Wednesday, 7 January 2015

News of Upcoming PAS Database and Website Changes

If anyone’s interested in forthcoming PAS website changes, here’s some details of what was discussed at the 2014 PAS Christmas meeting. This includes a mention of those Heritage Lottery Fund "volunteers". It seems (pp. 41-2) that there will be two levels of data access for them. Some of them will be "editing data for [FLOs]" while others will be "recording data for [sic] clubs" - this is not only a "data protection nightmare" (p. 43) but also means that instead of outreach on best practice by professional and experienced PAS staff (not that we see much of that going on recently), finders in "clubs" (presumably metal detecting rather than rose-growers' ones are meant) are going to have first contact with these "volunteers". Yet the Scheme still has not been clarified from where this pool of "volunteers" is being drawn. They may well have in mind "citizen archaeologists" like Mr Abbott down in Brighton.

I note a bit (p. 7) where it specifically warns FLOs of PAS policy not to put anything in the database or any other PAS internal document - even the hidden bits - which "casts doubt on the integrity of finders" (as if!). This is to prevent the finders doing an FOI (and I personally know of at least two cases where this has happened) and getting information they can use against the author (actually, as I understand it, in UK law in some cases, it is the publisher that is liable). This means though that the record is constantly being bowdlerised and information like "I suspect he might be lying about where this find comes from, treat with caution" will consistently be omitted through self-censorship. This rather weakens the ability of the FLO to even weigh up the various undocumented claims about circumstances of finding brought in by finders anxious to get their object legitimised by being included on the PAS database. Indeed, it weakens the incentive to even bother, as now the only thing an FLO can do is refuse to put an object they are suspicious of onto the database (we saw an example of that a few years ago with an infamous coin - which seems still not to be in the database). But in that case, to avoid the same legal problems, they cannot say to the finders face why. A really unsatisfactory solution - and one that would in part be resolved by requiring finders to show documentation that a specific landowner has relinquished ownership (or shares in ownership) of that object to the finder who brings it in for recording.  In other words documentation that the find being entered on the database is of licit origins.

In addition, though it is not clear (pp 27-34), it looks like hoards are now coming off the database into their own - good  (#PAS Milliongate). Now what about sorting out the mixing of other compulsorily-reported Treasure and voluntarily-reported non-Treasure data in the same database so we can assess how effective the policies concerning best practice and finders actually is? Let's see if they cannot give us a tab to sort out:
Data origins:
Artefact hunting, non-treasure items voluntarily reported (they came to me)
Artefact hunting, non-treasure items voluntarily reported (I went to them)
Other non-treasure items voluntarily reported.
They have been consistently hiding these data since Nigel Swift and I started a public discussion of them over on Britarch a decade or more ago. It is well past the time for the PAS to 'fess up and allow the non-collecting public (whose heritage PAS-'partners' are using up) to more easily search the database from the point of view of the effectiveness of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting.

[UPDATE Nigel Swift points out something I'd missed - there'll now be a section on "Archaeological context data quality" of hoards. That will be interesting - and how can they do that honestly in some cases without writing negatively of some finders?]

Note the database will be down 21st January -28th January but will emerge shinier, faster (?) and colourful, and easier for the 'partners' to read.


Dont Do It said...

Due to goverment policy on "encouraging" all departments both central and local to rely on "volunteers" to run core services. Dont expect the PAS to exist in its current state for much longer. I have it on good authority that the main database was written over 10 years ago and hasnt been fully updated in the last 7. One part time techy has to try to sort the bugs on this delapidated programme. Fit for purpose I think not.

Paul Barford said...

At the time of writing, TWO members of staff are maintaining the database which "good authority" of not is daily updated. But no, I do not expect the PAS to last much longer in it present form, and it never really was fit for the purpose of introducing best practice among oiks (who two decades later have less idea about what that is than when it started) and mitigate the bulk of the information loss through artefact hunting, it barely scraped 20% of the losses when the funding was there. Time for a rethink of the whole policy.

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