Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Correction: Ivory-billed Woodpecker—More on “The Leak”

In my original post on this subject, I incorrectly the identified the recipient of a phone call from a "well-known ornithologist" as the "director of a non-profit research institution in the southeastern U.S." In fact, the recipient of the call was a research biologist at that same institution. These corrections are reflected in the following revised post with strikeouts and bold text:

Despite recent postings on Ivory-bill Skeptic and Birding is NOT a crime!!!! about the timing of the much-discussed leak about the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas, little seems to be known about the who, what, where, when, and why of the leak. Herewith are a few additional details that I hope will help to set part of the record straight:

April 25, 2005 (9:30 PM) – a well-known ornithologist affiliated with a university located in the southeastern U.S. (but not known for work on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker) talks by phone with the director of a research biologist at a non-profit research institution in the southeastern U.S.

April 26, 2005 (7:41 AM) – the director of a research biologist at the aforementioned non-profit alerts the staff of that institution via email as to the topic of the previous evening’s conversation via an email with the subject line Stunning News!

April 26, 2005 – a member of the aforementioned non-profit forwards the aforementioned email to a colleague at a university located in the mid-Atlantic U.S.

April 26, 2005 (8:58 AM) – the recipient of the aforementioned email forwards it to the NRVBirds (New River Valley Birds) listserv. The text of that post, now adorned with the subject line Stunning News – Ivory Billed lives!!!, follows (names are deleted to protect the privacy of the individuals and institutions involved):

XXXX called my home last evening around 9:30 PM. XXXX and I knew something big was up. They've discovered some ivory-billed woodpeckers in Arkansas -- filmed, taped, and otherwise confirmed. There's supposed to be a big press release on the great finding sometime today, but there's a potential local angle to boot. XXXX, who worked on nuthatches at XXXX last Spring, was one of the people surveying the area where the birds were discovered. I'm trying to find out if his sharp eyes were among the first to see the birds.
April 26, 2005 (10:28 AM) – a Forest Service biologist forwards the post from NRVBirds to 11 colleagues in the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

April 26, 2005 (10:45 AM) – this email is forwarded by a second Forest Service biologist to an unknown number of colleagues of unknown affiliation.

April 26, 2005 (11:34) – an individual associated with a national scientific organization forwards this email to me and an unknown number of other colleagues of unknown affiliation.

April 26, 2005 (12:25) – the aforementioned individual sends a follow-up email asking people not to tell anyone else about the information that was shared in the previous email.

April 26, 2005 – no mention of the Ivory-bill appears on either of the two major bird listservs in the U.S., BirdChat and Ornith-L.

April 27, 2005 (late PM) – three late-night postings to BirdChat [that will not be read by must subscribers until the following morning] reveal that (1) the Department of the Interior announced to the media at 5:30 PM (but embargoed until 11:30 AM on the 28th) the news that “Interior Secretary Norton, scientists, partners to announce dramatic discovery related to species conservation” [note lack of reference to the Ivory-bill]; (2) some sort of pre-announcement [no longer available] is posted to The Nature Conservancy’s Arkansas Web site; (3) a “first-hand report” [no longer available] is posted to; (4) an online article [no longer available] about the discovery appears on; and (5) National Public Radio’s story on the rediscovery, scheduled for airing tomorrow morning, apparently becomes available online.

April 28, 2005 (early AM) - the first widely disseminated public information about the discovery comes via NPR’s Morning Addition, an announcement that surely was carefully prepared with the help of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other members of the Big Woods Conservation Partnership [note, for example, that NPR’s Christopher Joyce joined the search along the White River in January 2005].

April 28, 2005 (11:30 AM) – the news conference/announcement of the discovery is held in Washington, D.C.

The above timeline seems at odds with one person’s interpretation of John Fitzpatrick’s explanation – given during a plenary address to the American Ornithologists’ Union on August 26, 2005 – that, as a direct result of “the leak,” word about the discovery was “spreading like a raging virus” and that containment was “no longer an option” by the early afternoon of April 26, resulting in a decision to speed up publication of the Science paper.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we just step back and think of the big picture, it is clear that they were so excited that just blind glee and ambition took over. I can understand that. Fitzpatrick's good friend, Gallagher, had seen the "thing". Science Express had a scoop. CLO and it's director would be famous.

There was never a thought that they might just become infamous instead. Very understandable but tragic event. Sad really.

God, it would have been great if it were true. An almost Shakespearean tragedy.

July 05, 2006 12:45 PM  

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