Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"It smells like a woodpecker that died 50 years ago"

In case you missed it....check out the comments here.


Anonymous said...

>What if they were right, kept their mouths shut, and missed the opportunity to save the bird’s habitat while there was still a chance? (note the interest by the Army Corps of Engineers and others to fill in the swamps there last year)

This was written by a believer, but it actually works against his argument... This site was Sparling's favorite kayaking creek, no? Did he know it would be channelled? Did he want to prevent it? What organism would best pique the conservation community's interest to try to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers' plan of channelling?

Now, I'm not necessarily pointing fingers here, but there is motive to create an IBWO out of nothing. Maybe Sparling did and maybe Sparling didn't but thanks to Gallagher and Harrison, whatever originally sparked interest in the Big Woods got wayyyy out of hand once Cornell bought into it and publicized it.

Anonymous said...

Poor Amy,

She tried her best
to reason with the irrational
When they can think of nothing else
Your are either an idiot or a racist

Tom - can you locate Amy and bring her into our caring fold?

Anonymous said...

The hypothesis that the IBWP currently exists has very little evidence to support it. I'm sorry. Summing some weak evidence does not equal a little strong evidence.

People were STILL going into the Singer Tract as late as 1944 and FINDING one or two remaining birds. In TWO years there hasn't been an irrefutable sighting with even four of five field marks indicative of an IBWP.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was a find. I love the way it drifts into authoritative "anatomical studies of the larynx" - birds don't have them - and finally into name-calling of the highest order.

Amy, come play with us, we'll keep you strong so you can back an do battle.

Don Don Don Don Don Don Don - you are really going with Sibley is an amature as a real argument. Mon ami cest plus tres merde. That is a really lame tack - go with the "Sibley is motivated by his own personal gain to sell more books" tack - works like a charm.

You are one good sleuther Tom!

Amy Lester said...

I'm right here.

This IB woodpecker thing has fascinated me from day one, but I've always been drawn to scientific controversies. It's part of growing up in the 70s I think and being exposed to sick amounts of pseudoscientific crap.

Later I became interested in scientific fraud and/or baloney, enjoying the hubbub surrounding cold fusion, "the Benveniste affair" (Maddox had interesting approach to the game), chimeric mice, and other ignoble incidents.

In the last few years I focused most of my attention on intelligent design cretins and their vile anti-science propaganda which was, interestingly enough, the context in which I first noted the existence of two "camps" of skeptics, even among the normally proud and well-educated "skeptics" who defend biology from attacks by creationists.

I read elsewhere on the blog where someone noted the similarity of sentiments like, "I really hope the IB woodpecker is alive" to statements like "I really hope that Andy Kaufman is alive" or "I really hope that Ronnie Van Zandt is alive" in the context of a *scientific* discussion about whether, as a matter of fact, the thing in question actually continues to live on earth.

I understand why the sentiment exists. On the other hand, we have to be extremely careful to avoid letting those sentiments obscure our objectivity. It's well established that the human eye can "see" whatever it's looking for if the seer tries hard enough.

I also find interesting the similarity in argumentative techniques used by the "believers" in IBWO when compared to the "believers" in "intelligent design." For example, (1) the refusal to acknowledge the extraordinary nature of their claims and address directly the gigantic mountain of evidence -- the "big picture" -- which suggests that their claims are bogus; and (2) the extreme sensitivity to any implication that an important or major error has been made by humans who are very prone to such errors (intentionally or subconsciously).

Instead, the believers rely on very technical sub-arguments which, when examined closely, turn out to be exaggerations or total bullshit.

Finally, there is the everpopular resort to pure thuggery, i.e., "you must have some sort of agenda or a personal disorder in order to ignore this evidence which has convinced millions of Happy Meal consumers."

It's quite sad. I saved the thread, of course, because the Cornell creationists who run the blog will undoubtedly "clean it up."

Amy Lester said...

I should add, lest it be unclear, that there is an important and profound difference between the IBWO debate and the "intelligent design" debate: the IBWO debate is a genuine scientific controversy.

