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The problems with holotypes in private collections



Paul Willis reply to Jeff Poling

>>   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collection, analyses should not be published?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.
>
>Actually, it is the rules. The ICZN states that holotype specimens must be
>in secure collections that are open to inspection. Private collections do
>not fall into this catagorie.
>
>There is a very good reason for this. Private collections are inherently
>unstable; they tend to get broken up and specimens change hands frequently.
>There is no point is designating a holotype if you don't know where it will
>be next year, in 5 years time or 50 years time. This is why public
>collections are favoured.

You hit the nail on the head Paul, that is precisely the problem. Here in
the state of Illinois some may be familiar with the famous Mazon Creek
fossils. Many vertebrates and soft-bodied forms (and plants) have been
found preserved in middle Pennsylvanian siderite concretions. For years
there has a been a fairly good cooperative program between scientists and
collectors. But even with this system I know of several holotypes that
remained in private hands. They were sold when the collector died, to other
collectors who will not allow any scientist to inspect or study the
specimens.  This is preciscely why the ICZN has these rules. So even when
there is a good cooperative program, things break down in the security of
holotypes that are not curated in public collections. So even if the
collection of dinosaur material could be put into a similar cooperative
program, these problems will develop that you mention when holotypes are
kept in private collections.

Russ Jacobson

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