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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2017

Doug M. Boyer
Duke University, Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Biological Sciences Building, 130 Science Drive, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA, 〈〉
Gregg F. Gunnell
Duke Lemur Center, Division of Fossil Primates, 1013 Broad Street, Durham, North Carolina 27705, USA, 〈〉
Seth Kaufman
PO Box 672, Greenport, New York 11944, USA, 〈〉
Timothy M. McGeary
Duke University Library Information Technology Services, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA, 〈〉

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Advancement of understanding in paleontology and biology has always been hindered by difficulty in accessing comparative data. With current and burgeoning technology, the severity of this hindrance can be substantially reduced. Researchers and museum personnel generating three-dimensional (3-D) digital models of museum specimens can archive them using internet repositories that can then be explored and utilized by other researchers and private individuals without a museum trip. We focus on MorphoSource, the largest web archive for 3-D museum data at present. We describe the site, how to use it most effectively in its current form, and best practices for file formats and metadata inclusion to aid the growing community wishing to utilize it for distributing 3-D digital data. The potential rewards of successfully crowd sourcing the digitization of museum collections from the research community are great, as it should ensure rapid availability of the most important datasets. Challenges include long-term governance (i.e., maintaining site functionality, supporting large amounts of digital storage, and monitoring/updating file to prevent bit rot, which is the slow and random corruption of electronic data over time, and data format obsolescence, which is the problem of data becoming unreadable or ineffective because of the loss of functional software necessary for access), and utilization by the community (i.e., detecting and minimizing user error in creating data records, incentivizing data sharing by researchers and institutions alike, and protecting stakeholder rights to data, while maximizing accessibility and discoverability).

MorphoSource serves as a proof-of-concept of how these kinds of challenges can be met. Accordingly, it is generally recognized as the most appropriate repository for large, raw datasets of fossil organisms and/or comparative samples. Its existence has begun to transform data transparency standards because journal reviewers, editors, and grant officers now often suggest or require that 3-D data be made available through this site.

Research Article
Copyright © 2017, The Paleontological Society 

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