Monday, March 29, 2010

Paleontology in the 21st Century

Yesterday I stumbled upon a recently published paper by Wolfgang Kiessling (Natural History Museum Berlin) about the current state of paleontology in Germany.

Kiessling, W. et al., 2010. German Paleontology in the 21st Century. Palaeontologica Electronica, 13(1), 13.1.2E. (online)

In this editorial piece, Kiessling and co-authors reflect on the current state of paleontology in Germany, the reasons why paleontology has become a niche subject, despite the fact that biodiversity studies receive a lot of interest (and money), and despite the fact that paleontology used to be at the core of geology. Kiessling et al. identify a number of factors specific to the situation in Germany, but many factors that can be generalised.

The greatest risk for German paleontology is the continued closure of university departments and the replacement of retired paleontologists by non-paleontologists. This threatens the future of our students in science and the paleontological research community may fall below a critical mass which is needed for innovative research. Some of these problems fall in the responsibility of the paleontologists themselves (e.g., lack of innovative approaches, apparent absence of practical/ economic applicability, tactical mistakes) but others are the result of administrative actions to save or shift resources independent of the quality of research and teaching.

I tend to disagree with Kiessling's identification of cause and effect. (See also in internals "Paleontology - The very late adaptors?" of 15 Feb 2008.) But I do hope, that some will perceive this paper as a wake-up call to move paleontology into the 21st Century.