Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Shakin' up Springfield, one constituent letter at a time

Just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know how much your opinion is valued!

Last week I wrote Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in opposition to his plans to close the Illinois State Museum. Today I got back this message:

That puzzled me at first, but then I looked up the letter -- a form that I sent to the governor's office and members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, who review plans to close state facilities. It said:

According to a July 2 article on the Daily News website of Science magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Angela Perri, zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, hypothesizes that animal bones from a Hopewell burial site now housed at the State Museum in Springfield belonged to young bobcat which was buried with a shell bead necklace around its neck. “This is the closest you can get to finding taming in the archaeological record,” she told David Grimm, online editor of the AAAS magazine. Perri suggests that the necklace may have been a collar, and the animal may have been “a cherished pet” that was orphaned, adopted by human beings and nurtured as a small kitten. If this hypothesis can be proven, it would be important evidence of how wild animals were domesticated. However, Governor Rauner’s budget threatens that possibility.

“Unfortunately, further work on the bobcat may not be possible,” said Grimm of the AAAS. “The museum where the bones are housed is facing a shutdown due to state budget cuts, and Perri says she can no longer access the samples.”

Dr. Perry is not the only scientist who has made use of the State Musuem. Rainer Schreg, professor of pre- and early history (Ur- und Frühgeschichte) at Heidelberg University in Germany, visited an archaeological dig in Pike County in 2010 and presented a paper on his work in Germany while he was here. Dr. Schreg said recently, the museum “makes an important and multi-faceted public contribution, which is closely linked to research that is fundamental to the understanding of history and landscape in the Midwest. It is nonsense [Blödsinn] to cancel something like this." (My translation.) Science depends on the free exchange of information among scholars worldwide, and closing this museum at this time would cut off an avenue for our archaeologists and historians to exchange ideas with their peers. It would also, as Dr. Schreg suggests, damage our reputation worldwide.

We have heard plenty about the State Museum’s economic impact and its educational value, both for family groups who visit during school vacations and for students who tour Springfield during the spring. And it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of these things. But the museum’s value for scholarly and scientific research is also considerable, and it is placed in jeopardy by any effort to close the facility, even temporarily.

So, in all fairness, I guess they did read the letter. They just didn't read it with comprehension. They must have skimmed through it till they saw the word "bobcat," and sent out the bobcat letter without any further ado.

Link (not lynx) here to Facebook. When I posted Rauner's letter to Facebook, I got back some classic comments. Follow this link to see them.

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