A post tonight on the Perogative of Harlots blog got me thinking....For those of you who are members of the Vert Paleo Listserve you may have noticed the recent outburst of arguing (friendly debating?). For those of you who are not on the list, a bit of background: Post have been going back and forth recently about the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act [information at the SVP site can be found here]. Some members of the list are worried that this bill will take away the rights of "amateur" fossil collectors and/or think more trouble than good will come from it (rangers taking kids fossils away, rangers throwing people in jail/fining them for collecting fossils they will still be able to collect legally because the ranger is not properly trained on what can and can not be collected, peoples private property being seized if they are found to have illegally collected fossils in their possession, ect....).
I, personally, think some of these issues are making a mountain out of a molehill. They may spring from a misunderstanding of the bills wording, a misunderstanding or general lack of information/knowledge regarding current policies and practices, general suspicion of anyone who is a paid paleontologist, someone who may have had a bad (or many bad) experiences, others with (what appears to be) a very large chip on their shoulder.....this list could go on, and I just call it as I see it.
As much as you try to help them see the light or explain how things are now and what the bill will or will not change, it does not seem to mater. It is always something. And there are certain people you just cannot please, no mater what you say. They should, in my opinion, be sent the direct answers to their questions, without screwing with their head and creating a feeding their frenzy of back and forth emailing. Just answer them and let them go. If they keep pushing, hit delete. Let it go. Don't let it get to you. If people would stop pushing their 'buttons', they would stop pushing back. (Hopefully.)
My question is, WTF is the big deal with the whole "Amateur" vs. "Professional" crap anyway?
What defines a "Amateur?" What defines a "Professional?" Why do we even need to be classified? Why do people get so mad about being called one or the other!?
I am not going to refer to Wikipedia for my definitions. Why would you cite a source where you can go in and create the definition you want in the first place? Lets start with "Amateur," from Webster:
One entry found.
Main Entry: am·a·teur
Pronunciation: \ˈa-mə-(ˌ)tər, -ˌtu̇r, -ˌtyu̇r, -ˌchu̇r, -chər\
Etymology: French, from Latin amator lover, from amare to love
1 : devotee , admirer
2 : one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
3 : one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science
Two of the three definitions here are positive! What is wrong with being a devotee of fossils?! An admirer of fossils?! One who engages in the pursuit, study, science, or sport of paleontology as a pastime rather than as a profession!? Sounds pretty sweet and stress free to me! No need to worry about what school you are going to/went to. No need to worry about getting that one to five jobs that come up in a year, competing against the 500 students who are currently members of SVP and will be looking for jobs in the very near future (not to mention all the un/underemployed PhD paleontologist out there looking for jobs). You could go on digs, collect fossils, research, anything you love that has to do with fossils at your leisure! Sounds pretty nice! And to quote an amateur "I consider myself to be a kind of dedicated amateur. I am here for the love of it." ~ Priscilla McKenna. I think that sums it up and is what it should all be about. What is so wrong with that!?
So why do people get all offended about being called an amateur? Why do they immediately have to zone in on the negative definition of the word?
and the next...
Main Entry: pro·fes·sion·al
Pronunciation: \prə-ˈfesh-nəl, -ˈfe-shə-nəl\
one that is professional ; especially : one that engages in a pursuit or activity professionally
So basically a "professional" paleontologist is one that engages in the pursuit or activity of the studying fossils professionally. But what does the act of being professional include:
1 a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession b: engaged in one of the learned professions c (1): characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2): exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace
2 a: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs b: having a particular profession as a permanent career c: engaged in by persons receiving financial return
3: following a line of conduct as though it were a profession
So a professional engages in their learned profession, that is characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (such as member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology agreeing to uphold the ethics statement of the organization). Or paleontologist exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. Or "professional" paleontologist who make money being paleontologist and doing research/teaching/field work/pursuit/study...of paleontology. To me this does not imply that to be a "professional paleontologist" you need to be a professor or curator of a museum. Professional paleontologist, in my book, include those people, but also include the technicians, collections managers, preparators, grad students, post docs, researchers (federal, state and private), consultants -anyone who studies fossils and gets paid to do so.
I think this last definition is really what heats up the debate. From my perspective, some people are not happy that they either a) do not make money doing paleontology (they are possibly doing something they had not planned on doing/do not like/or are "just getting by" in order to make a livelihood?) or b) feel as though a individual or group of "professional" paleontologist are trying to keep them from making money doing paleontology. I do not understand where all the mean spiritedness and down right hatred comes out though, and why people feel the need to fight and argue about this. It is simple - if you feel the need to be defined as a "professional" paleontologist then get the training (though school, experience, whatever) and get a paying job doing paleontology. If it really bothers you that much. Otherwise, be cool with what you do and quite worrying what defines you (and you probably already know this).
When I look in the mirror, I do not know how to define myself. I am not even sure I need to be defined when it comes to being a paleontologist. I know that I am one, and that is all that should mater to me. I am not sure what others see when they look at me. A amateur paleontologist? I feel as though I am devoted to paleontology and admire fossils. I can fit that description. A professional paleontologist? I make my livelihood at the moment working with fossil. I hope to do this for the rest of my life. Do I have a Ph.D. No. Did I go to college to become trained and better educated in geology and paleontology. Yes. Do I have a degree. Yes. Does it mater? To some yes, to others no. I know several people in paleontology who have contributed greatly to the science and do not have advanced degrees. I look at the armies of volunteers that keep many museums afloat and contribute highly to the field. Without them paleontology would be years behind where we are now. They do not get enough recognition.
This is also not the first time, and sure to not be the last time, the "Amateur" vs. "Professional" debate will happen on the Vert Paleo List. Funny how these people will duke it out online, but get them together in a room and they do not talk about it. At the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings I have attended, while all have been great, I have noticed a voluntary separation that seems to occur. Mammal people hang out with Mammal people. Triassic people hang out with other Triassic people. The Chicago people hang out with other people who went to school in Chicago. The paleo art people group up. The Ornithischian people form herds. The groupies flock after their lords......(generalizations of course).
You get the picture. Some of this is understandable. They may be colleagues you only see once or twice a year, people who have similar interest, school mates.... It is not that it is really a big deal. But if you want people to consider you "part of the group" and not some outlier (or "evil amateur") who no one wants to talk to, you have to jump in there. I wish people would talk about this "Amateur" vs. "Professional" bullshit at the meetings. Maybe meeting face to face and working this crap out would help people. Or lead to some interesting fights. But hopefully it would help, talking face to face. Maybe SVP should have a round table on that!
Why did I not post this on the Vert Paleo list? Because I do not want to bother everyone with my rambling rants like some others there do. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Let me know what you think!!
(Sorry for the long rant. Thanks to Ville at Dots in Deep Time for the link to the video - a proud amateur himself!
Sorry to the light post as of recently (and in the near future). I have my hands full with my sick cat who I am still feeding through a tube. Hopefully when she is better I will have more time to post.
© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster