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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.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....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

Saturday, January 13, 2007


-- Covering Old Ground --

All riiight!, today 3 rants for the price of 1! -- this is all stuff I've covered at some point before, but since the blog is always getting new readers, and these issues come up around the Web, we'll touch on 'em yet again:

-- "Extraordinary" --

If someone says that they spotted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Brooklyn, NY., hey, I'd call THAT an extraordinary claim, or if they said they had one at their backyard feeder in Miami, Florida, or saw a flock of 25 Ivory-bills while hunting in the woods outside Brinkley, AR.
, or had one land on their shoulder anywhere --- all of those would be "extraordinary" claims. However, claiming to see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker every now and then (a bird known to hang out in dense canopies and tree cavities in remote woods) briefly, in perfectly suitable habitat, that is not frequented by birders much, IS BY NO MEANS an "extraordinary" claim --- interesting, unusual, odd, maybe even improbable, but NO, not "extraordinary." Semantically, it's a sheer and frequent misuse of the term for mere sophistry. However, claiming that a creature is extinct, when 100's of reports of it have been turned in, and all it's potential habitat has never even been thoroughly searched... well now THAT'S an extraordinary claim!!


-- "Proof" --

A couple days back in a "comment" David Martin talked of how tired he was of hearing the inappropriate word "proof" thrown around in the IBWO debate. AMEN!!! Technically, there IS NO PROOF in science. Even in math all 'proofs' are dependent upon UNprovable assumptions. In science, there are assumptions and evidence, and conclusions based upon perceived probabilities, but whether or not Ivory-bills (or James Tanner, or the planet Earth) have ever existed, let alone do today, can NEVER be PROVEN (there are ALWAYS possible alternative explanations); in the end, we make ultimately subjective judgments of the evidence that lead us to overriding probabilities. For many this seems picayunish word-play, semantic mumbo-jumbo, but it is quite crucial, to get us past this point of continually raised bars of evidence, or evidence that is "definitive," or for that matter evidence that is always viewed from the pre-disposing and circular presumption of Ivory-bill extinction. In some arenas, skeptics are more involved in witch-hunts at this point than they are in any sort of open-minded science, but so be it; they can NEVER "prove" their case, and believers still only need one bird to make their case convincing. Thus, this intense interest in the Ivory-bill is not merely an obsession with a magnificent creature, but is a far broader story of the huge weaknesses of ornithological 'science' --- in fact one thing I and skeptics no doubt agree on is that the Ivory-bill debate is chock-full of poorly-thought-through science; we just disagree on which side has the greater share of it.

-- Benign Neglect --

Edmund Burke famously said that "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing." In the case of the Ivory-bill it could be altered to read "all that is necessary for the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is for birders, conservationists, and ornithologists to do nothing." This species survived the loggers, hunters, collectors of its day, but what it can't survive is inaction and benign neglect from the one group of people who ought to be interested in saving it. Harsh cynicism and skepticism aren't mere attitudes, they have effect on the behavior (or stifled behavior) of others. To the many who are arduously working to find and aid this bird, in whatever capacity they are able (and you know who you are), THANK YOU, THANK YOU, truly THANK YOU, even though your efforts may come 30 years too late for any successful recovery program. But to the hardcore unrelenting naysayers, cynics, and non-believers (and you know who you are too; I'm not talking about agnostics and fence-sitters here), forever sniping at searchers and evidence and hypotheses, offering only snideness, obstructionism, and concocted alternative explanations, in place of encouragement or productive discourse, or even a wait-and-see attitude, the extinction of this species will be on your hands when/if it comes to pass (deny it all you wish, but yes it will). YOU delayed and frustrated and forestalled the actions that were needed. You abandoned the birds prematurely and asked others to do the same. Moreover, YOU have now created the circus atmosphere that will overtake any discovery of the species. And I'm bored of hearing all that armchair scoffing/sniping followed with, "like everyone else, we'll rej
oice if the species IS found" --- it rings pretty hollow (I think it's called CYA). Since when do people "rejoice" at having ignorance/naivete hung out to dry like so much dirty laundry? Or having foolishness magnified for all to see? This tawdry, strung-out episode in failed American ornithology is so shameful I'm not sure myself, at this point, how much rejoicing such a discovery will deserve. But if the photo comes and the party follows, of course I'll be delighted for those who did something positive along the way, had true patience and determination, kept the faith, moved things along, stayed focussed on the science of it all, did the difficult hands-on fieldwork, and realized the importance of the effort being made. In that event, I hope the select mocking cynics that I'm addressing, will puhhh-leeeze stay home, where you can further twiddle your thumbs, and don't weasel your way into a party you had no role in planning --- from your past behavior I'd have to question both your sincerity and motives... and, I do.

"beyond what is ordinary or usual; highly unusual or exceptional or remarkable"

The rediscovery of this bird defines the word extraordinary. You are denying it because you don't want basic scientific principles applying to your faith.

Good rants, I agree with you.

Being a genuine skeptic is fine and good. Real skeptics help keep everyone honest and on their toes. But there are a few that call themselvers skeptics but are just toxic bullies. They hide behind the cloak of science that they have draped over their own shoulders, then use very unscientific, mean-spirited personal attacks against those who are actually in the field trying to settle the question. THEN they have the nerve to say that if these same people get the definitive proof they will be the first to rejoice.

The hearts of these ornithology grinches will have to grow more than three sizes for them to sit at the table when ibwo's existence is proven.
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