The golden-cheeked warbler sits just a few centimeters high and weighs 15 grams. But the diminutive Texas songbird is causing an outsize political flap, from courthouses to the pages of an academic journal. At stake are the fate of an endangered species, land development plans worth millions of dollars—and scientific reputations.
A long-running saga over whether the warbler deserves legal protection took an unexpected twist this month, when a scientific journal reinstated a study showing alarmingly low bird numbers, which the journal editor had previously said should be retracted for plagiarism. The Journal of Field Ornithology republished the controversial paper alongside three separate commentaries in which dueling research teams trade allegations of sinister motives, censorship, and misuse of data. And the journal editor admits he is publishing the paper now against his better judgement.
The editor, Gary Ritchison, a biologist at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, told Science he reversed his 2016 decision to retract the paper after taking advice from lawyers at the journal’s publisher Wiley and the Council on Publication Ethics, a global advisory body based in the United Kingdom. “I think this is the end of it,” he says.