Sunday, 23 April 2023

Archaeology and "Brandolini's Law"

       A poster for MGM’s 1961 “The Lost Continent”       
On my way to work the other day, I was stopped in a corridor by an acquaintance in the company who knew I was an achaeologist who had "just one question to ask....". That turned out to be "how true" is a recent Netflix series on a lost civilization preceding our own (yeah, that one)? How do you answer that in a few minutes in a corridor? Do you just say uninformatively, "no, a load of bollocks" and carry on walking, or.. well, what? Sadly, I inadvisedly and without thinking began what inevitably would be a monologue consisting of statements about pyramids, domestic animals, the chronology. The truth is, I was on my way to a meeting, I had not prepared the comments, so it was all a bit incoherent, and we had to break off our conversation - which by that time had started to wander to another level, not what the programme had slickly presented, but what the non-archaeological listener did not know about some pretty basic concepts, such as what could be seen as constituting a "civilization" and how they work, and how they do not work.* I had to break off and vowed to make a handout with a few links to some good You Tube videos critiquing this series and the concepts behind it and mail it to him. The other day I sat down to do that... turns out to be complex, I have my own views on why Ancient Apocalypse is a specious argument (actually not an argument at all) and what it omits. One video or online resource mentions some of the things I think are important for the curious enquirer to know, but includes a lot of stuff I would not prioritise, while other things I'd say were important are better treated in another video - between 3:33 and 8:22. How to give the reader access to a fuller answer but without burdening them with too much (from their point of view, unproductive) reading and sifting to do?

This, I think, is an issue that archaeology needs to address. I come across this time and time again when addressing the facile and one-sided mantras used by the supporters of artefact hunting to justify archaeological collaboration with the collection-driven destruction of the archaeological record. It is the same with other types of pseudoarchaeology. But many of our colleagues have an aversion to public debate on issues connected with the discipline with non-scholars because of "Brandolini's law".

As Wikipedia helpfully summarises it:
"Brandolini's law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage coined in 2013 that emphasizes the effort of debunking misinformation, in comparison to the relative ease of creating it in the first place. It states that "The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it."[1][2] The adage was publicly formulated the first time in January 2013[3] by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer. [...] Environmental researcher Dr. Phil Williamson of University of East Anglia implored other scientists in 2016 to get online and refute falsehoods to their work whenever possible, despite the difficulty per Brandolini's law. He wrote, "the scientific process doesn't stop when results are published in a peer-reviewed journal. Wider communication is also involved, and that includes ensuring not only that information (including uncertainties) is understood, but also that misinformation and errors are corrected where necessary."[1] 

[Cited literature]
(1) Williamson, Phil (6 December 2016). "Take the time and effort to correct misinformation". Nature. 540 (7632): 171. doi:10.1038/540171a.

(2) Thatcher, Jim; Shears, Andrew; Eckert, Josef (April 2018). "Rethinking the Geoweb and Big Data: Mixed Methods and Brandolini's Law", chapter 12 in Thatcher, Shears and Eckert (eds), 'Thinking Big Data in Geography: New Regimes, New Research', University of Nebraska Press. pp. 232–236. ISBN 978-1-4962-0537-7.

(3) Brandolini, Alberto. "Bullshit Asymmetry Principle – Twitter"."
* There is also a disturbing situation that in the circles I move in you can even meet people in their thirties who have never actually seen domestic animals (like cows) from up close. For them, domestic animals, their characteristics and needs, are already an abstract concept.

No comments:

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