"Collaborations between private fossil collectors and professional palaeontologists generate significant mutual benefits, facilitating access to productive localities and important specimens and remedying the overlooked scientific contributions of amateur collectors. Such collaborations should be encouraged where they bring new material and data into the public domain. However, publication of fossil specimens held in private collections is problematic due to issues surrounding future accessibility and the independent verification of published observations. Journals have a duty to ensure the repeatability of the observations forming the basis of new scientific interpretations prior to publication: for this reason, many journals refuse publication of specimens held in private collections. Foth et al. (Nature 511, 79–82; 2014) described the spectacular eleventh specimen of the earliest bird Archaeopteryx and documented features of the plumage that were previously unknown for this pivotal taxon. While we congratulate the authors and owner for making this information available, there is, however, no guarantee of access to this specimen for other researchers. This Archaeopteryx has been registered under the ‘Act to Prevent the Exodus of German Cultural Property’ (see http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_kultgschg/englisch_kultgschg.html), a positive move that requires its whereabouts to be recorded and that prevents the loss of German palaeontological patrimony. Nevertheless, this act has no provision guaranteeing access to future generations of researchers, with access remaining at the owner’s discretion. Without access, these published observations cannot be independently verified, reducing the utility of the specimen to the scientific community. We urge Nature, and other journals interested in such material, to consider these concerns more seriously and to ensure that all authors submitting to the journal can provide meaningful assurances regarding future access to the material on which they publish."
Barrett, P. M. & Munt, M. 2014. Private collections hold back science. Nature 512, 28. (doi:10.1038/512028a)