increase costs and restrict the kinds of research that invertebrate paleontologists can conduct on public lands. They also result in legal obscenities, like allowing large quantities of fossil-bearing rock to be processed into concrete or other stone products, while prosecuting a collector for taking a few hundred specimens from the same rocks. The real tragedy may be the end of collaborations where draconian laws are in force.