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Saturday, 18 July 2015

Science in the open -- or behind closed doors?




I've been looking at my past posts, and discovered that there are 218 posts mentioning Rhosyfelin between 2011 and now.  That's a lot of posts -- and, thanks to my faithful community of readers and contributors, a lot of open and friendly discussion, with a vast range of topics relating to this site, put under the microscope.  You can do the search for yourselves, and check out what we have discussed........

It's interesting to explore which posts have been most popular, in terms of page views and comments.  One of the most popular was the recent post about BigFoot!  That says something in itself about the state of science in the world........

The Rhosyfelin Fracture Pattern  has 511 page views;
The Incorrigible Quarry Hunters turn up at Carn Goedog has 596 views; 
 Big meltwater conduits beneath an ice stream has over 3,000 page views;
The Carn Meini "Bluestone Quarry" -- Oh no it isn't! Oh yes it is! has 811 views;
The Stonehenge rock types -- time for an update? has 749 views;
The Rhyolitic "debitage" around Stonehenge has 1242 views; 
The Neolithic Quarry Obsession has 632 viws;
Bronze Age use of mauls and hammerstones has 1163 views;
Stonehenge -- a breeding ground for pseudoarchaeology? has 1264 views;
The Craig Rhosyfelin dig has 1118 views;
and there are others which have had more than 400 page views.

All in all, there are 711,000 page views on the blog, from all over the world.  It's obvious that most of the views are from people interested in Stonehenge, but I suspect that there are a lot of views from geologists and geomorphologists as well, since my illustrations come up quite prominently when people search on Google for images.  I presume that Google researchers are often directed to the site -- although I am totally mystified about how tags and keywords work.  Sometimes I get messages from experts who say I should take "search engine optimisation" (SEO) more seriously, and that I should earn some dosh through allowing adverts on the site.  "No thank you" to both of those......

What I have tried to do on the blog is encourage "folk science" which invites an open exchange of information and an open testing of hypotheses, involving both specialists and those who just want to learn. 

Back to Rhosyfelin.  The other way of doing things is to obtain a large research grant, dig away on a site happily for several years, tolerate no dissent, publish nothing at all about the progress of the research, and invite no dicussion with people who might actually have something to contribute or some hard questions to ask.  The ruling hypothesis rules, and after a few celebrity PR lectures here and there to amiable and gullible audiences, to prepare the ground, everything is announced in a blaze of glory in conjunction with a big paper involving many members of the research team.  It may be good, and it may be rubbish.  We shall see.  If it's published in an archaeological journal, it's doubtful that any of the peer reviewers will have been earth scientists.

When said paper appears, accompanied no doubt by a TV spectacular (rumoured to be on Nat Geog Channel), let's hope that those responsible have read this blog and picked up some useful information from it about glacial and periglacial processes and about the events of the Ice Age.......

I'm not accusing Prof MPP and his colleagues of anything unusual here.  This "science behind closed doors" happens all the time, in many different fields.  There is huge competition for research grants, and reputations are at stake both for individuals and academic institutions.  Universities have their own publicity machines these days, and they employ professional publicists who write press releases about important  -- or unimportant -- research which are sent out to the global media.  Saturation coverage.  I have seen countless examples of crap research glorified in carefully crafted press releases which are then regurgitated almost unaltered in the press and on the telly.  Journalists these days don't investigate -- they regurgitate.  For the researchers, exposure is everything.

Now that commercial interests have become important, another factor comes in to play.  Research teams don't publicise their results too far ahead, even in their own peer groups, since they want to get things as right as possible before publishing and have a maximum impact.  But there is always SOME discussion with peers, for example through conference presentations or poster displays of key results.  So there are checks and balances, with the most radical ideas questioned and tested before they are submitted in the context of papers submitted to peer-reviewed journals.  But "commercial confidentiality" trumps all of that, and I have seen the insidious and dangerous effects of it in other fields.  Secrecy clauses come into play, and in medical science (for example) pharmaceutical commercial sponsors or biotech corporations reserve the right to vet research, insist on it being rewritten in a form which they approve of, or even veto publication altogether if the results are "inconvenient."  Very sinister indeed.  This is not the way science should be conducted, and I feel very strongly about it.  

