Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Should the rules change for rare sightings?

RedpollOK, I now think that the 'Waxwing' I mentioned yesterday was actually a Redpoll (pic right). The reason is that I heard the same call in exactly the same place as before but this time I saw the bird, albeit distantly. It looked much more like a Redpoll than a Waxwing. Now for me, that is pretty much all the evidence I need to say I'm 99% convinced, given that both species are exceedingly rare in the area. But suppose we were talking about a ghost sighting instead!

Let's stay with the bird sighting for now, though. I could say, the two birds MIGHT be different species and the fact that the call sounded the same each time was a coincidence. Similarly, the fact that they both turned up in just the same place a short period apart, despite both being rare in the vicinity, was also mere coincidence. So we cannot say for SURE that the first bird was a Redpoll, even if the second one was. However, most birders would probably accept that the evidence suggested that it was highly likely that the original 'Waxwing' was actually a Redpoll.

I've had discussions just like this one about ghost sightings, as I'm sure some readers have too. An investigator discovers a misperception at the exact location where a ghost sighting took place and it looks just like the description given by the witness (see here for instance). But this doesn't mean for SURE that the original ghost sighting was a misperception, it COULD just be a coincidence. Thus, to some people, there remains a 'distinct possibility' that the ghost was truly paranormal.

So when we are talking about birds, the witness would probably accept that the second sighting solves the mystery. But with a ghost, the witness may well think the mystery still unresolved. What is the difference? It would appear to be the 'psychological value' placed on a ghost sighting, compared to a bird. To be mistaken about seeing a fairly rare bird is disappointing. To be mistaken about seeing a paranormal phenomenon is much harder to take. This is perfectly understandable. However the method being used to identify the bird/ghost is much the same, so logically it should be applied equally to both cases.

I have, on occasion, missed certain rare birds that I will almost certainly never now see. It hurts! I've even tried to convince myself that a poor distant sighting of a bird is one that I really wanted to see. In reality, I know there is insufficient evidence to rule out other similar common species.

The fact that you really want something to be true doesn't alter the evidence for whether it is or not. I'd love to meet a ghost I could actually have a discussion with but, after many years looking, I doubt it's ever going to happen.

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