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RE: The myth of coding from specimens firsthand and the untapped resource of photos



Ross Mounce wrote-

> If there are barriers to sharing photos online surely we should examine
> and discuss what these are? I for one feel that there are NO 'technical'
> barriers. Even the very highest resolution photos can easily be shared
> (on a massive scale) over the internet these days e.g.
> http://www.flickr.com/ http://picasa.google.com/ etc...
> contra what Jaime Headden said "time to prepare the photographic
> database would be long, and costly, and certainly involve massive
> amounts of patience" - I think it could be virtually FREE, easy and with
> little or no setup time. Specimen photo databases already exist e.g.
> http://www.morphbank.net/ and would *love* more photos. Albert
> Prieto-Marquez has done a great job of uploading innumerate quality
> dinosaur specimen photos there.

I'd heard of Morphobank before, but never explored it.  Probably because its 
dinosaurian photos are basically all hadrosaurs. *yawn* ;)  Seems to be pretty 
much what we require, though the image manipulation is a bit clunky.  I do 
notice many are of AMNH specimens though, and I was specifically told by the 
collections manager that any photos I posted or published would have to be 
credited to the AMNH.  Not a problem to do, but I don't see any indication of 
it there.  Which brings us to...

> 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.

Here there are several kinds of cases.

Described taxa that we have permission to distribute photos of.  Yay!  No 
problem.

Undescribed taxa and novel material of described taxa that is being prepared 
for publication (e.g. the MOR Deinonychus braincase).  Photos of this type are 
near universally said to be non-distributable.  Indeed, sometimes the specimens 
themselves aren't allowed to be viewed or photographed.  There's a lot that 
could be said about these in regard to the benefits vs. advantages of secrecy, 
the publishing model, Aetogate, etc..  But honestly in the greater scheme of 
things, I'm happy to let these remain offline.

Described specimens that we don't have permission to distribute photos of.  
Here's the stinker.  Again, I want to assure everyone who I've interacted with 
photo-wise that I'm not complaining about them. :)  If you've sent me photos 
and said I can't distribute them, or if I've asked for some from you and you've 
replied you're not allowed to, I understand.  It's not your fault.  It's the 
system we work in, the deals we had to make in order to have the photos 
ourselves, etc..  I have many of these kinds of photos myself, and I've had to 
tell people "Sorry, I'm not allowed to show them to you."  So I know you're not 
just being greedy or stubborn.  With that out of the way, the system that lets 
this happen is deplorable.  A good example is Adasaurus.  It was described in 
1983, only the pelvis and pes were illustrated, nothing was photographed, and 
only the barest description appeared.  TWENTY-EIGHT years later, things aren't 
much better.  Still no photos, but there are a couple more drawings, and 
details have dribbled out in various publications and data matrices.  But there 
are photos on peoples' hard drives.  They just can't distribute them.  I don't 
think it's out of line to say that if you haven't done anything with your taxon 
after describing it almost three decades ago, it should be fair game to 
everyone else.  An even more egregious example is Quetzalcoatlus, as described 
here- http://pterosaur-net.blogspot.com/2010/05/embarrassing-questions-on.html 
.  There are tens of lesser examples in almost every taxon published in Nature 
or Science.  On the one hand, I know researchers often plan to describe these 
more fully in the future.  But is it fair to the community to describe a taxon, 
then keep it away from the community (unless someone spends hundreds of dollars 
to see it in person) until you write up a monograph a decade or two down the 
line?  Monographs take time to write, but if you've already named it, what do 
you have to lose by allowing photos to be placed online?  No one's going to 
write a rival m!
onograph 
s I'd like to get to the bottom of.

Mickey Mortimer