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Uprooting Colonialism

Younger paleontologists are working to overcome historical legacies of their discipline and change how people learn about natural history.

During an expedition to Tunisia, Mohamad Bazzi (University Uppsala, Sweden) invited local colleagues and citizens to participate in the field work. In addition, he made it a priority to include the local citizens of Gafsa – the site of research – by holding impromptu lectures. This endeavor by Mr. Bazzi is unique; involving local scientists and citizens is rare among paleontological researchers. Likewise, Mr. Buzzi chose to return the fossils after completing research instead of housing them in a collection outside Tunisia, another action that has been atypical in paleontology.

What motivates these choices?

A new generation of paleontologists has evolved and they aim to change longstanding scientific practices. Among these young scientists are Nussaibah Raja-Schoob (FAU; Germany) and Emma Dunne (University of Birmingham, UK) – the two leaders of the PaleoSynthesis supported workshop series “DDCP – Diversity Dynamics and Crises in Palaeontology“. These researchers are well aware, that “European scientists were part of a colonial network that sucked natural wealth — including fossils — into imperial capitals.” This colonialism is still present and it biases scientific outcomes. “Much of global paleontology is still conducted in languages like English, German and French. And according to an ongoing research project by Ms. Raja-Schoob and Dr. Dunne, countries with higher G.D.P.s — places like the United States, France, Germany and China — tend to report more fossil data, in part because they have the money to invest in academic paleontology programs.” Read the entire article on the NY Times!

How is this related to the PaleoSynthesis?

PaleoSynthesis is a Volkswagen Foundation project that aims to bring paleontology forward. For this reason, a series of workshops is planned. These workshops are not developed by the project PI’s (Prof. W. Kiessling and Prof. M. Steinbauer) themselves, but by scientists in the paleontological community! PaleoSynthesis invites submission of workshop proposals, which are evaluated by its scientific advisory board. These workshops will be funded and largely organized by PaleoSynthesis. Nussaibah and Emma submitted their proposal after our first call and we are excited to support their ongoing work.