What are, realistically, the most important aspects of computer applications that paleontologists should be pursuing, to attain major benefits in the near term?
A clear choice is the routine use of spreadsheets and databases in popular formats, instead of pencils and paper, to record observations. Input should be by voice commands, rather than by keyboarding. And a way needs to be found to make these data widely accessible, as soon as possible after they are recorded.
A fundamentally beneficial advance would be made by adopting Norman Hughes' concept of paleotaxa , or something like it, in order to eliminate the uncertainties associated with conventional records of taxa.
If one leaves aside the requirement that the benefits be near-term, automated morphometrics is worth pursuing for its promise of producing objective measurements instead of subjective interpretations of shapes. However, this may not be achievable until we can afford computers and software equivalent to those used by the military to evaluate satellite images. This and other computer applications should be experimented with and prototyped, so that they can eventually become useful tools in the real paleontological world.
How can small groups of paleontologists in university departments and industrial laboratories best participate in developing and adopting new information-handling technologies? By maintaining awareness of how the new technologies can benefit our endeavors, but not by the individual paleontologists spending time amateurishly experimenting with the computer hardware and software that intrigues them. This experimentation and development can be done much more cost-effectively by a computer professional (or information technologist) attached to the department or group, and working toward the objectives of the paleontologists/stratigraphers/paleoenvironmentalists.
I have not found a place, in this examination of the practice of paleontology, to consider the role of the phenomenon we know as PaleoNet. Here we have, through the inspired and dedicated effort of Norm MacLeod, an instrument of communication of a kind that we have not known before. It holds together a community of paleontologists ranging from amateurs to graduate students to grizzled veterans of the field. Because of its unfamiliarity, we have not yet learned how to take the best advantage of all the possibilities that PaleoNet offers, which include but are not limited to its acting as a medium for rapid-fire question-and-answer exchanges, a forum for brief, intense discussions of topics of current interest, a medium for exchange and barter of publications, a guide to current journal contents and paleontological gatherings, a repository for paleontologically-oriented software, and a node for access to Web pages and FTP sites pertinent to paleontologists. With vision and ! cooper ative effort, PaleoNet can become increasingly valuable to all of us, as a medium for exchanging information and data and ideas much more widely and expeditiously than the mail service or publications on paper, and in other ways that we cannot yet imagine.
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