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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Deference or scrutiny?

I forgot to report on the talk which I gave at our local micro-brewery on October 28th.  It was indoors and supported by a good audience -- and after a few glitsches we managed to get my laptop computer to communicate with a friend's digital projector -- so I was able to show my Powerpoint presentation.  My talk was very similar to that given to the Welsh archaeologists in Machynlleth a few months ago.

I enjoyed it -- and of course did my best to stir up a jolly discussion.  It got quite heated at times, with most of the ire directed at me by people who have heard too many of MPP's talks over the years.  So afterwards several people said how entertaining it had all been!

I spent part of the talk referring to the work done at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog by the geologists and the archaeologists, and part of it talking about the work done by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself on the Quaternary sediment sequence and landforms.  Of course I was critical of those who are promoting the "Neolithic bluestone quarrying" hypothesis.  And as ever, nobody questioned any of our findings as published in our two peer-reviewed papers.

It was all very good-humoured, and what struck me was the ongoing determination of some people to follow the line that "there may be no evidence for long-distance monolith transport by human beings, but they were certainly very clever (think pyramids, Easter Island heads etc) and if they had wanted to do it they would have done it.  Therefore they probably did....."    I have no time for that sort of argument, and said so.

The other thing that was quite entertaining (for me as the speaker) was that one or two members of the audience were quite outraged that I had the temerity to question the evidence presented by those terribly expert geologists and archaeologists, who were deemed to be honest and highly-skilled academics simply doing their best to collect evidence in the field.  I should presumably have accorded them more respect and even deference......... 

I could have reminded these good people that I am rather expert too, and know what I am talking about, at least for most of the time.  But time was too tight for all that sort of stuff, so I contented myself with reminding the audience that when you do field research you are supposed to go through a process of data collection, data analysis, and interpretation before telling the world what your conclusions are.  In contrast, the archaeologists who have been digging in our area for six seasons have demonstrated a cavalier disregard for the norms of scientific field research, and they deserve to be slated for it.  (In fairness, the geologists have done things properly, so no problems on that score, apart with some quibbles on their interpretations.....)

I also reminded my enthusiastic critics that I have at least done MPP and his team the honour of referring to their work and examining it carefully.  On the other side of the argument, from all the reports I have had of MPP's talks in the last year or two, the glacial transport thesis is simply ignored or dismissed out of hand as being "discredited."   By whom, and on what grounds, is apparently never explained.

So a sad conclusion that I came to, following our convivial evening in the brewery, is that some members of the public believe that senior academics should be deferred to as "experienced experts who should be believed" -- rather than as field researchers whose work should be subjected to close scrutiny by their peer group and by workers from other disciplines who see things rather clearly because they are not wearing rose-tinted spectacles.  It obviously helps if you have the title "Professor" in front of your name! (Don't get me going on that one.......)

I always have, and always will, work on the basis that anybody who goes onto the record with his/her field results should welcome close scrutiny, and should expect his/her hypotheses to be tested to destruction, to be modified and rejected -- and to be replaced by better hypotheses.  My two colleagues and I have put our Rhosyfelin work on the record, and we welcome and await the scrutiny of others. If falsification follows, so be it.

That, fundamentally, is the difference between those who come from a scientific background and those who enjoy a quiet life lit up every now and then by the magic of fairy tales.


1 comment:

TonyH said...

As you mention the Easter Island heads and the implicit cleverness of people more "primitive" than our present generations, I think it is notable how MPP and virtually all of his sundry co - writers and co - workers get the fact that they have been involved in work on Easter Island mentioned prominently in, for example, his last C.B.A. book on Stonehenge, i.e. the one published in 2015 in the "Archaeology For All" series.

There is a subtle implication in all this, that his 'archaeology for all' premise is that he and his caucus possess the true essential, reliable wisdom and therefore are entitled to pass down their views to the rest of us who aren't really worthy to develop our own independent opinions, or to be so daring as the read any alternative points of view - even if those alternative views are based upon rather more thorough and scientific field research and data gathering.