in defence of private collectors

Fri May 20 13:40:20 CDT 1994

Eric Lazo-Wasen writes:

"I think that restricting useful information such as locality information is
not the approach to take, even in light of the fact that "some" people may
use the information improperly.  Might as pull the faunal guides off the
library shelves at the same time.

Instead, doesn't this point to a far more serious problem in the first
place, i.e. the practice of individuals building up private collections of
natural history objects to used like stamps or trading cards?[...]"

Although I think Eric is right in saying that improper use of collection
data is one of the unavoidable consequences of making such data-bases
electronically accessible, he goes on to point an accusing finger to
amateur and other private collectors.

It seems there is a growing trend of intolerance from professionals
(and, as a consequence, from the general public) towards amateur
biologists. Many people don't seem to realise that most amateur biologists
are no less than scientists who didn't have the opportunity to take
up a scientific education or a scientific career. That these private
collectors are capable of ammassing considerable amounts of valuable
taxonomic and faunistic data, which dwarf the production of professional
collectors (for example, in The Netherlands, there are over 100
amateur coleopterologists, against less than 10 professionals). Also,
the large national museums contain for 95% material that was bequeathed
to them by private collectors. And, last but most importantly, amateur
biologists are the gateway to the general public as far as awareness
of the biodiversity crisis is concerned. We should support these people
rather than disregard them, as they may bridge the increasing chasm
between professional science and the public.

Of course, I know that collectors of ill reputation exist, but in my
experience they are an absolute minority. As a rule, private collectors
are not just "stamp-collectors" and don't deserve to be called that way.

Menno Schilthuizen (proud owner of a private beetle-collection)
Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology Section
Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences
University of Leiden
The Netherlands

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