[Tweeters] Re: 3 Biologists Question Evidence of IBWO (aka professional jealousy)

Jay Withgott withgott at comcast.net
Thu Jul 21 16:13:59 PDT 2005

For the record, Mark Robbins, Rick Prum, and Jerome Jackson are 
highly accomplished ornithologists (AND outstanding birders) who have 
spent more time in the field observing birds than the vast majority 
of us on this or any other birding listserv. They have also 
contributed to avian conservation through their research. Science, 
like any other human endeavor, is rife with professional jealousies, 
but to impugn these particular scientists without hearing their case 
is hardly fair. Given the quality of the woodpecker video, it would 
be surprising if no one stepped forward to question it. Skepticism is 
the driver of science, and this debate between two camps of 
researchers -- BOTH of which include some of the top ornithologists 
and birders in the country -- is in the interest of the woodpecker, 
its habitat, and all of us. I will be hoping that the discoverers are 
right and the skeptics wrong, but it would be unhelpful not to listen 
to whatever both of them have to say.

Jay Withgott
withgott at comcast.net
Portland, OR

At 2:54 PM -0700 7/21/05, Brett Wolfe wrote:
>Personally, I will trust Cornell University, especialy considering 
>the fact that they had been seeing the bird for over a year prior to 
>finally reporting it to the world. Plus, I have had the opportunity 
>to speak with John Trochet, who is a very respected birder down here 
>in the Central Valley of California. He is one of the people who got 
>to see the bird in April, days before the announcement of the 
>rediscovery, and when you hear him tell the entire tale of the days 
>he spent down in Arkansas, hooking up with a number of folks from 
>Cornell quite by accident, one is left with no doubt that the IBWO 
>is indeed the bird that was seen and heard. Plus, scientists always 
>get jealous and question when colleagues see something that they 
>themselves didn't, and in my opinion, these 3 scientists are merely 
>suffering from professional jealousy. Perhaps they should spend more 
>time out in the field, to remember exactly how difficult field 
>research can be sometimes.
>Brett A. Wolfe
>Seattle, WA (in San Joaquin Valley for summer 2005)
><mailto:m_lincolnii at yahoo.com>m_lincolnii at yahoo.com
>Dawn Bailey <dawnsdog at rainierconnect.com> wrote:
>in case you cannot access the NY times here is the article and also
>Devorah's blog url:
>3 Biologists Question Evidence in Sighting of Rare Woodpecker
>Published: July 21, 2005
>Three biologists are questioning the evidence used by a team of bird experts
>who made the electrifying claim in April that they had sighted an
>ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird presumed to have vanished from the United
>States more than 60 years ago, in the swampy forests of southeast Arkansas.
>Skip to next paragraph
>Enlarge This Image
>A sketch from 2004 of what was believed to be an ivory-billed woodpecker.
>If the challenge holds up, it would undermine not only a scientific
>triumph - the rediscovery of a resplendent bird that had been exhaustively
>sou! ght for years - but also significant new conservation expenditures in the
>The paper questioning the discovery has been provisionally accepted by a
>peer-reviewed journal, which could post the analysis online within a few
>weeks. But the paper will be accompanied by a fierce rebuttal by the team
>that announced the discovery, and a response to that rebuttal by the
>The expected publication of the paper and the rebuttal was confirmed in
>interviews and e-mail exchanges with two authors of the challenge, Richard
>O. Prum and Mark B. Robbins, ornithologists at Yale and the University of
>Kansas, as well as with two members of the team that reported finding the
>The third author of the new paper is Jerome A. Jackson, a zoologist at
>Florida Gulf Coast University and the author of the book, "In Search of the
>Ivory-Billed Woodpecker," published in 2004.
>"In my opinion," Mr. Jackson wrote in an ! e-mail message on Wednesday, "the
>data presented thus far do no more than suggest the possibility of the
>presence of an ivory-billed woodpecker. I am most certainly not saying that
>ivory-billed woodpeckers are not out there. I truly hope that the birds do
>exist in Arkansas or elsewhere and have been championing this idea for a
>long time."
>Both groups of scientists declined to name the journal or to discuss the
>details of the challenge and the response until they were published.
