Is random productivity useful?

Richard Zander bryo at COMMTECH.NET
Tue Nov 25 09:44:52 CST 1997

Jim Beach wrote:
> There is a thoughtful and provocative set of essays on natural history
> museums in the current issue of Museum News (Nov/Dec 97), a publication of
> the American Association of Museums.  The article is entitled "Toward a
> Natural History Museum for the 21st Century."
> Excerpts from the lead-in essay from Ellsworth H. Brown, President of the
> Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, US):
> "By mending it all together, we find a picture of what the new natural
> history museum world should look like:  It will be collaborative ... Homage
> to the concept is widespread.  However current natural history museum
> culture still respects the university model, which itself (abetted by
> funding practices) works against shared vision and complementary work."

Most of us know, yet it needs to be said in this context, that both
university and museum scientists collaborate endlessly, but not so much
intramurally. The above appears to be a power play by AAM directed at
naive museum administrators to make them think that the AAM is their
champion, and they can depend on the AAM to help them justify,
organize and micromanage scientific activities at their institutions.
Science locally may seem chaotic to the new breed of CPA administrators,
and WE SYSTEMATISTS need to educate those administrators and preserve
our "vertical market" of collaboration between institutions (there is
also a 4th dimensional collaboration through time for those fields in
which there are few extant researchers but why complicate things?). The
AAM is offering themselves as a mediator of local *power* by justifying
a new role as boss-of-scientists to administrators.
  Forcing intramural collaboration means dreaming up local studies, and
fits in with the new Regionalism promoted by leaders of big systematic
institutions. See ASC Newsletter for various articles advancing the idea
that only big institutions can do systematic research well at the world
level, and smaller institutions should focus on regional studies. The
administrators of such large institutions are co-opting, of course,
*money* from public funding for themselves.
  Power and money. All new paradigms are driven by power and money.
Kris, you may quote me.

> "The university model tends toward chaos and random productivity.  It is
> not easily synchronized with rational consideration of the world's
> scientific needs and it remains more closely allied with funding
> opportunities than a widely shared mission.  Would not collaboration on a
> wide scale--engagement of funders on this question, and a hard look at
> issues of current issues to humankind--argue for a more systemic approach?"
> ...
> "It is well known that universities have virtually abanonded the collection
> of specimens in favor of more modern genetic inquiry, leaving the gathering
> to museums ...  The one subject not tackled [in the essays presented] was
> whether the collecting paradigm under which natural history museums began
> is still valid or has much meaning when set against the massive and
> practical needs of Earth."
> The AAM is located on the net at:
> _________________________________________
> James H. Beach
> U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division
> Tel: (703) 319-1173
> E-mail:  jbeach at


Richard H. Zander, Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Pkwy, Buffalo, NY 14211 USA bryo at

More information about the Taxacom mailing list