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Re: Kirkaldy and SVP Ethics Statement

I'm not going to say much more on this topic - pretty much everything I
want to say has been said, either by me or by someone else.

>     Since I was talking about the future, I was making a prediction, not a
>claim.  If the academics continue to be so uncompromising, we will never
>know if uncooperativeness would have been limited to a small percentage of
>     The compromise I proposed would put high standards of documentation on
>those who want to publish on privately held material (including examination
>and documentation by professionals before publication takes place), higher
>standards than if the material were donated to a museum and more easily
>     However, if you just across the board reject publication of privately
>held material, then I think this unwillingness to compromise will indeed
>lead to higher levels of uncooperativeness.  It will probably be a sort of
>self-fulfilling prophecy.

The importance of looking at the real material (and not published
descriptions or photographs) is something most working paleontologists
appreciate.  Budgetary and temporal limitations sometimes prevent us from
seeing everything, but the literature is where you start, not where you

This is not some pie-in-the-sky idealism on my part - this is cold
experience talking.  I've learned to use the literature as a guide to the
data (the specimens), not as a body of data in and of itself.  I could
relate all kinds of stories about how published descriptions did not
reflect the material with respect to crocodylians and theropods, either
because the original worker made a mistake or (much more commonly) because
I simply bring a different pair of eyes and different paradigm to the
material.  Good descriptive paleontology (or zoology, or botany) lasts
forever, but no one should rely on it and it alone.

Inherent in Dr. Kinman's above statement is that if we professionals would
only work more closely with private collectors and describe privately-owned
material, private collectors might be more willing to make material
available in perpetuity, either through donation or sale.  From my
experience, it doesn't work that way at all.  Such action on our part would
only encourage private collectors to keep their scientifically important
material - after all, it'll get scientific treatment whether it's at home
or in a museum, right?

The only solution is to encourage private collectors to work more closely
with professionals and to help them understand the importance of museum
collections. If you don't see this as compromise, then I'm sorry.  But as a
working scientist, I am forced to recognize the importance of data
repeatability.  And this doesn't mean that we professionals should be
arrogant snobs; it's a matter of helping people understand what a museum
collection is all about - a public-trust archive of material that will
maximally benefit everyone by virtue of its perpetual curation.

An earlier post in this thread referred to "so-called professionals" who
have done all sorts of unethical things.  I took this as an accusation that
professionals are humans apt to err, and will comment no further as this is
undeniably true.  But I will point out the one overriding benefit of
museums relative to other collections - they outlast the people in charge
of them.  Museums are just as subject to vandalism, wartime or natural
disaster damage, and human stupidity as a private collection; specimens
under museum care can be lost through a variety of means, and we
professionals are just as prone to selfishness as anyone else.  But a
museum collection belongs to an institution, not an individual -
individuals come and go, but the collection remains.


Christopher A. Brochu
Department of Geology
Field Museum
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605

phone 312-665-7633
fax 312-665-7641
electronic cbrochu@fmppr.fmnh.org