Sunday, 4 March 2018

Examining the 'Karl/Moller Premise'

This is a continuation of the discussion of the text of Bangor University academics, Raimund Karl and Katharina Möller on: 'Per capita numbers of metal detectorists in a British-German comparison'  [an English version of  Karl, R., Möller, K. 2016. Empirische Untersuchung des Verhältnisses der Anzahl von MetallsucherInnen im deutsch-britischen Vergleich. Oder: wie wenig Einfluss die Gesetzeslage hat. Archäologische Informationen 39, 215-226.

Let us look at these 'data' they produced. I am not particularly concerned about the German and Austrian figures, this is not an area I have studied in any detail. I note that Karl and Möller admit that Karl's earlier estimates about this were wrong (which I said on this blog at the time). I am more interested in what they say about the number of  'metal detectorists' engaged in the Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in the UK: 
Thomas (2011, 57) for instance, has estimated that in 2006, there were about 12,000-14,000 active metal detectorists in England and Wales [...] , the only reasonably ‘sound’ figure is the number of registered users on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) website, which in 2013 was 7,538 people. Of those, 815 had full research access privileges and thus, presumably, were mostly professional archaeologists, with 6,723 users remaining who, presumably, will predominantly be metal detectorists (PAS 2013, 4). But again, that figure captures only a segment of the metal detecting community.
Eh? This is just nonsense from the start. Back in the early days, I was writing tonnes on Britarch about how these PAS figures can and cannot be interpreted, Raimund Karl was one of those discussing those posts, but it seems he has brought nothing away from the process. So according to Karl and Möller one in six detectorists will find Treasure every year (or each statistical detectorist will find Treasure every six years - that seems pretty easy to test on the basis of the information in the Treasure reports). What is odd though is that the Bangor academics do not mention Robbins' text on the PAS (Guide for researchers... August 2014, p. 14) which was out well before they started collecting material... and the PAS estimate is higher than theirs - but nota bene were not arrived at by the means Karl and Möller adopt, the fact that the PAS themselves do not rely on it, rather suggests from the beginning that there is something wrong with their line of reasoning. 

Then Karl and Möller turn their attention to social media and in particular forums. What is utterly inexplicable, even though we know that in the UK the discussion has over the past couple of years shifted away from forums to Facebook, Karl and Möller totally ignore that, and focus on the forums, and counting the registered members in particular:
These numbers show that there are two boards with about 7,000 members each, with all others considerably smaller than these two. There are 5 more with over a 1,000 members, two more with between 500-800, while from the 10th board onwards, membership numbers become negligible (these are boards of local metal detectorist clubs with hardly more than, and mostly even considerably less than a hundred members). The membership figures for the largest UK metal detecting boards thus is roughly in the same range as the numbers that the PAS mentions in 2008 for the number of metal detectorist members of metal detecting clubs known to it, that is, c. 7,000-7,500 people (PAS 2008, 14). This implies that while the PAS may not know all metal detectorists in England and Wales – even if one assumes considerable overlaps in the membership of the two largest boards and between those and the memberships of the metal detecting clubs known to the PAS, as one has to – it does know a significant percentage of them, quite possibly considerably more than half of all active metal detectorists in England and Wales
'Quite possibly'? On what is that based, apart from wishful thinking? Is that true? And what does 'know' mean here? I refer readers to the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter to (at the least) provoke thinking about what we mean by 'knowing' a metal detecting'partner'. 

I think there is one point that needs emphasizing, those two biggest UK 'boards' (sic) formed in opposition to each other, one was one of those formed when there was a shift in policy on what was then the biggest forum, and many members left (some were expelled) and other forums were set up. Karl and Möller apparently have not spent enough time on these forums to appreciate the history and significance of that, but one thing is sure, given 'tekkie tribalism' there is no way to assume considerable overlap in membership without doing a detailed comparison of actual membership data. They go on: 
There obviously are considerable differences in the numbers of members of metal detecting boards between Germany and the UK, two countries with roughly comparable population sizes (Germany c. 80 Million, UK c. 64 Million). [...]  the largest German detectorist board, with 29,818 members, turns out to still be larger than all 21 British metal detecting board memberships combined, which adds up to ‘only’ 28,537 members.
They then attempt  'correction' per capita, which produce, they say, similar results. It is still Deutschland Uber Alles:
Germany still comes out a distant first with almost double the members of such boards per capita, with even Austria – with just two boards – only registering slightly behind the UK in per capita board membership 
They seem not to notice that we cannot talk about 'metal detecting' all over the whole UK as if it was a single homogeneous whole, in Scotland and Northern Ireland there are significant differences from PAS-areas, which will affect the 'per capita' totals in ways in which those who use the euphemism 'metal detecting' will not spot. When we start talking of Collection-Driven Exploitation, the picture changes. Words matter. Then there is something really weird: 
However, it is probably best to compare just the membership numbers for the largest board in each country to get a reasonably reliable comparison of the relative sizes of their metal detecting communities [...] If one compares the per capita membership of the largest national metal detecting boards each [...] the Austrian metal detecting community would still appear to be only slightly less than twice and the German almost thrice the size of the British one.
Whoah. The number of members in a popular forum of any kind reflects the forum's popularity. The number of members of the biggest Toyota-drivers forum is not a reflection of the numbers of Toyotas on the road anywhere. 

