The epistemological and conservation value of biological specimens

Biology and Philosophy 38 (3):1-14 (2023)
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Abstract

Natural history specimens were collected for diverse reasons, but modern, and likely future, uses often diverge from why they were collected. For example, specimens are sometimes integrated into conservation decision-making, where some practitioners claim that specimens may be necessary or extremely important for conservation in general. This is an overstatement. To correct this, I engage with the current literature on specimen collection to show that while specimens have epistemic shortcomings, they can be useful for conservation projects depending on the questions or values of scientists and conservation decision-makers. This modest approach acknowledges that specimens provide a unique information channel while demarcating where and when values intercede into conservation planning. In light of the specimen’s utility for future, sometimes unknown, projects, I also make recommendations for modern specimen collection.

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