"....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
Thursday, September 07, 2006
-- Mason Spencer Revisited --
... and today's rant: For those who don't already know it a brief recounting of Mason Spencer's story from the 1930's --- First, realize that around 1900 the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was already thought extinct by many, only to be found again. By 1920 it was again presumed extinct, and again by 1930. All the while individuals (non-ornithologists) who actually spent significant time in Ivory-bill habitat (oooh, clever idea) were seeing the bird on occasion and knew of its survival.
So in 1932 when Louisianian Mason Spencer told a State Wildlife Director, that he regularly saw IBWOs in Madison Parish, the all-knowing director, in frustration issued him a special permit to shoot one and bring it in, so he could prove Mason wrong. The director was stunned when Spencer did just that, delivering a freshly-killed male Ivory-bill to the office, and thus initiating Cornell University's belated interest in the Singer Tract.
The point is, that in 1932, skepticism is what brought us to the point of killing a bird to prove it existed!! 70+ years later the means have changed, but not entirely the close-minded mentality. We no longer have to shoot birds with guns, now that we can shoot them with film, but the insistence on this level of evidence, just as in 1932, still carries risks -- spurring people into the swamps with electronic and mechanical gadgetry that may have unforeseen collateral effects, and at the very least potentially delaying any action on behalf of the Ivory-bill while awaiting procurement of such overwhelming evidence. Do note, that in the historical instance above, Mason Spencer is NOT the villain -- the bad guy is the wildlife director, the skeptic (or scoffer), who nonchalantly issues the permit to kill. Today's skeptics, with their efforts to prove false any claims that come in, are essentially issuing permits to let the Ivory-bill die out --- they will vehemently deny it, but the consequence of their discouraging and often derisive chatter is exactly this.
As I've said before, THERE HAS BEEN NO SOLID EVIDENCE IN THE LAST 60 YEARS SUPPORTING THE NOTION OF THIS SPECIES' EXTINCTION -- NONE... WHATSOEVER!! (just mere speculation, amidst ongoing hints of its likely survival) -- anyone who thinks otherwise DOES NOT UNDERSTAND scientific empiricism, the nature of evidence, nor the complexity of the natural world. Period.
It is fine to be skeptical of individual IBWO reports --- I've been skeptical, initially, of every report I've seen in the last 40 years, but each new report must be adjudged independently and the totality of evidence (of 100s of reports, across decades) weighed, at which point the probability of IBWO existence is formidable --- even if but one Ivory-bill was left today, then the bird was not extinct in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, or 2005, and no evidence precludes such current existence, except for an apparent belief, on the part of many, that ALL habitat has been searched and that human searchers are infallible: 'waaahlll, since Tom, Dick, and Harry and Ezmarelda went out lookin' and couldn't find or film the durn thing then I reckon it must not exist, 'cuz them folks is gooo--oood, huhhhh' (--- that's the essential level of the so-called evidence!).
When this whole situation is finally resolved apologies or wonderment from skeptics/scoffers will be worthless and useless --- what one would like from them is an iron-clad promise that they will never again so ineptly write-off an entire species in such short order and upon such skimpy evidence --- yet that is a promise that won't be forthcoming, for it is inherent within some skeptics' mindset to continue making the same misjudgments over and over and over again.
And what some perceive as an obsession with a single species on some of our parts, is actually much broader than that --- it is a focussed concern for endangered species, and the loose criteria by which they are written off, thusly shortchanging conservation. The Ivory-bill represents a lesson to be learned once-and-for-all!... except that, when all the celebration upon its return is over, that lesson will no doubt be totally lost on those still-befuddled skeptics.