A claim was made on this forum recently concerning the “discarding” of institutional insect collections that has no apparent foundation. Given the propensity for some to repeat what they read, particularly when it aligns with ones own personal beliefs, I think this claim needs to be nipped in the bud.
Specifically, the claim was “we hear all the time about herbariums and insect collections being discarded from research institutions for political or ‘financial’ reasons.”
Now, I had not heard that, it came as rather a surprise. So I researched it and came up with nothing of the sort. I then took it further, and queried a number of institutional collections managers, professional naturalists, and experts in the field of entomology.
“Discard” is defined as getting rid of the useless or unwanted. Depending on the source of the definition, that it not re-allocated or re-used but rather treated as rubbish, is either by inference or included in the definition.
Let’s start with the easy one, herbariums. I am not a herbarium guy, but everyone I queried replied that the above statement is not true. One researcher with TNC stated “herbaria in the Midwest have been consolidating.”
Consolidating is not “discarding”. Consolidating of collections has been happening since the beginning of collecting, with larger collections absorbing smaller collections- Medieval armor in Tower of London; insects at BMNH; and of course Smithsonian which has absorbed innumerable collections.
On insects, not a single collections manager agreed to the statement. Not in USA, not in Europe.
It is common that personal collections are discarded after the person passes. And, local (town) museums that have been gifted collections can’t maintain them and they are ultimately discarded. This is not unique to insects, it happens to many fields of study, from guns to books to Camaros. However, the original claim cited “research institutions” so this does not apply.
Some research institutes are financially pressed, particularly concerning insect collections. Funding has dwindled as focus has shifted from science for the sake of science to grants supported by agriculture and such. And some, in my observation, are on shaky ground barely able to maintain the collections. That said, in all cases of which I’m aware when a research institute divested itself of an insect collection it went to another collection, it was not discarded. An American collections manager at a significant research collection stated “But I can’t think of where one was discarded, or even an institutional collection that was sold”
Thus far, the above address the claim of “discard.” The claim about politically motivated discards apparently also has no basis in truth. One European authority responded specifically “I have not in mind any example for “political” reasons.”
In summary, it appears at this point that the claim has absolutely no merit. If there are instances I certainly would like to know about it.