Quote and Picture of the Day - 26 May 2009

Today's quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson; the picture was taken at the Linnean Society last summer.

But these young scholars who invade our hills,

Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,

And travelling often in the cut he makes,

Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,

And all their botany is Latin names.


Ralph Waldo Emerson


Herbarium specimen collected by, and from the personal collection of, Carl von Linné.

Photographed at the Linnean Society of London, 29 August 2008

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Sadly, that can be the case. I read once of a paleontologist who was assailed on a cliff face in France. The Frenchman complained about all the scientists digging on the cliff.

The paleontologist talked about the scientific value of the fossils (IIRC, it was ammonites before and after the K/T boundary) and asked what harm he was doing anyway. But when he stepped back and looked at the cliff, it was pockmarked with the holes from which fossils had been removed.

I understand the sentiment, BaldApe, but I do wonder, what's more important? The paleontologist's work, or a pristine cliff face? Was he damaging anything other than an anthropocentric sense of aesthetics?

A particularly bad example is contained in Galen Rowell's mountain light. If you peruse the journal article, it is clear that the team that determined the age of the oldest living tree in California's Bristle Cone Pine Grove did so by *cutting down the tree.* It seems that the core-borer they had broke and they did not want to wait a few days for a new one.


What I'm saying is that there are trade-offs, and scientists themselves are often not very good at evaluating them. (See Tuskegee Syphilis study, for instance) If there is important scientific work to be done, a pristine cliff face may not be so important. If it's just a matter of getting a particular fossil for your own collection, that changes the matter somewhat.