Sunday, 8 September 2019

Creating a Good Impression: PAS Statistics are not what they seem (1)

What was the PAS database set up to do?  Wikipedia has this to say:
In March 1996, during the run-up to the passing of the new Treasure Act, what was then the Department of National Heritage (DNH) (now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)) published Portable Antiquities. A discussion document. The aim of this document was to complement the impending Treasure Act, address the issue of non-treasure archaeological finds and to propose solutions for dealing with these. The general response to the DNH’s proposals was that the recording of all archaeological finds was important and that a consistent voluntary scheme to record finds should be established. As a result, in December 1996, the DNH announced that funding would be provided for two years for a programme of six pilot schemes, starting in September 1997.
The rest is history, even though '1984'-like, that history is altered by selective removal of information from the Internet. Paper however remains. Here's Roger Bland in 2008:
The document set out proposals for a voluntary scheme for the reporting of finds that fall outside the scope of the 1996 Treasure Act and sought views. All those who responded agreed that the recording of all archaeological finds was important and that there was a need to improve the current arrangements, and they stressed that this could not be done without additional resources. For the first time there was a consensus among both archaeologists and detector users that a voluntary scheme offered the best way forward [...] The principal aim of the Scheme is to arrest the large level of archaeological information lost every year by actively recording this material on a systematic basis for public benefit [...]  we will all be the losers if we fail to record their finds
But of course the record of Treasure finds is assured by law. Then there is this from Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism) 22 January 2008,
I cannot conclude a speech on the treasure system without also paying tribute to the excellent role that is played by the PAS. This scheme runs parallel to the treasure system and provides a network, as hon. Members have suggested, through which non-treasure material discovered by amateur archaeologists and other enthusiasts can be identified and recorded. The finder gets to find out more about her or his discovery; a bank of information is built up for the benefit of everyone through the publicly accessible database, and the finds can be displayed and interpreted for the benefit of the public [...] That is a really wonderful thing and represents a marvellous step forward in the democratisation of the study of our past.
and not just grabby artefact hunters and collectors. Cambridge seems not to have heard by 2014 that you are no expected to bowdlerise the account and pretend the Scheme was always there not to be a specific kind of record, but just to be a public showcase of everything they can get their hands on:
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a national initiative funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and host organisations. The scheme is based at the British Museum and was set up to work with - and extended - the 1996 Treasure Act by recording non-treasure finds made by members of the public.
So, despite what is happening now, the PAS was set up to deal only with non-Treasure finds made by members of the public, as the Treasure items by law are dealt with (and reported) under a different system. But the problem was that the 'success rate' was not big enough to impress. So, quietly, and without any public debate the PAS decided to quietly include Treasure items on the PAS database, which duplicates their report elsewhere under the Treasure Act (and apart from anything else uses up resources set aside for the PAS). This is just a cynical manner of adjusting' the statistics to make it look as if the PAS is having more success getting 'voluntary' reporting from artefact hunters.

Ask them how much and you'll find out that they have been contacted by "14000 metal detector users and others" (Bland, Lewis et al 2017, p. 112). Note that "and others" and then take into account that this was over a 20-year period (and in those statistics, compiled perhaps from annual reports, is the same detectorist coming to the Scheme once a year for three years and met once at a rally counted once, or four times?)

To be continued: Creating a Good Impression: PAS Statistics are not what they seem (2)

Roger Bland, Michael Lewis, Daniel Pett, Ian Richardson, Katherine Robbins and Rob Webley 2017, ‘The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales’, pp. 107-121 [in:] Gabriel Moshenska (ed.) Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, London (UCL) DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1vxm8r7.12

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