"....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
Sunday, March 19, 2006
-- Truth or Consequences --
Warning, warning : boring post ahead....
With some trepidation I'll try another analogy to make the point I attempted a couple of posts back, which I believe to be a crucial, but little acknowledged point, in this whole debate (for those who already understand it forgive me for beating a dead horse; for those who don't comprehend it, here goes):
Skeptics often say they are simply seeking "the truth," the implication being that either Ivory-bills exist or they do not, and they are just seeking the one right answer (technically I s'pose, it could end up that IBWOs exist, but NOT in AR. and both sides will claim partial victory!). This all sounds reasonable and forthright, but it actually oversimplifies the situation considerably. Different wrong answers are rarely equal in their consequences, and it is frequently MORE IMPORTANT to focus not on truth (when that is difficult to establish), but on the varying outcomes of falseness. Statisticians talk of 'type 1' and 'type 2' errors and medical folks look at 'false positives' vs. 'false negatives' -- these are not equally serious flaws -- one is usually more serious/consequential than the other and thus more to be avoided.
Example: There is today a growing consensus that global warming is real -- but let's suppose it isn't even a consensus and that only 30% of credible scientists think it serious with major consequences and 70% think it unreal or just inconclusive. The argument can be made that even then we ought still proceed on the assumption it is real because the consequences of failing to act, in the event the 70% are wrong, are too great compared to the consequences if the 30% are wrong (yes, there are many other subtle, complicating factors, but you get the gist). But this isn't even the analogy I want to use.
Rather I'll look at our justice system where we presume people innocent until 'proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt' -- we make the supposition that it is preferable to permit say 10 guilty persons to go free than wrongly punish 1 innocent person (or in the extreme case, let 10 guilty live rather than execute 1 innocent person). Most of us probably concur with this approach. In the case of the Ivory-bill we have the choice of proceeding as if the species is extinct or as if the species still exists. I happen to sincerely believe the Ivory-bill exists, but even if I DIDN'T personally believe it I would argue we ought proceed as if it does until further, better evidence indicates otherwise, because the consequences of failing to do so and then discovering we were wrong are too great. Open-mindedness is a key to progress (and truth) in science. In a similar vein, if a credible individual with an accurate description was to report a Passenger Pigeon tomorrow in some locale rarely visited by birders, I would lay all my presuppositions of that species' likely extinction aside, and want the report followed up, not dismissed out-of-hand. (While there are many other complexities involved to muddy the argument, the basic notion of focussing on the consequences of being wrong, not the likelihood of being right, holds -- although parties may then have to disagree on what those consequences are!)
And one final note: as has often been previously noted, you can't prove a negative -- i.e., skeptics can never prove there are no Ivory-bills living on the planet, all they can do is amass more evidence. Believers, on-the-other-hand, need only one confirmed bird to show not only that IBWOs exist, but that they've been around for 60 years. In short, no skeptic can go to his/her grave having won this argument; I will be able to leave this earth one day knowing that the believer side either won or still thinking that it will one day (to me, it requires 75-100 years of no or few credible reports to even begin speculating about extinction of an entire species; not even close in the IBWO case). And frankly, I guess I sorta like those odds ; - )
It already sounds like a hoax. The question is which side is it coming from: the believers or the skeptics?
Or get back to my engineering job!
I'm still expecting at some point, someone is going to post those blurry ambiguous pictures or video and claim it's an Ivory-billed. Then after all the "believers" get sucked in, they'll reveal that it was a hoax, just to prove how easy it is fool some of the people some of the time.
Could this be it? I don't know, but I'm saying keep your guard up.
I have the suspicion that some of the ornithologists/skeptics, such as Jackson, are that way because they weren't included at the outset. In short, their little egos are hurt, and they are putting that above the distinct likelihood that the ivorybill still flies. Sad, if true.
Maybe if we all gave up coffee the web would fall silent.... :-)
Paul Sutera, New Paltz, NY
I look forward to the day when we may have a crystal clear photograph of an Ivorybill, regardless of who gets that first crystal clear photo. There will still be people that will say it is a fake, but with current photo editing programs such as photoshop and the very high level of user skill of some people, I guess that is to be expected in this day and age.
I try to look at all the info. relating to a photo/story before forming an opinion. Regardless of the photo quality of what is currently out there, I do personally believe this bird does exist. I base that opinion on my experiences, interviews with others and supporting evidence that leans toward the Ivorybills existence.
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