Wednesday, 3 February 2021

In UK 700,000 People Have Gone Metal Detecting in Last 12 Months? Really? Unclear Statistics Obscurely Cited

In Britain, the "Taking Part" survey (TPS) was a flagship survey for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for many years, collecting data on how adults and children in England engage with the sectors covered by this body. It has run since 2005 and "is the main evidence source for DCMS and its sectors". Taking Part Survey data are widely used by policy officials, practitioners, academics and charities. There is a website presenting a whole load of documents in a disorganised heap that is more of a hindrance than help in sorting out what's going on.

 What we do know is that in year 8, 2012 (here, p 44; and here page 25) in this survey under "engagement with heritage" there was a question that seems to have asked something like "In the last 12 months, have you participated in metal detecting? (yes, no, don't know)". There was however no question "have you any archaeological objects bought online or from a dealer in your home?" - because that also is the same kind of engagement with heritage, and related to the so-called "democratisation of the past".

In Bloomsbury, eager to show they avidly follow government statistics on heritage, by 2017, they were using them in their reports. For example in the Statistical Release for Reported Treasure Finds 2016 and 2017 they write:

1.6 Percentage of adults in England taking part in metal detecting
In 2017/18, 1.5% of adults (16+) in England said they had taken part in metal detecting at least once in the 12 months prior to interview.9 Regionally, the rate ranged between 0.8% in the East Midlands to 2.4% in Yorkshire and the Humber, however this difference in rates between regions is not statistically significant [PAS's footnote 10 explains for the dullards currently being churned out by the English educational system that:] "A non-statistically significant difference is where we cannot be confident that the differences seen in our sampled respondents are reflective of the population".
Actually, I am not sure that this is the case, as other data in the TPS show that the south and southwest of the country shows markedly greater 'participation in the heritage' (however you measure that) than other regions. What is interesting is that footnote 9 to the statement previous notes: "Survey participants were asked whether they had participated in metal detecting within the last 12 months, therefore, these statistics are not intended to capture an estimate of ‘regular’ metal detectorists or those who are members of metal detecting clubs within England". This noteworthy because we know that this latter statistic is one that the PAS and its liaison have for long been consistently avoiding assessing - and when they do, it is posed in such terms as to be evident guesswork *(2014 here, page 14). ↩

The PAS repeated the exercise in the Statistical Release or Reported Treasure Finds 2017/18 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This includes "estimates reported for participation in metal detecting" based on data collected in the 2018/19 Taking Part Survey. The relevant section reads:

1.6 Percentage of adults in England taking part in metal detecting
In 2018/19, an estimated 1.6% of adults (16+) in England said they had taken part in metal detecting at least once in the 12 months prior to interview. This is similar to the 1.5% of adults who were estimated to have participated in 2017/18. Regionally, the rate ranged between 0.9% in the North West to 2.7% in the South West, however this difference in rates between these two regions was not statistically significant.
A year later, the Statistical Release or Reported Treasure Finds 2018/19 shows a jump (also "not statistically significant"? You bet.):
In 2019/20, according to the Taking Part Survey, an estimated 2% of adults (16+) in England said they had taken part in metal detecting at least once in the 12 months prior to interview. This is a similar level to participation in 2018/19. The rate varies regionally.
and we get the same footnotes explaining it away. there seems not to be an equivalent statistic 9yet) for 2019-2020...

Because the TPS page is such a muddle and apparently non-searchable, and the PAS consistently avoid giving links to the precise source of each piece of information (unprofessional, guys), I can't devote the time to search down the actual source of these statistics and see what explanatory notes accompany them. We have 6000 archaeologists in the UK who this affects too, let one of them try, it's their government. I have a few problems with the data as presented: 

1) I have already pointed out the issue this raises about current policy several times on this blog:(Sunday, 30 December 2018 Unreported 'Metal Detecting' Reaches Crisis Proportions in England and Wales, Saturday, 12 January 2019 Huge Shortfall in Ability to Cope with Major Increase in Numbers of Detector Using Artefact Hunters in England, Friday, 23 August 2019 Friday Retrospect: This Went Unremarked by the Tekkie-Supportive UK Archeological Community). I'd be interested to learn of any more blogs, or better still paper publications, by British archaeologists referring to this crisis. I cannot say that they are very visible. In fact the update to the first of them is very revealing. I posted a link to it on an archaeological discussion venue (RESCUE's Facebook page as it happens) where one FLO started a series of personal attacks (later removed by the group owner) and one other archaeologist started haranguing me that the illustration I used was a map of findspots in England, but "where was Wales?" There was no substantive discussion at all of the issue raised. That is where we are today in the "detecting debate" in the UK. that is really pathetic.

2) What do these numbers mean? If you work it out according to government estimates, in the years 2017 to 2020 at least, nearly seven hundred thousand people annually claim to have "participated in metal detecting". Where (on whose land), how, with whom, and more importantly where did they get the metal detector from? Current estimates are that there are c. 27000 active detectorists in England (and Wales), did each of them lend their detectors for a few hours to 26 other people? Several of these models cost considerable sums of money, so it seems pretty unlikely as a general phenomenon. Maybe at beaches all over the country you can now hire them for a day to go coinshooting in the sand? But then that is not "engagement with culture", is it?

3) The unprofessional manner in which the literature is cited by PAS prevents easily checking out whether it is correctly cited. Whether that is deliberate or not I would not like to judge, but I do note that in one document (from 2012) that explains how TPS results are presented in 'codeframes', we find the various forms of engagement with DCMS sectors is categorised by codes. "Metal detecting" is codeframe 99. But in the way the survey was set up, it's not there alone, look at this, its under "sports", just above skittles and pilates, and reads:
"99. Miscellaneous hobbies that involve some physical effort (e.g. playing musical instrument, gardening, bird watching, metal detecting, photography)"
Is that what that 1.5% refers to>? Because "playing a musical instrument" as a form of sport (bongo drums? Taiko? Drums and bagpipes?) is really not at all the same kind of engagement with culture as collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. In the same way neither is gardening, birdwatching and photography ('effort'?). Come on, PAS, cite your sources properly !!! the annual government Taking Part survey records that in 2018/19 (and the year before) an estimated 1.6% of adults in England said they had taken part in metal detecting at least once in the 12 months prior to interview? This would imply a maximum English user-base of around 900,000 people—pro rata 950,000 in England and Wales—an incredible figure, one would have thought. It puts it on a par with angling and shooting, similar countryside recreations which demand similar skills and investment."

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.