Saturday, 22 November 2014

Why Use PAS Database if There is No Control on Data Quality?

Heritage Action's weekend post on metal detecting raises an interesting question concerning 'PAS’s Piggery pokery database' (23/11/2014) and the key issue of the veracity of findspot data recorded there at public expense. I have constantly raised this issue on my blog- and the clear potential for the database to be used to 'launder' findspots (and the demonstration that people have been caught trying to do this a number of times in the past - how many times have people not been detected?). My guess is the PAS will not be answering Heritage Action as per usual - even though it concerns the fundamental issue of data hygiene. The issue is as Professor David Gill has just asked: “How far can we trust the information supplied with the reported objects? Are these largely reported or “said to be” findspots?". It is notable that, although the L:ooting Matters blog should be required reading for all involved professionally in portable antiquities, his question too was ignored by the PAS. As HA say:
It’s a highly pertinent question for in recent years PAS has increasingly promoted the benefits of its database to academic researchers (and ergo of itself to its funders of course). The “trust” issue that Professor Gill is alluding to is the practice of find spot falsification. It is normally presented as being something only nighthawks would do, in order to cover their tracks. But actually there’s a possibility it’s far more common than that. Because there’s a complete range of “shares” agreed between detectorists and landowners there’s a lot of money to be made by changing your account of where you found something. Bearing in mind this “fibbery” as we have previously termed it can be massively lucrative and impossible to detect, it’s hard to think it doesn’t happen rather a lot. 
Readers will find a number of cases mentioned on this blog for example here: 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: The Farmer Never Gets to see the Good Stuff'. Heritage Action illustrate it very well with the brilliant graphic device of "a theoretical page from the diary of non-nighthawk Baz Thugwit":

"page from the diary of non-nighthawk
Baz Thugwit" (courtesy of Heritage Action)
This shows how the detectorist "earned himself an extra £750 that day (and of course distorted the PAS database) simply by driving down the motorway".  Now there is volunteer public self-recording well away from the controlling eye of the Finds Liaison Officer vetting the process:
Not that he even needed to do that for you can make loads of dosh in 3 seconds flat by telling a tiny lie to PAS online while sitting at home. How often does it happen? Dunno. You could ask PAS – but they haven’t the foggiest either. Hence, there’s no answer at all to the question “how far can we trust the information supplied?” 
To what extent is one, when using the PAS database for any purpose, buying a pig in a poke? All this could STOP tomorrow, if the PAS were to insist metal detectorists bring a finds release form signed by the landowner showing title to the individual objects brought in for recording. Why, actually, aren't they doing this now? 

How long do you think PAS can go on avoiding answering pertinent questions about what it is and is not doing at public expense? 

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