In many ways I have a brain that works well for science. I like questions that arise from observation, and I like puzzles. I like to think I have an ability to think critically, but I might just be kidding myself. I certainly like reality, just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean we have to make something up to explain it.
Had I not been a member of the RCMP I might just have completed a degree in zoology and gone on from there, it was my second career choice. But luckily the RCMP hired me and I didn't continue on. Now that I have some time on my hands, I'm really looking forward to spring migration, because there are some burning questions I have about bird life up here, and I'd like to help contribute to the collection of data on birds, and help some real scientists by recording observations of the breeding birds of the Arctic Bay area.
But the point of this post is that I'm not a scientist, I lack the training and the more importantly how to properly research the papers of research that has gone on before. Because of that I missed some pretty important stuff when I wrote about Semipalmated Plovers and Common Ringed Plovers and polymorphism amongst them.
Oh, much of the main point I wanted to make, that species are more a continuum and often confound our best efforts to put them in neat little boxes, is still valid. But I made a lot of a paper from 1968 by Neal G. Smith on Polymorphism in Plovers on eastern Baffin Island. Now that I've looked a little further I find that there were serious questions raised about Smith's research.
Smith was primarily researching gulls that field season, and much of his research from that year forms the basis of Thayer's Gulls being a species separate from Iceland Gulls. His research, which he showed that the gulls do not interbreed, still can be found in textbooks. It is still quoted in the arguement that Thayer's are their own species when in fact they are probably another form of Iceland Gull (again confounding our best attempts to wedge species into places we'd like). He came upon his research on the plovers that I quoted in my other post by accident. Travelling between colonies of gulls he noted the two plovers beginning their breeding season and decided to make detailed observations. These observations and his collections resulted in this paper.
Questions arose almost immediately about Smith's study, notably by Sutton who was an experienced Arctic ornithologist. But the most serious questions were raised by Snell, who showed that it was impossible for Smith to travel to all of the colonies he said he did because of ice conditions, and have time to complete all of the protocols he stated he had. Smith's reply basically was that his papers contained errors, but that he data was solid and the conclusions were still valid. The plover study was not only tainted by the gull study, but questions also arose as Smith had not yet arrived at the location when some of the data was "collected".
Whether his conclusions on plovers are valid or not I can't say. It would be a very interesting study (to my mind) for someone to take on and duplicate, to refute or prove it. As far as I know that hasn't been done. The two species of plover have breeding areas that overlap only in a very small area in Baffin Island (apparently bigger than was previously thought). But it is safe to say that Smith's study on the matter is not the definitive answer to the question of polymorphism amongst the two species.
Science is a human endeavor, and as such is subject to our human foibles. Scientists sometimes fall prey to their biases and sometimes they are more seriously miscreant in their actions. But those who battle against science and logic and use this as fodder to show that science is wrong miss a very important point. In order to be considered "science" premises and conclusions need to tested. And they are. They are reviewed, questioned, tested and where they are found wanting, they are shown to be as such. Even a non-scientist like me can see that that is a much better way of figuring out the ways of our world.