Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Sixteenth Minute

Interesting... one week later and not a single comment about my previous posting, just a few questions about Mike Collins' video, which is really beside the point here. I was mentioned on birdforum and by cyberthrush, but no one (at least no one who actually appears to have read my posting) cared to discuss it further, positively or negatively, superficially or insightfully. So it seems that in spite of the fact that all published analyses of this video have suffered from critical (even fatal) flaws that fundamentally undermine many of their basic conclusions, the birding community is bored with the subject. Ah well, such are the whims of pop culture. The Luneau video's 15 minutes appear to be over. Good thing that nothing really important hinges on this subject, eh?

ADDENDUM: A discussion of sorts has finally started in the comments section of Tom Nelson's blog. In classic Nelson style, even though the discussion is about my analysis, I am not allowed to participate in it. The comment I submitted that he rejected is posted below as a comment to this posting. And, of course, even though Nelson won't post my own contributions, he's allowing rebuttals to my rejected comment. Well, that is if you consider "Bill Pulliam is a dodo head nyah nyah nyah" to be a rebuttal. No additional discussion of anything of substance, no actual challenges to any of my specific points.

ADDENDUM 2: Still waiting... for any of Nelson's anonymous contributors to directly address any of the points or examples I actually presented.

ADDENDUM 3: Just for fun, I indulged another one of my interests (linguistics) and looked at the writing styles of the recent anonymous posters on Nelson's blog. I examined typical stuff: sentence length, frequency of "big words," punctuation, distinctive usages and errors, etc. Looks to me like nearly all of his anonymous postings recently (dozens of them) are actually written by only two different people. I've dubbed them "High Fog" and "Low Fog" after their scores on the widely-used Fog Index of Readability. Both writers have other disinctive, specific, and consistent features of their individual styles that distinguish them that I won't go into. Low Fog is especially prolific, sometimes contributing several comments in sequence as though they came from different people. In a recent posting that received 23 comments, Low Fog appears to have written over half of them. He is rarely insightful, mostly just mocks and name-calls and proclaims the god-like 100% truth of his opinions. High Fog writes in a much more erudite style with an occasional British spelling, though he still rarely advances novel ideas ("he" is used here in the unavoidable grammatical sense, not because I assume both writers must be male). These two writers account for essentially all of the "pro-Nelson" anonymous contributions. The others tend to be far more critical and far less frequent contributors. Other than the "anons" we have the IBWO_athest, who even though I disagree with much of what he writes actually puts significant original thought and insight in to it; and that's about it these days for the folks who don't sign their actual names. Fascinating.


At 2:13 PM, Anonymous David L. Martin said...

I find very little in your analysis I would disagree with, Bill, you have done your usual superb job. One thing I would quibble with is the assertion that most conclusions about black trailing edges are suspect due to the poor quality and obvious artifact issues. If the reinactments with the same camcorder and conditions produce consistent indications of a black trailing edge in the pileated, I think that is rather persuasive. Black trailing edges are very apparent to me in all of the Nolin flights. Unfortunately Cornell offered us no reinactment videos to evaluate for ourselves, just single fields.

As for the interest issue, it is quite amusing to me that only 2 years have passed since the Arkansas announcement, and with no clearer video many people consider the issue dead. The clear video is coming, but the fact is, this bird will probably not be a "birder's bird" for a very long time.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous David L. Martin said...

Actually, now that I look again, they did post some short videos of the reinactments in their web analysis. My bad.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

I do think the experiments with models can give a basis for making that argument. However, I doubt that it was (or is) possible to exactly replicate the wing motions and especially viewing angles, which could affect the visibility of the black trailing edge. Even without the reenactment experiments, just looking at the data contained within the video I find a combination of no indication of a black trailing edge in the main sequence plus a strong indications of the presence of a white trailing edge in frames 33-50. Considering that we still have peer-reviewed papers coming out that claim that obvious video artifacts are real markings on the bird, I decided that was probably the most important point in the video to address in such gory detail.

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous David L. Martin said...

I agree with you, in fact the plumage characters have always been much less important in my mind than the wingbeat rate, because the former are so subjective. With the reinactments there is also the concern that the models are not translating in space. It is conceivable that motion blur associated with translation could cause the black trailing edge to disappear. Nevertheless I am struck by how both the pileated reinactment and the Nolin flights show strong indications of black trailing edges at certain points.

The odd wing dynamics you pointed out are much less subject to individual interpretation than plumage per se and in the end may turn out to be even more significant than the wingbeat rate. The problem is that it is a difficult thing to quantify.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

I really would like to see some comparable flight videos of other Campephilus species. I haven't found any useful ones online, and don't have the resources to fly south and film some myself...

