The Honey-buzzard Review of 2003-2005
Part 6: A Conflict of Interest and Data Manipulation
A well publicised review of Honey-buzzard records was made by the Northumberland County Records Committee (NCRC) in 2003-2005 (see Birds in Northumbria 2004, pages 223, 224-225). This is the sixth part of a review of the review.
Previous (Part 5)
One of the worst scenarios in a tense scientific debate is that one of the protagonists manages to secure the authorship of a prestige publication and biases the data and analysis in favour of their point of view.
This happened in 2015 with the Scarce Migrants Report in British Birds: Part I, non-passerines, 108(3) 126-157; Part II, passerines, 108(4) 192-219; authors Steve White and Chris Kehoe, the latter a significant contributor to the Honey-buzzard review by NCRC (Review, part 5). There was a conflict of interest for Chris Kehoe, between writing an objective account for posterity or manipulating the account to preserve his stance on the status of the Honey-buzzard in Britain. Unfortunately, faced with this conflict of interest, Chris Kehoe chose the latter course, producing an account which very much underplayed the extent of Honey-buzzard migration in Britain. Worse the manipulated data is then analysed graphically to attempt to show a recent declining trend.
The part of the article dealing with Honey-buzzard is reproduced here p.132 p.133. NR wrote an email to the Editor of British Birds on 27/03/15 objecting to the treatment and received a prompt response on 31/03/15.
The basic points of objection to the article were:
The graph (Figure 6) in the Honey-buzzard account (BB 108 pp.138-139) was published omitting the two most important years for migration, those for 2000 and 2008.
The impression given to the casual reader is that these years were blanks for Honey-buzzard.
Although for the Annual means 1986-2012 you find a much higher figure for the period 2000-2009 than for the previous decade 1990-1999, nowhere in the text is this mentioned.
The problem in not publishing the base data in full is compounded by an analysis being done on the graph, minus the years 2000 and 2008, to draw a line which attempts to show a trend with recent declines.
For no other species (passerine or non-passerine) in the 2 articles are data values omitted for a year.
While the editor defended the article in principle, he did concede that the next article in the series would carry the graph with annual totals in full. I have some doubts about the editor's claim “In terms of trying to explain, or at least describe, the large influxes in the two years concerned, we have covered these pretty thoroughly in BB in the past”. There has been no substantive treatment of the Honey-buzzard movements in 2000 and 2008 in BB, although there have been a few cursory remarks as to an incursion or an influx.
NR views this latest development with great concern. Not only do we have the suppression of Honey-buzzard records due to a corrupt review, we now also have the manipulation of the records that do exist in an attempt to downplay their significance.
To be continued