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Private holotypes



Jeff Poling wrote:

> So if "Sinosauropteryx" was in a Japanese businessman's private
> collection, analyses should not be published?  That's patently
> ridiculous.  I understand you don't think fossils should be
> privately owned, but going to the point of obstructing scientific
> understanding while fossils are still privately owned is nuts.

Sorry, "nuts" or not, I think you'd find an awful lot of VPs more than just a
little uncomfortable with the idea of describing a holotype that's going to
wind up residing in someone's house, office, vault, etc. Having described one
new vert taxon myself, I can say I would not do it. That is not to say that
the scientific community should not make note of the material and seek
additional specimens of the new animal. It is not merely the knowledge that
the fossil exists that makes it valuable, but its *conservation* in a stable
collection, its insured (as well as such things may be insured) availability
for generations of future VPs and technologies as yet undeveloped. All the
casts and photographs and measurements in the world cannot replace the value
of the actual fossil, and the best way of maintaining the fossil in in the
hands of professionals.

and Steve Jackson wrote:

> I am told that some private collectors just want to hoard things and
> never let anybody else see them, but I have trouble believing there
> is much of that. Most dino enthusiasts, at least, would be overjoyed
> at the idea that scientists wanted to look at their collection.

And I should think that if those who want to own dinosaur fossils are indeed
of such a mindset. that, in general, when they become aware that they have
something of particular importance, such as the "Sinosauropteryx" material,
they would wish to donate the material to those that can best care for it and
decode the information preserved in fossil form.

Otherwise, they're no different from big-game hunters. Indeed, the thought of
priavtely owned holotypes merely makes a worse nightmare of this mess; it's
quite easy to imagine private collectors (particularly those with millions to
spend) competing for potential hototypic material. Or even allowing pro
examination under certain stipulations, such as the animal be named for them,
etc. (I know that this has actually happened). Cooperation with science
should proceed not from stroked egos, but from a wish to see an improved
understanding of the world.

Caitlin R. Kiernan