"....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, July 15, 2012
-- Random Thoughts on a Hot Summer Night --
Often I let such things go, though sometimes they wear on me a bit… mislabeled pictures of an "Ivory-billed Woodpecker" (with a photo of a Pileated) continually appear on the Web, simply adding to the widespread confusion that stiiiiill exists over these 2 species even after all this time.
|(Ivory-billed Woodpecker... NNNOT!!)|
Likewise, I've lost track of how many videos on YouTube have appeared claiming "Ivory-billed Woodpecker" for a bird that is clearly something other (and there are other Web video sites that I don't track closely enough to even know how often the same mistake occurs elsewhere).
It's even more disconcerting that many of these claims emanate from poor habitat or simply inappropriate states (New York, Washington state, Arizona…). Although, most of these cases are probably sincere mistakes, it's also clear that some are instances of prankish individuals wishing only to mess with other people's minds. Getting a good, clear sighting, let alone photo of an Ivory-bill, in good habitat remains a daunting task.
Even National Geographic (a site many would presume credible) for years carried a lead photo of a Pileated Woodpecker above a 2006 Web article on the IBWO search, entitled "The Ghost Bird"… a photo that got picked up and used by others referencing it as an "Ivory-billed Woodpecker." Is it any wonder that IBWOs continue to get ID'd mistakenly in the field by novices and ill-informed individuals, sometimes literally relying on an incorrect picture seen on the Web… or, is it any wonder that others now pretty much automatically dismiss any and all such claims… still, each and every claim and picture coming forth must be looked at individually and adjudged on its own merits… not judged or generalized about on the basis of all that has preceded it.
Science is not (nor ever has been) the pristine activity some uncritically view it as. In recent months many 'scandals' (of varying seriousness) in scientific publications have emerged. One of the most widely followed has been the so-called "arseniclife" or "arsenicgate" story in which a NASA-based study claimed the discovery of a bacterial life-form employing arsenic in the place of phosphorous in its DNA (a monumental biology finding). One likes to imagine that NASA pretty well knows what it's doing scientifically, but following the much-ballyhooed announcement a near immediate firestorm of Internet-generated criticism began throwing cold water on the claims. For now, the original authors continue to defend their results, even while refutations have been published and few seem to take the initial claimants very seriously.
It is reminiscent of the 1989 Fleischmann/Pons report of creating tabletop cold fusion in the lab, which was likewise quickly shot down by the majority of the scientific community. Mistakes (...or merde ;-)) happen. There have been many instances of fraud in science in recent times; these last two examples aren't instances of that… just mistakes, over-anxiousness, and possibly poor or sloppy science.
In some quarters I still see the original Cornell/Nature Conservancy pronouncement of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Big Woods characterized as a "hoax" or "fraud." It is clearly a MIS-characterization (for what, at worst, was weak science), but again, once on the Web it will carry well into the future, to many future newbie students… IF, the IBWO is never confirmed.