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Re: The myth of coding from specimens firsthand and the untapped resource of photos
On 1 June 2011 09:56, Ross Mounce <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> I'd like to know more about the barriers of 'Museum Permission' - what
> these are, and why they exist (with full moral, and logical
> justification too). I understand keenness to 'hide' specimens that are
> in the process of being described by someone else, but if a taxon has
> already been well-described in scientific literature - why not let
> high-res photos of it appear online? Is Scientific Research and
> Education not absolutely central to the mission statements of most
> museums? Perhaps private museums are different, and might care most
> about profit, but public institutions should be better focused.
I can tell you about the Natural History Museum in London, which is
one I've dealt with the most. At that museum, there is a very clear
distinction between the scientific staff, who are very helpful and
would (I am sure) be in favour of this kind of information sharing;
and the commercial staff, who think about NOTHING but the short-term
The commercials won't let you get away with anything that might
conceivably mean someone somewhere makes some money and they don't get
any of it -- for example, I wasn't allowed to sell Xenoposeidon
T-shirts at cost, presumably because the museum thought I would be
cutting into the lucrative potential Xenoposeidon T-shirt market that
they might one day want to exploit.
Because of this, by the way, the NHM is notoriously hard to film in.
When we did the publicity for Xenoposeidon (which, remember, was a
brand new NHM dinosaur!), the Portsmouth people had to repeatedly beg
to get a TV crew in there, and it was touch and go up to the last
moment whether we'd be able to film. Since then, I have referred to
the commercial branch of the NHM as their crack Department For The
Prevention of Publicity, a title that they have lived up to again and
again. (There was NO WAY we were going to be allowed to film for
Brontomerus there; happily, the fabulous Grant Museum of Zoology were
super-helpful.) I think you can film there if you pony up a wodge of
cash. It simply doesn't seem to occur to the NHM's DFTPOP that
showing people new dinosaurs in their museum might be, you know, good
publicity or something.
This is also why there will never be an SV-POW! book.
So if there were to be a big online database of specimen photos, there
would need to be some schmoozing of the NHM for their stuff to be
included. I think and hope that could get this to fly just by having
some undertaking that the archive is only for scientific purposes, and
no-one is allowed to make or sell any kind of product that uses these
I don't know how true this is of other museums. I get the sense that
the NHM's DFTPOP is an extreme case but probably not the only one.