For scientists, commercial excavation of fossils - legal or not - raises troubling questions. "For me," says Mark Norell, chairman and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of History in New York City, "the big concern with all this private digging is that it may be robbing science of valuable knowledge." (Italics mine)
The Smithsonian's Carrano says all scientifically significant fossil specimens...should be placed in museums for study in perpetuity...Let's retain those significant ones for study. (Italics mine)It's an easy POV to understand. As I have never really thought it out before, I think I have always just accepted this a s the proper attitude to take. Fossils don't belong to anyone, they belong to all of us. Even more than a county or even national government claim, such things belong to all mankind. The government is just the closest proxy for ownership to be in charge of something so that scientists can study it. Because such things really belong to Science! The scientists quoted above clearly subscribe to this view. They are absolutely clear that anything of significance belongs to them. To do otherwise is to rob them. They have prior ownership which they can choose to retain.
Folks get sticky if they believe they own something by right and someone else is trying to take it from them. It often prevents objective thinking. In this case, the belief is that they will use it for good, to benefit all of us. Why should I have a problem with that?
Now that I look at the issue, I do have a problem with it. Where do these ownership lines extend for items of potential scientific value? Let's look at hard cases. A poor country finds something that a private collector is willing to pay $8M for. The national museum says, no, it's ours, give it to us. The people say no, we'd rather have food, thanks. Or buy it for $8M yourself.
The question of direct benefit also comes into play. People who really like fossils get some pleasure out to the information, but what is the actual benefit to mankind? There are some discoveries where we might project an immediate benefit, but fossil finds have such potential only at farther removes. We learn more about geology or biology that might help us out in, oh, mining, or genetics, which could in turn be leveraged into something for industry or medicine, but it's hard to make a nice tight connection. Fossils, even really cool ones, are something we are interested in for filling in gaps in knowlege, which we hope in genral will benefit us. But it's a stretch. I can see where people would say, "no, give us the cash, thanks."