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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

Sunday, January 11, 2009


-- Last Bit On Mangroves For Now --


An emailer asks for more details on last season's claims from Florida mangrove areas, but... I have no more details. The little bit I heard in private emails lacked elaboration, and gave no indication that the reports were taken very seriously at the time (although I believe one sighting came from a wildlife officer with some credibility).

All of this points to one of the annoying aspects of the Ivory-bill saga. The scorn of skeptics seems to have produced a "chilling effect" on the disclosure of Ivory-bill reports. Those reports that are easily-explained-away upon examination or otherwise NON-credible need no publicity. But there remains a residue of reports from credible or potentially credible sources that also seem to be swept out of public view.

Around the Web I see frequent skeptical remarks to the effect that "NO evidence" has been found for IBWOs after all of this searching --- but EVIDENCE HAS BEEN GATHERED; the debate is over its validity and how much to publicly release, not whether ongoing evidence exists. A decision seems to have been made, following so much criticism and ridicule, to disclose very few reports or details, unless a very high standard is met. In short, heated skepticism has had a "chilling effect" on the very reporting of anything less than solid evidence at this point (which in turn leads cynics to conclude falsely that there has been NOTHING to report).
Generally speaking, "chilling effects" are not a good thing for science. It's as if NASA stopped talking about manned moon landings because moon-hoax conspiracy theorists take everything NASA presents and twists it around to be 'smoke-and-mirrors,' faking the moon landings; so why put out more material and subject oneself to such reproach. Indeed, in this 'Alice-through-the-looking-glass' world, skeptics now use all sightings, not accompanied by photographic evidence, as yet further evidence of extinction: if 100 new sightings occur, STIIIIIIIIILL with no photograph, it must be confirmation of extinction in the cynical view.

I don't really expect IBWOs will be found in mangrove forest, and don't wish to raise hopes unduly for that particular habitat, but, having said that, it would be delicious irony if it turned out that Ivory-bills were cavorting merrily around in mangroves for decades while humans bumbled through bottomland woods lookin' for 'em for no other reason than prior humans postulating this was the only place they could be.

On a sidenote, Bill Pulliam's latest take on the IBWO saga here:


A good sign that your theory isn't valid is blaming skeptics when your conclusions do not hold up to scrutiny.
While I've tangled plenty with the skeptics and agree with your general point about the chilling effect, I think there's another factor involved.

Participants in organized searches are generally required to sign confidentiality agreements, and there's a great deal of secrecy around who's doing what and where. This began with the "rediscovery" in Arkansas and has remained the pattern over the intervening years. Only those who are freelancing can speak publicly and contemporaneously about what they're seeing and hearing.

While the secrecy may be justified in some situations, I think the need for it has been overestimated from the start. Overall, more transparency would be a good thing, and the lack of it can't be blamed entirely on the skeptics.
I realize that searchers can't divulge much due to confidentiality agreements, but my point is that even those in charge, who have the freedom to decide what is finally disclosed, seem to be holding back a lot of details awaiting something more conclusive, and this fosters a notion that 'nothing has been found since 2005.' They are trying to err on the side of being too conservative, having been accused of erring on the side of being too loose in the beginning.
I agree that some of this erring is due to the chilling effect and that the holding back of details feeds into the "no evidence" shibboleth. At the same time, some of those who claim there's "no evidence" are really saying there's no clear photo, glossing over the fact that there is a great deal of evidence both physical and circumstantial. So even, if the people in charge published comprehensive reports, the "no evidence" argument would still be out there.

In addition, the tendency to withhold information predates the controversy and is influenced by a variety of concerns (depending on who's doing the withholding) that exist independent of the controversy.

I don't disagree with your main point; there is a chilling effect, and it's counterproductive, to say the least. I just think the situation is a bit more nuanced. But I hope the people in charge will be more open in the future. I'd certainly like to know, specifically, whether credible recent reports led Cornell to focus on the mangroves or whether the choice is based on inferences drawn from the historical record. And that's just for starters.
What's with Bill Pulliam?

On November 2, he clearly hinted that he knew of juicy details yet to be released. He wrote, "There are some interesting results from the last year or so...eventually it will be released for public discussion; when that happens I'll have some things to contribute."

And now, with this more recent (January 8) post, should we conclude the same when he states "In the new spirit of non-openness...what I can say about this is nothing?"

Is Bill privy to something that you (and the rest of us) are not? He sure seems to be proclaiming as much.

4:10 PM
All of us following this story probably hear slightly different things from slightly different sources (...we also hear a lot of the same stuff), and I'm sure Bill is privy to certain details of the Tenn. search (and maybe other areas) that I am not.
I doubt though that anyone is currently privy to evidence that would significantly change the debate if released (I know I am not).
I don't really see any contradictions in my comments... I'm not going to comment in public about things that have not yet been released in public.

Most everyone who has been involved in this process over the years know some things that are not general knowledge. A lot of this is not especially earth shattering, even if many might find it interesting. As an example, a cluster of double knocks and brief glimpses is to some people worthless nonsense, but to others it might be big and encouraging news.

There is that one particular bit of evidence that has been being circulated confidentially but fairly widely for quite a while, that I have nothing personally to do with other than being one of many people who have been asked for my opinions of it (in much the same way that I was asked for my opinions of the Choctawhatchee videos before they were released). This particular datum is likely to become public knowledge sometime in 2009. While it might not really change the overall situation very much, I can guarantee it will lead to a lively debate! There is also more run-of-the-mill, one might say "more-of-the-same" results from field work, which even if it is more of the same, there is still new discussion to be had about what "more of the same" appears to mean now, in context, after all that has happened and not happened over the last several years. And much to be discussed about what future directions should be. All of this is really hard to actually get into until some of this stuff is made available for public viewing.
There is a seemingly easy way to circumvent your "scorn of skeptics" argument, ct. It's an anonymous reporting system called eBird. I discuss this further here.
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