Sunday 8 July 2018

'The Complexities of Metal Detecting Policy and Practice' (3): The Ixelles Six - Unreasonably Opiniated

Academic nuisance behaviour
in heritage debate
This is the third of four texts on the recent paper of  Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas 'The Complexities of Metal Detecting Policy and Practice' responding to a text by Sam Hardy. In this section, I want to discuss the issue of how these six heritage professionals set about responding to the source text. Breaking it down in this manner is quite enlightening.

The Issue to be Discussed
First,  let us just recap in a nutshell what the problem is that Hardy is addressing. In many countries in Europe and beyond, the archaeological heritage is protected from damage and destruction by restrictive laws. In a minority of countries, the heritage protection laws are much less restrictive and provide fewer opportunities for direct intervention. Some archaeologists argue that such laissez faire situations are damaging and their existence and functioning pose questions that need to be addressed, if necessary by policy change. Others argue that the scale of damage is minimal, there is no problem, and no need to change anything much. Hardy set out to produce an estimate of the scale of the damage. The results of his study suggest that the problem is even greater than many of us imagined. This is rather uncomfortable for the position of the 'not-rocking-the-boat' collecting-enablers. It challenges the rationale behind their position. It is therefore easy to imagine why they would have a vested interest in trashing Hardy's figures.  This the Ixelles Six attempt to do.

Their method. however. is not to provide reasonable evidence for lower estimates and correct Hardy's figures and thus supply 'more reliable' data of their own for discussion of the issues raised. Oh, no they do not. They ignore the underlying problem which is that Hardy's figures show that (voluntary) measures put in place to mitigate  the information loss from Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record are not even scratching the surface of the problem. The Ixelles Six however replace discussion of this fundamental issue by an ad hominem attack on the author, his 'incorrect assumptions' and 'inappropriate' definitions, his 'simplistic' and 'unrealistic' approach. The academics Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas go about trashing Hardy's work, not by refining it and replacing it by any hard work of their own, but by merely snapping at his ankles.

Nevertheless, their criticism cannot obscure the fact that Hardy's figures remain the latest estimate we have of the scale of the problem caused by current policies on CDEAR in these 'liberal' heritage protection (I use the term loosely) systems.  The first question I would put to the Ixelles Six is:
 'by how much would Hardy's figures have to be 'in error' for the scale of information loss through CDEAR to be acceptable?' (followed by, 'can you show that the error is indeed of that scale of magnitude?')
Those are questions lazily wholly sidestepped in the 'response' of these six academics. I would say that is pretty scandalous behaviour, wouldn't you?

Breakdown of the Modus Operandi of the Gang of Six 

The polemic text Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas is arranged in six sections, let's take a look at them.

After an introduction, the first section is called 'Simplistic and Incorrect Basic Assumptions' (pp 323-4). The second section (pp 324-326) has an even more damning subtitle 'Inapproprite or Unrealistic Definitions' [and in it we find two subsections '2.1 Legislation: Permissive vs. Restrictive'  and '2.2 Detectorist Behaviour: Licit vs. Illicit']. The third section (pp 326-7) claims 'A Skewed Perspective: Overlooking Regional Diversity'. The fourth has a more neutral title 'Cause and Effect' (pp 327-8), the fifth one - the longest - has in the circumstances (see below) a puzzling title 'Policy Choices (sic): A Range of Motivations' (pp 326-30, and then thankfully the diatribe comes to a close with 'The Way Forward' (pp 330-1) where cosmetically they point out six reasons why what Hardy did was 'good', qualified by the fact that they'd spent the previous eight pages attempting to totally trash everything he'd written. Some more coherent editorial control seems to be lacking there. 

Let us take each of these sections in turn and summarise the authors' strategies.

'Simplistic and  Incorrect Basic Assumptions' (pp 323-4). 
It is here we find the authors' statement that it is (somehow, not really explained) 'fundamentally wrong' to say that Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record is damaging. They only offer a simplistic object-centred view that the objects remain and missing documentation might turn up). I do not really feel inclined to argue this. The Gang of Six do not make the effort to provide any more suitable arguments to disprove a substantial and widely accepted body of views in the archaeological community and public at large that looting damages sites and is not a good thing. All I will say is that I find their view puzzling, and consider that in no way have they demonstrated here that on the part of Sam Hardy, this is indeed what they call a 'simplistic and incorrect basic assumption'.  All of the other points Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas make in this section are totally irrelevant to the question that Hardy was attempting to address and most of them sound like apologetics for CDEAR. Point one to Hardy, I would say.

'Inapproprite or Unrealistic Definitions
In this section, Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas claim Hardy 'distinguishes' the two main groups of heritage protection systems and also detectorist behaviour in 'an overly dichotomous way'. I really do not think they actually have a point. In the case of legislative systems, in transnational perspective, it is pretty obvious that no two countries will have a carbon-copy of the heritage legislation of another, for example Venezuala and Mexico, Egypt and Ecuador, Nigeria and Norway. In the same way no two examples of any other kind of system (national healthcare, banking systems, judicial procedures, esturine saltmarsh ecosystems etc) will be identical. This does not mean that one cannot compare and contrast estuarine ecosystems with coral reef ones. Likewise, to say that there is often no hard line between 'licit' and 'illicit' behaviour of artefact hunters and that Hardy is somehow 'wrong' when he distinguishes them uncharitably misses the point of what Hardy was actually doing (to clarify, Hardy was faced with the difficulty that one would use different sources to investigate artefact hunting taking place openly because it is allowed, and clandestinely because the artefact hunter is breaking the law). These are neither 'inappropriate' nor 'unrealistic' definitions', rather it is the sniping of the Ixelles Six that seems to me wide of the mark, and inappropriate to the situation. Point two to Hardy.

'A Skewed Perspective: Overlooking Regional Diversity'.   
In this third section,  Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas (pp 326-7) attempt to show that Hardy has in some way overlooked the way detecting practices may vary between countries. That is an odd claim in the case of a paper that actually attempts (on the basis of the information actually available), to determine the scale of detecting activity in different countries (!). The criticisms of the Ixelles Six are difficult to follow and it is unclear to me what they are getting at. In their obvious desire to cast doubt on Hardy's conclusions, they seem to be nit-picking over insignificant points (Hardy's aim was not to determine reasons for the 'varying popularity (sic) of the metal detecting hobby' p. 327 anywhere). They make much (p. 326) of the use made by Hardy of one text (a unique poll showing that some 'metal detecting' forums attract a certain number of people who do not in fact go artefact hunting with metal detectors). Their gripe is that this text ('Marc 2004') is now well over a decade old, and the figures might not be relevant, '14 years on'. I do not know how carefully they checked the references before slagging Hardy off, but since, as is the nature of Hardy's work, we are dealing with open sources, you too can check the thoroughness of the research of these six authors. That thread and poll are not locked and are still active, and the last information added was (at the time I am writing) was Jun 22, 2017, 11:35 AM. So, far from being a closed source dating back 14 years, as asserted by the Ixelles Six, the results of this open source information used by Hardy reflect the period of much of the history of that forum, 2004-2017. Scholarly carelessness or willful misrepresentation on their part?

I will mention in passing the Six's comments that if Hardy had taken a look at Poland (unrealistic [IMO] shock-horror figures quoted by them) * and suggesting that the 'number [...] of detectorists active under restrictive legislation in Poland might have affected the overall conclusions regarding the effectiveness of liberal versus restrictive schemes [sic]'. Once again, we find the problem arises from the use of that term 'metal detector users' instead of defining the activity. We also see, again, the Ixelles Six falling into the same trap as they accuse Hardy of being ensnared in. Polish law is very precise what activities are forbidden, and in general, Polish metal detector users keep away from infringing those laws. Those laws do not however specifically forbid searching WW2 sites and anyone who had any contact and familiarity with the subject (or the literature) would be well aware of the difference between the type of artefact/relic collections built in Poland and those built in (say) England and Wales. The PAS, for example, is not all that interested in WW2 sites.