At 3:59 PM, Blogger cyberthrush said...

the lack of comment certainly doesn't mean your thoughts aren't read andtaken seriously Bill, but I honestly think people simply see different things in the video (and in Mike C.'s video) depending on the screen, video player, computer system, they have. Things that are clearcut to some people are not always clear to me, and vice-versa the 2 frames of the Luneau video that trouble me the most, I don't hear discussed much (no, don't ask me which 2, I'm not even going there...). I think folks are just frustrated that there is so little agreement on fairly basic things about both David's and Mike's videos, despite all the time expended on them. If a technology comes along that can analyze individual pixels then maybe there's more to say! otherwise I still believe it's all been said, and remains unresolvable.

At 6:48 PM, Blogger John said...

Even if I did not comment on it, I did link it on my blog. Your analysis is one of the best I have seen.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...


Thanks for both the compliment and the link; both are much appreciated.


There's not so much subjectivity in this as you suggest. It is not a matter of people interpreting the video differently, but of people inadequately analyzing it and MISinterpreting it. The analyses have especially tended to look at frames in isolation, not in context, and to cherry pick features to support whatever hypothesis you like without adequately examining them to see if they are consistent or real. Sibley/Collinson have been horrendous in this regard, but Cornell is not blameless either. There's no need for advanced technology. The Luneau video has not been in "analyzed to death;" it has however been abused, misrepresented, and "misquoted" to within an inch of its life.

At 5:28 AM, Anonymous MM in NY said...

Your final sentence: "The Luneau video has not been in "analyzed to death;" it has however been abused, misrepresented, and "misquoted" to within an inch of its life." is perhaps the best explanation as to why there was so little discussion of your analysis. The misrepresentation and misquotation have very effectively obfuscated the issue and make it a challenge to discuss it intelligently.

I think the lack of response also reflects how deeply opinions have become entrenched. As you know, I link to your entries over on Birdforum, but I have serious doubts as to whether many of those who are so filled with certainty there even bother to read what you have to say.

I think Dave's "birder's bird" remark calls attention to another important point; one you've raised before. The skills needed to interpret and analyze the Luneau video, and Mike Collins's as well, are not really birding or ornithological skills, at least not entirely. The footage really ought to be thoroughly examined and analyzed by experts in forensic video analysis (and perhaps enhancement).

There seems to be an odd mistrust of this type of approach among some people in the birding world, an assumption that if it's not a good enough picture to be identified with the naked eye, it's intrinsically bad evidence and not worthy of further consideration. I'd really like to know what, if anything, could be done in terms of enhancement (especially with Mike's video) and whether either has been carefully examined by people with training and credentials in forensic video analysis.

All that said, your work on this is first-rate and really deserves more attention and discussion.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Birders should be able to deal with this sort of video documentation, though. This is hardly likely to be the last time that a rarity is documented by only sight records and a very poor quality video. Crappy still photos have been used to document many rare birds, so long as critical features can be discerned from the blurry mush.

I suppose I could take the complete absence of any response from the self-identified "skeptics" to mean that they don't have an answer and prefer to just ignore the issues I brought up. It seems unlikely they haven't read my stuff.

At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, your analyses are very, very good--the best I've seen--and you really should submit them to a journal somewhere. Or have you, and then it got rejected?

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Thanks for your complement. No, I haven't submitted these for publication. I have been getting many suggestions (some might say pressure...) to do that, but it isn't likely to happen anytime soon. Preparing a manuscript for publication is about 100 times more work than creating a blog post. I'm strictly an amateur here, which doesn't mean I'm not qualified, but it does mean that I'm not paid to do this and every minute I spend on it is a minute I don't have to spend on all the other things that I need to do.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

So now that there has been some discussion of my analysis on Tom Nelson's blog, he is not allowing me to participate in it. I submitted the following as a response to "cyberthrush nihilist." Nelson rejected it, so here it is:

Finally an actual critique! Thank you, nihilist, for actually reading my analysis and responding to it. Skipping the finger-pointing about who's being divisive (we'll get enough of that soon in the US presidential campaign), to the points:

You should blame Pullium [sic] for picking and choosing frames (note there is not a complete sequence),

Complete sequences have been published plenty of places for anyone who cares to reference it. I have presented several full sequences for complete downstrokes and discused each frame individually and in context, illustrating the problems. I have included most of the frames that have been featured by others as showing PIWO field marks. The point of observing how the black edges behave in sequence frame-to-frame is more than adequately made by the segments I used. If you find something in the rest of the frames than undermine my arguments, please point it out.

misrepresenting and fabricating arguments, attributing those to others, and then attacking those self-erected strawmen

I'll need an example of this. I believe that every argument I have addressed has been explicitly and clearly advanced by Sibley, Bevier (number two on Sibley et al), Collinson, the contributors here, and other public writings. Please point out the arguments that I have fabricated, misrepresented, or falsely attributed, and I will correct my mistakes.

to support his biased analysis

"Bias" is probably one of the most overused terms around here. Of course I am "biased" towards my own opinions and conclusions. Who isn't? Anyone who forms a conclusion, assembles arguments, and presents evidence to support those conclusions can be accused of "bias." It's a meaningless accusation. In general, people who disagree with you are "biased" and those who agree with you are "neutral and logical."

