TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Fossil lovers now have one more way to link up and talk about dinosaurs, thanks to a mammoth-sized federal grant.
Critics call it more buried treasure.
The University of Florida broke ground earlier this year on a taxpayer-supported initiative purporting to connect amateur fossil enthusiasts across the country with each other and professional aficionados through a new online communication network.
The cost: $2 million.
The plan’s name is a mouthful: Fostering Opportunities for Synergistic STEM in Informal Learners, or FOSSIL, (STEM is an acronym for Science Technology Engineering and Math).
Simply put, it consists of a user-friendly website, social media outreach and event get-togethers. The website — the networking hub — holds mainly contact lists, event information and a newsletter.
Funding recipients call it a game-changer.
“I had this idea of a web-based education community that connects people with a shared interested in paleontology,” Bruce MacFadden, vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said in February when funding was announced.
University researchers cited a need for the funding, based on their own research, to connect independent fossil clubs across the country the same way other science-hobbyist groups are connected, such as birdwatchers. The National Science Foundation, a federal agency, agreed and is sending $1.97 million payable through 2017.
Critics question whether the government should be funding hobbyists at all.
FOSSIL landed last month in the 2014 Wastebook,— a list of the federal government’s most wasteful projects, released last month by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
The report questions FOSSIL’s basic usefulness as related websites and funding grants already exist.