Friday, January 18, 2019

My Paleontology Education Experience

Short version: My Paleontology Education experience was like Ben's "Night of the Living Dead (1968)" experience (I.e. He went to what he thought was a safe place, fought off a bunch of zombies w/little-to-no help from the non-zombies, & was killed by the non-zombies who were supposed to help him). If you want consistently good sources of paleo education info, I recommend "Prehistoric Beast of the Week" ( ), "Paleoaerie" (which, as you may remember, is how I found out about "Dinosaur Ecosystems": ), & "Palaeos, la historia de la Vida en la Tierra" (the author of which made sure that my text is accurate: ), especially to non-expert dino fans like me who like reading/writing book reviews.

Long version: Read on.

~1 year ago, I joined the Paleontology Education group (henceforth PE) on Facebook. According to PE's description & header, it's "for educators, students, parents, and academic professionals who are interested in paleontology share ideas and projects". Based on that, I was looking forward to joining PE & sharing book reviews. Just in case, though, I asked the Admins if that'd be OK & sent Gabriel Santos a link to "My 21st Pair of Reviews" ( ). In response, he said, "Sweet! I thought these were like paid reviews. In that case, I think it should be totally fine." Robert Gay also gave me the OK, & I was OK until September 2018. During that time, I was messaged by the Admins only twice & only about minor issues: The 1st was about being more descriptive when (re-)posting ( ); The 2nd was about (re-)posting less often ("Could I ask you to please limit your posts to 1 per day? Otherwise it swamps our other posts").

1) The trouble began when my "Top 4 Natural Histories of Dinos" post was deleted by mistake: 1st, I re-posted it w/a new description (See the 1st quote); Then, Denver Fowler commented on my re-post (See the Fowler quote); Not only is his comment full of misleading/wrong claims, but also anti-non-expert sentiment; I then replied to his comment, explaining how misleading/wrong his claims & sentiment are (See the 3rd quote, which is modified to include the Chudzinski reference).

2) The trouble continued when other, like-minded experts continued where Fowler left off. More specifically, Bobby Boessenecker, Sarah Boessenecker, & others tried bullying me into not sharing book reviews (I.e. Ganging up on me & peer pressuring me into adopting their exclusive POV; See "Relational Bullying": ). You can read the resulting comment thread if you want, but I wouldn't bother. It basically went as follows ad nauseam (& thus, got old quick):
-Them: You shouldn't share book reviews here b/c we don't find them useful.
-Me: "This group isn't just for you, but "for educators, students, parents, and academic professionals who are interested in paleontology share ideas and projects"."
-Them: You still shouldn't share book reviews here b/c they're not ideas or projects.
-Me: "They are to many others, scientists (See "Research, Fieldwork and Publications": ) & [educators] alike ( )."
-Them: You still shouldn't share book reviews here b/c reasons.
-Me: That doesn't make sense.
-It's also worth mentioning the Admins' comments on the matter: At best, Taormina Lepore's comment was well meant, but didn't tag Fowler or the bullies (who thus didn't seem to notice it: ); At worst, Ashley Hall's response to my comment on a different-but-related post was almost as bad as Fowler's ( ).

3) The trouble ended when the Admins updated/clarified the rules of conduct & posting ( ). I originally thought that the conduct part was in response to the obvious relational bullying. As for the posting part, I messaged the Admins about how I could make my (re-)posts more descriptive for them, starting w/"My 25th Pair of Reviews" ( ). As you may have noticed, I don't like being overly descriptive, partly b/c it makes me feel like I'm talking down to my audience. However, I wanted to show the Admins that I was taking the updates/clarifications seriously, so I worked very hard to make my 25th pair post as overly descriptive as possible per their recommendations (See the last quote). Gabriel seemed to agree when he said, "Your most recent post is better than previous ones. Thank you for taking our recommendations into consideration." Despite this, my 25th pair post was still being deleted, allegedly to be reviewed/re-posted later. When I asked when they'd finish reviewing/re-posting it, Gabriel said, "You will notified of our decision." At the same time, I found out that the conduct part wasn't about controlling the bullies, but controlling me:
-Gabriel: "After this conversation, the admins will be monitoring your posts (and all posts by all members) to ensure that they follow our criteria as admins."
-Me: "Does that mean all members are doing only 1 per week now? Just wondering."
-Gabriel: "No. Just you since we have had complaints and reports on many of your posts by multiple members." Presumably, "multiple members" = Fowler & the bullies, given everything that's happened up to this point.
-In other words, the updates/clarifications apply to everyone, but are meant to target the bullied rather than the bullies. Hmm, where else has something like that happened? Oh yeah, 1960s California ( )!
-It's also worth mentioning that the "apply to everyone" part doesn't seem to be true (E.g. Ashley's 12/3/18 post; Yes, it is "touching", but it has nothing to do w/paleo education & she doesn't even try to describe its relevance: ).

