Friday, 28 May 2010

Scientific Proof: Show Me the Coin Fairies

In the last (?) of a consecutive series of four posts on "ancient coins" on his so-called "Ancient Coin" blog called, notably "Looting: The Essence of the Lie", vindictive Californian coin dealer Dave Welsh accuses me of deceit:
it is in every respect justifiable to declare that the whole attack upon private collecting is nothing more than a lie.
I suggest that the ACCG should buy each of the people who write on their behalf a dictionary and encourage them to use it. Welsh is illogical here. A lie is of course the deliberate use of a falsehood. Welsh claims there is no "scientific proof" of the connection between indiscriminate collecting (which is what I am writing about here) and looting. He himself argues that to say there is - as I clearly do - is therefore a belief; a belief he does not share. A devout Catholic may tell an atheist that when a Catholic dies, they will go to Heaven and sit among the angels singing "gloria gloria in eccelsis", or when they pray they are talking to an invisible all-knowing being who lives in the sky. Would it be a correct use of English for the atheist to accuse the Catholic of telling a "lie"?
(answer for those who - in ex-Minister Lammy's words - "feel challenged by formal education": No)

Welsh boldly asserts that I am a "liar" because:
No one has ever advanced scientifically valid evidence demonstrating that private collecting of antiquities actually causes looting. If Mr. Barford desires to establish that point, he would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that his views are sustained by evidence conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic.

Well, I prefer to see this in terms of the argumentation which predicts that up there in the sky, between us and the Divine, are things called 'black holes'. So down here on earth in "Corner A" we have holes dug in archaeological sites and the physical evidence shows observers that they are the traces left by artefact hunting (looting). The evidence from those caught red-handed shows that the items being sought are things like cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, flint tools, statues, knocked off bits of figures and figurines (heads especially). Over in "Corner B" are dealers and collectors anxious to get their hands on artefacts precisely like those dug up by the looters and not terribly bothered about asking for the collecting histories or provenance of items that they are offered by the middlemen who supply them.

Mr Welsh would have us believe that between "Corner A" and "Corner B" is something that acts as a black hole. This means that any looted artefacts are sucked into it without a trace and none of them reach the other side to the people waiting in Corner B. Being an engineer, maybe Welsh can construct some kind of scientific model that explains the nature of the Black Hole between corners A and B of the Looting-Collecting continuum. Also we need some kind of a (parallel Universe?) explanation of the materialisation of artefacts in Corner B, despite the proximity of an artefact-attracting black hole. Why are they too not sucked into the Black Hole? Why do they behave differently in the presence of the Black Hole from the artefacts obtained by illicit means that are disappearing into it without a trace? Do they have some metaphysical qualities that prevent this, some aura that we can measure?

This is a great mystery, and I think we all look forward to the antiquity dealers' further elucidation of the Black Hole phenomenon. I hope it's a better one than the Coin Fairies which is the model that has been employed since Petrarch's day. Let us see a proper explanation of what happens to all those looted artefacts, commensurate with the realities of the twenty-first century in which we live today.

If however the dealers of the ACCG are incapable of advancing "scientifically valid evidence" demonstrating that the indiscriminate private collecting of antiquities does not in fact cause the digging over of "productive" sites to obtain them, then I would say that they are just playing on the emotions of collectors who want to shut their eyes to the implications of accepting the other point of view to avoid accepting responsibility for their own actions.

If ACCG dealers desire to establish that indiscriminate private collecting of antiquities does not in fact cause the digging over of "productive" sites to obtain them, they would do well to take to heart the advice of their own representative, Mr Welsh. They would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that such views are refuted (falsified in Popperian terms) by evidence obtained conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic. No unexplained "black holes", no "it was not me, it was them miss", no "coin fairies". Where are the looted artefacts, if not secreted away behind the scenes in a multitude of scattered ephemeral personal collections of no-questions-asked collectors? Where are they Mr Welsh?

Well of course the lack of openness, accountability and transparency in the trade and among secretive collectors is not going to help collectors' lobbyists rebuff the accusations, maybe the ACCG should start by urging more transparency so that the public in general (the real stakeholders in the heritage) can verify that what is said about indiscriminate collecting is (or is not) true. Hiding things away can only reinforce the impression that dealers and collectors have something to hide, even if it is only reprehensible indifference to matters of the collecting history and origins of objects on the trade.

Vignette: an artist's impression of the coin fairy postulated by collectors to explain the otherwise inexplicable disappearance of looted artefacts in the "it was not me" model (by IceMaiden71)

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