"....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
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
-- Ivory-bill Atheists --
I'm putting off a planned rant at skeptics for a day to clarify just who these rants refer to: Many say that skepticism is in the highest tradition of science, and I agree: I AM a skeptic -- I am skeptical of Christmas counts, of journal articles, of the classification of species, of lifelists, of field guides, of PhDs, of published data, of NCAA basketball ratings, and yes of Ivory-bill reports -- of anything and everything where human certainty or 100% accuracy might be implied, but I still view and remain open to any and all possibilities, despite the skepticism. To draw a distinction therefore from the brand of skeptics I am criticizing, maybe a better, more precise term would be "scoffers." These individuals allow their skepticism to swell into scoffing at new and old evidence, forfeiting the objectivity and open-mindedness required of science. They scoff at Cornell while giving David Sibley's piece a free ride. They scoff at David Kulivan and Gallagher and Bobby Harrison, but never critique Tanner. They scoffed at Jerry Jackson when he argued for 20 years that Ivory-bills might yet survive, then embraced him when he was critical of the most recent evidence. They scoff at anything that doesn't conform to their preconceived notions, and blindly follow, without scientific analysis, anything that does conform. They are following not scientific methodology, but mere bias and pretend-science. They are upset that Cornell spoke with such certainty of finding the IBWO in AR., yet they now speak with their own unsupportable certainty that Cornell did not find it.
Those who are skeptical but open-minded, who are doubtful but aiding the searches, who are unconvinced but looking afresh at every new lead, I have few qualms with --- you are essentially agnostics and that is a perfectly respectable scientific position. But to the Ivory-bill atheists out there, who have made up their minds that the species no longer exists and that any evidence to the contrary must be explained away by alternative hypotheses, and who thus let preconceptions immediately shape their response to any new claims, you are not engaging in science and truly you ought to stop kidding yourselves (...and others) that you are.
The "Ivory Tower Skepticism" is arguably worse than the more common skepticism born of just ignorance, since people tend to lend more credence to the word of those in the Ivory Tower, simply by virtue of their degrees.
In the case of an ivory bill sighting, I would argue that a PhD in ornithology has little or no relevance and if the Ivory Tower effect had not existed, the continued existence of the Ivory bill would probably have been recognized decades ago.
Who knows, we might even have saved some of the birds if their habitat had been protected years ago.
Links to this post: