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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

Monday, June 30, 2008


-- Chillin' Out --


New book of possible interest here:


Baby storks soon to be leaving nest here:


Comedy interlude for today --- specifically, for any inveterate Seinfeld fans out there:



Saturday, June 28, 2008


-- What Next? --


With the posting of Cornell's latest summary report the summer may proceed with little Ivory-bill news of note (...no telling what I might employ to fill up post-space from week to week 8-\ --- other bird stuff, cognitive science, politics, quantum chromodynamics, pictures of nude wombats... or, all of the above...?) Oddly, the past couple years there has actually been MORE IBWO internet chatter during the summer months than during the winter search season when things are more hush-hush, despite more going on. Doubtful that will be the case this summer.

While much habitat remains to search, one presumes that a lot of the best habitat has by now been covered adequately enough that more good, credible sightings (if not even an irrefutable photo) ought to have been attained. The science is being worked through; science that had never previously been carried out for this species. Points of hope and intrigue remain, while overall probabilities and optimism dim.
All Ivory-bill reports from knowledgeable, experienced observers need to be evaluated seriously, on a case-by-case basis (not lumped together in some sort of generality). Should no conclusive photographic evidence be obtained in the next year, the worst result will be the lack of seriousness (even derision) which future IBWO claims will suffer in many quarters. That would be the most unfortunate legacy of another year of fuzzy or no evidence, as we head straight back to the days of Mason Spencer.

An emailer asks about details of the "randomized" search protocol referred to previously. I haven't read the actual protocol, but my understanding is that it involves assigning searchers on any given day to randomized blocks within a search grid, without regard for which blocks may actually have the best habitat or the most sightings, sounds, or signs associated with them; i.e. within a given search region all areas are treated equally, instead of concentrating efforts and manpower in the most promising blocks. (If anyone wishes to clarify the protocol more fully, in either a positive or negative light, feel free to write.)

Ohhhh... and here's a picture of a nude wombat.

Friday, June 27, 2008


-- Heeeeeeeere's Cornell --


Hmmmm... deja vu... all over again. . . .

Cornell's preliminary summary of 2007-8 search season now up here.

As anticipated, nothing much to hang one's hat on in the way of Ivory-bill evidence. A few things to note by way of summary:

1. Only five possible auditory detections in Ark. for entire season.

2. No sightings apparently deemed worthy enough to mention in detail.

3. Weather extremes hindered search through portion of season.

4. The Mobile Delta of Alabama, an area not much previously referenced, is one of the locales the mobile team thought most worthy of further study. Otherwise, their fave areas for possible IBWO habitat were some of the usual places: Pascagoula (MS.), and Chipola/Apalachicola and Big Cypress of FL. No mention made of the Atchafalaya or Pearl regions in La.

5. Preliminary plans call for another active mobile search team next year, re-visiting sites of note from this season, but probably no full-time team in Ark. (unless newer developments warrant it).

6. No mention of results from the South Carolina search, nor any other state searches, nor the time the Ark. team spent in Tenn. Nor any mention of any areas along a Missouri-Illinois-Tenn.-Kentucky corridor as being of interest. Indeed there is only mention of "small strategic searches in areas that fall within the ivory-bill's historic range" being organized. The report is focused on the Ark. search alone. No mention of any results from the ACONE remote camera system either, or how much downtime it had (they do mention that 2.5 million images from automatic Reconyx cameras were reviewed to no avail --- this isn't as significant as it sounds since the cameras are continually snapping pics on a timed basis regardless of any subject in front of them).

Lots of specifics are missing from the report that will no doubt be included in some later USFW document on the season. And there is no specific discussion of the new "randomized" search protocol that was employed for this season, though some have privately expressed the view that the protocol "tied their hands" and limited the quality of the search.
(Begin broken record) there are still places left across the Southeast to explore more thoroughly (...end broken record), and clearly next season will be the last chance for Gov't.-sponsored searchers to do just that, unless at long last, evidence that all can agree on is attained.


Thursday, June 26, 2008


-- Whatevuh --


Good piece here at Birder's World blog on (long overdue) re-evaluation of bird classification based upon mitochondrial nuclear DNA studies, basically reiterating that the concept of "species" is, as it always has been, imprecise (especially so in birds) --- this is one reason why listers should always quote their totals by saying "+ or - 10%" ;-)
(The post is actually referencing an article about to appear in the journal Science, the focus of which may be more on genera and above than species, but similar earlier work had already suggested much possible "lumping" and "splitting" of species.) [ Addendum: the article is getting a lot of play across the 'net'; another good overview from "Grrlscientist" here.]
The DNA evidence itself will likely be debatable over time, but at least is headed in the right direction, even if not as definitive as some think. A lot more work in the area is needed and will be stimulated --- our understanding of DNA changes and their relationship to evolution still being quite primitive.
(BTW, just 'nuther new bird species discovered in China here.)

DNA evidence for the Ivory-bill would also not be conclusive of its current existence (unless it came in direct conjunction with a specific sighting); sightings and photography remain key.
Am beginning to think that normal physical approaches to this bird may be doomed to fail, and that what is needed are stationary (not-easily-bored) searchers, posted at key positions, scanning the forest distances, 100+ yds. away, for the species with binoculars and birdscopes (for hours on end), and ready to digiscope a shot when needed (forget close views and hand-held video) --- some of this has been done. Still chagrined that there have not already been more long-distance sightings publicly reported by now. A lengthy close view may only follow finding a nesthole; easier wished than done.

In the end, maybe it's all just math anyway; the entire universe(s) that is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


-- Comic Relief --


In memoriam, some classic George Carlin here:


...and while we're at it, some standard Steven Wright here:


(Is it my imagination, or could Steven Wright actually be scholar Steven Pinker, after a few beers, working a night job...???)

Monday, June 23, 2008


-- Thangs That Be a Buggin' Me --


Heyyyyy Bunky, you say your mother-in-law came to visit last Christmas and by Memorial Day had taken over half the upstairs... and your wife's 5 children from her previous 3 marriages continue calling you "Blubberbutt" instead of Dad, whenever they're requesting a raise in their weekly beer allowance... and your mostly incontinent, semi-blind (but still with good aim), dog Rex consistently mistakes your leg for a fire hydrant.... is THAT what's buggin' YOU!?..... Well, here be a couple a things buggin' me at this stage of the Ivory-bill saga:
1. Specifically in regard to the Big Woods search (where the story began), the failure of the ACONE automatic camera system to detect an IBWO by now is disappointing and troubling. In the next USFW summary report I'd like to see,

a) an account of how many total birds have been captured in flight by the system, and how many of those were Pileated Woodpeckers, and

b) an accounting of how many -- if any -- birds captured on ACONE film have been unidentifiable, to the point that IBWO could neither be ruled in or out.

2. More generally, while I have little concern over the lack of photographic evidence from elsewhere, I am troubled by the paucity of sightings year-to-year given the number of man-hours spent in the habitat. One might expect the number of fleeting, but good sightings, to be much higher by now, and the paltry few encounters indicate a species so sparse that little can likely be done on its behalf (ideally we ought preserve as much habitat as possible and keep humans out, but, that won't happen).
For obvious reasons, sightings ought be notably up with more people in the field. Skeptics too expect sighting reports to increase, but only due to 'anticipation bias' and 'groupthink' factors with more people out looking (heck, conceivably one could argue that the remarkable lack of increase in sightings demonstrates how inoperative the skeptics' notions are, giving possibly yet more credence to those few sightings that have been recorded... or maybe by now only reports meeting stricter filtering criteria are even being presented publicly)....

Increasingly, it appears there may be little of significance reported out from this past search season, but enough to hone in on limited areas in 2009, with small search crews, for one last official search season for the 'Ghost Bird.' If that effort too bears little new or conclusive evidence, it may be left to a few determined independents out there to try and accomplish what organized, funded academic teams could not, and obtain the centerfold pic required... if indeed there remains a bird to pose.


-- News Piece --





Sunday, June 22, 2008


-- Just Some Political Babble --


Off-topic -- too much sheer political phun to pass up:

This has likely been the most interesting Presidential electoral season of my lifetime, and the choice of running mates for the presumptive nominees continues to fascinate.
The Democratic and Republican conventions are only a week apart this year (Dems. coming first at the end of August), and almost certainly both nominees will choose running mates well before then, to put out to the press and public. In the meantime though they may play a game of political chicken to see who names their pick first --- selection of person X, Y, or Z by one candidate could influence the decision of the other candidate trying to decide between persons A, B, and C, so it will be interesting to see who pops their name first. If McCain chooses a woman or a general does that alter Obama's strategy (or vice-versa for Obama's choice)? Or if one chooses a running mate from Florida or Ohio (two very key states) does that suddenly alter the formula for the other? Or what if one were to name potential Cabinet choices ahead of time (unheard of in American politics), would the other be forced to as well? The rumor mill should heat up considerably next month as the various permutations of 'if this choice, then this selection, and if this... then this...' play out with pundits and advisors.

Lots of articles/opinions about the VP possibilities already out there, but seen nothing that significantly alters my original 3 choices (blogged on June 13) for each candidate --- but again, I've never guessed right on VP choices in my life. Above all else, Obama needs someone with, as they say, "g-r-a-v-i-t-a-s," difficult to find among the touted Dems, but filled admirably by Colin Powell, if he is willing to take on a national campaign (and his other pluses are too numerous to mention). McCain needs someone bright and energetic (to contrast with his 'about-to-keel-over-at-any-given-moment' facade ;-)), and probably with stronger conservative credentials as well --- his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham fits that profile, if he's willing to risk an otherwise bright political future by possibly going down in flames with McCain. Or, maybe just as likely, Obama will select Stephen Colbert, and McCain will counter with say, Ann Coulter....

When all is said and done, no doubt each candidate will announce that they've chosen the best person they could find for the job, or to take over the Presidency should need be... there will be no mention of any political/social/tactical considerations influencing the decision. Often in politics, and even in science, some things go left unsaid.


-- Anecdote/Antidote --


boring post ahead...

S'pose John Q. Birder is assigned section 3 of the Smithville spring bird count circle. He records, among other things, 1 barred owl, 2 pileated woodpeckers, 5 wood thrushes, 7 house wrens, 16 cardinals, 38 starlings, 90 cedar waxwings, 200 chimney swifts, and a partridge in a pear tree (...okay, scratch that last entry). Of course, this is pure anecdotal data, barely worth the paper it's recorded on according to some folks' criteria. So s'pose the next day, to confirm these shaky findings, a team is sent out running transects of the same area, but only recording as REAL scientific data those birds that are captured on film. Would the second 'scientific' study bear the same results of John's initial count data or differ markedly? It certainly could differ very markedly --- resulting in much lower bird counts (for several species) if only photographic/physical evidence is accepted, and all other sightings/auditory detections discarded. DUHHH!!

This is part of the problem with a study (of anecdotal evidence) from last month making the rounds. It employs subtle tautological reasoning sometimes typical of field ecology and even medicine, the authors having essentially assumed in advance the truth of assumptions (that anecdotal evidence is weak) employed to reach their conclusions (that anecdotal evidence is weak). No doubt these same authors (like everyone else) accept anecdotal evidence in innumerable circumstances when it suits their purposes, but in the case of rarities the double-standard rears its head, and things change ostensibly for the sake of 'science.'
The accuracy and correctness of 'scientific' analyses (which can be fallible) is presumed over the fuzziness of anecdotal data (though it can be spot-on). If anecdotal evidence were automatically weak and imprecise, and 'scientific' findings empirical and accurate, then when the two differ, one would naturally accept and act upon the scientific analysis. The problem is that LOTS of 'scientific' analysis IS also remarkably weak, biased, incomplete, and/or methodologically flawed, while anecdotal reports (which must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis) can on occasion be quite accurate. "The illusion of reality" the authors refer to can stem as easily from supposed 'science' as from anecdotal reports. (And heaven forbid if anecdotal and 'scientific' evidence are ever in general agreement with one another --- I s'pose then the scientific data must come under great suspicion ;-)

In regards to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker the question is not whether-or-not 100's of anecdotal reports over decades accurately reflect the range and population of the species. The critical scientific question remaining open is more basic: are there 0 Ivory-bills, or 1+ Ivory-bills, in existence at the present moment (and have doubters been wrong for 60+ years)? The authors offer no evidence pertaining to that question. The way to get that evidence is to do the searches now underway (which cost money), which have never been done before and are a part of science. Moreover, somehow the authors fear that as a species grows rarer, it is guaranteed to generate continual (even increasing) false reports... in which case I s'pose by now we should be inundated with false reports of pterodactyls, or at least passenger pigeons and Eskimo curlews.

