Saturday 24 November 2018

British Archaeological Professionals on Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (II) [UPDATED]

Durham University academic
and a heritage blogger
It seems there is something odd going on in Durham, first the FLO in that northern city calls this blog "fake news" and now a Durham University academic* is saying more or less the same. As somebody who puts a lot of work into presenting my thoughts on the material I present here and checking the facts behind them, I really resent that and I'd like to present what happened when I asked the latter to explain why she comes out in public with such ex cathedra statements, apparently in support of the local FLO.

A few days ago, an administrator of RESCUE's Facebook page spotted an article I had written on my blog and posted  a link to it over there. I do not know what reaction he expected, perhaps that some members might want to discuss the general issue it raised I guess. Members of that group however had a different approach. First, for some reason best known to herself, heritage consultant Alice Cattermole  suggests to the administrator of the RESCUE facebook page that instead of discussing the topic that the text actually raises  "Perhaps we (sic, he runs it) could stop posting links to this blog here? [...] Why are we giving this pointless rant the oxygen of publicity?"

What for Ms Cattermole is merely a 'pointless rant' of no interest to her, whether she likes it or not, concerns a pretty fundamental issue. The issue David Knell had raised earlier and which I discuss in my blog post is 'to what extent is the information on the PAS database website actually (not potentially) reliable as a source of archaeological data'? This seems pretty important to discuss if the whole reason for supporting current policies is that we can idealistically treat Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record as some form of 'citizen archaeology' that produces important archaeological data. What is the truth behind the idealism and wishful thinking? Ms Cattermole's response to posing such a question is apparently 
to nerely suggest that mention of texts that raise that awkward issue should be excluded from an archaeological trust's facebook page. 

There is something rather odd about such a response from somebody that had not much more than a year earlier written an important review for the CIfA precisely on 
the standard of reporting on archaeological artefacts in England, though for some reason this document does not refer to the PAS - which is quite interesting in itself (!). It is however perhaps significant that among her other publications, there are at least two of them co-authored with an 'E. Bales', presumably the author of the PAS database record that David Knell picked up and queried. Perhaps there are more personal reasons why Ms Cattermole reacted in that way to a link to my blog post about a record made in Norfolk by Ms Bales, my concern ws in the record itself and what it tells us and not about the personalia involved in its creation. It is odd that, when it comes to discussing records incorporated into the PAS database, the issue of standards is often subordinated to quantity, resulting in the PAS' own concerns to demonstrate their importance by thrusting forward a 'WottaLottaStuff we Got' image. In this connection, it is noteworthy that Ms Cattermole writes:
If the author had any concept of the vast number of objects recorded and identified not just by the PAS (the original identifier wasn’t even employed by PAS) in Norfolk by this one individual working tirelessly day, night and often weekends perhaps they might be a little less critical. 
Of course (and it is the point that David Knell was making, as was I), it in a case of preservation by documentation of artefacts hoiked by collectiors from the archaeological record and soon to be sequestered in numerous scattered, often undocumented, ephemeral peronal artefact collections, arather than merely quantity, it is record quality that is also (or should be) in the forefront. 

This is the point where the Durham academic jumps in with her thoughts on the issue:
Catrin Jenkins   Totally agree stop linking to this vitriolic and inaccurate blog
(a comment 'liked' by metal detectorist Andy Holbrook, PAS FLO Benjamin Westwood, and Alice Cattermole) 
Coming after Ms Cattermole's postulate, this of course shifts the discussion even further from considering the consistency of reliability of the third-hand data presented as potential archaeological data in the multi-million pound PAS public database. The discussion is shifted (deliberately?) from the issue of the standards that are the focus of my post, to the legitimacy of discussing them at all on a blog like mine.

It is interesting to note that the member profile indicates that Ms Jenkins has only just joined the Rescue Facebook page as a member. More notably, it also shows that so far her main activity there has been 'liking' comments by people criticising what I wrote about PAS data quality, in a distant blog to which somebody else posted a link. Most of the 'likes' were for what the Durham FLO had said. Apparently, she liked none of the points I made, a fact that she makes clearer later that day.

Just after she passed her professional judgement on my blogging, I asked her in what way she deemed my blog posts in general 'inaccurate' (the word she used). I then expanded on why I think the kneejerk labelling of her ad personam response was not only inappropriate but also disturbing:

Paul Barford But then simply dismissing my concerns as "vitriolic and innaccurate" it seems to me you are missing the whole point, which is that there are indeed serious issues with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record that really do need discussing and that the whole mainstream narrative has tended to avoid addressing these questions in any substantive way (RESCUE being a notable exception). 

My blog is wholly public and the public do indeed find it and read about how UK archaeologists have dropped the ball, and why there are grounds for suggesting many of them are neglecting their duty (in the interests of the public and the discipline as whole) to keep them (the public, stakeholders on whose money and support archaeology counts) informed about portable antiquities collecting issues. Coming up to two million hits soon. 

If it is an "inaccurate" picture I am presenting, then I'd say you lot jolly well should get down to showing (in substantive terms) where I and my fellow bloggers are wrong. Just calling me a "chimpanzee" as somebody did above and saying archaeologists should 'ignore' what I am saying there is not the way to go about that. If I am wrong, show it. If I am right, join me in raising these issues and seeking a resolution that actually deals with the destruction of the archaeological record by its unregulated and increasingly widespread collection-driven exploitation. Can you do that?
To that, Durham University's Catrin Jenkins merely repeats herself:
Maybe if you weren't so vitriolic and inaccurate[,] professional archaeologists might pay you some heed......
So, that's the excuse... When writing of artefact hunters and collectors, the antiquities trade and collection-driven destruction of the archaeological record, I do not use the same flattering backslapping tone as many mainstream archaeologists in Britain who prefer to represent and even see collecting as 'citizen archaeology', by their interested-in-the-past 'partners'. Personally, I do not feel any need to do that, I think that from an archaeological conservation point of view, this position is  arrant nonsense and I will call a spade as spade whether or not the symmetrists like that. Discussion of policies and methodology (and standards of our documentation) is not a popularity contest, but should be based on establishing and examining facts and on their basis formulting opinions.

As a consequence, I am more concerned about the second part of the repetetive phrase she used in her two earlier comments, so - frustrated by her previous inability to substantiate what she'd said - I asked again:
Paul Barford and Catrin, I challenge you again to state more precisely where what I write is inaccurate, and any more inaccurate than the glib PAS spin that I query.
 Oh golly. It seems like many kneejerk critics, she's actually unable to justify what she said. After a pause, she retorted with this:
Catrin Jenkins 24 Nov 2018  Go away Barford and find another person to troll with your fake news, cyber bullying and Facebook stalking, your posts send me to sleep and make no sense anyway. Rescue is really not the place to post this and i won't further engage with you
An administrator of the Rescue Facebook page apparently disagreed with the member's point that RESCUE is an inappropriate place to host discussions of the effects of current policy on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record. It is the administrator who'd put up a link to what I wrote - though looking at the reaction of group members and their behaviour might be regretting it  (but yes, I agree, comment - from Ms Jenkins too - would be much better under the post on this blog rather than removed to an ephemeral facebook comment thread).

I leave it up to readers to decide for themselves whether it is me who was being flamed by Ms Jenkins for having a link to a post on this blog posted to a distant Facebook group page where she's a member, or whether I am flaming ('trolling') her by asking the Durham academic to back up her facile accusatory words with facts.

If Ms Jenkins publicly judges this blog to be 'inaccurate', then she should say in what way she applies that label. So far in the exchange between us, she has failed to demonstrate that what I said about that PAS database record was 'fake news', when she accuses me of running an 'inaccurate' archaeoblog, it is not 'cyberbullying' to ask her to actually explain why she says that. It seems, anyway that she has a rather thin-skinned idea of what 'cyberbullying' actually is and how it relates to her involvement in discussion of controversial issues - where she apparently feels free to throw out accusations addressed to a total stranger yet seems to somehow expect immunity from that person responding. It is also worth noting that it was Ms Jenkins who initiated interaction with me with a public insult, not me initiating it by seeking out in any way contact with her views. I really cannot imagine what Ms Jenkins has in mind when she facilely accuses me of 'Facebook stalking' - I really do think I and my readers are owed an explanation of that one. I will chivalrously refrain from suggesting why somebody who comes out with accusations like that on first meeting a total stranger 'can make no sense' of the issues I discuss in Portable Heritage Collecting and Heritage Issues as she admits she has difficulties doing. That Ms Jenkins suggests that she 'won't further engage' with me, means that she thinks that she's already engaged with the points being made. I suggest she has not.

Ms Jenkins suggests I should 'go away' (presumably she means from the archaeological Facebook group that she herself has only just recently joined !), and she and her ilk are trying their hardest through such behaviour to silence enquiry into and alternative views on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in Britain. Perhaps, f they keep it up long enough, wearing us down, people like me will be discouraged by the consistent application of such deflection tactics from asking the questions we do, and urging that we rethink some of the things that people like her apparently hold to be inviolable truth. That does not mean that the problems that actually do exist  will 'go away'.

* UPDATE 25th November 2018
I cannot account for the effect working in Durham seems to have on some arkies. Now I see that alongside the 'cyberbullying' because I responded to my accuser , I see the FLO from that fair city is now falsely accusing me of "doxxing" ("female archaeologists"). Inexplicable, I have asked him to explain what he thinks the word means, but he seems unable to.

Anyway, here is a warning. Dear Reader, should you visit an open archaeological group on Facebook (you know, the place where you choose to put your face and name online for the purpose of contacting other people and telling them a bit about yourself), be very careful not to let the mouse wander to the sidebar. Be warned that there very could well be an 'other members' link there which will reveal the people you are talking to have faces (its 'Face'book after all) and some of them a place of work. Some of them, recently joined, will be right near the top. It's a trap, once you've read it you cannot unread it and you are stuck with the knowledge who it is who has just publicly attacked your writing style, views and ability to process and present the information you use in your own online activity. You will have become, in the eyes of some, a 'Facebook stalker' and a 'doxxer'. Ridiculous though it may sound, that is apparently how some heritage professionals think in Durham.


Hougenai said...

Wow. It's staggering that an academic doesn't seem to be able to read, comprehend and then reply in a similar manner as the original post.
I've followed this blog for a few years now and various detractors have claimed it is inaccurate, fake, full of half truths, yet I have never actually seen any of these claims substantiated with any sort of reference to supporting evidence. You can sort of forgive the 'citizen archaeologists' to some extent as they are less likely to be familiar with the 'academic convention' where rebuttal arguments should be supported by referenced material (whether published papers or pers comms including posts on forums and social media) but a bona fide academic??

What we seem to be getting is unsupported opinion of those trading on their title or academic institutions reputation and not a considered, supported, referenced rebuttal.( Or reading between the lines -chipping in on their mates behalf without thinking it through).

Paul Barford said...

I think the tragedy is precisely the last, chipping in on behalf of your mates without actually knowing what the discussion is about. I would question whether one can call it an opinion when what you are dealing with is defensiveness and kneejerk reaction. You cannot say that my Mum's "reasons"(I use the term loosely) for voting 'leave' are actually an opinion, she had and has no idea at all about what Brexit actually entails - except it will be "fewer darkies". You can see on that thread less any kind of reasoned argument than a simple prejudice against an author (an "Other", like my Mum's "darkies"). In any case, the place for comments on what I said is here, and not on any "Facebook" page of an external organization totally unrelated to this blog, that only leads to confusion - but one might legitimately surmise that sowing confusion is what lies behind those that levered the Leave sentiments as well as the jobsworth arkies desperately defending the jobs of 36 FLOs by obfuscating the issues over PAS. Unsupported naysaying is enough for them, they have no further ambitions than to confuse and divide.

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