Thursday, July 16, 2009

UW Geology Museum -Boomerang letter to editior

Exhibits in the museum reflect the wealth of fossil vertebrates found in Wyoming and the research involved.
On behalf of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, I write to express alarm at the closing of the display galleries at the University of Wyoming Geology Museum and the abrupt termination of its staff.

Exhibits at the UWGM reflect the fabulous wealth of fossil vertebrates found in Wyoming and the research undertaken by the world-renowned vertebrate paleontology program at the University of Wyoming (UW). This research is crucial for understanding how life responds to changes in climate over time, and fossil displays are highly effective at engaging public interest in science and combating science illiteracy.

We understand the budgetary limitations faced by the university, but decisions to close the museum and terminate staff are financially shortsighted. All exhibits require constant upkeep; the modest savings created by eliminating staff responsible for this upkeep will generate greater long-term costs in repair and restoration. More crucially, the exhibits reflect research currently under way at UW. Scientists seeking federal research support ( which benefits the whole institution through the generation of overhead) ae required to describe the broader impacts of their research on society as a whole. Scholars at institutions like UW are at an advantage because museum displays provide a natural conduit for dissemination of their work. Through the generation of high-quality exhibits, like those formerly on display in Laramie, the results of paleontological research are made available to everyone. this increases the chances of having highly competitive research funds award to UW faculty. The modest cost of maintaining a display gallery can have a significant financial payoff in the long term.

The university has indicated its willingness to initiate a fundraising campaign to reopen the museum at some future time. This is commendable, but we strongly feel that the campaign may not succeed unless potential donors can see a viable, working museum, filled with excited children learning about the past through fossils of ancient plants and animals of Wyoming and the sight of real scientists doing real science. We urge you to consider reopening the museum as soon as possible, if not full-time, then part-time, to allow it to continue to serve the people of Wyoming and elsewhere.

Blaire Van Valkenburgh, Ph.D.
President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Professor, University of California, Los Angeles.

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