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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, April 30, 2010


-- With Friends Like These... --


[We've just passed the 5-year anniversary of that incredible public pronouncement on the IBWO.]

Have covered this ground before, but due to some email I've had, repeating it...:

I grew up at a time when the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology was automatically revered without question by birders across the land. ...Boy, how times have changed.

I hear increasingly from birding-critics embarrassed that the Lab spent so much time, energy, and money on what they believe was a wild goose chase from the get-go. The harshest cynics continue to chant the outrageous notion that the IBWO search was little more from the start than a sinister money-grubbing conspiracy on the part of major conservation groups, including CLO (I won't dignify that ridiculous charge by wasting time refuting it).

But unfortunately Cornell is losing more and more friends on the other side as well.
I've been perturbed by the incomplete, undetailed, almost lackadaisical reporting of one of the most important ornithological stories in my lifetime; in the process permitting cynics to flourish; this isn't just one more 'citizen science' project (some more detailed reports are finally being released now). I don't know if their failure to respond adequately to critics is due to simple lack of time (the principals involved have other responsibilities besides the IBWO project), or lack of consensus in their own ranks, or due to simple hubris ('HEY, we're CORNELL, and we don't have to respond to others' petty opinions'), but as I've noted before, appearances are often more harmful than reality.

And other "believers" are sometimes even harsher, concluding that Cornell was inept, heavy-handed, and/or misguided in their leadership of this effort. As the ol' saying goes, "with friends like these who needs enemies." Still others have suggested that there were too many academic-sorts and average birders in the mix, and not enough 'pure' (and expert) birders involved. Over time, I've heard from Cornell volunteers who felt the effort was disorganized or poorly-contrived, but probably heard from more who say that despite inevitable flaws, it was a very solid endeavor, and that if the bird was in the places searched it would undoubtedly have been found... no doubt a lot depends on which 2 (or more) weeks you spent with Cornell and under whose guidance. It's still too early, in my mind, to pass final judgment.

Here's hoping the Lab finds their way out of a pickle of their own creation, but it won't be easy (if the IBWO is finally documented by independents, what will THAT finally say about the quality of this 5-year venture, and if they put out a scientific report on the entire IBWO effort next year as promised (and, the bird has not yet been found), it will serve only as a loud reminder of failure just when CLO least needs to be reminding folks). It is close to a no-win situation for Ithaca, though they will go about their normal affairs as if all is just fine; that has been their style. I have my own guess what will happen... but I ain't sayin'...

Obviously, CLO is involved in a LOT of projects besides their Ivory-bill work, and as a repository of information, remain a gold mine, but it may be a long time, if ever, before they shine again with the pristine, idyllic (and maybe unrealistic) reputation of my youth... and that is almost a sadder outcome of these 5 years than the failure (thus far) to document the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

(In fairness to CLO, I ought note that the IBWO Recovery Team in charge of the search planning, was composed of a lot more members than just Cornell-ites. It may have been as bureaucratic a committee as there has ever been in avian work, and we all know the jokes about what happens when you try to accomplish anything important by committee... Over the years a few folks have emailed me, in fact, to say they didn't believe any large-scale group effort could likely succeed at documenting the Ivory-bill; that only a single, persistent, dogged individual or small, stealthy team had much chance of accomplishing the task --- I've always found that view hard to fathom, but now needless to say... by God I hope they're right!)

you say "The harshest cynics continue to chant the outrageous notion that the IBWO search was little more from the start than a sinister money-grubbing conspiracy on the part of major conservation groups, including CLO (I won't dignify that ridiculous charge by wasting time refuting it)."

Could you list some of these people who are saying the above?
spat: of course most who lob this charge use internet handles, and not their real names (although a couple of those who have emailed me did include names that looked real). Anyway, this charge has been floating around for 5 years now at various skeptical sites, and I'm not going to publicize those folks who make it, although it may well have originally begun at a rather well-known bird site with which you are likely familiar. Some may make the charge because they are anti-environmentalist in general or they simply delight in hyperbole, but sadly, even some within the birding community, have repeated it.
People enjoy thinking in terms of 'conspiracies;' makes life less complicated...
Which skeptical sites are you referring to? I only know of this site and the IBWO researchers' site plus several sites of searchers, none of which are skeptical.

And you said that people are continuing to make that charge. Where?

I don't think skeptics have really been bothered with the issue for a few years now
spat, just google a few choice words and you can probably find some of the stuff, though I'm not sure how well google picks up comments from blogs where much of it is, or bird chat rooms/forums and bulletin boards where it shows up? think I've even seen it once on Twitter. (but again, I'm not gonna give free publicity to these folks here, nor pass along the names of recent emailers mentioning the charge -- it's too ridiculous to even discuss).
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