We do not seem any closer to finding out how many active detectorists there are in the UK/England and Wales. It seems to me that the Bangor academics are giving us an answer that it is some number 'bigger than 'about seven thousand' and possibly bigger than an unknown number that is less than 28,537', which does not seem to me to be a terribly useful result of their 'methodology'. But on this basis they reckon that you can still show that 'banning metal detecting does not work', which is what they set out to do...
Where the testing of the hypothesis of a deterrent effect of restrictive regulation of metal detecting is concerned, these figures are quite decisive: they flatly contradict the prognosis derived from the hypothesis of the deterrent effect. Germany, which has taken the most restrictive approach on metal detecting, does not have the smallest per capita number of metal detectorists of the three countries compared in this study, nor does Britain, the country with the most liberal approach, have the largest. 
I have already noted that the authors' notion that there is such a formally-defined hypothesis is a fallacy. Just the same as a law against child abuse or animal cruelty does not stop these things, or even give those involved in it pause for thought ('what if I am caught?') but it does mean that the act is illegal and society can react and attempt to counteract the problem. That logical fallacy (or is it in fact manipulation?) aside, let us just note what they really mean, forum use is bigger among metal detectorists in Germany than in Britain 
Germany has by far the largest per capita number of [forum using PMB] metal detectorists of the three countries compared, despite being the most restrictive in its approach to ‘the problem’, while Britain in any such like with like-comparison seems to have the fewest [forum users PMB], and that by a sizeable (sic) margin. 
Now a reductio ad absurdum  argument:
To salvage the hypothesis of the deterrent effect [PMB: remember, the one that does not exist in the form Karl and Möller blithely postulate it does], one would have to assume quite ridiculous things, like that Germans and Austrians naturally predisposed to become habitual criminals and blatantly disregard the law, and thus engage in an activity prohibited in their countries much more than Brits engage in this activity, despite it being mostly legal in the UK. Or one would have to assume that for some unknown reason, the percentage of all British metal detectorists who use hobby-specific internet boards is considerably less than 1/3rd of the percentage of all German metal detectorists who do so; despite the fact that metal detecting is mostly legal in Britain, with very little risk involved with joining a UK metal detecting board, despite it being mostly legal in the UK , with very little risk involved with joining a UK metal detecting board, while it is mostly illegal in Germany and Austria and thus joining one with a traceable IP-address exposes everyone who does to at least some risk of prosecution. 
At least some risk? How many prosecutions have there been of metal detectorists in Germany of guys pulled in for being the member of a discussion group? If this is being used as a 'factor' then Karl and Möller need to supply statistics, but they do not. They go on:
 there is no reason to believe that British metal detectorists have entirely different habits of online board use than German or Austrian ones; nor is there any independent evidence which seems to support this. Thus, if one accepts that the number of members of ‘national’ metal detecting boards is reasonably representative of the number of metal detectorists in a given country, the results of our study can be accepted as sound and conclusive.
Here again we see the fallacious reasoning brought about by the back-slapping policies based on a PAS-'partnership', all 'these citizen-archaeologists-only-interested-in-the-past-like-us' crap. This leads Karl and Möller into thinking of these folk as a single undifferentiated group right across Europe (the Deckers Lewis, Thomas, volume did the same thing). I think there could be evidence that would lead us to think that British metal detectorists have entirely different habits of online board use than German or Austrian ones, it is just that Karl and Moller have not looked for it, I suspect this is because they assume that 'a metal detecting forum' is a 'metal detecting forum' and that's it. I think that is not necessarily the case. there is a very big difference between one archaeological forum and the next, and in particular between most/some US-based archaeological forums and most/some UK-based ones. So why should 'metal detecting forums' in two countries be the same and draw people for the same reasons?  

