Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Criticism and Skepticism in Science

In a brief note on Collinson’s analysis of the blurry Luneau video, which is the primary evidence supporting “rediscovery” of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Nuthatch at Bootstrap Analysis notes that “criticism of published papers . . . and skepticism is an accepted and necessary part of the scientific process.”

She further states:
In general, I think it is a sign of integrity and upstanding character for a person to admit they are wrong about something. Nobody at Cornell even seems willing to admit they might be wrong. I'm saddened that I've lost some respect for them in that regard.
Bootstrap Analysis was named last year as one of the journal Nature's 50 Popular Science Blogs, so I take her opinions seriously.


Blogger cyberthrush said...

None of us can get inside the heads of the Cornell principals to know if there is any actual doubt in their minds about the Luneau bird; but if they truly believe that their analysis is RIGHT and the other analyses are WRONG, or at least unlikely, than it would be ludicrous and unscientific for them, for the sake of politeness, to say "ohhh, we might be wrong." Just as evolutionists don't respond to creationists, saying "yeah, our theory might be wrong; there are gaps, alternative explanations, arguable interpretations." I think we should all wait for the Cornell response to Collinson, before passing any judgment.
In my view we're beating a dead horse here anyway, but Cornell certainly has as much right to stick to their convictions as many skeptics have stuck to theirs (and don't forget, Sibley and others pronounced this species extinct long ago; they would never admit it, but they do have an incentive for discounting the Cornell evidence).

March 20, 2007 1:34 PM  
Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Actually, nobody at all seems to be willing to budge in this debate; Sibley et al don't seem to have shown any more eagerness to admit that their conclusions could be mistaken (even in part) than have Cornell. Both sets of authors seem to just be repeatedly rereading their original papers at each other. And, of course, 98% of the prominent internet personalities have not significantly altered their positions in about a year, if not longer.

March 20, 2007 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one - not a single one of the actors in this theater of the absurd - will ever admit to the slightest doubt about anything. If an absolutely perfect video or photo was taken today, everyone would continue to argue with absolute certitude about the Luneau video, the Sibley analysis, and every other word that has ever been uttered or written about the IBWO.

Does Collinson add to our knowledge or understanding? No. He is utterly without qualification to do the kind of analysis he did. He is not trained as an ornithologist, videographer, or in any other field or skill that went into his analysis. He is a researcher - apparently in cell development. He knows how to write a paper in journal style. However, the nature of the analysis is essentially an amateur analysis.

It's great cocktail chat, but scientific discourse? Not. I'd love to see all these people in one room, with ground rules and professional moderating, having a civil discussion...but I'm about as likely to see that as I am to see an IBWO.

March 20, 2007 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When it comes to the IBWO, Skepticism has always been right in the last 50 years and true belief wrong.

Skepticism is batting a 1000. Hard to argue with that.

March 21, 2007 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Failure to obtain a good photo or a good video - tragic though it is - does NOT mean that the birds are there. No one has any way of knowing if the sightings are:

a) absolutely right
b) honest mistakes
c) deliberate fraud

Skepticism is no more right or wrong than anyone else because Skepticism can't know if the birds are there or not. The only thing Skepticism can be right about is the fact that if they are there, we are sadly lacking in evidence that everyone can agree is adequate.

March 22, 2007 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Failure to obtain a good photo or a good video - tragic though it is - does NOT mean that the birds are there.

No truer statement about this fiasco has ever been said. But I doubt if you meant it that way.

March 22, 2007 5:29 PM  

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