Private collections hold back science

Christian Foth and colleagues describe the spectacular eleventh specimen of the earliest bird, Archaeopteryx, including plumage features previously unknown for this pivotal taxon (Nature 511, 79–82; 2014). We are concerned, however, about access to this important specimen after its long-term loan to a public museum expires, when it will be returned to a private collection.

This Archaeopteryx has been registered under the 'Act to Prevent the Exodus of German Cultural Property' (see, which requires its whereabouts to be recorded and prevents loss of German heritage. However, public access to such specimens remains at the owner's discretion.

Many journals refuse to publish characteristics of specimens held in private collections because the observations cannot be independently verified, which is counterproductive for the scientific community. Instead, journals should insist on a guarantee of future access as a condition of publication.

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Correspondence to Paul M. Barrett.

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Barrett, P., Munt, M. Private collections hold back science. Nature 512, 28 (2014).

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