The 'miracle' of the ivory-billed woodpecker

By now, you have no doubt heard that three biologists are putting into serious question the reappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the southern US. See the Girl Scientist?s blog for some interesting commentary and a lengthy interview with Tim Gallagher, one of the authors of the original Science report on the find. The New York Times covered the skeptical scientists yesterday (July 21). But one thing yesterday?s story neglected to mention was the Times? own awestruck editorial, on Apr

By | July 22, 2005

By now, you have no doubt heard that three biologists are putting into serious question the reappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the southern US. See the Girl Scientist?s blog for some interesting commentary and a lengthy interview with Tim Gallagher, one of the authors of the original Science report on the find. The New York Times covered the skeptical scientists yesterday (July 21). But one thing yesterday?s story neglected to mention was the Times? own awestruck editorial, on April 30, on the original report in Science. In it, they came as close to calling the bird?s reappearance a miracle as you can without actually calling it one. An excerpt: ?The ivory-billed woodpecker is a living monument to the stubbornness of all creatures that refuse to be erased, despite all our blundering and destructive habits. Its odd nickname is a fitting tribute: not ''Wow,'' ''Geez'' or ''Check it out,'' but ''Lord God,'' two words that capture the moment when the eyes widen, the muscles go slack and the mind reels at the wondrous things with which we share the world.? Here?s the passage that probably clinched the decision for reporters and editors working on the most recent story: ?The word miracle is overused, but what else explains the survival in the 21st century of an animal considered lost to history so long ago?? That?s certainly a good question. The answer just might be ?bad data.?

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