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



Jaime Headden wrote-

>   The problem I am trying to point out is that this is not a solution to the 
> particular problem Mickey raises, it simply makes the problem (that of 
> confirmation and study) less arduous. You absolutely should examine the 
> material first hand, and there is absolutely no reason I can find that a 
> photo serves _better_ than this with the sole exception of the material being 
> destroyed or stolen, and thus totally unavailable. I should never be 
> relegated to accepting second best, and that's what photos [in a vacuum] as 
> study materials are, and thus preferential weight should be placed on 
> first-hand study.

The point you didn't seem to get from my post is that coding from the specimens 
themselves is largely a MYTH.  You can do it for specimens that are held at a 
museum you work at or live close to, or those you have on loan.  But the vast 
majority of specimens are stuck in museums far around the world, and I don't 
care how big your grant is, no one has the money to spend weeks on end at each 
museum in different continents, and then do it again after they have more 
characters and new taxa have been discovered.  Instead, if you're lucky you can 
visit most relevent museums and take pictures of most relevent specimens at 
each, then depend on those photos to code from.  This is how things work in the 
real world, and this is how most professionals have to do it.  Your preferred, 
best option is a pipe dream which no one can or does attain.

>   The second aspect of this problem is one of professionals and institutions 
> sharing what is, generally, either private or copyrighted material. And note 
> well, an institution owns the materials in its possession, or the state 
> controlling it does, and thus laws exist which state that photos of said 
> material, unless otherwise stated, are owned by that institution or state. 
> Telling these people to part with them, or convince them to do so, when said 
> institutions/states often develop these copyright protocols to ensure income, 
> would be a problem in both international and interstate commerce. It could 
> even be theft.
>
>   I am not saying this is an ideal situation. As a scientist (or so I'd like 
> to dream) I think the ideal is toward a more communal organization, in which 
> free access and free sharing becomes the norm. But this has hurdles, and one 
> of them is the sense of property. An institution owns a specimen, and thus 
> has an interest in the work done on it, and any scientist asking for access 
> often must fill out forms indicating what the material will be used for, and 
> what will be done with it; access can incur a fee, and photos an additional 
> one. This brings money to the institution, and many of you guys know and 
> accept it, even if you grumble about it. Mickey was fortunate to get in (for 
> free, I think) to the AMNH collections; photos he took were not (I 
> understand) "taxed," but this is a situation that can be uncommon elsewhere, 
> especially outside of the "enlightened" nations.

Do museums actually charge for access and/or photography?  You're correct that 
the AMNH didn't, and if I recall a thread on here or vrtpaleo earlier, it 
seemed that most don't except some in third world countries.
I know some are protective of their specimens (e.g. Taylor's post on the BMNH), 
but I do wonder how museums expect to make money or expect us to make money 
from photos.  We pay to publish papers, not the reverse.  Even if museums make 
money from the publicity of newspaper articles when their specimens are 
described in Nature or Science, having photographs distributed between 
professionals has no impact on that.

>   Similarly, material that is undergoing study may be subject to embargo, as 
> with all derivatives (photos included) of this work. Scientists can be 
> possessive louts, and this is not intended as an insult, but a polite nudge. 
> This material, and photos, would not be shared even when the institution is 
> willing, because the workers are very picky about it. This sense advocates 
> adversely against the argument for sharing data regardless of whether those 
> workers would share _afterward_. There is no reason if you would share later, 
> why you wouldn't share earlier, unless it had something to do with a sense of 
> priopriety (and this is where embargoes from journals like _Nature_ and 
> _Science_ come in, when it becomes about name recognition, some rediculous 
> thing called "impact factor," and most especially _MONEY_).

Here we definitely agree.

>   On the matter of institutions sending out researchers or having a database 
> prepared to reduce researchers' time traveling, again -- first hand 
> examination should be the norm and the desire, and photos are a poor second 
> best; you should never opt for second best if you can get first. It may take 
> time, patience, and influx of funds to so so, but you could just _wait_.

I never suggested this, though I would love it of course.  I'm talking about 
all of us who already have photos sharing them at no cost to ourselves besides 
the time and effort to upload them online.  To suggest we "just wait" until we 
have the resources to do something nobody has done is patronizing.  Look at any 
large theropod matrix- TWG, Rauhut 2003, Benson 2010, Maryanska et al. 2002, 
Chiappe 2001, Choiniere et al. 2010, Smith et al. 2007, etc..  None of them has 
seen all the taxa they use firsthand, and I bet most of the taxa they did see 
were coded from photos they took, not coded while the specimens were in their 
hands.  And this means we can all do things at a level close to what the 
professionals do if we set up the resource.

Mickey Mortimer