Tuesday 10 July 2018

'Ixelles Six' or 'Helsinki Gang': love-child of SuALT and Addressing Finnish Academic Funding Body?

I have used the term 'Ixelles Six' to refer to the representatives of four foreign universities and two British heritage organizations that for some reason joined hands across the seas to attempt to trash Sam Hardy's quantitative examination of  'Open source data on metal detecting for cultural property'. On looking up the academic bios and affiliations of these six authors it seems we should instead be talking of 'the Helsinki Gang', as all six of them are associated with a project involving (surprise surprise) collaborating with 'finders' and trying to turn their collectables into archaeological data. I should have spotted this before. But I'll stick with the sibilant 'Ixelles Six ' as the corresponding editor of both the 'Aspects' collection of papers as well as the response (Deckers et al.) is from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, which not only also has such funny (in this context) Latin mottos, but the toponym 'Brussels' has its own connotations these days.

The Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Linked Database / Suomen arkeologisten löytöjen linkitetty tietokanta – SuALT
Sub-project 1: User Needs and Public Cultural Heritage Interactions (University of Helsinki)Principal Investigator: Dr Suzie Thomas, Researcher: Dr Anna Wessman, Research Assistant: Helinä Parviainen.

Sub-Project 2: National Linked Open Data Service of Archaeological Finds in Finland (Aalto University and HELDIG – Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities) Principal Investigator: Professor Eero Hyvönen, Researcher: Dr Jouni Tuominen, Researcher: Esko Ikkala, Researcher: Mikko Koho.

Subproject 3: Ensuring Sustainability of SuALT (Museovirasto – Finnish Heritage Agency) Principal Investigator: Dr Ulla Salmela, Project Leader: Jutta Kuitunen, Project Manager: Ville Rohiola.
Project Partners Dr Pieterjan Deckers, Associate Professor Andres S Dobat (Minos), Dr Stijn Heeren, Dr Michael Lewis, Julie Melin, Professor Bonnie Pitblado, Carsten Risager.
Now Professor Pitblado and her vested interest in collaborating with collectors back home in the States has interesting associations for me, (hopefully indirectly) connected with another project I am doing at the moment, more of that another time. But here is what SuALT say about what they are doing, and we see here a direct transposition of the 'Bloomsbury View' of what archaeology is and archaeologist should do. The English Disease is spreading:
About the project / Projektista
The Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Linked Open Database (SuALT) is a multidisciplinary project developing innovative solutions to respond to metal detecting and other non-professional encounters with archaeological material, applying semantic computing to “citizen science”. The growing flow of uncovered archaeological material poses challenges to researchers and collections finds data managers [sic]. We must support finders with legislative and also archaeological information. Easy to use tools to report finds and provide structured metadata are needed. Leaving finds cataloguing to curators is increasingly unfeasible given the increase in metal detecting. To make use of new data, cultural heritage managers, researchers and the public need search and analysis tools. Since finds are connected to existing collections, we also address cross-collection data interoperability. The methods and Open Source tools developed are also applicable to other cultural heritage citizen science fields.
Citizen science? Nice Old Collection of Obsidian
Arrowheads and Knives from Oregon
 (photo by lake-arrowhead-artifacts).
By the fluffy term 'metal detecting' [as] 'non-professional encounters with archaeological material', they presumably largely mean Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record, so why do they not say so? Why not call a spade a spade in this transnational context?

This then raises a question, in what way is collecting any kind of 'citizen science' any more than pheasant shooting citizen ornithology? I've asked this question before with relation to the collection of archaeological objects, but the supporters of the use of the term seem not to have any kind of answer, but instead are blithely continuing disseminating its uncritical use. This raises the question of whether this is just a meaningless buzzword that academics use to get grant money, so are unconcerned to define it properly.

And then we find why the Ixelles Six disapprove of 'detractors' (sic) that base their opinions on how archaeologists should interact with people engaged in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record on ethical standpoints (p. 322). They actually say here that they are engaged in 'supporting' such finders.

What is significant here is that these six authors claim that there is nothing wrong with that, as pilfering random collectables from the archaeological record is 'not damaging' (it is even, they say [p. 323], 'fundamentally wrong' to suggest it is) and anyway there are 'social benefits' from supporting (sic) such pilfering if there is a recording scheme such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme in place (pp 328-330). I suppose SuALT is seen as the Finnish response to the collectors' need for a PAS. A sceptic might conclude that this would explain why they were so worried by Hardy's estimates that show that the PAS is not working to produce the effects (including social benefits) they claim (pp. 328-30) and presumably are the basis of their grant application for funding ('The funding is from the Academy of Finland, under decision numbers 310854, 310859, and 310860').  The response to Hardy's findings would surely only be academically responsible if it took proper account of and addresses all of the elements of his findings that contradict the fundamental assumptions underlying a project that they are all currently the beneficiaries of. I think readers can judge for themselves whether they have in fact done that, or satisfactorily and transparently countered the suggestions here that they have not in fact done that. 

By the way, in case you were wondering, Finland is mentioned once by Hardy, page 14. No numbers are offered, but a curiosity is that Deckers et al. criticise him for not estimating those numbers (the ones he did not estimate) on the basis of a 'shorter detecting season in Finland' (p. 327, fn 3).

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