Reproducibility: Harness passion of private fossil owners

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Reproducing palaeontological results depends on unrestricted access to fossils described in the literature, allowing others to re-examine or reinterpret them. Museums have policies and protocols for keeping materials in the public trust, but accessibility to privately owned fossil collections can be a problem.

For example, the existence of an important early bat fossil in a private collection was long known, but it was only after a second specimen was acquired and made available by a museum that researchers published a description of it (N. B. Simmons et al. Nature 451, 818821; 2008). Another example is the unique fossil of a supposed four-legged 'snake', also privately owned, that was made temporarily available through a private German museum and then withdrawn after its description was published (D. M. Martill et al. Science 349, 416419; 2015).

We suggest that the enthusiasm of private collectors for their valuable and spectacular fossils should instead be harnessed by researchers, to the benefit of both parties. For example, scientists can invite collectors to participate in their projects and be co-authors on the publications (R. R. Reisz et al. Sci. Nat. 102, 50; 2015), or they can name the new species after the collector (S. P. Modesto et al. Proc. R. Soc. B 282, 20141912; 2015) — all on the condition that the specimen is donated to an institution with public right of access.

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  1. University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada.

    • Robert R. Reisz
  2. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

    • Michael W. Caldwell

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