comments and further concern

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at MAIL.UPS.EDU
Wed Nov 6 11:16:33 CST 1996


Bruce Miller wrote:

>I note that in developing a biodiversity/zoogeography synthesis database for
>conservation and evaluation of biodiversity for Belize's protected areas I
>run into various obstacles in the taxonomic community.  I have been working
>on repatriating museum data.
>
>Most curators and taxonomists have been very willing to have their
>information included and it is all attributed to the curator or data
>provider and of course all collectors are cited with specimens.  From time
>to time I have run into the wary curator who is convinced beyond a shadow of
>a doubt that someone (other than  themselves the museum) is getting filthy
>rice [rich] by using the data and reluctant to release it.

I find in the last few years that I have become increasingly preoccupied
with the release of specimen data (but don't worry, Bruce, I'll be sending
you some from Belize), entirely because of all the concerns that have been
raised about their value to "us" and to "them."  It's a sad commentary on
H. sapiens that at a time when there's never been a greater need for
everyone in the world concerned with biodiversity to have quick (and free)
access to our shared information base, there is a substantial pressure to
restrict that sharing.  I understand this is simply because (a) museums and
taxonomists are undervalued and underfunded, and (b) there are people out
there who use "our" data to profit monetarily.  Then there's the matter of
time; how much of our time do we spend helping others with their projects
at the expense of our own, or of our museum's?

There is, to me, a substantial gray area in determining with whom we should
share data or who we should help with identifications, and I've always
tried to err on the liberal (i.e., release the data, ID the specimens)
side.  So far, our few experiences in this small museum with asking either
consultants or agencies to pay for data were rejected (consultant:  "we
don't have a budget for it; we'll try another collection;" agency:  "we'll
pay you for a xerox of your catalog books," when we asked for money for
computerization).  We release data to and provide identification services
for people in small ways with considerable frequency, figuring that's part
of our function as a natural-history collection, and I suspect our dynamic
with and reputation in the surrounding community would suffer from a
drastic revision of our traditional willingness to help.  A large museum
with heavy pressure on it probably can't afford this laid-back attitude
(although, like us, it would benefit from the good will generated,
obviously).

The article by Lynn Kimsey in the last ASC Newsletter provides good
information about fee structures and great rationale for using them but
doesn't say anything about the actual outcome of the "fee for service"
scenario.  Are a lot of people using the service and paying the fees?  What
are the experiences of others out there?  Is this working anywhere yet?  I
know there are for-profit identification services, but I'm asking about
museums/herbaria.

Dennis Paulson, Director                           phone 206-756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History                 fax 206-756-3352
University of Puget Sound                       e-mail dpaulson at ups.edu
Tacoma, WA 98416




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