Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Sep 26 08:47:27 CDT 2002

It has been suggested that this thread RE: "private" vs. "public"
collections, etc., was initially sparked by an almost COMPLETELY unrelated
question I posted to the ICZN list about Article 16.4.2.  I'm not ready to
accept that dubious honor, but since I took the trouble to actually read
through the posts on this list, I felt I earned the opportunity to "weigh

On the issue of specimens and where they are physically stored, Doug Yanega
nailed it a couple million posts ago when he pointed out that it ultimately
boils down to ACCESS and PERPETUITY.  The issue with primary types is
exactly the same; only MUCH more intensely so. As for whether these ends are
best served via "private" collections, or "public" collections; I think the
two best quotes on that topic from today's batch of posts (so far, anyway --
it's not even 9am yet here in Hawaii!) that sum up my own perspective are:

"In my opinion, generalities on this topic are inappropriate."
-Sean Barry

"There are definitely a lot of greys between black and white."
-Giulio Cuccodoro

An elaboration of these points has already been amply provided among the
notes that have already been posted, so I won't indulge here.

As for how to address the issue of "ACCESS and PERPETUITY" -- sure we could
orchestrate some elaborate wording in the next edition of the Code to
"require" all primary types to be deposited in collections that provide
"public access" to specimens -- but that doesn't solve the problem; it only
shifts the focus of the debate over to the definitions of the words "public"
and "access". To define those words with any sort of meaningful and
unambiguous precision would CERTAINLY impose undue restrictions on taxonomic
progress, and would absolutely REEK of elitism.

SO MANY of these problems could be greatly mitigated by a unified (though
not necessarily "centralized") approach to DIGITIZATION of taxonomic data,
especially when those data refer directly to original descriptions and
primary type specimens. Yes, yes, I know that no amount of digitization
technology (yet available, anyway) can replace the value of "flesh & blood"
("wood & leaf") specimens, so obviously the first order of business is to
perpetuate the intact existence of the primary type specimens themselves.
But, dog-gone-it, Digitization is definitely a step in the right
direction -- at least in terms of providing *easy* ACCESS, and presumably
*indefinite* PERPETUITY to at least SOME of the important bits of a
specimen's "essence". And it’s a WHOLE LOT easier and MUCH LESS political or
elitist to implement than some sort of hi-resolution definition about where
type specimens should, or should not be deposited.  To do the latter right,
you’d also need to establish Articles detailing minimum requirements for
specimen preparation and preservation techniques; which would
instantaneously become an unmanageable mess of documentation.

Finally, on the topic of "Right to Collect"....hmmm....notwithstanding the
obvious conundrum of what, exactly, a "Right" is (i.e., Who grants it? God?
Country? Society? Individuals? Money?)....I should point out that fishermen
around the world apparently have the "Right" to collect huge volumes of
specimens and, EGAD, sell them!  Bulldozer drivers in tropical rainforests
apparently have the "Right" to DESTROY specimens.  If "legitimate"
scientists have some sort of "Right" to capture specimens, then in the
context of the fishermen and the bulldozer drivers, it seems absolutely
ludicrous to suggest that amateur collectors somehow *don’t* have every bit
as much of a "Right" to collect specimens as the "legitimate" scientists do.

Doug Yanega wrote:

> If I go to a mountain in Thailand and collect 10
> specimens of an endemic beetle, and every specimen goes into a
> research collection, that's fine - but if someone else goes to
> the same place, collects 500 specimens, sneaks them out of the
> country, and sells them for $100 each, then that is NOT fine

Sorry, Doug -- I’m not sure I follow your logic.  What if *you* collected
500 specimens for research collections, and someone else collects 10 and
sells them for $100 each?  Or, what if you "sneak" your scientific specimens
out of the country, while the commercial seller does so with an appropriate
permit (or appropriate bribe to the relevant local official)? In other
words, where is the distinction between "fine" and "not fine"?  The number
of specimens? Their destination?  The degree of financial compensation? Or
the "sneakiness" factor?

Again, the real world is not black and white (good vs. bad); indeed it is
not even shades of gray (better vs. worse).  It is a rich mosaic of 24-bit
color pixels that change in hue depending on the angle from which you are
looking at them.


Richard L. Pyle
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at
"The opinions expressed are those of the sender, and not necessarily those
of Bishop Museum."

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