Sunday 29 July 2018

My Reply to the 'Helsinki Gang'

No permission was given to publish their email to me, so here is my reply to them ( Pieterjan Deckers, Suzie Thomas, Natasha Ferguson, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren and Michael Lewis)  
22nd July 2018
Dear Dr Deckers, writer on behalf of all co-authors of ‘The Complexities…’ (2018),
Thank you for your reply to my message of Sun, 8 Jul 2018. I have a few points 

1) You (plural) belatedly write dismissively: We are not intending to respond to you further on this issue
In academic English, the adjective 'further' would imply that you have already responded, which is inaccurate as in fact you (plural) have not at all.

2) You (plural) claim that you are somehow unable to reply because: we find your approach unprofessional
I think you (plural) will find as we enter the second decade of the 21st century that the use of the specific format of social media to disseminate views on heritage issues will take on an increasing importance in allowing public participation in conservation debates. There is therefore nothing inherently ‘unprofessional, ‘unnecessarily antagonistic’ or ‘unreasonable’ in using such a format for expressing opinions and engaging in polemic with freshly-published texts on heritage issues. On the contrary, it brings the debate into the public domain and allows stakeholder engagement in a way traditional ‘professional’ academic publishing fails to do. Neither are my arguments ‘unreasoned’, as you seem to be claiming.

3) I do, however, feel that it is wholly unreasonable – if not naïve - of you (plural) to assume that six academics professionally -interested (MEDEA, DIME, PAN, SuALT etc.), in the foundations of the PAS-approach not being questioned to ‘respond’ in the way you did will not arouse comment. You seem to have assumed that, by ignoring the fundamental point Dr Hardy made about reporting levels, and trying simply to dismiss it (while avoiding actually discussing it), your text would elicit no response at all. You seem to have expected your authoritarian pronouncements to pass in silent approval, and perhaps that if you do not mention it we would all soon forget that Dr Hardy made a potentially significant point about the level of collection-driven knowledge erosion is going unrecorded in the UK.

4) You claim, If you read our paper carefully, you will find that despite our background as researchers this piece is not intended to further a specific agenda regarding metal detecting.
I have (of course) read it very closely and I wholly disagree. There is a very clear agenda in, and (MEDEA, DIME, PAN, SuALT etc.) context to, what you (plural) wrote. The whole section five is, as I point out, not in fact in any way a ‘response’ to what Hardy wrote. I am not really surprised that you decline to take that point up in any reasoned form of discussion, it seems to me beyond discussion why it is there in black and white.

And it is precisely because of your academic background and employment, that we would expect there to be an objective approach to what Dr Hardy wrote and the conclusions to which he came. I am disappointed that you cannot see that the reader gets, instead, what has every appearance of being a rather incoherent multi-author smokescreen.

5) My blog posts are there for anyone who is at all interested to read. The objective reader, who has what you wrote (and did not write) there in black and white in front of them, and my commentary on it (and those of others), can judge for themselves the value and nature of your (plural) contribution to the wider reasoned debate as academics and heritage professionals. That is the nature of public debate and accountability in heritage management. I would like them also to be able to judge the significance of the way that, in your letter to me just now, you attempt to dodge actually addressing the points I made. May I put your original email verbatim on my blog, so what six academics and heritage professionals wrote to me on this matter is properly in the public domain? It deserves to be.

6) You say the current state of debate calls for an objective, nuanced, broadly comparative analysis, which could inform effective heritage policies adapted to the conditions in each legislative context; The figures Dr Hardy came up with for England/Wales and Scotland do indeed call for objective analysis - and the whole point I am making is that you (plural) in your 'response' totally fail to do that.

I do not see why a 'comparative' approach looking at 'Finland' (p. 327) and (p. 326) 'Poland' would achieve that - but that's what you urge doing, instead of looking at the evidence behind the massive scale (96%) of missing data that Hardy sees in PAS-land. I would say we’d need to look at that before investing public money in any attempts to follow suit in other countries (MEDEA, DIME, PAN, SuALT etc.), wouldn’t you? Also, as I have said, in my opinion, any attempt to do any cross-comparison is hampered by the inadequate vague terminology you use.

7) In your letter you (plural) again criticise Dr Hardy’s paper saying we find it is based on implicit and wrong assumptions, This is what you said in the text that we are discussing, and as I pointed out there is no reason for an objective reader to assess them in those terms, and in the process point out a few of your (plural) own statements that seem to me highly questionable. I would therefore suggest (and the readers of my comments can judge for themselves if I am right) that your ‘response’ has not ‘balanced’ anything, simply attempted to skew the argument away from the very points that Hardy was making.

8) You assert boldly We would welcome a response to our article in a scholarly forum, I take it that here you are being snobbish about reasoned comment in widely-available social media, even though your (plural) own publication is also just an ephemeral internet one.

As far as I know, there are plans in progress for more than one as I write. Let us see how truly 'welcoming' you (plural) and your (plural) metal detecting ‘partners’ will be of the conclusions of two of them. You (plural) are now well and truly in this together. I too look forward to a proper debate on an issue that I have been trying to raise for a decade and a half, and consistently meeting all the time the same sort of condescending response as embodied by your (plural) letter.

Paul Barford 

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