"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Monday, October 18, 2010
-- A Li'l History --
A few posts back I mentioned the common belief that many more experienced birders may think they have seen Ivory-billed Woodpeckers than have ever reported it publicly, realizing that without a picture or multiple corroboration such a claim may do more to harm, than enhance, their reputation!
Possibly the most famous case of a credible birder NOT reporting an IBWO sighting is that of Dr. John Terres, always worth repeating.
Terres (now deceased) was a nationally-known birder/writer, winner of awards, long-time editor of Audubon Magazine, and author of the Audubon Society's tome, "Encyclopedia of North American Birds" (among several works).
Probably no IBWO claimant of the last 60 years has any more credibility than John Terres, who, as his claim goes, saw (with his wife) a PAIR of Ivory-bills fly right over their car south of Homosassa Springs, Florida, on April 9, 1955... but then kept it a secret for 30 years. Terres said he could see no good that could come, either to himself nor to the birds, by reporting the pair's sighting. He knew not where they came from, nor where they were headed, and assumed also that an influx of seekers/searchers into the area was probably not in their best interest. And so, it was 30 years later (
Of course a sighting, even a credible one, of Ivory-bills from the 1950's tells us absolutely nothing about the probability of the species still hanging on today. But it does cause one to wonder how many other sightings of the 50's, 60's, 70's... may have passed unreported (by people who would've been taken a lot less seriously than Terres). More importantly, it makes me incredulous of those who would state that the species assuredly went extinct in the 1940's --- no evidence, beyond the conclusions of a lone grad student and imprecise human conjecture support that.
The "skeptical" comments could be satirical, but somehow I doubt it.
I'd actually been feeling a bit of guilt--not to mention worrying about incurring cyberthrush's displeasure at my "discharging firearms" on his blogsite--when I've drawn blood engaging those sorts. They are, presumably, human beings on the other end, and having been disabused of a few rigid and nonsensical beliefs of my own (I'll blame that on a dysfunctional Utah childhood), I'm not insensitive to the pain and embarassment that accompanies paradigm shifts.
However, as a cable pundit I admire recently noted, there seem to be some people "born without a shame gene."
For what it is worth, there have been a couple of attempts to model sightings of rare species and look at them statistically in order to infer the probability of survival. This one looks pretty thorough, and looks at several species of birds:
ROBERTS, D. L., ELPHICK, C. S. and REED, J. M. (2010), Identifying Anomalous Reports of Putatively Extinct Species and Why It Matters. Conservation Biology, 24: 189–196. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01292.x (link)
Also addressing this issue, though without so much statistical modeling:
Using Anecdotal Occurrence Data for Rare or Elusive Species: The Illusion of Reality and a Call for Evidentiary Standards
Kevin S. Mckelvey, Keith B. Aubry, and Michael K. Schwartz
June 2008 / Vol. 58 No. 6 • BioScience 549-555 (link--PDF)
Again, I will emphasize that such statistical modeling is fraught with difficulties, but I believe it is incorrect to say that the history of sightings in the past, especially their time-course, tells us nothing about the likelihood of a species surviving.
I've been to Homosassa once, and I thought a lot about Terres' sighting during my visit. I think he made the wrong decision about not informing anyone. (I met Terres at a book-signing in North Carolina for From Laurel Hill to Siler's Bog. I talked to him only briefly--seemed incredibly interesting. He was also the editor of a book called Discovery: Great Moments in the Lives of Outstanding Naturalists. My favorite story in that collection is Eckleberry's "Last of the Ivory-bills", or some similar title. I read this as a child and became quite entranced with the IBWO from that point onward.)
Links to this post: