Is Random Productivity Purposeful?

Jim Beach jbeach at NBII.GOV
Mon Nov 24 16:32:58 CST 1997

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."

"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

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