So rumour has it that National Geographic has paid over rather a lot of money to the MPP research team with certain exclusive rights attached to the deal.  If that is true, shame on all concerned, since in that direction lies orthodox or establishment science, as once practiced in Stalinist Russia.........  Those who are obedient (and discover the things they are meant to find) are rewarded and flourish, while those who ask questions and come up with uncomfortable observations and results are packed off to the salt mines and are never heard of again.

There now.  That was a good gripe!  Feel better now.  Time for a cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit.



45 comments:

Jon Morris said...

“The other way of doing things is to obtain a large research grant, dig away on a site happily for several years, tolerate no dissent, publish nothing at all about the progress of the research, and invite no dicussion with people who might actually have something to contribute or some hard questions to ask.”

There's a low level of public interest in this sort of thing Brian. In addition, there is virtually no commercial interest other than entertainment programs. It's likely that the cuts to archaeology will be exceptionally severe in the coming years so the book-keepers behind the digs will be looking for continuity.

Given that background, they way they are working seems entirely reasonable to me. It's not as if there's any urgency. Better to get it right, whatever that means.

Michael said...

Hi Brian,

MPP at Castell Henllys on the 18th September. Few seats left, hope to see an open debate.

Kind Regards,

Michael

chris johnson said...

How do I get a seat?

Michael said...

send an e-mail to celts@castellhenllys.com

Michael said...

Also try the assistant amin lady KarenE@pembbrokeshirecoast.org.uk

TonyH said...

If, as is likely, National Geographic is heavily involved financially and in the publication of MPP and his team's excavation and research findings, I, for one (and I dare say Brian, too, as a fellow - Geographer) will find this deeply paradoxical!

The National Geographic magazine, and also the same organisation's TV arm, have also always presented the public with articles/ commentaries about impressive images of places not far from the North Pole or the South Pole, including the spectacular movement of GLACIERS and the physical processes occurring in Arctic and Antarctic landscapes.

Surely, National Geographic has, so as to retain its own credibility in the eyes of its subscribers, to counterbalance any presentation from the MPP Team with serious mention of geomorphological and glaciological processes recognised as having affected the Rhosyfelin valley and the greater landscape of Preseli? If not, they will be accused of "taking their punters for a ride" and underestimating their intelligence and natural curiosity.

TonyH said...

Michael

You say you hope to see an open debate at Castell Henllys on 18th September.

I wouldn't hold your breath! But we can but hope, for hope springs eternal. Perhaps MPP will treat those in his audience respectfully, and give sufficient time for considered questions and for respectful answers.

It is, after all, in his own best interests, for his long - term reputation, well beyond his lifetime.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree it's rather ironic that a journal initially renowned for its coverage of landscape, geography and the earth sciences is now a complete hotch-potch of "politically correct" science and humanities stories from all sorts of different angles. And yes, its earth science coverage has become less and less reliable. I long since cancelled my subscription because it had drifted to the far right of the political spectrum. As a matter of interest, Mike PP is listed on their site as an archaeological expert (presumably he helps out with their tours?) and as a grant recipient.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Karen tells me the lecture is on Wed 16th Sept at 7.30 pm. Michael got the date wrong.

Michael said...

Whoops sorry, keyboard finger trouble. Did you manage to get a seat for the lecture???

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I think so. Hope I am not the only geomorphologist there.........

TonyH said...

No - one knows what goes on behind closed doors* [yet]

*Miss Dolly Parton
*Mr Charlie Rich
*Mr Mike Parker Pearson (forthcoming)


Then of course, there's:

"Love on the Mountain Top"

Michael said...

I am sure you will find some kindred spirits at the event. If last year is anything to go by we were short of experts in any fields let alone geomorphology, however, fairy rings were well represented!!!!

Do you know if MPP and or Proff GW are digging anywhere in west wales this year??

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, Prof MPP has to be back at Rhosyfelin in September, because there is a large hole in the ground to be filled in, and lots of shredded polythene sheeting to be removed. Somebody has to do it....

The MPP team will probably also be digging at Castell Mawr (supposedly the tribal HQ for the quarry workers at Rhosyfelin!) and maybe at Carn Goedog as well, since there is speculation that the dwellings (?) beneath the crags may have been quarrymen's quarters. If you are a believer in Neolithic quarries, you have to have the infrastructure to support them, so there is rather a lot of imaginatiion involved here on all sides.

As for Prof GW, he has long since declared himself bored with all this bluestone stuff, and is supposed to be retired.

Jon Morris said...

"As for Prof GW, he has long since declared himself bored with all this bluestone stuff, and is supposed to be retired."

That's useful to know! It's very difficult to try to work out who would be interested in this sort of stuff.

TonyH said...

I do hope some card - carrying Geomorphologists with a deal of glacial knowledge ride into Castell Henllys, maybe from Swansea and Aberystwyth, by Wednesday 16th September and form their wagons into a circle to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous claims from unsophisticated, heads - in - the - dirt Presidential - style archaeologists of the MPP persuasion.

It may not be pretty, but we NEED a proper dialogue!! Otherwise, it's like we're all going to be Sky TV fodder (or in this case worse, U.S. National Geographic fodder). Or will MPP merely say at the end of his speech "I have time for one pre - vetted Question before I disappear rapidly".

"The Cowboys and the Farmers must be friends". [ from Oklahoma! one of the strangely - quiet Myris's self - proclaimed favourite Shows]

TonyH said...

We don't need revelations, like a fez - wearing Tommy Cooper type pulling back the silk cloth covering a proto - orthostat - we need CONTINUING CONSULTATION, DISCUSSION, and DEBATE, across Disciplines, and beyond those practising Archaeology, Anthropology, and, yes, even Geology, but now incorporating the Disciplines of Geomorphology (part of Physical Geography) and Glaciology.

The Universities of the United Kingdom should be insisting that their Departments COOPERATE with one another to deepen and broaden knowledge and understanding of their researches. Is this asking too much? Who pays for them, after all?!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, dialogue is an essential part of the academic progress. I'm suggesting in certain quarters that an invitation should go to the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) for a group of geomorphologists / Quaternary specialists to visit the dig this coming September, for on-site discussions and for an independent take on what is there, and what it means. One hopes that the archaeologists will be all in favour of such a visit -- it'll be too late to influence the contents of the paper which is already in the pipeline, but at least it will help all concerned to move towards some sort of consensus.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Uh Oklahoma is not one of myris' favourite South Pacific is for R and H musicals, even Flower Drum Song is better than lazy circles in the sky.

My silence is simple but devastating.
I am Wellington-minded, publish in the literature, the pet rock boys have and so can be judged for eternity.
Talking and blogs are no substitute.
The only correct and lasting forum is in the reviewed literature.
M
Even Annie Get Your Gun is better, though the stage version of Oklahoma with Ms Lipman was a joy.

Myris of Alexandria said...

I think that that would be excellent and useful.
But I suspect that Brian you might have to sacrifice your presence as the cost of such a meeting.
Has Wainright really packed his tent and fled. Waiting by the river still.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm flattered to hear that I'm such a terrible monster that my presence at Rhosyfelin cannot be tolerated! Not to worry -- I have 100% confidence that any other experienced glacial geomorphologists will see exactly the same things as I see.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I wish I had your faith in the peer-reviewed literature, Myris. Sure, it's probably the best thing we have, but we have probably all seen incredible rubbish in the peer-reviewed literature. Authors can choose the journals to submit to, and their editors, and often they get to choose their peer reviewers too -- so the system is open to corruption. The sheer fact that a paper is published in a "reputable" journal is no guarantee of reliability. If you want confirmation of that, just take a look at the "Retraction Watch" web site........ evidence is often cited very selectively and even fabricated by those who are intent upon making BIG reputations through BIG newsworthy stories.

TonyH said...

Oh! What a Beautiful Morning! When the Farmers and the Cowboys may indeed be Friends, even Colleagues from different Faculties of Universities, in their attempts to understand this One Earth, IF an invitation is indeed made to the Quaternary Association (QRA) for a group of geomorphologists and Quaternary Specialists to visit the Rhosyfelin dig for on - site discussions, etc, as Brian is suggesting.

Could be one small step, but a giant leap for the sum of human knowledge. The important word in that last sentence is SUM!! This implies integration, willingness to share and to cooperate. A bit like the Coalition Government.

TonyH said...

Myris, you are Wellington - minded, wonder if MPP and close colleagues are too, and does that mean we tax - paying punters are just part of their cannon - fodder? Are some more like hero Horatio "I see no ships" Nelson?

Never mind about peer - reviewed literature, that has its important place of course, but we also need cooperation and collaboration by Talking Heads ACROSS the Disciplines: similar to a musical fusion.

P.S. Dave Swarbrick (he of ground - breaking electric fiddle) lives on. and is appearing with Martin Carthy at the Trowbridge Folk Festival end of this month.

Myris of Alexandria said...

We must keep our fingers crossed. But with the help of Sublime Apollo and goodwill amongst men (too early?) there may be dancing on pin heads yet at CRyf.
Swarb and Martin, there is a true blast from the past. Well worth seeing, next the Young Tradition?
M

TonyH said...

Myris, have just booked in to see Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates & two other ladies hereabouts. Have you or Rosie heard of "Imagined Village", who feature the first two?

I mentioned Talking Heads and you preferred dancing on pin heads. As Joni Mitchell & Sir Bruce Forsyth have said, Music is for Dancing.

Once again, you mention "Sublime Apollo".

You are, of course, aware that the Ancient Ruin [as Brian calls that Monument on Salisbury Plain] is probably some sailor's Apollo's Temple of aeons ago. Funny how time slips away..... another good song, probably danced to the waltz..

TonyH said...

Who was it who said 'jaw,jaw' is better than war, war? Wise person anyway.

Dave Maynard said...

What about Kostas' version of science?

Dave

BRIAN JOHN said...

There re many versions of science. I prefer the ones which are consistent with the laws of physics -- which is why I have problems with certain theories put forward by our archaeological friends.......

TonyH said...

I've just watched the last quarter of a programme about the Normans in Pembrokeshire on Channel 4 in England at any rate tonight. Sir Tony Robinson studiously ignored a rather obvious cromlech as he was walking past it.

The knighted Robinson admitted his childhood holidays long ago were spent solely on Pembrokeshire's coasts. He says he now finds its interior beautiful. Wonder whether we could persuade him to take a left - field view of his old chum Mike PP's version of How The Bluestones Shipped Up Somewhere Not Too Far From You - Know - Where? Tony always adopted the role of the sceptical one on Time Team: "You archaeologists ALWAYS say......

I, for one, hope he still possesses an open mind. He seems, in essence, a good bloke. Now, if he got together with someone equally intelligent like Stephen Fry, and they did their own TV take on matters Bluestone.......

Michael said...

Hi everyone, so who is going to the MPP talk in September??? if enough experts are available for an open discussion it may be worth asking the organizers to perhaps start a little earlier and finish a little later to ensure a good and open debate. I could try and facilitate this if everyone thinks that it is worthwhile

I am going, sat at the back eating the Welsh cakes.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Michael -- keep some Welsh cakes for me! I have a ticket reserved, but have no idea who else might be there. Not into the organization of pressure groups or rows filled with hecklers!

One hopes for an open discussion anyway -- but for assorted reasons (including the need for the speaker to rush off and have a shower) it doesn't often happen.....

chris johnson said...

I am intending to go Michael, although mostly interested to listen to MPP who is always a good speaker.

On previous occasions I did not get the impression there was much time for discussions although questions would be answered.

It is difficult to debate with a man who has spent several weeks on site over a few years and enjoys back up from many top specialists and has so far not published his findings in the normal peer reviewed way. He is anyway far more knowledgeable than me so I am delighted to be able to listen attentively :)

TonyH said...

Is he arriving by National Geographic - sponsored limousine? Possibly could be a mildly presidential appearance (rather like Barak in Ethiopia just now; or Dave in Indonesia today) even if, for effect, he is covered in Preseli sub - soils and "quarry dust".

Somebody take a tape recording oh his talk, please.

Last Rhosyfelin Season, I have recently discovered, he had quite a significant contingent of Germanic help, from their University students etc.

Come on, you Celtic Geomorphology academic experts in Glaciology, including pingos* and the like, get your tickets and hurry along from Aberystwyth, Swansea and Cardiff Universities. Give him a really warm welcome.

*check out Brian's mentions of these via the Search Box on the Blog

TonyH said...

I see on the University of Wales Aberystwyth website that Acting Head of Geography Neil Glasser is pointing out Undergraduates joining the highly - rated Geography courses may specialise in a particular aspect of Physical Geography: such as Glacial Landscapes. There is clearly a specialisation there which enables students and Graduates to understand the processes at work. Rhosyfelin and area's geomorphology would make a good subject for a Doctoral Study, I would think.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I know Neil and some of the other geomorphologists and glaciologists in the Welsh Universities -- particularly Swansea, Aberystwyth and Cardiff. There are considerable numbers of glaciology experts in Wales nowadays, which is great. The chances are good that at least some of them will be able to visit Rhosyfelin during the coming months. I am 100% confident that their diagnoses will be the same as mine. Watch this space.......

A G said...

I received an invite from the QRA today. It would appear that some of our fears are completely groundless. MPP and team have apparently recorded the sediments in minute detail?

BRIAN JOHN said...

They have certainly recorded the location of STONES in minute detail -- not sure the same can be said about the sedimentary layers....... all will be revealed in due course.
Let's see what the geomorphologists think when they visit the site.

BRIAN JOHN said...

So you are a QRA member, Alex? Hadn't realised! Well done!

Michael said...

Hi Brian,

I see that you have arranged a QRA visit to the site some time 12/13 or 14/15/16 Sept. I guess MPP is all OK with this so this is a great step forward.

Do you know when the date for the QRA visit will be confirmed???

BRIAN JOHN said...

Michael -- I have no direct contact with Prof MPP but I have it on good authority that he is quite OK with a visit from QRA members. And those suggested dates came from him. Sadly, the time scale is so tight here that there is no time for QRA to organize a "scheduled field trip" -- the lead time for such a thing needs to be several months. Also, it is of course the field season for those who are working in the Arctic -- and many of the QRA top brass are currently involved in the big INQUA Congress in Japan.

But at least QRA members are now informed. If they are able to visit Rhosyfelin between 12 and 16 Sept they have been asked to contact MPP direct and arrange things with him. Any who would like to visit the site outside the time frame of the dig are welcome to contact me, and I will be happy to act as native guide. What we do not know at the moment is whether the "big pit" will be left open after the end of the 2015 dig -- if it is not, it will be much more difficult for Quaternary specialists to examine the sediments.

So we will not get an on-site conference with a consensus at the end of it -- but we will at the very least get opinions from a much wider range of specialists than we have had up until now.

Michael said...

Went to Rhosyfelin today to see what has happened if anything but did note the followig:

PCC have fixed a pathway closure from the 30th august due to archaeological works. Probably filling in the hole! Interesting that PCC's ' NOTICE OF MAKING ROAD TRAFIC REGS blah blah was dated the 7th August but I was there today ie the 6th.

The proto orthostat has been shrouded in a new piece of tarpaulin perhaps so that it can look it's best for the film crew

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for that, Michael. I suspect that there is more work to be done -- and not just a hole-filling exercise...... perhaps somebody who reads this will enlighten us.

I assume that the dig will go on from Sept 1st to approx Sept 17th.

What on earth is the point of covering the big block with tarpaulin again? People will just go and look at it and pull it off -- and why shouldn't they? So much attention has been lavished on it, and so much publicity has been given to it, that nobody should be surprised by the inquisitiveness of passers-by.

Has the stone acquired some mystical aura, which means it must be shielded from the eyes of mere mortals?

Michael said...

Hi Brian,

Stonehenge relevant program on BBC 2 tonight. May be worth watching.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Michael -- presume you are referring to "The First Britons" -- episode 15. Anybody seen the other 14? From the trailer, it looks as if it's the usual sort of thing. Stick up an Aunt Sally (crude and primitive ancestors) in order to knock it down (brilliant and sophisticated scientists to the rescue......) Anyway, might be worth watching.....

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0675hcv