The authors' primary concern, once again, is actually the allocation of funds, and I don't even have great qualms overall with the position they advance... but to the extent that the paper purports to report real scientific knowledge about circumstances for the 3 species reviewed (wolverine, fisher, IBWO) I do have concerns about that depiction of certainty.
Finally, in their last paragraph they bring up the "precautionary principle" in conservation, more-or-less admitting it is prudent and good (to act upon possibilities while awaiting further scientific data), but dismissing it as "policy" and not "science." The reason it is prudent though, is precisely because ecological science can be weak and sloppy (THAT is, in part, what makes the precautionary principle "prudent"). In the instance of the Ivory-bill, anecdotal evidence is so widespread, across so many years, and circumstances, and individuals, that 'prudency' should take sway until stronger, more complete science is gathered (the delusion is that such science was gathered in the past when it is only just now being done).
In short, prudency ought precede science, not the other way around (...i.e., in the global warming controversy, it is prudent to make changes now without waiting for the science debate to definitively conclude, by which time it may already be too late). And for those who feel the IBWO efforts are playing out at the expense of other worthy projects, well frankly, that is how virtually ALL Government expenditure works (doesn't make it right, but means the IBWO situation is not exceptional --- every Gov't. expense could, in someone's mind,
be better spent on something else).

No doubt funding for the IBWO endeavor is already diminishing even as we await a summary of sightings claims from the previous season (and again, I'd contend it is sightings, and not sounds, signs, nor other analysis that is paramount here). Despite the many man-hours spent, the number of credible sightings actually seems to be declining, or at best staying level as time goes on --- this is not a good sign given the amount of time and number of people involved, but at least it runs counter to the skeptics' assumption that further time and effort in the field automatically guarantees more sightings (false positives). Only a few individuals have reported more than one visual encounter with the birds, and the sparseness of sightings (and difficulty of finding/photographing) largely meets with expectations for a very rare flying creature over expansive habitat. As a practical matter though that sparseness (and lack of photography) after a couple years will lead to the reduction of funding ahead as patience wanes. Science is working as it should. What would not be adequate science is sending a lone graduate student into the wild to gather this same info and assume his conclusions either thorough or definitive.

Speaking of birds....
Three guys died in an accident and went to heaven. When they got there, St. Peter said, "We only have one rule in heaven. Don't step on the ducks!"
So they enter heaven and sure enough, there are millions of ducks all over the place. It was almost impossible not to step on a duck and though they tried their best to avoid them, the first guy accidentally stepped on one.
Along came St. Peter with the ugliest woman the man had ever seen. St. Peter chained them together and said, "Your punishment for stepping on a duck is to spend eternity chained to this ugly woman".

The next day, the second guy stepped accidentally on a duck and along came St. Peter, with another extremely ugly woman. He chained them together with the same admonishment as the first.

The third guy observing all this and not wanting to be chained for all eternity to an ugly woman, was very careful where he stepped. He managed to go for months without stepping on any ducks. Then one day, St. Peter came up to him with the most gorgeous woman he'd ever laid eyes on and chained them together without saying a word.

Grinning, the guy remarked, "I wonder what I did to deserve being chained to you for all eternity?"

She replied, "I don't know about you, but I stepped on a duck!"
....yes, assumptions are what it's all about.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


-- Will There Be Any Good News? --


Helen Snyder, reports over at BirdForum, that her husband Noel, back from the latest USFW Ivory-bill conference in La. implies a mood of doom and gloom for IBWO search at season's end; probably accounts for the time being taken by Cornell to put out some sort of preliminary season summary, as they choose their words carefully. Habitat and food supply don't appear to be an overwhelming hindrance to the species if it existed, but may be too little too late, as money, hope, motivation, fades for search effort...

Meanwhile over at a BirdChat thread nominating 'rarest bird in the world,' NY birder Rich Guthrie, who claimed an Ark. IBWO sighting in spring 2007, casts his vote for, of course, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


-- A Bit More --


By now, most have probably read Dr. Hill's entry summarizing the 2007-8 season, but still, I'll reiterate a few points from the update:

1. Members of Hill's abbreviated team had no sightings and only 2 'sound detections' in the past season; other sound detections and the few sightings of interest came from independent individuals who cooperated with Dr. Hill, but were not part of his team.

2. Sound analysis of possible IBWO sound recordings continues to be done at Dr. Mennill's lab, possibly with some sort of summary ready by the fall. (Comparisons will also be made to other recordings of interest from elsewhere in the Southeast).

3. One of the more interesting aspects (to me) mentioned in the update is that all Federally-funded search teams this season were required to follow a "randomized search protocol" put forth by Univ. of Georgia's Dr. Robert Cooper (member of the official Recovery Plan Team) in which land blocks to be searched were randomly assigned (rather than a more focussed effort on 'hot zones,' signs or sound detections, or the like). While such an approach might be understandable when seeking to establish the range or population of an uncommon (but known) species, why such an approach would be applied in this instance where the very existence of the species remains controversial and needs further confirmation to satisfy all parties, is beyond me. If anyone associated with the search planning can explain the reasoning or justification behind a 'randomized' assignment protocol, I'd be curious to hear.

