5 Key Insights from Paleontology to Guide Our Future
Five insights that give us the scientific understanding to move into the twenty-first century in a knowledgeable way and to begin to choose the future that we want.
Kirk Johnson is the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History. He oversees more than 460 employees, an annual federal budget of $68 million (museum’s federal budget in FY 2012) and a collection of more than 126 million specimens and artifacts—the largest collection at the Smithsonian. The Museum of Natural History hosts an average of 7 million visitors a year, and its scientists publish about 500 scientific research contributions a year.
As a vice president of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Johnson was part of a team that led the museum and managed its $40 million annual budget. The museum, which receives 1.4 million visitors per year and has a staff of 400, launched a $170 million capital campaign in 2005.
As chief curator at the Denver museum, Johnson oversaw a 70-person research and collections division that included curators, archivists, conservators and technicians and managed its $3.5 million annual budget. He was responsible for the museum’s 24 collections, and he led the completion of the museum’s first comprehensive long-term collections and research plan. He served as a curator of paleontology since joining the museum in 1991.
Johnson is the author of numerous scientific papers, and he has edited seven scientific volumes. He has written nine books, including his most recent, Digging Snowmastodon: Discovering an Ice Age World in the Colorado Rockies, which was published by the museum and the People’s Press in 2012.
The last sixty years has seen incredible breakthroughs in paleontology. We learned that the continents have shifted. We’ve learned how to measure geologic time precisely. We’ve learned that asteroids have caused extinction on this planet. We’ve learned that we can extract DNA from fossils and tie the relationship of living things to fossil things. And we’ve learned that carbon is closely related to climate.
Those five insights have framed a toolkit for understanding how our planet works and gives us the scientific understanding to really move into the twenty-first century in a knowledgeable way and to begin to choose the future that we want.
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