In some ways, it may be a trivial scientific controversy (and I'm certain that it's a controversy that will end poorly for the IB Woodpecker and its promoters) relating to the gross overinterpretation of poor data, but at it's root, it's still genuine reputable scientists and/or experts arguing science with other genuine reputable scientists/experts.

But damn -- if I was one of these "sociology of science" types or a grad student aiming for a similar gig, I'd be jumping for joy at all the fresh fuel for my mill.

Anonymous said...

>> When is a living Sasquatch / Loch Ness / Ivory Billed Woodpecker deemed to exist only in the imaginations of the imaginers? <<

said by 'Amy' and believed by others ...

However, I have trouble with this analogy which I've seen many, many times on this post and others.

Has a Sasquatch or a Loch Ness Monster been hunted by Indians for it's (feathers), hide and skins as has the IBWO? ... Or hunted and collected for personal collections? Are they preserved in museum displays or their skins dried and stored away in labs and museums? NO! ... Why? Because they really are only figments of 'blurry videos' and pictures and NEVER encountered by the masses as had the IBWO.

To put this bird in with a creature that never, ever, existed as a prevalent entity, is a slap in the face to this majestic, assumed extinct, natural wonder of a woodpecker. Aliens and UFO's are also dumped into this mix, and I think it is a terrible injustice to a magnificent bird that really roamed the sky of this great earth ...

People should get a grip on what is real and what isn't, and stop this horrendous analogy to compare the IBWO under false pretenses of existence ... Because IT DID, and I'm hoping it still does exist ...

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion from newbies to the subject. Or have they been reading Skeptic blog?
Well the one disturbing thing is the CLO claim that the double-knocks are a Campephilus sonogram dead-on. Either they are or they aren't. I've already pretty much concluded that the Kents were Blue Jays. I want to believe that no Pileated (or Red-Bellied) or weird gun could make a sonogram like a campephilus. 'Cause CLO implies that kinda, sorta, "WE have ALL the sonograms, and you don't even have a decent laptop and in '76 we rejected your application anyway".
And yet, I walked through 56 acres of forest with nesting Pileateds, Barred Owls, Cuckoos, Tanagers, even a 20 days late Parula warbler. I missed hearing/seeing the Pileateds on the first walk through. Yet they were there.
Could we still miss the IBWO?
You all seem to say: Naaaahhh!
I'm down to 33.333% myself. And
I'm beyond caring thanks to the CLO. Though I'm beginning to hope 1944 was the year they flew off into the sunset and starved to death unable to eat or find any of the bugs that sustain mere Pileateds.
That strong taste of carpenter ants so loved by the mighty Pileated caused them to cease and desist and cease to exist: Desperate they ate the ants and died peacefully of formic acid poisoning...
Long Live the Pileated Woodpecker!

Paul Sutera

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Partner. The IBWO is not being compared to UFO, Bigfoot, etc.!

What is being belittled and compared are the IBWO Believers who believe in the same manner as believers of UFO, etc. And with the same type of evidence.

In fact, your whole argument is merely a "straw dog" argument. Puting words in Skeptic's mouths that they didn't say but if they did would be easy to ridicule.

I'm suspicous of your motives.

Anonymous said...

The Bigfoot/Loch Ness/IBWO analogy is a great one.

The IBWO CAN be proven to exist, as you point out. But that's not what the analogy addresses. Instead, it addresses the quality of the evidence. And I would venture to say that the quality of the evidence for the former two is every bit as good as for the latter.

If I claim to have seen the real Elvis, arguing that he once lived and that he's been spotted many times since his reported death does not relieve me of the responsibility of extraordinary proof if I expect people to accept my claims.

"Seriously, I really got a glimpse of him" and

"Here's a fuzzy photo showing what I interpret to be a black sideburns and a white jumpsuit" do not constitute extraordinary proof.

By the way, welcome Amy.

Anonymous said...

I was always under the impression that the IBWO was unable to nest after the Hardwoods were cut. Hence, their present state of 'assumed extiction'... Not that they starved to death ...

Amy Lester said...

