Sunday, March 29, 2009

Man Cleans Dinosaur

The mainstream news media has only a limited number of stories relating to natural history specimens and their collections and one of the perennial favorites is "man cleans dinosaur." It seems to be a never-ending source of astonishment to newspapers and their readers that things get dirty in museums and that people then have to clean them. So here is the latest offering in this series, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, in which Bill Simpson, my opposite number at the Field Museum, cleans the skeleton of the T-rex known as 'Sue.' Bill has around 30 years' experience as a fossil preparator and nearly 20 as a collection manager - he has collected fossils all over the world. But put him on a lift with a portable vacuum cleaner and a fake feather duster and he becomes instantly newsworthy. Now I probably shouldn't grumble about this, on the basis that all PR is good PR, but these sorts of articles really irritate me because they always come off like "let's see what those crazy folks at the museum are up to today. Cleaning the dinosaurs, huh? Well fancy that!" If you read the article, it's clear that Bill made some pretty good points while he was being interviewed, but they are buried like little nuggets in a sea of folksy goodness. Contrary to public opinion, our job is not like one long episode of "Night at the Museum," but I guess "Chris spends an entire day wading through a draft collecting agreement with the Federal government" is just too damn boring.

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