I recently blogged about the importance of keeping good records and documentation for all fossil specimens. Recently this has never been more highlighted since my involvement in the recent excavation of some significant vertebrate material which demonstrated that recording data from the first moment a specimen is found is absolutely essential.
Back in March there was a short but extremely interesting exchange on the Vertpaleo mail listings which came about because of a suggestion that perhaps it was time that scientific publications and papers actually acknowledged the preparator with a line of credit, perhaps attached to an image of the specimen. Although this has improved over the years, with preparators being acknowledged in papers and some also being named as co-author, there is also room for improvement.
And then Steve Jabo, researcher and vertebrate preparator at the Smithsonian Institution, came up with an excellent idea. He suggested that it was time that papers describing new specimens would benefit from an additional section that would include the preparation history of the specimen. This would include techniques, materials and which consolidants and adhesives were used, and the section could be used to aid further research or preparation in the future.
Steve suggested that the preparator could probably put the section together for the paper and that it would therefore always be associated with that particular specimen. This is so simple but the benefits are obvious. For example, if a specimen has had specific chemical treatment or handling, then this information may prevent an alternative form of investigation or conserving technique that may prove damaging.
Even short communications could have these details attached but they would be much more likely to have to be added into the supplementary detail that is normally available on line.
Steve also suggested that perhaps the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology (SVP) could introduce a new standard to their “Best Practices......” guidelines, providing a basis for standardising such a practice as described. And, not only for new specimens, but also for those previously prepped and researched specimens that may require further conserving or preparation.
In many walks of life there are often sets of rules that we have to follow. Sometimes they are a pain in the backside but, in most cases, they are often sensible and, followed correctly, productive. These are standard operating procedures and they provide a formal set of guidelines for the worker to follow that formalise the same procedures again and again. Consistency being the key word.
It reminds me, in so many ways, of providing a full service history for a used car. Given the choice of a vehicle with such a history, or one with none, you would always go for the vehicle with history. We want to know that it’s been looked after, what repairs it has had and that it has been maintained alright. And this, for me, is the premise of formalising this excellent idea of attaching all the preparation data to the papers concerned.
During this discussion, no less a group including Scott Hartman, Tom Holtz, Andrew Heckert and Jean-Pierre Cavigelli all commented enthusiastically about Steve’s idea and I hope that the movement to introduce this process formally takes shape in the not too distant future.