A couple of days ago I finished reading An Agenda for Antiquity, Ronald Rainger’s book on the eminent naturalist Henry Fairfield Osborn and his career at the American Museum of Natural History. It was Osborn who turned the AMNH into one of the world’s leading institutions for vertebrate paleontology.
He was never a field man, he delegated much of the nitty-gritty work of research to his subordinates, and many of his ideas about evolution were off the mark. But as an administrator, a museum showman, and an intellectual who grappled with big questions, he left behind a tremendous legacy, the magnitude of which is apparent when you walk through those magnificent fossil galleries on the AMNH’s fourth floor. (Incidentally, Osborn was also a master at coming up with awesome dinosaur names; he’s the guy who christened Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor, probably the two coolest scientific monikers in the history of zoology.)
Osborn’s background was critical to his success at the AMNH. He came from a wealthy New York family, and he was connected to some of the richest and most influential Americans of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These connections enabled him to raise the money needed to mount expeditions, prepare specimens, build galleries, and publish research. In Osborn’s day, vertebrate paleontology depended heavily on private donors.
It’s dependent on them still. A lot of people assume that paleontology must be a lucrative business, since dinosaurs are so wildly popular. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Compared to scientific fields with more immediately practical applications, paleontological research is woefully underfunded.
That’s one of the reasons why I heartily endorse David Orr’s idea over at the paleoblog Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. Check it out:
I call it the Jurassic World Challenge. If you’re buying a ticket for the movie, it’s a fair bet that you also have that much money to give to the people who bring prehistory to life in the real world. Think of it as a matching fund, crowdsourced. See the movie, do some good. The official rules:
- Donate the equivalent of your Jurassic World ticket price to paleontological research
- Spend the equivalent of your ticket price on the wares of an independent paleoartist
Of course, you don’t have to pick one or the other. Buy some art, give some money to a research effort, enjoy the movie. I also put together a graphic to help spread the word, in before and after flavors. You are free to disseminate these far and wide! Take it and post it on your blog or other social media channels.
If you plan on seeing Jurassic World—or if you’re like me and plan on seeing it many, many times—consider a donation to paleontological research and the production of paleoart. If you’re unsure about exactly where to send your money, Orr’s blog post has a list of some current research projects and independent paleoartists. You might also check with your local natural history museum or university to see what dino-related things they’ve got going on that could use your support.
The folks who study and reconstruct ancient animals have made my life exponentially more joyful. If you’re as excited as I am about Jurassic World, they’ve probably made your life more joyful, too. Let’s show them a little gratitude.