I just stumbled across this in the archives here:

"Reenactment of the scene using life-sized, realistically painted, dynamically flapping models produced images remarkably similar to those of the Luneau video using the Ivory-billed Woodpecker model, and images clearly identifiable as Pileated Woodpecker using a model of that species."

And I looked at the picture of those "realistically painted" and "dynamically flapping" "birds" and I threw up a little in mouth.

Anonymous said...

Amy! How I do envy you! You get to read the archives for the first time. You get to re-live the developement of the Ray al Woodpecker, of TB, tons of poetry, Tom's many and accurate predictions, the "road to fraud", the birth of alien poetry, songs reinterpreted, and a whole panoply of characters and voices.

Get to reading, Amy. Expect to see you back in about a month!

Anonymous said...

We have an Archive?

Anonymous said...

So Paul is our 33.33% True Believer. Our 33.33% TB if you will.

That's cool.

Amy Lester said...

"Interesting discussion from newbies to the subject. Or have they been reading Skeptic blog?"

Like I said: I *wish* I had been reading this blog before I took "Dan" and Don "internationally recognized photographer" Baccus on. Until I did some Google searching this mornings, I was arguing from "common sense" fueled by many years of experience analyzing scientific data and conclusions drawn from that data.

Of course the Bigfoot analogy is apt (and it would not be surprising that Indians hunted Bigfoot because we know for a fact that stupid white people hunted Bigfoot quite recently).

As for the bogusness of the claims and the Science paper, it works like this:

You say Bigfoot exists? I'm laughing.
You say you have a picture of Bigfoot? I'm laughing.
You say you have a video of bigfoot? I'm laughing.
You say you have some Bigfoot footprints? I'm laughing.
You say you have some Bigfoot hair? I'm laughing.
You say that you and several well-respected labs have obtained DNA sequences from mysterious hair samples that are consistent with a non-homo sapiens creature that diverged from humans after the continents split? I'm shocked.
You say you have a Bigfoot corpse on ice and I can go look at it? I'm weeping because I owe some folks about $100,000 for the bets I've made.

You do not need to be an "expert" in primatology to react this way, just as you do not need to be an "expert" in ornithology to find the the 2005 Science paper to be highly dubious and sort of stinky.

What is odd, however, is that (apparently) you do need to be an "expert" in ornithology to have one's profound skepticism with respect to this very straightforward subject (is a giant woodpecker that is assumed extinct for 60 years still living in the swamp) taken seriously.

The mainstream media (once again) really dropped the ball on this story, basically running with the pleasurable script ("it's a miracle!!!") and ignoring the fact that its headlines were in total dissonance with the accompanying photos of fake birds nailed to trees.

There's a metaphor for modern American culture in there somewhere, I suppose, for those willing to milk it ...

Anonymous said...

Hope for the IBWO?

Hiding for 11 Milion YEARS!!!!!

Anonymous said...

"Look at it this way: if I could collect 500 pileated woodpeckers of different sexes and ages and health and put them in a big aviary, I predict I could eventually capture some blurry video that looked a lot like the alleged IB video.

This is unsexy research."

Comment by Amy Lester

All one has to do is get out where lots of Pileated Woodpeckers live and watch a few of them flush and fly away. The rapid flap rate, the direct and level flight as the bird disappears into the trees all bear a striking resemblance to the infamous video. By the way this whole thing about flap rates always struck me as being ludicrous - as if a bird has only one metronomic (is that a word?) wing beat frequency.

"But, dear, as has been patiently explained to you, bird calls, songs, and (yes) cadence and length of woodpecker territorial drumming and other wood-knocking activity IS VERY OFTEN SUFFICIENT FOR POSITIVE BIRD IDENTIFICATION."

Comment by Don Baccus

The key words in this sentence are "VERY OFTEN". As in not always. There are sufficient alternate and plausible explanations for the audio evidence that's been presented. One thing many beginning and intermediate birders do not appreciate is that birding by ear can be just as fraught with difficulties and inconclusive identifications as any visual encounter may be.

Mike R.

Anonymous said...

