"....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, September 05, 2005
(...sorry, for the length)
Tom Nelson, probably the most vocal, persistent cyber-skeptic of the AR. IBWO claims has kindly cited my blog on his website, so I'll return the favor by mentioning his webpage for anyone not already familiar with it (...just puhhh-leeeze, don't embrace any of it ; - )
The skeptics and I begin from fundamentally different assumptions and therefore will never agree (until of course, the definitive photo/video arises and they commence pouring heaps of salsa on their crow to make it go down better : - ))) -- Skeptics believe the IBWO is most likely extinct and has been for decades; I believe IBWOs exist in multiple locations/states and have been credibly seen (just never confirmed) many times over the years. ...From there, it just gets worse!
There isn't enough time/space to respond to every individual point cynics raise (in fact I happen to believe most skeptics are throwing up a flurry of doubts/stumbling blocks just because it is easy to do so -- one can do this on any biological subject; the number of questions raised in my view far exceeds the quality or value of those questions, but that's just my feeling). Instead, I'll just summarize a few of the broad disagreements involved:
Skeptics think all 7-15+ sightings of the AR. bird(s) were cases of mistaken identity; that the views were too fleeting to be accurate, and a kind of excited mindset may have resulted in multiple mistakes after the initial 1-2 reports.
I believe the multiple sightings from experienced and credible witnesses at different times, angles, places, of a bird of striking size and features represent excellent evidence, and the likelihood of so many mis-IDs is miniscule. (In the past, multiple-credible observers were a gold standard for a rare sighting; but suddenly in today's video-infatuated world film/photography is the new 'standard.')
Skeptics think the Luneau film is too poor and grainy to draw firm conclusions from. I believe the video is weak, and does not strongly support any one conclusion, but DOES MORE STRONGLY back the IBWO judgment than any other option (and especially so, IF one accepts the calculated measurements Cornell has made based on the video).
Skeptics think the acoustic evidence is inconclusive. I do as well, although at least some of the "kent' calls are highly intriguing.
Skeptics want a good clear photo/video of the bird; I believe that will always be difficult to attain from a possibly wary, skittish bird living deep within dense, difficult-to-access habitat (...do the skeptics fully appreciate the size/vastness of the territory involved!?) -- getting a non-blurry photo of a bird in your own backyard on the spur of the moment can be a difficult enough task.
I believe the totality of the evidence from AR. (especially when combined with past indications for the bird's survival) strongly bolsters the existence of the IBWO in the Big Woods (...and can Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi be far behind?)
If the believers are wrong, the worst that will happen is that money, time, resources, energy, will have been directed toward preserving a certain wild area of the Southeast on a false premise -- and, uhhh, geee... that's a bad thing??? But if the skeptics are wrong, time will have been squandered (and possibly money, energy, resources, held back) in squabbles that can't help preserve this species. For 50+ years skeptics have had their way, often scoffing at, intimidating, and denigrating those who would try to save this species, and intentionally or not, potentially nailing the coffin shut on the Ivory-bill. For once, how about we give the believers their due, give Cornell the BENEFIT-of-the-doubt (not the sting-of-the-doubt!), and for a change, give this beloved bird a wing-and-a-prayer... instead of the mere back-of-our-hand....
Here's a list of people who have publicly expressed skepticism about the Cornell claims. Do you see any experienced birders or ornithologists in that list?
1. David Sibley, bird book author
2. Kenn Kaufman, bird book author
3. Jerome Jackson, "world's foremost expert on the ivory-billed woodpecker"
4. Richard Prum, ornithologist, Yale University
5. Mark Robbins, ornithologist, University of Kansas
6. Gary Graves, the Smithsonian Institution's curator of birds
7. Michael Patten, ornithologist, University of Oklahoma
#1: professional field biologist, with a PhD in ornithology. He is an outstanding and fanatical birder. He accepts the Cornell evidence, and believes the video shows an IBWO. He was skeptical of the audio as being definitive for several reasons, among them the possibility of mimicry by other birds and playing of recordings by birders in the area. That, I found interesting. He put more weight on the video and the impressions of observers in the field than on the audio.
#2: PhD, an academic ornithologist with extensive field experience in the South and the Neotropics. He has replied in a very non-committal fashion about the video and other evidence. He seemed prepared to keep an open mind, but stated that he understood why there were some concerns about the evidence at present. He mentioned that other members of the genus Campephilus in the neotropics occur at a low density, but are fairly easily to locate in their heavily-forested habitat--one can follow their distinctive yank calls and double-raps.
#3: No response yet from another individual, one of the top birders in the area, and someone able to find rarities with seeming ease.
An interesting divide of opinions. One yes, one maybe, one "no-response".
I, too, have had debated creationists endlessly but see no similarity between their tactics and Tom's with respect to the IBWO. However, creationists and the proponents of the IBWO's survival behave in very similar ways. Mainly, they wish to pretend that the failure to prove to a metaphysical certainty that the IBWO is extinct (pretty much an impossible task) means that there is a legitimate scientific controversy about the IBWO's continued existence on earth. In fact, the claim that IBWOs are still alive is a truly extraordinary one. Nelson has pointed this out and proponents of the IBWOs existence have admitted as much by (1) referring to the rediscovery as a miracle and (2) reporting anecdotes of aghast apoplectic behavior by those who claim to have seen the bird (i.e., grown men breaking down in tears, etc.)
There is just one thing glaringly absent for the past 60+ years: objective conclusive proof of a living IBWO.
Given that Cornell's Science behavior has been plainly debunked and effectively disowned by Science (if not retracted, unfortunately) what do we have left? Just anecdotes that amount to nothing. If stories were evidence, Oregon would be one giant roped off Bigfoot research area.
There are many other similarities between creationists and proponents of the IBWO, including a bad habit of repeating falsehood and refusing to address arguments presented squarely to them. That behavior is well documented.
Of course, the saddest coda to the debacle is that Nelson himself is a conflicted character who (for whatever reason) has never clearly denounced plainly anti-science propaganda like intelligent design and who occasionally (or more than occasionally) lapses into pathetic apologetics on behalf of climate change "skeptics" and various other Republican talking points.
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