Trust in technicians in paleontology laboratories

Author:Wylie, Caitlin, EN-Engineering and SocietyUniversity of Virginia ORCID icon

New technologies can upset scientific workplaces’ established practices and social order. Digital imaging of rock-encased fossils is a valuable way for scientists to “see” a specimen without traditional rock removal. However, interviews in vertebrate paleontology laboratories reveal workers’ skepticism towards computed tomography (CT) imaging. Scientists criticize replacing physical fossils with digital images because, they say, images are more subjective than the “real thing.” I argue that these scientists are also implicitly supporting rock-removal technicians, who are skilled and trusted experts whose work would be made obsolete by widespread implementation of CT scanning. Scientists’ view of CT as a sometimes-useful tool rather than a universal new approach to accessing fossils preserves the laboratory community’s social structure. Specifically, by privileging “real” specimens and trusted specimen-processing technicians over images and imaging experts, scientists preserve the lab community’s division of labor and skill, hierarchy between scientists and technicians, and these groups’ identity and mutual trust. Scientific workers may therefore prefer preserving skilled manual work and the social status quo to revolutionary technological change.

Source Citation:

Wylie, C.D. (2018). Trust in technicians in paleontology laboratories. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 43(2), 324-348.

University of Virginia
Published Date:
December 21, 2020