"....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
Sunday, September 13, 2009
-- Credibility --
In the Ivory-bill realm a lot of "credibility" perhaps lies in shreds at this point... Much of the IBWO debate always hinged on credibility: either you believe some of those making Ivory-bill claims (trusting their expertise, judgment, honesty), or you don't believe any of them (you distrust their expertise, judgment, or honesty... at least in this instance) --- "credibility" of individuals has a few objective parameters, but remains largely in the eye of the beholder.
And even though some Ivory-bill claimants have enough experience, knowledge, credentials, to be deemed 'credible,' skeptics would further quickly point out that even credible people make mistakes on occasion. But mistaking one gull for another, or one sparrow or fall warbler or hummingbird for another, as would be typical, is one thing; claiming with assurance that you've seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and being mistaken, is quite a whopper; in a league of its own compared to the 'mistakes' that we can all agree birders do make.
It is unfortunate (and some would say telling) that none of the recent IBWO claims come from any of the most hands-down, household names (of unquestioned credibility) in American birding or ornithology; of course many of these folks haven't even spent significant time looking for the IBWO. There is even a second tier of birders in the country, who while not household names, are well enough regarded within the professional community, that their word would be widely accepted --- no claimants from that level either. Instead, most Ivory-bill sighters come from ranks where there is more wiggle room to cast doubts on credibility (of course these are the same sort of folks who turn in the bulk of 1000's of routinely-accepted yearly bird counts and stats... interesting how they are presumed right 99% of the time, and assumed wrong 100% of the time when their report is of an Ivory-bill).
Skeptics would additionally argue that even highly credible sightings may become UNcredible if followup investigations by competent, skilled individuals fail to confirm the original reports (replication is an essential element in science) --- this too though is mired in fuzziness in the IBWO arena, where additional sighting claims are no longer considered confirmatory, but only photographic or physical evidence is... indeed the more sightings that come forth devoid of photographic evidence, the more potent demonstration it is, according to some minds, of widespread delusion.
Emailers on occasion ask me which claims I personally give greatest credence too --- a question I never answer because the number is embarrassingly small, and readers would assume that names I leave off the list are ones I don't find credible... which is not accurate. There are a large body of claims I simply view in limbo as neither clearly credible, nor non-credible, but too sketchy to cast judgment on. If just 10% of those claims turned out to be credible it probably doubles the list of sightings I'd find believable (not that the number even matters, since finding a single lone sighting highly credible, is enough for me to lean toward the Ivory-bill's probable persistence).
And finally again, given the potential rarity of the species and expanse of habitat to be covered, the question lingers how 'credible' really were the search strategies, methods, and skills employed that have come up largely empty-handed? Like the credibility of so many of the sighters themselves, I'm just not sure what the answer to that is yet.
I like what Hill said in his book: Searching for the ivory-bill is not science, it's a search.
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