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Re: How is withholding access to published specimens ethical?



This reminds me of the case of *Doleserpeton*, a little Permian temnospondyl very important for the origin of the modern amphibians. John Bolt, a big name in that field, published it in a Science paper ( = extended abstract) in 1969, after having described it in more detail in his 1964 thesis that apparently not many people have seen. Then he basically sat on it -- disarticulated 3D bones that represent pretty much the entire skeleton of several growth stages -- for 40 years, reportedly not even letting people look at it, let alone take photos. He only let out information drip by drip, in a paper about the teeth of a few temnospondyls and lissamphibians in 1977, another on the general and dental ontogeny of temnospondyls and lissamphibians in 1979, another on the supposed middle ear of tetrapods sensu lato in 1985, and a book chapter on the origin of Lissamphibia that finally contained a photo of a lower jaw in 1991. Only then did he get a PhD student, Trond Sigurdsen, who got the information out there: ear region in 2008, elbow in 2009, full description in JVP in 2010. The 2010 paper (or the talk about it at the SVP meeting of 2009) contains the first ever skeletal reconstruction of the beastie, and the first ever skull reconstruction in lateral view.

 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,

*Doleserpeton*, in contrast, was in Bolt's safe (or so I hear).

 but the IGM and/or Barsbold refuses permission to disseminate the
 photos.

I can't imagine Barsbold himself can restrict the distribution of photos of an exhibited museum specimen. The museum itself can, though -- The Natural History Museum routinely does that.

 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.

If that's true, and if there are no medical reasons that prevent him from talking to people in general (I have no idea), it's _evil_ and makes me all hulky and smashy.

 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.

Judging from *Doleserpeton*, let's wait for Kubota's thesis or whatever is going on. If it turns out that nothing is going on, start prodding the museum...