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  • Foto van schrijverPalaeontologica Belgica


Bijgewerkt op: 6 okt. 2021

On Saturday 2nd October, Palaeontologica Belgica presented Belgium’s very first Citizen Science and professional awards. The research organisation is thus the first Belgian institution that, together with the support of professional researchers, is committed to valorising the achievements of citizen scientists in scientific research. Together with Scivil, the governmental platform for citizen science in Flanders and the VUB, they hope that this initiative will be followed by other scientific branches where citizen scientists selflessly contribute to fundamental scientific research.

Louis De Pauw

The citizen science award is named after Louis François De Pauw (1844-1918) and aims to honour the efforts and contributions of people without an academic background who selflessly dedicate themselves to palaeontological research in Belgium.

Everyone has, in one way or another, come across the world-famous Iguanodons of Bernissart or the Mammoth of Lier. These iconic fossils, which are on display at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels, were reconstructed by Louis François De Pauw at the end of the 19th century. Although Louis De Pauw had no academic training, he was extremely adept at studying, preparing, conserving and assembling fossil skeletons. His work attracted great international interest at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, De Pauw's scientific and cultural legacy was lost in the course of history. A renewed interest in his intellectual legacy is more than ever welcome. The award in his name is a tribute to the pioneering work he did more than 100 years ago.

The award ceremony will take place for the first time at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), where Louis De Pauw worked as head curator of the zoological collections at the end of his career.

Civil Sciences

The award is special because it highlights a lesser known side of the citizen sciences. After all, anyone with a love, passion, enthusiasm or interest in science can become a citizen scientist. There are already many fascinating projects that appeal to the general public for studies that require the collection of a lot of data. Just think of the shell collecting and bird counting days to which the general public can contribute. In this context, however, this award transcends the usual definition of citizen science.

Within palaeontology, however, many citizen scientists have been systematically conducting or contributing to independent research for many decades. Over time, they have even become renowned experts in their field of research. Although they can count on international interest in the palaeontological world, there is no official recognition of these citizen scientists who focus on research with love and dedication - whether or not in cooperation with recognised research centres.

In our neighbouring countries, prizes have been awarded to citizen scientists for many years, such as the Van Der Lijn award in the Netherlands, the Mary Anning prize in the United Kingdom (Pal. Ass.), the Saporta Prize (APF) in France and the Zittel-Medaille (Pal. Gesellschaft) in Germany. All of these are official recognitions that narrow the gap between academia and non-professional researchers.

Academy of Sciences

As an organisation, Palaeontologica Belgica wants to work for the passionate members of the palaeontological community working in the various fields. It is fantastic to be able to give something back to people who spend a large part of their lives selflessly dedicating themselves to research,' it says. For the older generation in particular, the threshold for actively contributing to scientific research was high. Studying geology or biology at university was not always obvious to them. By lowering the bridge between academia and the public, we hope to encourage the younger generation to conduct independent research.

Unfortunately, palaeontology is not a science that offers the prospect of a long-term, stable career. On the job market, palaeontological vacancies are scarce or non-existent. A specialisation in palaeontology therefore rarely leads to job security. The Louis De Pauw Award can be an incentive to continue research on an independent basis. We would be delighted if the various Academy(s) of Sciences in our country could devote attention to the phenomenon of Citizen Science in the coming years; especially in unknown scientific disciplines without major funding or sponsorship, all contributions from researchers are important, even from independent researchers.

A short overview of the Louis De Pauw awardees can be found here

From left to right: Dr. Koen Stein (Pal. Belg. Award 2020), Marcel Vervoenen (Louis De Pauw Award 2020), Dr. Olivier Lambert (Pal. Belg. Award 2021), Mark Bosselaers (Louis De Pauw Award 2021) © T. Hubin 2021

Palaeontologica Belgica Award

Together with the Louis De Pauw award, our organisation also honours professional or academic scientists whose contributions to Belgian paleontology made a significant impact. The 'Paleontologica Belgica Award’ is presented to paleontologists who greatly value, effectuate and endorse the collaboration with citizen scientists and whose passion for research stretches further than their office desks. This award is a token of respect and appreciation towards paleontologists who radiate their passion for research fieldwork and education to a broad audience. It also honors the passion, dedication and efforts spent on Belgian research.

In a contemporary academic setting, it is difficult to make an impact with very specific and elaborate regional research. Publishing results in regional journals while consciously not aiming for high-impact periodicals, requires lots of courage, and is often frowned upon by peers within the scientific community. In times when the value of a scientist is greatly determined or even defined, by the amount of exotic and spectacular international research, it is considered as a ``faux pas’’ to publish promising findings in regional (and often low-impact) journals. A vast amount of interesting scientific observations are therefore neglected because they do not meet the unspoken and often biased editorial criteria. Contributing to Belgian paleontology is therefore not always attractive from a career point of view. Especially very young researchers will find it very hard to recover any support to work on Belgian paleontological topics. This lack of support results from the misconception that regional research does not produce groundbreaking discoveries and therefore doesn’t generate as much funding. Topics such as taxonomy, regional paleo-ecology, ichnology or biostratigraphy are at risk of becoming extinct in the future if they are not valued anymore.

The Palaeontologica Belgica award wishes to counter this trend as it is a recognition for all paleontologists who devote themselves to regional research and unpopular topics. It’s a laud to the scientist at heart who acts beyond the classic academic and institutional borders. A praise to go against old ivory towers and outdated structures.

The award expresses the admiration for somebody who is not afraid and at the same time, understands the benefits of working with citizen scientists and actively promotes it. As it is the case for many sciences, paleontology is no 9-5 job, besides research, fieldwork, lab time, and teaching, a paleontologist can be found giving lectures, organizing workshops, planning fieldtrips, and working on outreach during his free time. The winner of the Palaeontologica Belgica award is somebody who understands that working together and sharing knowledge is an asset.

A short overview of the Palaeontologica Belgica awardees can be found here

© T. Hubin 2021

All Pictures © T. Hubin 2021

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