Beautiful fossils draw people to paleontology—they entice people to attend museums, buy coffee-table books, watch documentaries on cable channels and, of course, spend large sums of money on fossil specimens. Some are so drawn to fossils that they become paleontologists, either avocational or professional ones. But the emphasis on good-looking and well-preserved fossils can prevent us from exploring important scientific questions and understanding the complete record of life on Earth.

It is clear that much of our understanding of ancient life comes from fossil conservation-Lagerstätten where the preservation is exceptional. The reconstruction of organisms that usually are disarticulated or soft-bodied...

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