Errors in Science article
"Gambling on a Ghost Bird"
by Erik Stolstad (17 August 2007)

Note: The original article is available on the Science website by subscription only.

The NewsFocus article “Gambling on a Ghost Bird” by Erik Stokstad in the 17 August 2007 edition of Science contains several inaccuracies that merit correction.

Stokstad writes, “Between 5 and 11 April, there was a flurry of sightings, all by lone, amateur observers.” To the contrary, the three observations during this period were made by an experienced professional director of a nature center and two trained professional biologists, one of whose Ph.D. was earned with a dissertation studying woodpeckers in the field.

Stokstad continues, “Concerned about the lack of corroboration, Jeffrey Wells of Cornell, the logistical manager, decided to double up the observers. After that, there was just one more sighting.” In fact, reported encounters occurred on 25 April, 5 May, 9 June, 4 September (two reports), 7 September, 9 November, 14 and 15 February 2005, and 7 and 8 March 2005. Not all were reported in the original paper published in Science.

Prior to the discussion of the April 2004 sightings, Stokstad writes, “More volunteers arrived, all signing legal confidentiality agreements.” The confidentiality agreement was not a legally binding document, and it was drafted in July 2004, well after the April sightings, to cover the upcoming field season (Nov. 2004 – April 2005).

The statement, “[Fitzpatrick] insisted on secrecy…,” understates the role that the rest of the team played in the decision-making process. All members of the initial search team insisted on secrecy and worked collaboratively to insure that our actions were in the best interests of the bird(s). Weekly conference calls in 2004 typically involved nine participants, only two or three of whom were Cornell employees. Fitzpatrick was co-leader of the team along with Scott Simon of The Nature Conservancy, but neither leader dictated the actions of the team. These leaders managed to keep a team of strong-willed, independent-minded people working toward a common goal of careful science and concerted conservation.

David Luneau - September 2, 2007