Sunday 7 February 2021

PAS and What the British Public Should be Getting

The Charity Commission Regulatory alert issued to charitable think tanks Published 7 December 2018 "Think tanks have an important role in society helping to educate the public. Society is richer when it is challenged with new ways of thinking and when debate is stimulated". 

It is interesting to reflect how much this applies to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Unit (neither of which, as we are aware is a charity, but the same principles surely apply):
Understanding the charity’s objects
In general terms the object of most think tanks is to advance education for the public benefit. Therefore any research published or other activity undertaken must:
    have sufficient value in educational terms
    further the charity’s purposes
    be available (either directly or indirectly) to the public,
     or a sufficient section of the public
    present the public with information that permits them to form their own opinions
    be educational in the way understood by charity law

Education does not have to be entirely neutral; it can start from a generally accepted position that something is beneficial. A charity can therefore promote uncontroversial views and perspectives.                     

          Outputs in furtherance of the objects

Our advice
The trustees must ensure that the charity’s outputs (research reports, articles, seminars and so on) are balanced and neutral, and that there are robust processes and procedures in place that can provide assurance on how the charity ensures this is the case.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is formulated around the notion that information from artefact hunting is archaeologically usefuyl, therefore artefact hunting is not really all that damaging because it provides archaeological information. It does not objectively examine either of those propositions, moreover it very little of any research published on PAS "data" or other activity undertaken can present the public with information that permits them to form their own opinions on portable antiquities issues. The nature of the PAS and its activities (such as its annual conferences and annual reports) pretty closely correspond to the second column in the table above: It is not neutral and presents the individual with biased and selective information in support of a preconceived point of view; The researchers are linked to a particular view or opinion which suggests bias; It is not balanced and only explores one side of the argument; It is designed to promote a specific policy and is really seeking to achieve a political outcome and risks being used as a political vehicle; At events, the audience is only addressed by people with the same views on a topic.

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