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Specimen availibility



    Brochu has it right when he said that research starts with the
literature, not ends with it.  Take a look at the literature over the years
on ANY group of fossil vertebrates.  For particular specimens, you will find
descriptions, redescriptions, misidentifications of elements, claims of
misidentifications, claims that the claimed misidentifications were properly
identified to begin with, comparisons of the ?misidentified elements with
newer specimens to demonstrate their homology, or difference, or individual
variation, or sexual dimorphism, or that previous claims of individual
variation and sexual dimorphism were unlikely and that the specimen is
actually a new taxon, etc...  How far does any of this get if your specimen
is hidden away in someone's private collection?  The original paper
describing a specimen unavailable for further study is almost as useless as
the first shovelfuls of dirt taken off the top of a skeleton which is never
excavated.  It is only after years of reexaminations and cross examinations
using newer and newer material that the full value of a specimen becomes
apparent.
    Moreover, described material which cannot be studied further is a
potential source of genuine problems.  A good example may be Sue.  We have
all heard Peter Larson's claim that Sue can be sexed using the first hemal
arch, that she shows signs of having been mauled by another tyrannosaur,
etc...Larson's claims are in the literature, and they have been cited.  Now
Chris Brochu, after examining the same material, is publishing claims that
at least some of this is incorrect.  If so, then discussions in the
literature based on Larson's claims have been downright misleading.  If Sue
was sold to a private collector instead of the Field Museum, how would we
know?  Larson's claims might continue circulating for years until more
complete T. rex material is found and described, and even then we couldn't
be completely certain that Sue wasn't just different and Larson was correct
about that particular specimen.  On the other hand lets say Dr. Brochu's
interpretation is completely jacked, and Larson had it right to begin with.
This may be so.  The only way to check is to look at the specimen;
fortunately, it is available for study, being housed in a museum rather then
someone's (presumably very large) living room.  A described specimen which
is unavailable isn't just kind of a bummer; it can potentially leave
misleading marks in the literature which can never be erased with complete
certainty as long as the material is unavailable for further study.  A
publication's stand against describing privately owned specimens is for the
good of science, not a means of spiting private collectors at its expense.
This brings us to Wagner's favorite subject, claims in published abstracts
which never get expanded into papers...

LNJ
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It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day to day basis.
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Jeffrey W. Martz
Graduate student, Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University
3002 4th St., Apt. C26
Lubbock, TX 79415
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