Amy Lester said:

"Look at it this way: if I could collect 500 pileated woodpeckers of different sexes and ages and health and put them in a big aviary, I predict I could eventually capture some blurry video that looked a lot like the alleged IB video."

Dan said:

"And, as someone more familiar with birds, I’m saying you’d be wrong."

In an earlier post Dan admits to around 190 birds on his life list and confesses that he's not much beyond being a novice birder - !

Don Baccus said:

"David Sibley’s not a scientist, he’s an artist, Amy.

He’s also a well-respected amateur birder, one of the best in the country (which makes him about average in Britain)."

Why do so many American birders buy into this crap that British birders are better than anyone over here? There are some excellent birders and ornithologists in Britain but come on. I have to wonder if the English just told the world that they were the best birders and everyone believed them except perhaps the Dutch and the Swedes! Baccus manages to slander Sibley too - good job dude! As if professional credentials were more important than knowledge, experience, attention to detail, and intellectual honesty when identifying birds.

Mike R.

Anonymous said...

Dear Amy-
It's so refreshing to have someone else on the list that doesn't have to remain "anonymous."

By the way, although the Ivory-bill "rediscovery" may have recently taken on some superficial resemblance to a "scientific debate," it certainly did not start off that way. It began as a top secret (believers only), non-peer reviewed (certainly not by any skeptics), rushed-into-print, shameless farce. Now that opposition is slowly getting better organized, the already well-funded and well-organized "Team IBWO" relies on denial of the real facts, intimidation of the opposition, and emotional appeals to the believing masses. To have a debate, you have to actually have some data and argue about hypotheses. They have no data, but they have plenty of hypotheses. What this amounts to is misidentifications of a common species, the Pileated Woodpecker, plain and simple. It's about egos, fame, and glory. Certainly there are agendas, and probably some fraud, involved.

Carpinterio Real said...

Dear Anonymous:

Can you share with us why you have to remain anonymous?


The Carpinterio

Anonymous said...

Sweet Jesus if is good to have some new blood around here!

Just for the record it doesn't appear that Sibley (or Kaufman or Dunn) are amature anythings. Unless those guys are flipping burgers at the local Mickie D's, I think it is fair to call people who have collectively sold more than 2 million books about bird identification (probably about 850,000 for Deadbeat Sibley alone, according to the publisher) freakin profession bird identification experts.

There is no "professional degree" in bird identification - which I hear tell is why Sibley dropped out of ....anyone....YES Carpenterio you are right, Cornell!!- but the Sibley CV relative to published papers and books regarding bird identification would blow away the CV of Fitzcrow, Roencrow et al. That is why Fitzcrow has Sibley's IBWO hanging on the wall of his freakin office (which will be available for new occupancy in about 12 mos).

That is also why Sibley et al. was right, and Fitzcrow was wrong. He knows more about bird identification, and that drives Fitzcrow NUTS.

(Amy, we refer to all believers with the word crow tacked onto their last syllable, you need to go to to see why)

Anonymous said...

I can only speak for my anonymous self. I'm involved in the whole mess and work for one of the public agencies involved. Going public would be a bad idea for me.

Anonymous said...

Clarification on the "crow" suffix...The plural of crow in this case is crew. Thus, Fitz et al. becomes Fitzcrew.

Some of course say a group of crows is a "murder". Fitzmurder is intersting, but I think Fitzcrew is preferred. Just be careful when saying it out loud in polite company.

the carpinterio real said...

Dear Anonymous:

You are most welcome to be anonymous here - even Tom Nelson is known only by his nom de guerre, nelson, which translates to "son of anonymous" in ruinic norwegian dialect from near Bergen, is so bland and unassuming that in his home state it is like he is anonymous.

But besides the obvious statement that it would be "bad" couldn't you share with us in the most generic terms the way it would be bad ... the nature of the badness.

Clearly if you are a professional or hope to one day be one, posting anything attributable on a blog is a questionable activity.

But the carpinterio would like know what the nature of the badness. No names, no identifying anything. Just the concepts.

Via con ratons y pescaros,

The carpinterio

Anonymous said...

