Feathers fly as row over Oxford pigeon research edges closer to court

November 5, 2004

Researchers from two of the top ten universities in today's global ranking may be drawn into a legal battle over the flying habits of homing pigeons.

The Times Higher reported in February that Oxford University zoologist Tim Guilford had been accused of failing to properly credit a Zurich research team when he reported on BBC television's Animal Camera show that homing pigeons use the road network to navigate.

A Zurich University team pioneered the research with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The Swiss team said that Dr Guilford failed to acknowledge that the discovery was made at Zurich and that he had used their technology for his research.

An internal inquiry at Oxford cleared Dr Guilford of any wrongdoing. But this week, Kurt Reimann, secretary-general of Zurich University, said that questions "which remain open" would be published on the university's website.

He said: "Dr Guilford took the findings on homing pigeons... to the media without previously having published his own work in a scientific journal and without crediting research that has been carried out by other scientists."

Oxford argues that when Dr Guilford participated in the BBC programme, he had supervised a PhD thesis that publicly discussed the findings and had a refereed article due to be published.

An Oxford spokeswoman said there had been no reply to Zurich's document because the university was still expecting a retraction and apology for the claims.

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