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The Scientific Value of Natural History Museum Collections: The Concept of Completeness

  • Bruce S. Lieberman (a1) (a2) and Roger L. Kaesler (a1) (a3) (a4)

Extract

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS are one of the greatest resources available to paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. Through their exhibits, they have inspired generations of children to become paleontologists, and they also serve as a tremendous repository of realized and potential data. If invertebrate fossils can be thought of as individual data points, in the United States alone there are perhaps 100 million data points. Yet, in spite of this, museums, like other sources of data, have their shortcomings. What are these short comings, and how severe are they? Are they so severe as to obviate the scientific value of the collections of fossils held by natural history museums? It is this topic that we address herein.

There is a useful analogy between the debate about the usefulness of natural history museum collections and the debate about the completeness of the fossil record. Are natural history museums representative of the fossil record, and are they complete enough to be adequate for research? We intend to pursue the analogy between the fossil record and natural history museums as we develop our ideas about paleontological collections. Just as numerous studies have concluded that the fossil record, albeit incomplete, is adequate to answer a wide variety of scientific questions, so too shall we argue that the data preserved in natural history museums are complete enough and adequate to answer a wide variety of important research questions in paleontology.

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References

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The Scientific Value of Natural History Museum Collections: The Concept of Completeness

  • Bruce S. Lieberman (a1) (a2) and Roger L. Kaesler (a1) (a3) (a4)

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