The problem with buying dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are in the news these days, but it’s not always for happy reasons. While paleontologists are making groundbreaking discoveries, their work is often overshadowed by outrage that yet another fossil has been auctioned off to the highest bidder. The most recent controversy involves a rare “baby” T. rex currently listed on eBay for more than $2.9 million, but similar auctions are common. The same vendor also lists on its website an “authentic” triceratops skeleton for $890,000.

Such sales are a source of concern to scientists, who fear that the high prices paid by private collectors will put specimens out of their reach. New theories about the history of life on Earth cannot be tested unless the scientific community has easy access to the material evidence. For that reason, most scholarly journals refuse to publish research on specimens that are not housed in a public repository.

For their part, commercial collectors argue that fossils left in the ground will eventually be lost to erosion and that museums can hardly afford to collect every specimen. By giving private collectors an incentive to scour the landscape and unearth these remarkable creatures, the market for dinosaurs ensures that more of them are available for public scrutiny.

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