Science Reading Guides

The Case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Did you know that scientific journal articles follow a particular structure? Whether or not the basic parts are labeled with section headings, scientific articles include an Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion. This reading guide will help you identify the parts of the article and focus on the authors’ main points as you learn about the “The Case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.”

At approximately 1:30 in the afternoon on February 11, 2004, Gene Sparling spotted a large black and white woodpecker while kayaking on a rural bayou in Monroe County, Arkansas. The notes he posted to his website about the sighting caught the attention of Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison, two university researchers, and triggered a year-long research effort that resulted in the publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science. The link below gives free access to this research article.

Fitzpatrick et al. (2005) "Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America," Science 308:1460-1462.

Figure 1: A picture of the cover of Science from June 3, 2005.

image ©American Association for the Advancement of Science/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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Reading Guide

To learn more about scientific writing, including how research papers are organized, how they are reviewed, and how they contribute to our understanding of the scientific world, read the article and then try the exercise below.

Article Format

  1. Indicate where in the article the Introduction section ends and the Materials and Methods section begins. Explain why you choose this point in the article.
  2. Indicate where in the article the Materials and Methods section ends and the Results section begins. Explain why you choose this point in the article.
  3. Indicate where in the article the Results section ends and the Discussion section begins. Explain why you choose this point in the article.

Article Content

  1. What is the hypothesis proposed by the authors of the article?
  2. Quality scientific research commonly includes a discussion of a "null" hypothesis, an alternative hypothesis that may be true if the main hypothesis proves incorrect. What is the null hypothesis in this article with respect to the data discussed?
  3. What evidence do the researchers present to support their hypothesis?
  4. How is the data presented graphically? How do these visual representations help the interpretation of the article?
  5. Is the hypothesis presented in the research article now a proven fact?

To learn more about the ivory-billed woodpecker, visit the Rediscovering the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker page at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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