Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Gambling on a Ghost Bird"

I'm told that an article called "Gambling on a Ghost Bird" will be published in this week's Science.

The article will evidently be available here after 5pm EDT today.

Update: Ok, I just forked over my $10 for this article.

Some excerpts:
To many critics, this is a story of good intentions gone awry and the power of belief, amplified by secrecy. A top-notch team of scientists was misled by hope, it seems to them, and buoyed by confidence that more searching would bring the definitive photo. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues reject those explanations, defend their objectivity, and say they have no doubts or regrets. Now, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) begins to assess the efficacy of the searches it funds, most birders and ornithologists seem resigned that even if an ivorybill was in Arkansas in 2004, the chance to save the species is past. "I want to hope against all odds," says James Bednarz of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. "But my scientific logic says it's deep in the vortex of extinction."
...
But Fitzpatrick decided to press ahead, having great confidence in Gallagher's sighting. "I have to put my faith in those people able to separate fact from fiction," he says. He was also convinced that if he didn't act, the bird would truly go extinct. There had been no previous exhaustive searches, he points out. Cornell had the tip, the resources, and the gumption. "Nobody else had the balls to do it," Fitzpatrick says.

He insisted on secrecy--a decision that would later bring the team criticism for being insular and insufficiently skeptical. Fitzpatrick feared that if word of the search got out, "the place would become Coney Island with birders piling in all over the place." Ultimately, some two dozen police officers were ready to protect the habitat after the announcement, but there was no onslaught...
...
By February 2005, Fitzpatrick recalls, he realized that "we need to begin to act as though the Luneau video plus sightings plus sound is going to be enough."
...
Not long after The New York Times reported the existence of the skeptical but not-yet-published paper, Jackson says, [science adviser to Secretary Gale Norton, and former assistant director of the Lab of Ornithology James] Tate called Jackson on a Saturday night and told him to "back off." Tate denies that and says he just wanted to discuss Jackson's criticisms. "My concern was that the skeptics would destroy our opportunity, destroy that second chance to get the biological information of what the birds needed," Tate says.
...
...The recordings convinced co-authors Richard Prum of Yale University and Robbins that at least two ivorybills were living in the Big Woods. They withdrew the paper on 1 August, saying they didn't want to undermine conservation efforts. (In retrospect, now that it's clear the recordings are not solid evidence, they regret the move. "I blinked," Prum says.)
...
After another round of rebuttals commenced, Fitzpatrick confronted Jackson during an August 2006 meeting in South Carolina and asked him not to publish. Jackson recalls Fitzpatrick heatedly telling him, "You are going to be independently responsible for the extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker because you are preventing me from raising money for conservation." Shortly thereafter, Fitzpatrick contacted Jackson again and offered co-authorship on a future paper if Jackson would pull his letter. "That's not how I operate," Jackson told him. Fitzpatrick says he wanted to focus on the bird and avoid another unproductive exchange: "It was not my desire to prolong and underscore resentments and personal disagreements."
...
Fitzpatrick rejects the charge of groupthink, insisting that the team was as objective as any scientists could be. Both Fitzpatrick and Science's Kennedy defend the decision to publish, noting that the paper was vetted by peer reviewers. "We got more than satisfactorily positive reviews," says Kennedy, who adds that he wasn't fazed by the lack of a clear video. "I thought that it was very important, even if there was some possibility that this might be wrong."
...
Fitzpatrick anticipates another year or two of searching at most. "It's just too expensive," he says, noting that it's become harder to raise money. Even if the team quits emptyhanded, Lammertink says, it will be difficult to prove the bird is not there. "It may always remain a question mark."

Whether that uncertainty will haunt Cornell remains to be seen. "In some people's minds, the failure to find better evidence in the last couple of years has not been good for the reputation of the Lab of Ornithology," says Russell Charif of Cornell. That specter doesn't worry Fitzpatrick. "I move with the actions that I deem appropriate for the possibility that the birds are there," he says. "And I don't look back."

20 comments:

Invisible Bird said...

Gambling on a Ghost Bird

LOL. Is this where we find out that pd is actually going to pay up?

IBWO Atheist said...

I remember reading many comments here and on other blogs about how we should give Fitzpatrick et al. a break and be nice to them. The idea was that they were secretly sorrow for instigating the IBWO fiasco and would be ready to politely concede defeat if only we rude, scary skeptics would give them a safe, pleasant, and supportive atmosphere to do so.

That sure was wishful thinking. They are as deluded, unrepentent, and self-righteous as ever.

Invisible Bird said...

"Nobody else had the balls to do it," Fitzpatrick says.

Oh.
My.
God.

LOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Nice move on Kennedy's part, throw Fitzpatrick under the bus. Sure he makes it look like he has a bit of mud on him, but he's on record now saying that he did it "even though he knew he might be wrong".

And Kennedy makes sure say there isn't any thing to find in the peer review that they rushed and gave Fitz a pass on ... but he is first to press with a truely post mortem piece on the saga.

Don Kennedy, snitch.

After teeing off with with HIS reputaion on the game. Fitzpatrick now wants a mulligan.

Invisible Bird said...

Fitzpatrick."I don't look back."


That much is clear. Fitzpatrick conveniently ignored 60+ years of invisibility and bogus claims, choosing instead to look forward and determine how he could milk years of funding out of a Whole Bunch of Nothing.

And when Jackson refused to cooperate, Fitzpatrick tried to bribe him with authorship on a paper.

Disgusting.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear to me that Fitzcrow realizes he has made a very very serious blunder.

But Hillcrow? That man is beyond delusional.

IBWO Atheist said...

"And when Jackson refused to cooperate, Fitzpatrick tried to bribe him with authorship on a paper."

The absurd threat involved makes it verge on extortion.

"But Hillcrow? That man is beyond delusional."

He still can't compare to Fishcrow.

"Nobody else had the balls to do it," Fitzpatrick says."

What about Mary Scott?

Anonymous said...

Fitz is like the character played by Jack Nicholson in "a few good men" - Col. Nathan Jessup - and this reporter (who was clearly seeded by Kennedy - and given the space to run the piece in SCIENCE - by Kennedy) is the tom cruise young buck lawyer taking on the powerful general by asking Jessup in open court, if he gave the order to have santiago killed.

Jessup's honor won't let him keep up the lie. he snaps, "you want the truth, you can't handle the truth ..."

Fitz has had enough of his integrity and judgement being questioned,when this reporter asked him pointed questions he broke, "no one else had the balls".

"
When Jessup said it in the movie, it was an admission that he bent the rules of the game"
- that at a certian point, honor demands that the ends justify the means - and that is where Kennedy is taking this. He was used at the means to Fitz's end - and he isn't really happy about it.

Anonymous said...

people, people, ... Hillcrow, Fishcrow, Mary Scott?

Have you no sense of the scale of what we are talking about here?

This is epic stuff ... epic - don't spoil the shadenfrude by talking about the bit players.

Fitzpatrick has just been exposed as trying to silence his critics in an almost extortionary way IN THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS SCIENCE JOURNAL IN THE WORLD ... get it??

This is no time to be talking about who is most delusional ... this is like, as someone said

Oh
My
God

Luneau Atheist said...

Be sure to check out Band of Birders put out by Cornell.

Will they put out another documentary now called Band of Bozos?

Anonymous said...

Ok, I just got hold of a full copy of this piece ... and it is pretty devistating to Fitzpatrick - the whole thing - especially the despondant looking photo of Fitz ... the cammo shrouded camera, and the funeral swamp scene, the take down of frame 33.3 ... even the quotes from Gill and Hill are spun in a "sorry john, we can't help you anymore" kind of way ... and the fact that Science magazine decides to air an exchange where Fitz tries to shut up jackson - both through intimidation and then through enticement - confirms the worst of what skeptics have been accusing cornell of doing. They even paint Fitzpatrick as being aware that in this case, the ends would have to justify the means with the quote, "we are going to have to act as though this (the video) is enough" ...

Fitzcrow just got tossed under the bus ... and worse, Goeff Hill, who is now showing his latest movie and three bird rorschach image for the assembled at the AOU, gives him a shove!!

the weakest part of the story comes when the reporter turns the lens on the peer review process at Science - all of a sudden, we go from specific dates, to terms like "in early april" and we never learn what exactly it means that Science "rushed the publication of the paper" - or how the reviewers were informed about what they were doing. Where they reviewing a paper, or were they going to be responsible for the extinction of this species if they aired serious doubt, or forced any of the arguments to be scaled back ...well we just aren't told.

