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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.
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"....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.”

-- Hamlet

"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, July 10, 2006

 

-- Tanner... Legacy and Myth --


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James Tanner wrote one of the best natural history monographs of all time with his 1942 dissertation on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. But as good as it is, it may NOT be as good as often given credit for. Tanner's study took three years, and many think this more than adequate time to produce a definitive/all-encompassing work on a scarcely-existing species -- an unwarranted assumption. Tanner spent much of those 3 years in Ithaca, NY, site of Cornell University where he received his PhD. By his own account 21 mos. were spent "in the field," with the bulk of that time spent at the Singer Tract in La. where all his direct observations were made. This leaves a relatively small amount of time to cover the entire rest of the South, or specifically, the other 44 locations Tanner reported visiting, most of which he spent 3 or fewer days in (and generally limited to winter or spring months). Upon first arriving at a new area he spent significant time conversing and note-taking with locals and other cursory investigation. Quite simply, sleeping, eating, planning, writing, and traveling (poor back roads) would have consumed another large chunk of his time. In short,
one wonders, outside of the self-imposed months at the Singer Tract, how much time did Tanner actually spend deep in the field/woods/swamps of the South in search of Ivory-bills -- possibly relatively little, considering how much ground there was to cover (and his La. studies had already biased him to summarily discount much Southern habitat that didn't fit preconceived notions). This is NOT a criticism, but simply an acknowledgement of the impossible task he had before him as a single searcher (with occasional local guides). Tanner did as good a job as any one man could've done in those days, with the equipment available, and time and financial constraints -- I find no fault with him, but I do question the wisdom of those who followed him and, without question or debate, elevated his meticulous, thoughtful grad student work even beyond what it was or could ever have been. They turned a wonderful and interesting thesis study into gospel beyond discussion (in part because the urgency to save the species took rightful precedence over any critical review of Tanner's findings/conclusions/techniques).
In 2006 though we have the luxury, indeed necessity, not to assume that every conclusion/generalization of 60+ years ago, must be true for the species today (if they ever were), and there is a need to approach each new claim open-mindedly. We have the luxury to do so, but do we have the will and patience....
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