A few weeks back Fox News gave a poor entomologist a hard time about getting grant money to spend on collections improvement. If you haven't heard about this already (I hadn't) the short of it was that Tucker Carlson interviewed an Average Looking Scientist (ALS) about the need to keep pests out of biological collections, answers to which he gave in a responsible yet not too quippy way. While he didn't say anything outrageous, the takeaway from the story was that Obama was killing kittens with taxpayer dollars. I know, I know, that's what I would do if I were President too, but some cable news people enjoy being surrounded by animals that don't like them.
In a moment of digital esprit d'escalier, Chris Norris over at Prerogative of Harlots has written some great responses to the questions that Carlson asked, but at this late date they can only serve to teach us a valuable lesson.
My point, and thus how it relates to paleontology, is this- A few times in the past I've posed the question "Why does vertebrate paleontology matter, why is it important that we do that voodoo that we do so well?" Notably, a little over a year ago, I asked this question on the vertpaleo listserv, to see what kind of acceptable soundbite type, media savy, answers that we could get to answer questions when cases like this arose. There were somewhere between 35 and 50 replies, and the responses for the most part fell into two general classes, the group saying "Well, a lot of paleontologists teach med school, so we wouldn't have doctors without paleontologists", and the other group, quoting roughly from one vocal email "anybody who doesn't like what I do can go to hell." Well thanks ladies and gentlemen! Just what I was looking for, media savy. I would also like to tell Tucker Carlson to go to hell, and worse, but that doesn't exactly help the cause, and what do you do when your legislator asks that question?
Since the profession of physician was established at least a few weeks before the first fossils were collected, and since no one really cares about quality health care in American anyway, I think the first suggestion is easily sunk as a newsworthy response. The second has some obvious flaws that I won't even bother going in to. Look, I know it is hard to say clever things on camera, especially if someone like Carlson is interviewing you for Sean Hannity's program, that is a lot of pressure at the national stage. But that is also why it is imperative, for the sake of science funding, to have ducks in a row long before these opportunities come along. Otherwise, when Fox comes to your collection, they won't just make you look like a jackass, they'll equate your research to domestic terrorism.
The Accidental Ichthyornis
6 days ago