Worse, he couches it in how others have made "dumb" mistakes (see Birdchaser on Collinson). Not helpful. [...] Whose is tone is condescending and selective, harsh and specious [...]

As I have been reminded a hundred times, blogs are not journals and the standards for tone are vastly different between the two. I think my tone is almost reserved compared to much (most) of what is written here, for example. If you read my actual published comment on Collinson's paper, you will see I was polite and courteous. Compare that to, for instance, the Ivory-bill Skeptic blog, where people are routinely insulted and ridiculed. In contrast, all I say is that people who should know better are are repeatedly making stupid mistakes.

Has he made an attempt to collaborate or contribute to the published record? Nope.

Interesting criticism from someone using a pseudonym, writing on the blog of a person who, though he has posted more on this topic than anyone else, has contributed not one word of it in the peer-reviewed literature.

Finally, to reply one point that was not actually addressed to me:

Your argument that critiques are divisive is wrong.

I agree fully. Substantial, explicit, reasoned criticism of evidence, arguments, and conclusions is a major engine driving the scientific process. It has also not been much evident in 99% of what has been written and said about this bird by people of all viewpoints in the last couple of years. Regardless of what you might think about "tone," and whether or not you agree with them, I try to include specific lines of evidence, assumptions, and arguments when I write about this subject.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Martin said...

Yo Bill. Have seen your analyseseseseses. Not ignoring them. Taking time off from IBWOs to disprove the existence of everything else. Mostly actually waiting for a month or so to see what reaction comes from others, if any, then try and deal with it all in a oner, if that's going to be possible. Taking me a little while to get it into my head that all the pro-IBWO features are real and all the PIWO features are artifacts, but I'll get there. Fatal flaws? Who died? :-) Erk.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Martin --

So are we all going to vanish in a puff of logic when you are done?

Fatal flaws, let's see.. you have several choices. You could murder your father and marry your mother; nah, too icky... you could be vain and prideful and marry a sorceress... not such a lark either. Damn, it's just no fun being a tragic hero, is it?

Actually I only singled out one really pro-IBWO feature and that one only occupies a few pixels in two frames. The rest might be better described as anti-PIWO than pro-IBWO considering we know next to nothing about IBWOs in flight.

(I would make a joke about anti PIWO and uncle IBWO but that pun doesn't work in the UK, kind of like all our things that describe themselves as "E-Zed")

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous emupilot said...

Since Tom Nelson has ranted about Iraqi WMD that were really there and global warming being a hoax, he's pretty much outed himself as a right-wing hack living in his own reality. I don't think his site should be looked to for any remotely scientific analysis, and it defames the (increasingly tenuous) skeptical viewpoint regardless.

Your analysis is excellent, but the Ivory-bill "debate" left scientific analysis in the dust long ago. Science requires measurable evidence for "proof", but the best evidence to date in this case is eyewitness observation. Science is left in the uncomfortable position of ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room, pretenting that Tyler Hicks didn't track kents and double-knocks to get an excellent view of a bird with all the field marks of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The only way out of this surreal situation is a scientific 800 pound gorilla: clear video.

On a related note, have you conducted analysis of tmguy's photo? Like Luneau's video, such an analysis (in this case real vs fake) is again academic as most have made up their minds. tmguy has never had interest in going throught the scientific process with his photo, but it seems like science is ill-served by people assuming it is a fraud.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

As for "Bill Smith"'s photo...

I don't assume it is a fraud, I conclude it is a fraud beyond any reasonable doubt. The image was taken at very close range using a short focal-length camera, as you can tell by comparing the branches just in front of and just behind the "bird." The posture is highly unusual and un-lifelike. There is no trace at all of motion blur on the bird, which suggest that this strange posture is not some odd transitional pose captured in flux at an awkward moment. The bird's shape peculiar shape appears as thought it was carved from a single piece of wood, either round or rectangular in cross section, wiht a diameter of about 4 inches. As many others have pointed out, the arrangement of the white on the bird is atypical, especially in how high the white on the "back" extends. The boundaries between the white and black are clear and straight as though they were painted, not irregular as they are in photos of real living Ivorybills.

Everything in the image points to it being a painted model hung in a tree and photographed at close range by an inexpensive digital camera. Nothing about the photo suggests that it is a living bird; or for that matter, a dead bird.

My conclusion: "Bill Smith" is an attention-seeking hoaxer.


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