The PaleoNet Forum: An Irregular Electronic Journal
November, 1995: Volume 1, Issue 4

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Wm. R. Riedel

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego


There must be ways in which the practices of paleontology can be fundamentally improved, if only we have the vision to recognize them, and the courage and tenacity to put our convictions into effect. Our practices have advanced substantially over the past few decades, and accelerated change will surely occur as we adopt the developing technologies of the Information Age.

Computers can be mightily seductive, because they offer an endless array of ways of doing complicated things quickly, easily, objectively, almost magically. The difficulty is to concentrate on those aspects of computerized information handling that can really be most effective in improving the ways in which we work with fossils. One guiding principle must be to leave to human eyes and brains what they can do best, and to assign to computers the tasks that they can do best - over the years I have taken a lot of unproductive steps on the way to fully appreciating this principle, and I'd like to share with you my adventures along this road.

My experience has been with planktonic microfossils (mostly radiolarians) in open-ocean sediments, and this of course affects the way in which I view our science. I hope that workers on larger or less abundant fossils will be able to see, through the bias imposed by my background, broader applications of what I say in this paper.

A diagram that I will call "overview " shows the framework around which this discussion is built. The remainder of this document, except for a "closing remarks " section, consists simply of pieces linked (to pieces linked, to pieces linked .....) to that overview diagram.