Regular readers will know that I am somewhat scathing about the literacy skills of the people that take up 'metal detecting' in general. This can be seen all too clearly on the forums (so, the actual evidence Karl and Möller claimed to be using). Over a decade ago, the PAS did a survey of postcode data that suggested that a substantial portion of the  'metal detectorists' (and users of PAS in general) fell into the C2 and D social groups and 'challenged by formal learning' (David Lammy). There are regional differences between the north and west and south and east, if you look at club forums, it really does seem as if there is far more oikiness over the Chilterns. But there are a huge number of barely literate and barely articulate detectorists even in the Home Counties, around the Thames estuary for instance.  The reason I attach such importance to this issue is in the treatment by the pro-collecting lobby of detectorists as capable of understanding and properly recording contexts of deposition and discovery of artefact assemblages - information which the idealists intimate will be passed on to archaeologists and be recorded. I personally hold that anybody who is incapable of recognizing and reproducing pattern in their own native language or able to cope with a text longer than eight sentences, is highly unlikely to be an adequate observer and recorder of archaeological taphonomy and patterning. 

But this has another corollary, which is significant in the context of the present discovery, anyone who has literacy issues, is likely to be put off a form of communication that is based on the written word. As parents of dyslexic kids know well. My impression is that in Britain, a case might be made that metal detecting is taken up to a large degree by people that have no patience with the written word (history books), and often are not particularly articulate or literate.This has not been studied (and that is a pity as this would be useful in creating outreach/education strategies for dealing with them) so statistics are lacking, but empirical evidence from precisely social media suggests to me that this is the case, and I've been studying tekkie social media longer and more intensively than most. 

The second thing that is notable is that the UK forums are not in fact much used for 'discussing metal detecting'. There are very few texts where some tekkie has told another off for letting the side down and saying something that is in fact not in accordance with best practice/responsible artefact hunting. Most forums lack such posts totally. Rarely are national or regional policies on artefact collecting discussed for their own sake (only reactively when something seem to 'threaten the hobby/collectors rights') . Even more seldom is discussion referring to when an 'arky' has said something and he is right, or wrong. Quite frequent is bragging, 'look at what (how much/valuable/interesting) I have found'. Even more often is 'I found this and don't know what it is, what do you guys think?' There is some chat about the tackle (boystoyz stuff about what coils they've got on what machines and settings - with a fair amount of bragging when a tekkie has a prestigious machine). But actually the vast bulk of the discourse on forums is tedious and repetitive small talk ('wottcha mate', 'I agree with Baz, got one like it meself', 'Eh, Tozzer, you going to the Effingham Rally next weekend? Pro'lly see you there if the wife lets me out LOL!!' etc.). The social aspect is paramount, its what the detectorists actually on the forums want and its what detectorists use the forums for most frequently. This then raises the question, in a country like Britain with commercial rallies and 'club digs' within an easy car drive most of the time the weather is suitable, and other means of socializing (phones, SMS, Skype etc), can one assume that the forums have such a huge draw to UK detectorists if they are not used to discuss 'detecting' as such as often as the 'citizen archaeologist' model would predict?  And what about all those who look in and see its boring repetitive chit chat about nothing (or a flame war on which coil is best on wet pasture) and simply walk away?

Are German forums the same? I do not know. What is the social profile of the metal detectorist in various lander? What about their literacy skills? What do they talk about in fact? I think it would be very unscientific to compare one set of characteristics of two things merely on the basis that the researchers assume with no evidence either way that they are alike in every other way. But that is what Karl and Moller have done (at the same time hurling an accusation at others for their lack of or alleged misuse of 'their' methodology!).. 

Until such a detailed study is undertaken, I think we should take with a pinch of salt the degree to which as Karl and Möller say 'the results of our study can be accepted as sound and conclusive'. Their result for the 'number of detectorists' in the UK is no use at all. 

Anyway, since nobody has actually proposed the hypothesis 'that a restrictive approach to metal detecting (significantly) reduces the number of metal detectorists in a country, and thus (also significantly) reduces the damage done by metal detectorists to archaeology still in situ'. it is neither here nor there that after their simplistic number crunching, Karl and Möller claim that they have falsified it 'by the results of this study'. What they show is there is a significant problem with illegal detecting in some countries, which need to do something to stop it. I do not accept that, like kiddie abuse and animal cruelty, this 'something' is to make it legal to make that problem go away.

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