Thursday 4 February 2021

The PAS Database, Unvalidated Scraps of Information Compiled by a Broken System: UK Archaeologists are Proud to Support it

I've been studying the PAS database since the 1990s, commenting on it for much of that time. Nevertheless a PAS FLO takes it upon himself to lecture me about the basics of how the PAS database works.
The database is peer-reviewed and produced by a network of individuals; records are often the result of several authors' contributions. The fact that the record is publically [sic] visible means that it has been written or validated by one or more FLOs or finds advisors.
Oh dear. In fact, the PASD search engine tells us that out of 973,708 records records, as many as 657,802 records available to the public are "awaiting validation". That's two thirds of them. So what does the fact that such a large chunk of it comprises anonymous, unvalidated information mean for database reliability? The FLO is again dismissive:
It usually just means they need photos adding or are self-recorder records which need checking prior to publication. No mystery.[...] [T]he workflow flag system, [...] is one of several features (such as findspot protection) which are frequently misunderstood [...]
Patronising. He also misses the point. Daniel Pett @DEJPett (who built the database to the specifications of PAS) adds:
Paul, the volume of records broke the workflow system. The finds advisers could never have coped with validating every record. If I built it again, I'd have simplified the system to quarantine, review, published. I explained the workflow stages here: Workflow stages for content control
I replied:
Thanks, I realise why it is, but it is the validation of the loose records that should be giving the database records the consistency in content and quality that is now so lacking. I get fed up with being told that the scale of artefact hunting in the UK is nothing to be the slightest concerned about because it is producing so much "important archaeological data" by people that totally ignore the actual nature of this database, its limitations, the selectivity of the information in it and the actual value of that information.
These data are of very limited use, and the salvaging of these scraps of information from unregulating looting of the archaeological record for private collectables in no way comprises a justification for avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that the way it is being done in the UK at the moment, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is simply trashing, unseen, huge quantities of the basic information about many aspects of the past from right under the noses, and often with the tacit approval, of the British archaeological community. The moment you ask them about it, they fob you off with glib soundbites, instead of addressing the issue.

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