"....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
Friday, September 01, 2006
-- Skepticism's Role --
Writer/birder/Audubon President John Terres saw two Ivory-bills in the 1950s but didn't report it for 30 years because he saw no good that could come of it, even in the unlikely event that people believed him. Ornithologist John Dennis (with a Master's Degree) went to his grave believing that PhDs. looked down on him in not accepting some of his Ivory-bill reports of the 60s. And famously, ornithologist George Lowery came to regret ever publicly disclosing the Fielding Lewis Ivory-bill photos of the 70s which he believed were authentic (but others thought not), due to the tarnishing that it brought his reputation. These were just 3 of the more prominent people who were affected by overbearing Ivory-bill skepticism.
A lot of folks today talk and act as if the IBWO controversy began in 2005 with Cornell's Big Woods' announcement, but this controversy was already 60 years old at that point. Even though Tanner himself believed Ivory-bills existed in S.C. and Florida, somehow in the 40s the Singer Tract population became largely regarded as the last specimens in the Southeast and nobody even knows in what direction they moved once that Tract was cut over. At that point a baseless assumption of extinction was allowed to set in, resulting in a stigma attached to those sighting reports that did come in -- and because most IBWO claims turned in were erroneous, a jaded birding community simply presumed all were.
In turn this stigma meant that:
1. fewer individuals seriously searched for the birds than would otherwise have been the case, let alone any large-scale, organized, meaningful searches being done
2. individuals who did report the bird, unless they had major credentials, were rarely taken seriously
3. many, if not most, who believed they saw the bird, chose not to officially report it at all, rather than face potential doubts and ridicule
4. the few individuals (hunters/trappers/fishermen, NOT birders) who routinely entered likely Ivory-bill environs were never given any incentive to report the species if encountered
In short, prevailing skepticism over Ivory-bills fashioned a cynical atmosphere entirely NON-conducive to finding or saving the species, and long after the loggers and hunters were gone, this pernicious atmosphere is what truly worked against remaining Ivory-bills of the 50s and 60s when they most needed a human assist. Whether enough remain now to yet bring their numbers back time will tell, but skeptics cannot just blithely escape their negative role in the last 50 years and the 'waste-of-time' feeling that they promoted. This sort of hasty, cavalier dismissal of an entire species based on misguided faith in the thoroughness of human logic or study ought never occur. Thus my contention that skeptics are more responsible than anyone else for the failure to find and save this species 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Even the likes of Tanner and Les Short, who should've known better, worked against Jerry Jackson's pleading in the 80's for more searching and study. WHAAAT were they thinking? (...or utterly failing to think).
I'm not speaking here of all the Johnny-come-lately, leap-on-the-bandwagon skeptics who barely even know all the issues involved and were putty in the hands of others, but of the prominent ones who over time set the agenda, preached extinction, and prejudiced the birding majority. If IBWOs are confirmed, those skeptics, after years of obstructively smirking at the foolishness of IBWO believers, will suddenly glob on to say, 'ohhh this is wonderful, finally the evidence we sooo wished for; how great they are indeed still around, yada, yada, yada, yada...' It will be at this point that I hope most of you will fully understand and excuse me if I saunter off to be alone somewhere where I can less-than-merrily stand over a white porcelain commode with my extended index finger firmly planted oh-so-precisely down my ever-luvin' throat!! ....OR..., if IBWOs aren't confirmed, well, then, as Miss Emily Latila would've said, n-n-n-n-n-n-nevermind!