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Merger plans rattle bones in Berlin

Naturevolume 417page578 (2002) | Download Citation

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Munich

Palaeontologists at Berlin's Museum of Natural History are up in arms over a reform plan that they fear could leave the dinosaur discipline on the edge of local extinction.

An outside panel of experts recommended in April that the institutes of palaeontology, mineralogy and zoology at the museum should merge into a single department, with one director.

But palaeontologists at the institute claim that the panel's report belittled their discipline. The report describes palaeontology as having “no scientific autonomy”. It adds that the discipline lacks a theoretical approach as it is derived from the objects it studies and relies on “expeditions and preparation techniques”.

“Palaeontology is definitely hard science,” says Rainer Schoch, one of 15 palaeontologists at the museum, who says he finds the report's findings “unacceptable”.

Hans-Peter Schultze, the museum's head of palaeontology, says that the proposed merger could mark the end of serious palaeontological research there, leaving behind only technicians to look after the fossil collection — one of the largest in Europe.

Schultze, who retires next year, also complains that there were no palaeontologists on the eight-strong panel. Alfred Crompton of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, a palaeontologist who was supposed to represent the field, could not take part because no funds were available for him to travel to Berlin.

Gerhard Neuweiler, a zoologist at the University of Munich, former president of Germany's science council and a member of the panel, defends its findings. “We have not questioned the quality of palaeontological research at the museum,” he says. Fears that it could be ended are unjustified, he adds.

But palaeontology is already in decline at several German institutes. The universities of Marburg, Darmstadt, Giessen and Mainz, for example, no longer offer courses in palaeontology or fill vacant positions.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/417578b

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