Like, you know, don't forget the other like, previously defined subcategories you know, like the FITZCLODS and FITZCLOWNS.....and stuff.


Anonymous said...

no that isn't allowed ... Fitzcrow stands alone. He is the one in Ghillie Suit in the swamp and Blue Blazer on the podium. He was the lead author, head of the recovery and chairman of the board and CEO of this whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Methinks hates to post anon-y-mousey. I too am an (oddly enough) employed ornithologist at one of the largest bird conservation groups in these Etas Unidos. Everyone I work with thinks the IBWO is crap, all my ornithologist pals agree, even my significant other has been won over. My kids say stuff like "if they think they saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker why don't they get a freakin' picture" as easily as they say "can I please play Super Smash Bros? I'm all done with my homework".

In short, I live in an accepting world full of the rightous and true.

So why not come out?

Speaking freely is such a pleasure, I really don't want give it up. I'd have to be all sure that everything I said was qualified to the nth degree so that Rosencrow or Fitzcrow or Remsencrow etcrow alcrow. wouldn't be all nasty to me at the next meeting. And they would be, oh yes, they would be.

So that is my lame reason - it looks bad when I see on the screen. Methinks needs to get some gonads, methinks.

At least I usually use the word "methinks".

Wait, that is even more lame.

Any Lester said...

Just an amusing update as if my experience over at that Cornell Creationists (aka "IDEA Club) website wasn't bizarre enough: the thread which ultimately led me to this site (and was linked to by Tom) has been "sanitized" and I have been de facto banned from posting there (I have no idea whether the guy who called me a "bitch" and a "raving lunatic" is still permitted to comment).

You may have noticed Cornell Professor Allen McNeill making a snarky comment in that thread as well. McNeill is, in my humble opinion, a gasbag who naively believes that he can "educate" Christian fundamentalist ID peddlers by engaging in "civil conversation" with them -- good luck with that, Allen!

Anyway, in another comment thread McNeill made the following remark:

BTW (and forgive me for going somewhat off-topic) has anyone noticed how quickly the opinions and writings of Carl Sagan have evaporated from the public and scientific arenas? I knew Carl when he was here at Cornell, and admired him for his ability to communicate basic scientific concepts to the general public, but his science was definitely light-weight compared with people like Martin Harwit or Frank Drake (whose ideas Carl popularized, and for which he wound up getting a lot of credit).

I honestly have no idea what McNeill is referring to because in the circles I keep Carl Sagan's opinions and writings are evoked constantly. And as one example, I posted a link to this website which quotes Sagan under the masthead "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."
That comment was deleted. I re-posted it. It was deleted again. I re-posted it. It was deleted again.

Perhaps someone here could attempt to the "educate" McNeill and his cretinous creationist students.

Anonymous said...

As Anonymous said, at least some of us have the misfortune of being extreme skeptics while also being affiliated with members/institutions of Team IBWO. We post here to vent our frustrations and to (hopefully) help keep up the morale of other skeptics. The leaders of Team IBWO are deadly serious about their campaign, and probably would not tolerate public criticism from within. Hence, our shadowy participation, kind of like the shadowy participation of the IBWOs themselves. And, under such circumstances, you can throw scientific debate out the window.....

--Extremely Anonymous

Anonymous said...

It is a story of how Jerry Jackson went from being the last word on this species and the one entrusted with its "recovery" to being a man who is castigated for speaking as the expert that he is.

How do the those scared to speak get the press to run this as a "Fitzcrow's Paper has been proven to be flawed" story.

Sibley couldn't do it, what will happen to this story?

Anonymous said...

Ah, methinks the Sibley et al went miles casting doubt among the scince types. If you ignore the Bird Forum types, which is pretty hard to do, I think the general consensus is that Cornell really really really needs a picture - Pronto! That is not what people thought 18 mos. ago!

More is on the way from several circles. Fitzcrow et al. should brush up on their -, well, lets not give it away.

Anonymous said...

If you read Jackson's work on the IBWO, you realize that no one, not even that Whickenfoose(?), has such a religous connection to the bird. But he never let it corrupt his science.

