(An International Senckenberg Conference and Workshop)
Reports and Recommendations
In early September 1997, 108 paleontologists and allied individuals from 30 countries (Table 1) met at Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt, Germany to participate in a Senckenberg World Conference entitled "Paleontology in the 21st Century". This body of individuals represented:
- The various organizations that employ paleontologists (Table 2).
- Many of the societies that serve the profession and, therefore, the specialties that comprise the science (Table 3).
- An fair representation of participants by number of years in paleontology (Figure 1).
- A gender split of 94 males and 14 females.
Meeting participants identified and discussed issues facing the various specialties/components of paleontology, as well as the science of paleontology in general. The assembly agreed that the issues identified are among the most important ones facing paleontology today. It is planned now to engage the entire community of interest (all paleontologists and those interested) in a dialogue of those issues approached in Frankfurt and perhaps formulate new issues and alternatives not yet recognized. The ultimate objective of the planned dialogue is to establish consensual solutions/directions as paleontology enters the next millennium.
Thus, the participants in Frankfurt agreed that the purpose of the Senckenberg workshop was:
To initiate and nurture a dialogue concerning the future of paleontology. It is a call to thoughtful action by all paleontologists.
This will be done by identifying the major issues facing paleontology and deciding how to address them through a dialogue with all interested parties.
The meeting was organized into four levels including in descending order, Organizing Committee, Scientific Convenors, Topic/Issue Coordinators, and Delegates. Each level of the organization chose the members of the next level. Thus, the selection of attendees for the Workshop was one centered around establishing a fair representation of the various aspects of paleontology and less about selecting the 'best and the brightest.'
Table 1: Distribution By Country Nationality No. of Participants Nationality No. of Participants American 41 Czech 1 German 21 Danish 1 British 5 Filipino 1 Chinese 5 Israeli 1 Australian 4 Italian 1 French 3 Japanese 1 Agentinian 2 Mexican 1 Dutch 2 Norweigen 1 Nigerian 2 New Zealand 1 Swedish 2 Polish 1 Swiss 2 Russian 1 Albanian 1 Spanish 1 Austrian 1 Tadjiki 1 Brazilian 1 Ukranian 1 Canadian 1 Venezuelan 1
Table 2. Distribution of participants of the Paleontology in the 21st Century Workshop by their employment. Employment Type No. of Participants University 45.0 Museum 21.5 Institute 13.5 Government 8.5 Industry 7.0 Private Consultant 4.0 Commercial Collector 3.0 Media 2.0 Avocational Paleontologist 2.0 Graduate Student 2.0
Table 3. Distribution of participants in the Paleontology in the 21st Century Workshop by their paleontological specialty. Paleontological Specialty No. of Participants Invertebrate Paleontology 36.80 Micropaleontology 25.15 Vertebrate Paleontology 18.55 Paleobotany 6.5 Non-paleontologists 5.0 Biochemistry 4.0 Microbial Paleontology 3.5 Palynology 2.5 Algal Paleontology 2.0 Geology 2.0 Unaccounted 2.0
Figure 1. Distribution of participants the Workshop by their paleontological experience.
The workshop was divided into four sections. The first three sections were intended to discuss and address 25 important topics making up the science, and the fourth was to address pan-paleontological issues identified during the Workshop. Detailed meeting organizational information is discussed in Appendix 1. Particularly successful were the workings of the Scientific Meeting Committee. That Committee was composed of the Organizing Committee and Scientific Convenors. This committee was established to monitor progress of the Workshop and handle problems surrounding it. Problems needing to be addressed that could not be solved by Topic Coordinators and Delegates were referred to this Committee. The SM Committee met daily after each session of the Workshop to handle such matters and in the process established policy where it was needed.
A Mission and Vision statement for a committee of participants and, after lengthy discussion wrote paleontology (see Preamble\Paleo21 Goals), was ratified by the General Assembly. It is given below under the heading Preamble. Of note, was the identification of a possible major paleontological initiative, Pan Paleontological Issue 6, which the General Assembly wishes to put before the global paleontological community for discussion.
Paleontology is the study of life's history and develops our understanding of the role of life through time. Paleontology provides:
- a unique historical perspective on the place of humankind in nature;
- tools for the discovery and development of resources on which industry and agriculture depend;
- a framework for understanding the sensitivity of the global system to past perturbations and for identifying possible consequences of ecosystem change for human society.
For the first time, development of a host of new techniques now makes it possible for paleontologists to develop, in cooperation with other earth scientists and biologists, a truly integrated, comprehensive view of the history of the biosphere, focusing on the relationship between life and environmental change. The goal of this initiative will be to develop a set of predictive rules for the biotic response to changes in the global environment, and for how biotic and physical factors drive those changes.
Recent discoveries and analytical advances that provide the opportunity for this initiative include:
- phylogenetic methods that provide rigorous ways to generate testable hypotheses about the evolutionary relatedness of fossil and living organisms;
- advances in geochronometry, geochronology, and high-resolution stratigraphy and quantitative biostratigraphy that make it possible to order events in time and space with unprecedented precision;
- the development of molecular, geomicrobiological and geochemical techniques and lines of interpretation that provide entirely new views of the interactions between organisms and ancient environments;
- the use of computers for the development of integrated databases, data analysis and modeling at levels of sophistication impossible in the past.;
- developments in biological and geological theory, coupled with the maturation of paleontology from a descriptive to a more predictive science, that permit a scale of explanation of physical and biotic processes never before available.
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