This part is really where the story gets fascinating - once the Cornell team believed that they were in a race to save this bird, how did that change the behavior of Science magazine.

Kennedy is capable of this kind of honesty ... it would be great if Eric Stocksted took him there.

Anonymous said...

Statue that Don Kennedy has commissioned for Fitz's memorial at Cornell:

"Of course the secondaries will show white trailing edges in the final version."

Invisible Birds said...

"Nobody else had the balls to do it," Fitzpatrick says."

What about Mary Scott?


Those were crystal balls.

John Wall said...

My prediction posted here on June 18, 2006 is coming true:

"I predict that the Ivorybill 'rediscovery' ultimately will become such an embarrassment to those involved that they will deny responsibility and blame each other."

Peckergate - The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Hoax

Invisible Bird said...

Even if the team quits emptyhanded, Lammertink says, it will be difficult to prove the bird is not there. "It may always remain a question mark."

Oh, please.

The passenger pigeon and Great Auk are capable of hiding, too.

The question mark is appropriate when a bird is actually documented alive and that documentation is corroborated in a credible fashion (i.e., with indisputable evidence, not blurry images accompanied by hand-waving arguments).

Then for a period of time the question is: is that bird still alive? If that bird disappears again and can't be seen a reasonable period of time (say, five years), then the question mark disappears.

Lammertink is still clinging to the crack pipe if he thinks that there is any question about the IBWOs existence. There isn't any question. It's extinct as can be. No other explanation exists which comes close to explaining *all* the undisputed facts.

Lammertink and others who pretend that extinction is a metaphysical concept are doing science a disservice. The fact that shocking events sometimes occur does not justify promoting IBWO viability forever.

It's theoretically possible that a soldier who fought in the Civil War is still alive somewhere in the "deep south". Should we search for him? Think of how tragic it would be if he were to die before he was found. Etc., etc.

Luneau Atheist said...

By February 2005, Fitzpatrick recalls, he realized that “we need to begin to act as though the Luneau video plus sightings plus sound is going to be enough.”

I think this is the most devastating quote imaginable. The word "act" says it all. They knew that the evidence wasn't good enough but they rushed to announce was done to prevent being scooped, plain and simple. After that, defenses were mounted of the video and lame sightings that no objective observer could mistake for science.

Anonymous said...

this article has all kinds of morsels in it -

like the photo caption by Fitz's head that says "believer".

also it says that they got so frantic that they hoisted people in a "cherry picker".

These are terms that might be subconcious on the part of the author, but he sure had a good editor ... thanks Don, nice piece.

We sure would like to know if told the reviewers that the ivory-billed's fate, was in thier hands ...

what did it mean to "rush" the piece to publication ... and why leave out the hebrew blessing part of you op ed ... about raising the dead??

bad southern birder said...

" There had been no previous exhaustive searches, he points out. Cornell had the tip, the resources, and the gumption. "Nobody else had the balls to do it," Fitzpatrick says"

Irresponsible and totally inaccurate, Fitz. Bands of birders searched the southern woods and swamps valiantly for IBWOs in the 50s and 60s. They didn't have reporters with them. They got no press coverage. They didn't have expense accounts. And, they didn't make news. But they diligently searched.

Nobody ever documented an IBWO. A few got a Cornellish glimpse at a large bird with some white in the wing now and then, and a few reported hearing some of those Choctawhootchie double knocks.

Too much irony, here. Bad Karma getting worse. Fold the tent, Fitz, I think the fat lady is singing.

IBWO Atheist said...

"Jackson says, [science adviser to Secretary Gale Norton, and former assistant director of the Lab of Ornithology James] Tate called Jackson on a Saturday night and told him to "back off." "

Are there any rules censoring this sort of intimidation by a public official?

Anonymous said...

Invisible bird wrote:

"Lammertink is still clinging to the crack pipe if he thinks that there is any question about the IBWOs existence. There isn't any question. It's extinct as can be. No other explanation exists which comes close to explaining *all* the undisputed facts.

Lammertink and others who pretend that extinction is a metaphysical concept are doing science a disservice. The fact that shocking events sometimes occur does not justify promoting IBWO viability forever. "

Lammertink knows which side his bread is buttered on.....