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How is withholding access to published specimens ethical?



Here's an issue that's been bugging me for a while.  I can understand when 
authors don't want photos circulating of specimens they are in the process of 
describing, or plan to describe.  They get first dibs on their data- that's 
fine.  But what about specimens that were found and described years or decades 
ago?  Two coelurosaurian cases in point- Adasaurus and Pelecanimimus.  
Adasaurus was described in 1983(!) by Barsbold.  The holotype is mounted in a 
museum where the public can view it, if you can afford to travel.  Some people 
have done just that and photographed it, but the IGM and/or Barsbold refuses 
permission to disseminate the photos.  Pelecanimimus was described in 1994 by 
Perez-Moreno.  He's no longer doing paleontology and no longer even corresponds 
with paleontologists, so his thesis describing it in detail will never be 
published or distributed.  No one else is planning to describe it either.  I'm 
unsure of whether the holotype is on display at the LH, but the situation is 
the same.  While some people were allowed to photograph it in the past (I know 
Perez-Moreno offered to distribute photos), now those with photos aren't 
allowed to distribute them and I've heard even taking private photos is 
difficult.

Why does the community let this continue?  Paleontologists are quick to jump on 
the tail of owners of privately held specimens because they have no guarantee 
of being accessable, but I've yet to hear any outcry regarding Adasaurus or 
Pelecanimimus.  Shouldn't we denounce this practice and those who engage in 
it?  What possible excuse could justify it?  Even if it's going to be 
redescribed (as Kubota may be doing for Adasaurus), surely Barsbold lost all 
claim to keep Adasaurus to himself when he decided to publish it in his 1983 
monograph, and even more surely when he let almost thirty years go by without 
describing it in detail.

I can only think of a couple reasons.  One, maybe Barsbold's such a big name in 
the field that others let it slide.  But that's not the case for Perez-Moreno, 
and he's not even responsible for the specimen anymore, so that doesn't work.  
Two, maybe the coelurosaur workers who care and have clout all managed to get 
data behind the scenes or firsthand, in which case I'd say they're selfish for 
letting the practice to continue just because they themselves can get past it.

I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts.

Mickey Mortimer