And elsewhere, both Cornell's season summary and Bill Smith's show-and-tell book continue to be listed as "Coming Soon"... bettin' I can guess which one appears first.
Meanwhile, Mike Collins is briefly back at the Pearl River in La. (from his Virginia home) following up on his latest efforts there --- how he can stand the heat and mosquitoes this time of year, I don't know, but more power to him. . . .


...Just a note to say that from the feedback I've received thus far, it would appear there is somewhat-less-than unanimous enthusiasm for the search protocol alluded to above ;-))

Monday, June 16, 2008


-- Choctawhatchee Update --


Auburn's update for their past season searching the Choctawhatchee area (Fla.) has been posted here. Similar to past summaries... more signs/sounds/sightings but no definitive evidence. Future searching will rely heavily on improved remote cameras as outlined in these passages from the report:
"So where does all this leave us? Pretty much in the same position as in June 2006. We have a large body of evidence that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers persist along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida panhandle, but we do not have definitive proof that they exist...
The good news is that after years of having remote cameras that were largely inadequate to get definitive documentation of ivorybills, we finally have a remote camera system that I think will work. A major problem with the remote cameras that we’ve used to date is that the motion sensors haven’t functioned properly. Either they are triggered by shadows and wind movement or they only trigger for a large mammal. That left us with time lapse photography—taking an image every few seconds and then pouring over millions of random images looking for our bird. We needed a better way to trigger a camera when a woodpecker moved in front of it. We finally have such a trigger.
Engineers at National Geographic designed for us a seismic sensor—a camera trigger that is tripped by vibrations. In other words, we now have a camera that will only be triggered by something banging on the trunk of a tree. With this new sensor, we should have almost no false activations. Every picture should be a woodpecker banging on the tree. Along with this, the Reconyx camera company just came out with a new line of game cams that are much better than the old cameras we were using. These new Reconyx cameras are smaller, more compact, and most importantly shoot 3.1 megapixel color images—a huge improvement on the .5 megapixel black and white images from the old Reconyx. With these new Reconyx cameras the three mystery birds that we photographed flying through the woods in November 2006 would certainly be identifiable. The National Geographic team has replaced the motion sensors in some new Reconyx cameras with their seismic sensors. These customized units are just being completed as I send this update. In the next couple of weeks, Brian and I will go to the ivorybill site and set six of these cameras on trees with scaled bark or on dead trees showing signs of regular activity by large woodpeckers (ivorybills were recorded to feed on large decaying trees as well as fresh dead trees). These cameras can monitor a feeding tree for a couple of months with no maintenance needed. With this new setup, our approach will be like fishing for a scarce and finicky trophy fish. We cast out and wait...
...Guessing where they will land in this huge swamp forest will be difficult, but we know where at least a few birds focus there activity for at least a few months each year and we think we know what their feeding sign looks like. I think that there is a realistic chance that we will get a clear photograph of an ivorybill using these new cameras."

Of course I hope Dr. Hill's confidence in the new technology proves warranted, but personally still have reservations about the efficacy of remote cameras, over live observers on the ground --- at this point though efficiency and cost are driving factors, and human efforts will no doubt be scaled back significantly next season
in most search areas. (I AM impressed with the ACONE system deployed in Arkansas, if one can just find a logical open flyway to monitor continuously for the birds --- but this system as well has had major glitches and downtime.)

And so it goes... still many areas yet to hear from.


-- More Goodly Summer Readin' --


This weekend someone directed me to a hysterical little volume by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein:

"Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar..."
(Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes)

If this book doesn't make you chuckle, or actually laugh-out-loud, you require a major comedy tune-up.
The book deals with various philosophical logical fallacies and paradoxes, but by using great jokes (mostly ones I'd not heard before) as illustrations --- clever (and instructive) concept.
This volume especially made a nice follow-up to Nassim Taleb's much 'heftier' book, "The Black Swan" which I'd recently finished. Even though Taleb's work is a NY Times bestseller, and entertaining in many passages, it is also a bit of a slog, as his ideas, thought-provoking as they are, are more difficult to follow. I'd recommend it to folks here (or more especially to IBWO skeptics), except that I suspect most would find it boring, and not perceive its relevance to the IBWO debate. Taleb's background is in finance, and he draws most of his examples from political, social, and economic realms, though I believe his views on NON-Gaussian and Bayesian approaches to analysis (and specifically, the relevance and even 'frequency' of 'improbable' events) have a lot of application to the life sciences as well. (Taleb's earlier work, "Fooled By Randomness," is also good.) It might almost be a better idea to read these books in the reverse order from what I did.