>But they made it clear that the debate revolves around four seconds of fuzzy
>videotape that, by chance, captured a bird with sweeping white-and-black
>wings as it darted from its perch on the far side of a tupelo tree in April
>2004 and flicked over swampy waters before vanishing in the trees 11 wing
>beats later.
>That video clip was just one piece in a pile of drawings, recordings and
>other evidence collected in more than a year of searching and deploying
>cameras and listening devices across the vast swampy reaches of the Cache
>River National Wildlife Refuge.
>Altogether, the original research team, led by scientists from Cornell
>University and the Nature Conservancy, compiled seven sightings, including
>the video, as well as recordings of a "double knock" sound typical of the
>ivory-billed bird.
>But only the video was potentially solid enough to confirm for the wider
>ornithological community the existence of the bird, the authors said in
>various statements at the time.
>Everyone agrees that the bird that appears on the tape is either an
>ivory-billed woodpecker or a pileated woodpecker, a slightly smaller bird
>that is relatively common. Both species have a mix of white and black
>plumage. However, the ivory-billed woodpecker has a white trailing edge to
>its wings while the pileated woodpecker has a black trailing edge.
>The team that conducted the or! iginal search for the bird ran extensive
>tests, including recreating the scene captured in video using flapping,
>hand-held models of the two types of woodpecker. They concluded that the
>plumage patterns seen in the grainy image could only be that of the
>ivory-billed woodpecker.
>The authors of the new paper disagree.
>Only extended scientific discussion - or new pictures of the bird from
>additional searches - will determine whose view will prevail. Another
>intensive scientific search of the region is scheduled to begin in November,
>Cornell officials said.
>"The people who originally announced this thoroughly believe they got an
>ivory-billed woodpecker," Dr. Robbins said in an interview. Determining if a
>species has crossed the threshold of extinction often requires decades of
>observation to ensure that no stray individuals have found a reclusive
>Supposedly extinct species have been rediscovered with some frequency over
>the last century. One famed example is the coelacanth, a huge fish known
>only from fossils for generations but then caught by African anglers.
>In the case of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent bird with a
>30-inch wingspan and a red crest, determining that it has not become extinct
>has proved equally daunting. Individual birds were widely dispersed, and the
>woodpecker shared habits and habitat with the pileated woodpecker.
>Van Remsen of Louisiana State University, an expert on the woodpecker and a
>member of the team that reported finding the ivory-billed species, said he
>remained confident of the discovery.
>"We can counter everything," he said. "We stick to our guns."
>The announcement of the bird's apparent discovery came on April 28, when the
>scientists' findings were published in the online version of the journal
>The announcement thrilled conservationists, who saw the bird as! the perfect
>symbol around which to build an invigorated protection plan for woodland
>habitat in the Southeast, which harbors a rich array of wildlife and plants.
>The Bush administration used the reported sightings in Arkansas to promote
>its "cooperative conservation" philosophy. The day the rediscovery was
>publicized, the administration announced a variety of initiatives, including
>a plan to pay more than $13 million to landowners within the region's
>floodplains who plant and maintain forests.
>John W. Fitzpatrick, the co-leader of the search for the bird and director
>of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, said it was normal for
>scientists to disagree about evidence of this sort, especially because in
>this case the video in question was "pretty crummy."
>But he said that extensive analysis was done and redone to eliminate the
>possibility that the bird was a pileated woodpecker.
>Dr. Fitzpatrick added! that there was "significant additional evidence right
>now" that would be published in coming months.
>He declined to comment on the challengers' assertions, saying any discussion
>could jeopardize publication of the exchange of papers on the video.
>Dawn Bailey
>Eatonville, WA
>mailto:dawnsdog at rainierconnect.com
>If you were arrested for being kind, would there be enough evidence to
>convict you?
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