Rich countries overwhelmingly dominate paleontology research, even when the fossils do not originate there, a new study shows. Researchers analyzed 26,409 paleobiology papers from 1990 to 2020 and found that scientists in high- or upper-middle-income countries contributed to 97 percent of fossil research. And those from former colonial powers disproportionately controlled fossils from their former colonies. For example, French researchers conducted a quarter of all paleontology studies in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria; German scientists carried out 17 percent of research on fossils from Tanzania; and 10 percent of studies on South African and Egyptian fossils were conducted by British investigators.
“This was very eye-opening,” says Nussaïbah B. Raja-Schoob, a paleontologist at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen–Nuremberg in Germany, who co-led the study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. “With colonialism, certain countries already had an advantage. After independence, the knowledge wasn’t transferred back, so a lot of countries had to start from scratch and with less money.”
This article was originally published with the title "Colonialism Shadows Fossil Science" in Scientific American 326, 4, 84 (April 2022)
Clara Moskowitzis Scientific American's senior editor covering space and physics. She has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University and a graduate degree in science journalism from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Follow Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz Credit: Nick Higgins
Youyou Zhou is a New York-based data journalist working with graphics and code. She produces data-driven, visual, interactive and experimental journalism that breaks free of word-based formats. Follow her on Twitter @zhoyoyo