Tuesday 22 May 2012

Sisyphus and the Troll on the Gate of the Digital Divide (II): Accountability

To return to the allegation from the British Museum about "digital trolls" who persist in discussing the Portable Antiquities Scheme, even though they closed  down the forum in an attempt to shut off such comment:

The speaker bemoans the fact that people (who he dismisses solely as "trolls") are discussing the Scheme in places OTHER than "internet forums hosted by metal detecting [organizations]". However much the British Museum (logo at the top) would like everybody except their staff and supporters to shut up, that surely is what access to information is all about.

As a result of the discussion shifting outside the media controlled by the PAS and "metal detectorists", the speaker complains "We are subject to blog posts....". Well that's a shame. Imagine that, people having thoughts about a public scheme expressed in a form that the Scheme cannot control. People writing independently about their perceptions about the Scheme and what it is doing. 

"....blog posts that contain many inaccuracies". Oh, well, no - that should not be happening. Probably the problem is that the information used is coming from publicly available sources. Where this is incomplete, ambiguous or plain wrong, then any interpretation based on them is only as reliable as what it is forced to use as a source. I have commented many times on the lack of proper information from the Scheme that can be used to examine more than the narrow themes it apparently wishes people to focus upon.  Obviously the way to avoid this is more transparency and for the Scheme to provide fuller and more explicit information in a format more conducive to analysis in the first place. Certainly, people like myself or David Gill writing about the PAS (or anything else) cite the source of the information used, and readers can go back to it and check it out for themselves. If what we say is wrong, the attentive reader will discover that.

A public Scheme, financed from the public purse should indeed - like any organization - be aware  of what is said about it, and if the impression being created is a false one, react and set the record straight. I do not think it too hard to set up some kind of alert system to find out when and where the PAS is discussed in the public forum. The PAS has not just one member of staff, it has forty or so, all of whom are computer literate, and able to inform the public about the PAS (that is after all precisely what their JOB is). The British Museum also has a Press and Public relations office, which the PAS uses with great alacrity in other situations, why not in presenting the PAS (now British Museum) position on some of the issues raised, like to what degree the PAS protects the archaeological record (Gill and Heritage Action) and where this "partnership" with collectors of archaeological artefacts is going (Barford, Anderson)?

What happened when there was a forum discussion on a recent text by David Gill in PIA? Did the PAS engage with it, or did they dismiss and ignore his comments? Is he too a "troll"?

I would suggest that a responsibility that goes with spending 14 million pounds of public money to do ARCHAEOLOGICAL outreach to the British public, is to account fully for how that money was spent and what its actual effects are. That includes addressing, in much more detail than the PAS at present do, the concerns of their critics instead of merely hoping vainly that if they ignore them long enough, the issues will go away.

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