On the other hand, Fitzcrow let his science cross the boundary into "faith-based ornithology".

That's irony! Or is it just what happened?

Anonymous said...

Let me remind you that as of last year Fitzcrow was beginning talks with a slide of the new Lab of Mythology (that is a GREAT name, whoever wrote it should copywrite that suckah)and then he'd say...
"This is my church and it is where I go to worship every day." Honest. This was before the IBWO story broke. That guy, methinks, is a zealot.

Anonymous said...

I'm another anonymous poster who works for a leading conservation organization. I was one of the first to bring up the cold fusion comparison. Sometimes I send interesting leads to Tom, but due to where I work, there is no way I can have my name associated with any of this!

I'm also a long-time birder, and see this group think misID thing happen all the time. Sparling I can forgive. He just reported exactly what he saw.
Gallagher and Harrison is tougher. But even a generous interpretation has them fully trusting their ID of the bird based on only one field mark of a quickly observed flyby bird--very shaky evidence.

You can't really blame Fitz for throwing his weight behind this. Maybe he should have been more suspicious of his friend's bird sighting. But if someone you know and trust tells you something, you give them some benefit of the doubt. In this case, the original search was probably warranted.

Then it gets messy. People are now in the field looking for a known bird. Those kind of people make bad ID calls at rare bird stakeouts all the time. Especially when dealing with brief looks of flying birds. After the first season, there should have been some discomfort with the inability to get a good look at the bird.

But it is a big place. If you believe...and at this point, it was all about believing G&H, then it is easy to convince yourself that the Big Woods are so big, that it isn't a surprise that you didn't get a good look at the bird.

And then there was the video. Cornell did all they could think of to try and test it, but it was a crappy video. Maybe they overstated their case.

I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But one thing I'm wondering, is why did they build up the Big Woods partnership and launch a multi-million dollar land acquisition and field work campaign? What made them think they had enough evidence to justify that? I'm all for putting eyes in the field to try and verify an intriguing sighting. But somehow, it all exploded out of all proportion. The evidence was too weak for that kind of effort.

Of course, it was a judgement call. One that is easier to criticize now, two years later. But still...millions of dollars based on a flyby and a blurry video? For Fritz, that may have been a critical error.

For everyone else, well...they were basically trusting Fritz.

What a fascinating story. Hopefully it can all be told after the dust has cleared--as another cautionary tale for aspiring researchers, politicians, and the introduction to bird identification guides.

Amy Lester said...

Of course, it was a judgement call. One that is easier to criticize now, two years later.

I agree with your comments, anon, but I wanted to clarify something. The "judgment call" is easier to criticize now because we now have more months of hard-core fruitless directed searching to add to the six decades of fruitless searching which preceded the bogus "rediscovery."

But the "judgment call" was not difficult to criticize earlier. Many scientists (and lay people who know a bird looks like) criticized the "judgment call" on the same solid reasonable grounds they are criticizing it today. The only difference is now there are more people listening instead of popping champagne corks and smiling at TV cameras.

Marcus Benkarkis said...

In my opinion, you are under estimating the Glory, Ego, and Fame aspect.

It would have been the Conservation Story of the Century (are we talking about this century or last century). This is where Fitz could have stopped and brought in the outside review. He didn't, he wanted it all for CLO and the TNC.

He took a calculated risk, he failed.

Anonymous said...


I think the 3:24 PM, June 16, 2006
posting by anonymous should be promoted to its own thread - this is a topic that people need to talk about ... "why".

This blog has always been a thought leader on this question and I think this post gets at some issues that we all need to talk about and hear what others think.

When they get burried down here so deep it is hard for others to join in ...

There are lots and lots of people whose lives have been effected by Fitzcrow and their rush to publication and their bogus interpretation of evidence.

This is the first frontier of therapy.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone looked into this Sparling fellow's past history? How long has Bayou Deview been his favorite bayou? For instance, IF he knew there were ivorybills there since the late 1970's - then why did he wait until now to say something about it ? And better yet, why could he not obtain a photograph over the years IF a "breeding population" was present ?

Just food for thought....

Bona Ditto
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