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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

Friday, March 20, 2009


-- The Story That Keeps On Giving... --


The Ivory-billed Woodpecker... what a spell it casts upon us. Earlier this week, Sharon Stiteler over at Birdchick blog, noting the emotional intensity people, including herself, sometimes have to all-things-Ivorybill, muses in a comment:

"None of us are immune. Maybe that's the bird's secret power?"

A wonderful thought, a bird that has secret power over we humans; may not be so, but almost seems so at times.
This story of hope raised, hope dashed, raised, dashed, over and over and over again. This week Gary Erdy discovered the buzzsaw that is this topic.

And this week, traffic to my blog doubled (welcome to any newbies still hangin' around), and the average person, according to stats, visited 4+ times per day --- since many folks only stop by once or twice a day, a lot of people must've been clicking here 6-8 or more times every 24 hrs, hooked on this latest story. Lot of interest for one lone iconic, charismatic, compelling species. And I understand people's passion.

But a few days ago Bill Pulliam noted on his blog that it is "occasionally good to remember that the topics that consume the minds of we birders are rather far off on the fringe of mainstream society, even within the blogosphere." Fer sure. And Steve Sheridan laments that his obsession with this bird caused him to "neglect" other aspects of his life, leading to this week's rather irrational outcome.
May these be healthy reminders to us all as we move forward.
...Have a good weekend.

(The 'open thread' continues below, and I have linked to Bill P.s blog in the left-hand 'IBWO Links' column.)

Ohhhh... and just one more thing... GO University of North Carolina Tarheels!!


Bill P. makes some interesting points.

How do we know that Erdy-Sheridan fully cooperated with government entities in the release of their information? Some here, including CT seem to think that they did, not sure why he thought that.

There is a new edit on Pulliam's site that implies however that they didn't and that certain agreements may not have been followed. Whether that was an honest misunderstanding or an attempt by Erdy-Sheridan to get ahead of something that would weaken their case is unclear.

We don't know. Since the agencies have been quiet, it certainly seems that they at best neither endorsed nor were against the eventual release of this information, because it seems the images were private property, as long as there was agency input before the release. That is typical procedure as I understand it.

However, if Pulliam's sources are correct the noose around the Sheridan image was tightening and one can only wonder if Erdy-Sheridan felt that tightening and decided to throw a Hail Mary pass. If so, that didn't work, whether or not Erdy was aware of Sheridan's deception is irrelevant.

Also, it appears that CT's sources who "all" assurred him that reviewers didn't consider the Sheridan image could have been doctored, apparently aren't good sources. Again if Pulliam is correct, at least some reviewers did consider seriously that possibility and were working behind the scenes to clarify the various disconnects that had emerged with a result apparently that led directly to a confession of fakery by Sheridan.

So I'm making up a story here, as we all do when not all the facts are known, but it sounds to me that ultimately the science behind all this worked and exposure of a fraud was the result. Didn't happen overnight, but appears it would have happened regardless of whether or not Erdy-Sheridan had fully cooperated with authorities as they had previously agreed to do. The fact that it became a public exposure is all on Erdy-Sheridan.

I'm satisfied that story is close enough to the truth for me not to worry about this anymore and move on. Others can make up their own stories all they want and have time for (it's a free country).
I'm puzzled by why the Arkansas Bird Records Committee (or whatever its official title is) has not yet reversed its decision to accept the Arkansas record(s). As I recall only 10% of more than 500 birders/ornithologists who responded to the online survey published in Birding believed that the Luneau video was "definitely" of an Ivorybill. Think of it--only 10%!

Surely most bird record committees demand a MUCH higher consensus before any rarity is accepted, and the standard should be even higher for a bird as rare as the Ivorybill--if it still lives, which I think is possible (and for what it's worth, I think the bird in the Luneau video cannot be identified with certainty).
"I'm puzzled by why the Arkansas Bird Records Committee (or whatever its official title is) has not yet reversed its decision to accept the Arkansas record(s)."

I'm guessing it's because, for the most part, that decision is "off the radar" now. If they reversed their decision it would only bring attention to their error. Undoubtedly in the back of their mind there is also the thought that there's a small chance the bird could yet be found.
Anon. 12:28 makes some good points I'll try to clarify a little: my understanding had been, both from Gary's original site and various emails, that he was working closely with DNR and I believe USFW; also the 20 reviewers were picked by officials and not by Gary; and further DNR asked Gary NOT to disclose the specific location nor the names of the reviewers --- from all of that I inferred that the governmental agencies were playing a major role in how disclosures were happening --- I'll accept Bill's account that that is NOT so, and Gary actually has a lot of control over his own material and decisions. Often I try to explicitly state when I am making a guess, speculation, or inference, but that may not have been clear in this instance. I've learned from the past that getting info from even 3 sources is no guarantee of accuracy (often because the 3 sources are all themselves relying on a single erroneous background source).
I'm not clear what you are saying about a possible "Hail Mary pass" or the irrelevance of Erdy's fore-knowledge (which I think extremely relevant, but I may be missing your point here).
Again this is why transparency and full disclosure is so important, because without, inferences will be drawn. I encourage anyone close to the process who can fill in the gaps of what transpired over the 2 yr. period prior to this evidence release to do so anonymously here. I'm sure all of us just want to understand better how this happened.
There's no great mystery here. An interesting image was produced, neither the image nor the circumstances immediately popped up "red flags" of doubt about authenticity. At the request of the owners of the image and the DNR of the state, the image was not released until it had been looked at officially and unofficially by a number of people from a variety of backgrounds. One "red flag" of doubt popped up in this process (sizes/distances) but it seemed likely to be a result of measurement error not deliberate misrepresentation. No one concluded that the image was definitely an Ivorybill, it was not going to affect plans, policy, funding, anything of tangible substance, so all of this was being dealt with as a curiosity, an item of interest, not a massively significant and game-changing piece of evidence. The crime labs were not called in to verify it, as they might be for something with the potential to be more concrete. Gary decided to publish his web site, seemingly now without fully informing the State DNR (who probably would have told him to hold off until the distance numbers could be resolved), but so be it. In my conversations with Gary he seemed sincerely as befuddled and confused as the rest of us about why the size and distance numbers were not working out, but less worried that they would not ultimately come out in a way that would make sense. He knew the bird could not be smaller than a Pileated, so he knew that accurate numbers would eventually show this. Up to just before the confession he maintained that he thought it was far more likely the measurements were wrong than that Steve had altered the image.

Really don't see where a big public vetting process would have been appropriate in any way. It was NOT EVER being claimed as definitive evidence of anything by anyone with any influence. If you are worried/embarrassed that the fraud got revealed so publicly; isn't it actually better that it happened this way so that we all know about it and can be more on guard for the future?

For everyone who says "we need more openness" there is someone else who says "why on earth do you release this crap? Let us know when you have something definite." The pendulum would have swung in the direction of the latter no matter when or how this fraud was made known.
Thanks, as always Bill, for your clarifications and take on things; I wish more of the reviewers might speak up as well. My original sense was that some sort of summary of all the reviewers' comments would eventually be released (I'd prefer seeing the individual reports of each reviewer, but a summary would be better than nothing) -- do you know anything about how a summary report will now be handled, or is no longer even an option? Also, do you know if Gary is planning to relaunch the website or is it down for good, or not decided yet?
Well, Cy, after 18 months of this with less than nothing to show for it, I'm really kinda running out of steam on the topic of this image. There are many others involved who know more about these particulars than I; if they chose to keep mum, that really can't be my problem or my responsibility to speak up for or about them all the time. I have other things to be working on.
Sir Cyberthrush, is your secret nest in North Carolina?
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