Woody's Last Laugh explores a simmering controversy amid scientists, conservationists, birders and the media: the supposed extinction of American ivory-billed woodpecker. Among the first to identify rampant mental errors inside conservation and environmental professions, the book identifies 53 distinct kinds of cognitive blunders, psychological biases, and logical fallacies on both sides of the woodpecker controversy. Few species have ever provoked such social rancor. Why are rumors of its persistence so prevalent, unlike other near or recently extinct animals? Why are we so bad mannered with each other about a mere bird? How is it that we cannot agree even on whether a mere bird is alive or dead? Woody's Last Laugh uncovers why such mysteries so mess with our heads. By exploring uncharted borders between conservation and mental perception, new ways of evaluating truth and accuracy are opened to everyone.
Author Dr. J. Christopher Haney is a biologist, conservation scientist and lifelong birder. For 12 years he was Chief Scientist at Defenders of Wildlife. In 2010, following the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service invited him to lead the largest pelagic study of marine birds ever conducted in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2013 he has been president of Terra Mar Applied Sciences, an independent public-interest conservation research firm which he founded.
If there is one lesson Dr. Haney hopes his book delivers, it is to not overvalue our thinking skills. Human reason is fallible, even among scientists and technical experts. To improve our essential relationship with nature, conservation practices will need to devote as much attention to the unbridled thoughts as the unswerving sentiments. Dead or alive, however, the ivory-bill got the last laugh on us all.
"This delightful book reviews the enduring fascination with alleged sightings of the 'extinct American ivory-billed woodpecker to illuminate the role of well-understood cognitive biases and reasoning errors in science and conservation. Who would have thought that an 'extinct bird can tell us so much about the quirks of the human mind?"--Dr. Norbert Schwarz, University of Southern California
"Whether the 'extinct' Ivory-billed Woodpecker really survived in the swamps of southern Arkansas might unleash passionate debates only among diehard bird lovers like myself, but Woody's Last Laugh turns an arcane discussion between specialists into a fascinating, witty and easily understandable demonstration of how our very human passions can tempt serious scientists to make avoidable errors in judgment. This book is definitely not just for birders."--Jacques Pitteloud, Swiss Ambassador to the United States of America