New threat to types

Peter Rauch peterr at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Jul 10 09:46:58 CDT 1995

>Date: Mon, 10 Jul 1995 08:54:41 MDT
>From: MICHAEL A. IVIE <ueymi at>

>I would also ask that we not get into threats of destroying specimens if
>internationally negotiated and legally binding treaties are being enforced.

There are lots of badly negotiated, and obscene legal, treaties. They
can be prevented from happening in the first place if we can get an
honest description of the business; we can cause treaties to be
improved, if they are faulty.

The point that was being made is that it is _not_ true that the
physical specimen (the organism) _and_ the value-added labels and other
information are (always, or even usually) the rightful property of the
nation of specimen provenance.  People who make claim to all of the
value-added material may often be mistaken about what is "theirs." Now,
how you care to deal with this fact is a separable process from dealing
accurately with the fact that specimen is not equivalent to specimen
_and_ data _and_ process.

>This will only mean that those outside our communities will decide our fate.

I suspect not, because these complication of real life will surely make
it difficult to determine what is "yours" and what is "mine." There will
be joint responsibility for deciding the fate of the collections. Those
decisions will be based on accurate assessments of what this "business" is
all about, or the failures will be ours for mis-characterizing our
business, and mis-assessing our collective biological wealth of holdings.

>I for one would really like the London and Paris museums to provide me
>with travel funds to study types taken from my country.

OK, no problem; here's your ticket. What? you say you've found some
really neat specimens of several undescribed species closely related to
"your country's" type and you want to study those as well. No problem.
Hmmm, I see that they are from across your national border, from
Alberta. Sorry, Mike, we'll have to charge you an international study
fee to examine those specimens.  I think it'll come out to about the
price of a plane ticket.... Or, What? You say you lost (forget to take)
two critical measurements and you need another plane ticket? We'd be
glad to make the measurements for you and send them to you. We'll include
a bill, of course. Or, By the way, there is a performance clause in our
contract for your plane ticket; if you do not publish in a renowned
journal on your study of these specimens within one year of studying
them, you will owe us twice the value of the plane ticket.

I hope these somewhat far-fetched scenarios bring home the point that
simplistic perspectives on ownership and on what the science is about
won't help resolve the very real problem of making sure that everyone
gets their proper due. Actually, the current system might be working
just about as well as any could be expected?

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