Statistics in the News: Chapter 3 Finding
Existing Data: From Print to the Internet
Counting Birds at the Grass Roots
Have you ever asked yourself how scientists take a census
of birds, butterflies, and other elusive creatures of nature?
For many decades, they relied on little more than anecdotal
evidence supplied by amateur naturalists whose notebooks happened
to have recorded a strange abundance of hawks or salamanders
at one place and time or a paucity of red headed woodpeckers
and tiger swallowtail butterflies at another.
But recently some nature professionals have begun to turn
these censuses into a "citizen science," making use of the
personal computer and the Internet. Thus, John W. Fitzpatrick
(Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology), Frank
Gill (Director of Science at the National Audubon Society),
and Jeffrey Glassberg (President of the North American Butterfly
Association) have been instrumental in creating interactive
online databases where anyone can enter relevant information
and instantly see it displayed. Similar to the famous Audubon
Christmas Bird Count (which has been with us for a century
and has recorded the expansion of grackles and the decline
of quail in North America), these new projects attempt to
take censuses of elusive subjects.
There is Project Pigeon Watch, Project Feeder Watch, and,
above all, the Great Backyard Bird Count that encourages everyone
to keep an eye on neighborhoods and enter sightings on computers.
To look at the results, visit http://www.birdsource.org
(for birds) or http://www.naba.org
(for butterflies) or explore some of the organizers' sites,
as at http://www.audubon.org
Source: Adapted from James Gorman, "Counting Birds
at the Grass Roots," The New York Times, December 13,
2001, pp. F1 and 8.
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