And happily, all these authors are working on new volumes due for release next year.

Friday, June 13, 2008


-- Weekend Non-update --


Jane Goodall on primates:


and E.O. Wilson on saving life on Earth:


Meanwhile, an emailer asks about a prediction for the Republican VP selection so another short, simple list here (starting from most to less likely):

Lindsey Graham
Charlie Crist
Joe Lieberman

And I'll pare down my Obama list to just 3 as well, in same (most to less likely) order:

Colin Powell
Jim Webb
Bill Bradley

(This all assumes there are elections in the U.S. this year, and that McCain and Obama are among the contenders.)

....Will also predict heat and high humidity (somewhere) for the weekend.

As to IBWO news? ...no predictions for now, but expecting a long, dull summer.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


-- Things Be Slow --


Until summary info is released from the prior search season hard to tell how much weight will be placed on various sightings and signs that were logged, and thus where greatest emphasis will be placed for next season. One might expect Cornell to have some sort of preliminary report out by end of next week, just going by last year's timetable. Regardless, appears independent searches will continue in at least La., S.C., and Fla., and likely 2-3 other states... and any evidence short of photographic in nature will continue to be summarily dismissed by those who have already closed their minds on the subject, opting for any conjectured alternative speculation over any possibility of Ivory-bill persistence.
hmmmm.... the audacity of hope ;-)

Meanwhile 'chatter' continues in some quarters (and silence in other quarters), and oddly, I've had more sightings claims emailed to me in the last month than in the previous 12 months (mostly older sightings, from folks apparently only recently aware of this blog).


Nestcam for German storks continues here:


Lots of guessing going on regarding Barack Obama's selection of a running mate... my list of likely choices is short and simple. For reasons I won't go into (and with the precaution that I've never correctly guessed a nominee's VP choice in the past), I'll go out on a limb and venture the choice comes down to one of the following four people: Colin Powell, Bill Bradley, Bill Richardson, Jim Webb. (A lot of other names being bandied about are certainly candidates for Cabinet or other Administration positions, but NOT V.P.)

Meanwhile George W. is off on a taxpayer-funded European vacation. When/if he returns he may wish to catch up on some reading beginning with Vincent Bugliosi's latest book.

And lastly, from the 'Believe it or not!' Dept. this:



Saturday, June 07, 2008


-- Ponderings --


Been waiting to hear back from a couple of folks about some things, or alternatively, to see a summary report released (but so far just silence on those fronts). So, in the meantime... :

A couple of examples drawn from Nassim Taleb's book "The Black Swan":

In a certain city there are two hospitals, one very large and one very small. One week, 60% of the babies born in one of the hospitals are male. Which of the two hospitals is it most likely to be?

People's gut reaction is often to answer 'the large hospital' or to simply say it's unanswerable, but in actuality (statistically speaking) it is more likely to be the small hospital: the large hospital, assuming more births (larger sample size), is more likely to approach the mean of ~50% for male births; the smaller hospital is more likely, in any single week, to show significant variance from the mean.

And this:

Given these two sentences:

1. Joe seemed happily married. He killed his wife.

2. Joe seemed happily married. He killed his wife to get her inheritance.

Which of the above lines seems more likely? People often instinctively answer line 2, but in fact of course line 1 is the broader (less specific) of the two, and inclusive of far more possibilities than line 2.
Put another way, in all instances where #2 is true then #1 is automatically true, but #1 could be true in many instances where #2 is NOT true.

Some say that 'timing is everything;' some say 'attitude is everything'... often though, inference is everything.

Previously, at this blog I've asked, 'if an Ivory-billed Woodpecker swoops through the forest and no one gets a photograph of it than does the bird exist?' (...and I've offered that for skeptics the answer is apparently, but erroneously, "no").

All of which, leads, finally and necessarily, to a crucial and weighty unresolved question nonchalantly posed by Julie Zickefoose over at her blog awhile back:

If a man says something in the forest and there is no female around to hear it, then is he still wrong???? ;-)))

so much for today's deep thoughts...


"Trust" in birding here:


'Clothes' make the bird here.

Dr. Irene Pepperberg's book "Alex and Me," on her life with Alex the African Grey Parrot, will be out next October, and can be pre-ordered here (proceeds going to aid "The Alex Foundation" :



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