In my last message to the Admins, I said, "Sorry to bother you guys about this. I understand that you're probably busy with other things. It's just that it's been a week since I originally posted my 25th pair of reviews (which seems like an extremely long time to re-post something). Plus, said pair was meant to be posted in Sept (which is almost over). I hope you understand my concern." Both Taormina & Gabriel had seen my message by 10/10/18, yet neither of them have replied to it as of 1/17/19. Thus, my 25th pair post was the last time I tried to (re-)post anything in PE.
Quoting myself ( ): "I originally shared this post here back in August & have added a few updates along the way (including 1 last night). However, I just realized that the original post has since disappeared for no apparent reason, probably by mistake. This is very upsetting for 2 main reasons: 1) As explained in this post & its predecessor, NHDs are the best non-encyclopedic dino books (& thus, some of the best paleo education-related resources) & these 4 NHDs are the best of the best; 2) When the original post disappeared, so did all the nice reactions/comments from appreciative group members (E.g. Cam Muskelly). In any case, all I can do now is re-share this post, re-add the most recent update, & hope that the same mistake isn't made again." 
Quoting Fowler ( ): "Disagree. This is just a blog post which lists the 4 favourite books of the blogger, who (by their own admission) is a fan, not someone qualified to assess the quality of the books -it's fair enough for them to make an article like this, but it is not educational or useful for education. Indeed, these books aren't even new. Moreover, in the previous version of this post I drew attention to the fact that a review (by Prof. Ray Rogers in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, in 2011) of Dinosaur Odyssey (published nearly 10 years ago) outlined specific concerns that it was not a good book for general readers (or indeed, specialists) and contained a number of factual errors. i.e. the opposite conclusion to the uninformed blog. 
I'm commenting here, because this has turned up on my wall, again, and it is this kind of post which really isn't any use for paleo-education." 
Quoting myself ( ): "1stly, with all due respect, your comment comes off as super-condescending, as if to say that non-experts can't make useful contributions to paleo education. By that logic, museums everywhere should have few-if-any volunteers (most of whom, from my experience, are non-expert fans [See the Chudzinski quote]). Yes, it's better when non-experts work in collaboration with experts, but even those who don't can still make useful contributions if they're well-read enough. Sattler's "Tyrannosaurus Rex and Its Kin: The Mesozoic Monsters" is a good example of that ( ). I'm not saying I'm as well-read as Sattler. However, I always provide expert sources that support what I say in my reviews (including this post, which should be obvious to anyone who's read it) & I always have an expert make sure that my reviews are accurate before I post them (E.g. Paleoaerie). Also, to add to what Taormina said: Yes, I have made it clear that I'm not an expert, but I've also made it clear that I'm 1 of those "lifelong learners" with an educational background ("Yes, I have a Bachelor of Science in "Natural History and Interpretation"...& thus am very biased": ); Thus, I'm pretty sure I'm qualified to review informal paleo education (E.g. Popular dino books). 
2ndly, I read Rogers' review & he does make some good points (E.g. While few & far btwn, there are mistakes that could've been prevented with better editing). However, he also makes some bad points: For 1, this book's conclusions may be "rather obvious" to most experts, but not necessarily to most non-experts; If they were, then we wouldn't have to worry about the latter being misled/misinformed by science deniers & bad movies; For another, he apparently didn't read the Preface when he "tried to identify an appropriate audience" ("Although the book is intended for anyone with an interest in dinosaurs and science, it is my hope that science educators in particular will embrace some of the approaches presented here, using dinosaurs as a vehicle to address a broad range of topics": ); For yet another, he takes a partial quote out of context, misconstrues its meaning, & criticizes it based on that, seemingly ignoring everything in that chapter leading up to it ( ). Besides, 1 negative expert review doesn't necessarily mean that a book is bad (E.g. BANDit reviews of dino-bird books), especially when there are many more positive expert reviews. Ryan ( ) & Russell ( ) come to mind 1st, partly b/c they contradict the misleading/wrong claim that this book doesn't venture "more seriously into the current highlights and debates of dinosaur science." 
3rdly, not only are 2 of these NHDs from 2016 (which is still pretty recent), but 1 gets a new edition every few years & the other just got a new edition earlier this month ( )." 
Quoting Chudzinski (See "Need for the Study": ): "My experience with docents indicates that they go to a museum with a desire to be of service but with little formal background. Docents are not experts on the collec- 8 tions, although many visitors expect them to be. Docents obtain their knowledge of artifacts through training and orientation sessions. A typical training session usually consists of "heavy doses of lecture and reading ... " (Scanlon, 1974, p. 37) with little emphasis on interpretive techniques." 
Quoting myself: "For my 25th pair of reviews, I review Rey 2001 (which is a great resource for casual readers, especially kids & their parents/educators) & Mash 2007 (which is a terrible resource for said readers). I picked these particular reviews partly b/c they represent opposite ends of the extreme dino book spectrum, & partly to coincide with [the] 20th anniversary of an "Xtreme" event. Remember, my reviews are for the sake of promoting paleo education & awareness, so any & all "Helpful" votes are greatly appreciated (especially for my 1st-6th, 12th, 15th, & 25th pairs). 2 more things of note: 
-1) For those who don't know what I mean by "casual readers": 
-2) For those who don't know how I rate educational dino books: 2* for accurate text; 1* for accurate/good-quality paleoart; 1* for accurate/good-quality writing; 1/2* for being organized; 1/2* for being authoritative; I’ll also 1) add an extra 1/2* for extra authoritativeness if the book was published by a natural history museum (E.g. Gardom/Milner's "The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs"), & 2) add or subtract an extra 1* if the book's title makes a superlative claim (E.g. Lessem’s "National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever", which doesn't live up to its title)."