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

Sorry to Jaime Headden, who will receive this twice, but each time I
answer to Jaime the message goes to
''Dinosaur.Mailing.List@listproc.usc.edu'' instead of
''dinosaur@usc.edu'', and I got it rejected.

2011/6/2 Jaime Headden <qi_leong@hotmail.com>:
>   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.

I accept that photos deform because of perspective, in the same way
our eyes deform because of the same reason. Of course, you can rotate
the fossil (or rotate yourself around it if the fossil is large) to
discard this effect. But, speaking about photographs, this can also be
discounted if taking photographs of the same fossil from different
angles, or even taking videos (which most digital cameras now can).
Other thing, interpretation of photos can be also subjected to
science. Photos can show things which are really there as well as
things there are'nt there. If we follow some aspect which is not true,
future studies can state this, and even perhaps demonstrate this with
a photo from other angle. Also, the search for perfection in
information may lead one to inaction; thus one should act on what one

>   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.

Well, as far as I know this is not such a great problem. I have
received lots of photos from fossils of South Africa, Brazil, India,
and other places without such a request. I took lots of photos from
Argentinian museums and nobody admonished me about not distributing. I
have some from the University of California, however, which I cannot
use for publication.

>   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_).

At least here in Argentina, the common norm is that the one which
recovers the fossil, wants to describe it and is thus respected in its
primacy. However, once his finding is published, everyone has right to
see it. Restricting access to the fossil is considered unethical. The
reason is clear: if you were the one asking for financing the field
trip, and putting the work, you are the one with better arguments to
make the fossil help your curriculum. However, once the fossil is
public, all people in the world have the right to check and
scientifically repeat. If this does not serve as a reason, I think
there is, the other way around, no reason why sharing after original
study needs to imply sharing before the original study.

>   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 
> think the very sense of propriety listed above has made people too 
> _competitive_ in this field, and a sharing argument would be adverse to this. 
> Communal research and idea sharing are things that are _not preferred_ when 
> institutions are trying to better themselves and their workers over anything 
> else. why should I share my photos, when that will just give you an edge in 
> this area of research?

This is ideal, but the ideal is not always materially possible
(especially for those among us in the Third World, which however have
fossils with which to contribute to paleontology). If following this
ideal, probably nobody would ever publish anything except a
description of the fossil he extracted without comparisons with other
animals. Additionally, what is the reason to make extensive,
illustrated osteologies if not for they being useful as sources of
data for they to be used? I we are fooled by the errors in the
bibliography, our critics will rectify us, we shouldn't be afraid of
this (my personal preference is to take everything I read or see in a
publication as operationally true except if I have some logical reason
for not doing so). Not using cheap photographs may ultimately lead to
some elitism in the excercise of paleontology, with people unlikely to
get great grants unlikely to perform work. And this may be quite a
loss, because the production we see in these days would be reduced, as
the guys with the greater income cannot work more to compensate for
this. Also, although photographs may lead to the spread of false data,
the publications may also have merits.