Update: Apparently the items are all gone as the sales website no longer exists.
After about two weeks wherein ThinkGeek was not selling vertebrate fossils, they are now back to selling vertebrate fossils.
Here's their new green text of explanation:
Thank you, everyone, for the passionate discussions that have been taking place over the last few weeks. Ultimately, we're going to ask you to trust us. Our vendor has guaranteed us that the fragments that we are selling are from private lands and are also found ex situ. Further, we have had an independent scientist in the field personally review the fossils for us, with the sample hand delivered. His conclusion was that these fragments held no scientific value because of their condition.
ThinkGeek will continue to sell our remaining inventory, the profits of which will be donated to the Smithsonian Institute's Q?rius program. Not only is the Smithsonian our local museum, but it hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and is well worth it.
Finally, we're going to be turning off the comments section on this page. Unfortunately, while much of the discussion has been thoughtful, there have been a few people making personal attacks on others and that is something that we cannot abide. We know you'll understand.
When it comes down to it, the fossils that we're selling are meant to inspire a whole new generation of paleontologists. Thank you for helping us accomplish that.
Things I Like
- I like that profits from the sales of these hadrosaur chunks will go to a science education program. I assume that ThinkGeek isn't giving to the Smithsonian because I suggested that they do, but I still really like that they are.
Things I Am Confused About
- This sales page used to mention that the chunks were from Montana, now it says they are from the USA. Are they now not from Montana?
Things I Don't Like But Understand
- It's unfortunate that comments were both turned off and removed, but the comments were somewhat heated and some of them were examples of people using Internet communication to be somewhat rude with other people. That the comments are completely gone is unfortunate because it removes a small window into the modern discussion that is occurring about commercial fossil sales and its impacts on the science of paleontology. It also makes ThinkGeek's green window of text a response to non-existent criticism.
- That there is no identification of who the independent scientist in the field who reviewed these fossils is. If the person is academically employed, his or her colleagues might ask him or her questions. If the person is not academically employed, then academically employed paleontologists might wonder why no one in academia was asked. By being less-than-transparent from the beginning, ThinkGeek put this person, whoever they are, into a level of responsibility and potential criticism that might be above their paygrade. So I understand why they're still anonymous but I don't really think this was handled in the best way possible.
Things I Neither Like Nor Understand
- ThinkGeek telling us to trust them about completely anonymous people.
There are at least hundreds and more probably thousands of people in the US who commercially collect fossils and who do so in completely legal ways. This group of people has some, but not complete, overlap with the thousands of people who commercially sell fossils. All that ThinkGeek tells us about the individual(s) who provided them with these hadrosaur chunks is referring to them as our vendor. Unless this person is either just starting up or is just ending their job as a commercial fossil dealer, they have to have more than hadrosaur chunks. Why is ThinkGeek not just saying "We've contracted with _____ to sell this limited supply of hadosaur fragments." Maybe provide a link to that dealer's website? To help that dealer make more sales in the future?
- the fossils that we're selling are meant to inspire a whole new generation of paleontologists.
Now that the profits from the sales are being given to a science education program, they will inspire a whole new generation of STEM-educated people. Three weeks ago, when no such diversion of profit was happening, the sales were inspiring a whole new generation of paleontologists by ???. And I say ??? because, as just mentioned, there's no indication of who the fossil vendor is. Is it someone who runs fossil hunting camps that kids can join? Then they're helping inspire new generations of paleontologists. If it's someone who has a gem and mineral shop online then ... they insprie new generations of paleontologist by paying taxes, I guess.
The bottom lines?
- If selling small, scientifically-uninformative pieces of dinosaurs helps the science of paleontology survive into the future, then our cost-benefit analysis of it should tell us that the costs are outweighed by the benefits.
- I like how ThinkGeek's conduct in terms of this sale has improved.
- I think that they could have saved themselves the hassle of having to improve their conduct by being more transparent from the beginning.
- If/when ThinkGeek puts another fossil vertebrate on sale, I hope they do themselves and their customers a favor and embrace transparency rather than having to be told to be transparent.
- I wish that I wasn't so worried about commercial fossil sales, but IMHO it's better to be worried about the legality of a non-transparent sale then to assume that it's a totally legal sale.