Once again we see the effects of the Six's fixation with one of the conclusions of Hardy's paper (that sites in areas where metal detecting is allowed and condoned are subject to more damage than sites in areas where the laws forbid artefact hunting and collecting) at the expense of the other. And what they 'somehow' (pretend to?) fail to notice is that no matter how many hours a Canadian or Finnish detectorist goes out on his or her productive sites a year, Hardy's figures for England and Wales (and Scotland) are still applicable. Until the Six show that they are false, then the whole 'PAS-is-a-fantastic-success-and-should-be-emulated-everywhere'  model promoted by the collection of papers in which this response appears collapses. The Ixelles Six have failed to falsify this simple statement in Hardy's conclusion:
Thus, in England and Wales, licit detectorists recover perhaps 2,163,189 recordable objects in one year (Table 27), while they report an average of 83,795 objects (Portable Antiquities Scheme, 2016), so perhaps 2,079,394 (96.13% of) recordable objects are not reported; illicit detectorists recover perhaps 310,332 recordable objects (Table 26), none of which is reported accurately, though some of those may be laundered by being reported inaccurately. Hence, within this permissive regulatory environment, it appears that licit detectorists cause far more licit cultural harm than illicit detectorists commit criminal damage.
Zero points for the Ixelles Six, advantage Hardy

'Cause and Effect'.   
In this fourth section, the argumentation of Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas really seems to lose touch with reality. Again, this is due to their fixation with trying to show that 'liberal' legislative approaches to Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record do not allow damage to be done to countless archaeological sites. Once again, we get at the end of the passage (p. 328) the junk argument that hoiking artefacts from patterned assemblages in the topsoil allegedly does no harm to the evidential value of those scatters (false) and then the introduction of the object-centred 'collecting as rescue' mantra (to save space, I am not going to discuss this, Deckers et al. present it as a 'common sense fact' and offer no supporting evidence here, and I hold that it is an argument based on false premises - and I've written about that elsewhere many times).

The Ixelles Six suggest that Hardy 'confuses co-variation with causation' (whatever they mean by that) and try to propose (p. 327) that perhaps 'a permissive legislation [...] is more likely to arise (sic) in contexts where metal detecting (sic) is widely and openly practiced'. I think this passage shows an enormous disconnect with the real reason why Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record was possible to widely and openly be practiced in some countries, which is the pre-existence of the legislative system powerless to STOP it. The clearest case of this was England and Wales [as the person who I suspect from the punctuation wrote that particular passage should be well aware]. So why is cause and effect being confused by six academics trying to accuse another of muddling cause and effect? Beats me, but this is a pathetic showing. Zero points for the Ixelles Six, advantage Hardy.

 ''Policy Choices (sic): A Range of Motivations'.   
In section five, the six academics Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas expand on what they wrote in the previous section. Since it is not true that for the most part a particular type of legislation has been 'chosen' with the 'motivation' of enabling private collectors to ransack the archaeological record, I think this whole section (328-330) is entirely superfluous. It has zero relevance to anything Hardy wrote (to which they pretend their article is a 'response'). It is instead oozing with justification for Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record. To save space, I am not going to discuss it here, we can come back to it in another context. It brings nothing at all to what Hardy was writing about (but which these six are avoiding discussing properly in the framework of what he actually wrote). This is therefore 'academic' smokescreen. Point to Hardy for being more focused than the gang of six academics opposing him.

'The Way Forward'.   
The sixth section (pp 330-1) of the article of Deckers, Dobat Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas is pretty ineffective and unfocused as a description of a transnational 'way forward' in dealing with the issues caused by Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record. Having written five sections solidly expounding on how rubbishy Hardy's approach is, they then reel out six areas where what Hardy wrote is somehow 'good' after all. It is a shame that this is only tacked on, apparently as an afterthought, at the end, rather than being incorporated in the body of the text to make a more balanced argument throughout. Again, poor and hurried editing seems at fault.

In all the fluffy verbiage and repetition in this section, it is difficult to see the 'way forward' the six of them discussed after reading Hardy's text. They seem to be saying the obvious, that more quantitative data on the model of Hardy's paper are needed, on the basis of which legislation can be developed 'grounded in a thorough analysis of all the relevant variables' (p. 330). These data (p. 331) should incorporate information from a variety of sources (again this is self-evident) and including what they call 'ground truthing with organizations and national and local authorities responsible for engaging with metal detectorists' (p. 331). What is needed, they say (p. 331), building on Hardy's 'formula'  (sic) are 'sophisticated, testable algorithms that express the impact of legislation and policy on public interaction with heritage'. Comparing countries they say will 'untangle cause and effect' (p. 330) and the international perspective will help 'transcend the current entrenched (sic) positions of European archaeologists with regards (sic) to [Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record]'. There they end, and there we too may take a break and move on to a summary.

*Yes, I can see I am going to have to do my own write-up of metal detecting in Poland, though see a recent text by Sam Hardy for some useful data.

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