Monday, 1 September 2014

Pointing out Propagandist Fallacy 'Negativity', or the Only Realistic Basis for Discussing an Issue?

Time is Running Out
There are two types of material about artefact hunting and antiquities collecting on the Internet:
1)  There is a large number of websites and blogs presenting the hobbies and commerce in the best light possible. Dealers deny that anything they are doing is in any way damaging at all, indeed beneficial, any restrictions which anyone my ever think of placing on the free no-questions-asked trade is ill-advised, likely to be ineffective and downright unconstitutional. In the UK metal detectorists are the same on their forums there are names not-to-be-mentioned, things not-to-be-discussed, topics which must-be-presented-in-a-certain way and so on. They may deny it goes on, but we all see it. We see the evidence of the whitewash.
2) So, there are other websites and blogs which aim to fill in the gaps left by the whitewash and spin and furthermore alert people to it. This blog is just one of a number of resources which aims to do precisely that. This second type of blog is an expression of concern that the 'spin' is not enough to get the full picture, and like anything else only a wider view of the problem than that presented by the spin-doctors can be a basis for discussion and decision-making.

One of the spin-doctors, intent on promoting a certain image of artefact hunting in the UK is John Winter. For detectorists in general it seems that the concept of intellectual honesty is a foreign notion. Detectorist John Winter does not want to discuss certain issues (see here too, and here), does not want people to learn about the existence of other opinions about what he and his mates are doing, thinks metal detectorists superior to professional archaeologists, says he's less 'gullible' than those who respect professionals, he suggests all archaeologists are stupid to boot, does not believe artefact hunters [taking thousands of non-Treasure archaeological items for their personal collections] owe the rest of us any kind of explanation, believes in blocking free access to information for all about metal detecting, and topped it all off by writing of preservationist concerns in a text entitled "the Amazing Talking A**hole" full of insult and four-letter words. Mr Winter has the gall to accuse others of 'negativity'.

After presenting a biogram of a Framlingham, Suffolk, metal detectorist ('John Brassey : Author and Metal Detectorist', 1 September 2014) and mentioning that he'd just published a novel (available here on Amazon, check out the information on the author and his blog) John Winter, a propos of nothing,  has this to say to his readers:
In some circles [...] all metal detectorists are viewed as ignorant, rough and bad-mannered louts. Like many others of our ilk, John disproves that erroneous perception. I wonder if the most vociferous amongst them can put a negative spin on this blog post?
What I presume he means by that is, place the information he presents in some sort of a context. The existence of one, a dozen, John Brasseys in a community of maybe 16000 "disproves" nothing about the majority.

Look for yourselves. All along, I have been urging my readers to join a few UK metal detecting forums and read some blogs to see what UK metal detectorists think and say. Let's list a random few of them (the figures for 'a=' 'activity' refer to the 'most users online at the same time' statistic):
UK and European MD Forum [open access] (6412 members, a=1844)
Detecting Scotland [open access] (1305 members, a=385)
Central Searchers Metal Detecting Forum [restricted access] (939 members a=234)
UK Detecting Network Forum [restricted access] ( 6958 members, a=171)
Detecting Wales [open access] (2688 members, a=146) [restricted access] (3487 members, a=125)
UKDFD Forum [restricted access] (3099 members, a=102)
Toddy's Detecting forum [open access] (1122 members, a=58)
British Metal Detecting [restricted access] (1997 members, a=50)
NCMD Forum [restricted access] (429 members, a=42)
Tony Robinson's Pants, (UK metal detectorist's blog)
Malamute Saloon (UK detectorist's blog)
Andy's Metal Detecting blog (UK detectorist's blog)
Janner's Metal Detecting blog (UK detectorist's blog)
Antiquities and Heritage Issues (UK metal detectorist's blog)
Detecting England [open access] (135 members, a=17)
Rally UK Forum (vanished, archived posts in Google).
Minelab Owners Forum
[open access] (not exclusively UK), (11049 [12,763?] members, activity ??)
If you have not done so, pick a few at random, and browse through them. Almost every UK code of practice tells artefact hunters that they are "ambassadors to the hobby". That's what you see them doing on their forums and blogs. That is the way reader can judge what they see on the forums. Most of them have moderators who remove stuff which they don't want outsiders to see or discuss (note how many have restricted access anyway).

Assuming that the majority of UK metal detectorists are well-read, articulate, ex-grammar school ex-banker types, living in the stockbroker belt is to miss the point entirely. To judge from the forums (and I urge the reader to do so and then consider the consequences) we cannot expect a "one size fits all"approach to apply to all engaged in artefact hunting. It was David Lammy (he of the "unsung heroes of Heritage" claim) who pointed out that most of the users of the PAS came from social groups C2 and D and were "challenged by formal education". Those were his words.

The problem is that we are asked to believe that the PAS is recording information which can be used as "data" for increasing knowledge about the past, for archaeological research and management of the historical resource. That is the whole justification of spending millions of pounds on the PAS (which today enters its eighteenth year of operation). Yet the quality of any archaeological data depends on how it is observed in the contexts of deposition and discovery. That's why archaeologists spend years training themselves/getting trained to make such observations and record them. 

It is easy to show that in UK metal detecting there are poster-boy detectorists capable of doing things 'by the book', the PAS shows them off regularly. Dave Crisp was one, another (an ex-pastor) has done an archaeology degree at Bristol, Steve Broom was another. The problem is there are a large number of detectorists ill-equipped to do anything by the book for the simple reason that they do not really understand what the words mean, why they are there, and why they should even have to bother about what they say. Yeas as somebody pointed out in the Guardian yesterday:
yes there is a Portable Antiquities Scheme that records finds on private and public property, but how is this helpful to archaeologists if whatever is extracted from the ground is not properly documented in its precise context?
Who is going to do that precise documentation, why and how if the aim is just to hoik goodies out for collection or turning into cash? The intellectual level of the majority of the people doing the artefact hunting, the extraction of archaeological data from the ground is an important factor (PACHI, 13 June 2014, 'The Intellect of Detector Users and its Implications for "Partnership"...'). It has a direct relevance to assessing the value of that information. It is rather disturbing that only now, more than a decade and a half into the PAS are we beginning to see some proper studies of the reliability, meaning, and limitations of the PAS 'data' (Walton, Brindle, Robbins).  Simply presenting a view that all metal detector users are the intellectual equals of the PAS poster-boys is missing the point, and avoiding discussion of a very serious issue in UK policies of "outreach" and data collection.

Now, I am sure that those whose interest is in avoiding any kind of discussion of the realia of artefact hunting and collecting in the UK will regard that as "negativism". That really is of no concern of mine., My concern is that we get people to see these phenomena for what they are, not how a destructive and erosive hobby's propagandists would like them to be. Take a look at the metal detecting forums listed above - and any other you may care to find and make your own minds up.

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