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Monday, 16 April 2018

Geologists slammed for ignoring "inconvenient" research

In a letter just published in "Geology Today",  I have had a go at geologists Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins for ignoring (in a paper in the magazine) those two "inconvenient" papers about Rhosyfelin that were published in 2015, and for pretending that there is no dispute about the "bluestone quarries."  That was not just forgetful or naughty of them -- it was a serious scientific misdemeanour.  In science you must be open to debate and criticism, and you MUST admit to the fact that your evidence is challenged by others.  Instead, as we know, Ixer and Bevins chose to portray the Neolithic quarry idea as established or unchallenged:

Anyway, last autumn I wrote a letter to the Editor of "Geology Today" about the Ixer and Bevins paper, and said in rather forthright terms that the paper should not have been published, because it chose to maintain the pretence that the "bluestone quarrying" hypothesis was universally accepted.  Anyway, the Editor and his colleagues got into quite a tizz and insisted on all sorts of deletes and minor edits, so that the letter ended up as a very mild rebuke.  I had to accept the "revised version" in the end, or it would not have been published.  The truth of the matter, of course, is that when a defective paper is refereed and accepted and published, and then heavily criticised, it reflects badly not just on the authors of the article but also on the shortcomings of the editorial process used by the journal itself.  When a paper has to be retracted, it reflects as badly on the publishing journal as it does on the authors.  So retraction is to be avoided at all costs.......

Edited version: Geology Today, 34 (2), March / April 2018
Dear Editor,

'Neolithic quarries'

I ─ům writing to make a complaint about the feature article by Ixer and Bevins entitled "The Bluestones of Stonehenge", in Geology Today (Vol 33, No 5, Sept - Oct 2017, pp 184-187).   I am disappointed that it has found its way into print, since some of its claims are unsubstantiated.

The geology is mostly acceptable, and we can live with some claims that are not actually well supported by the evidence. This is not the place to argue about details. But much more serous is the question of the "bluestone quarrying" issue.  This is not the first time that these two
authors have given the impression in the scientific literature that there is clear and undisputed evidence of ancient quarrying / Neolithic working at two Pembrokeshire sites, namely Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin.   In two previous papers published in 2016 they referred to “Neolithic quarry
sites” and to “the Preseli quarries” without making any mention of the fact that in in the previous year two peer-reviewed papers had presented detailed evidence interpreted as showing that such quarries do not exist.

This latest paper, in the pages of Geology Today, has been submitted in spite of the fact that, in my view, the authors have been fully aware, for two years or more, that the “quarrying” evidence presented by Prof Mike Parker Pearson and his team does not withstand detailed scrutiny.

I was one of the authors of the “inconvenient” papers concerned, drawing on extensive knowledge of the Quaternary in West Wales. Detailed sedimentological, stratigraphic and geomorphological evidence was presented to show that all of the so-called "quarrying features" cited by Ixer, Bevins and others are entirely natural, and are fully to be expected in any Quaternary sediment sequence in West Wales where rockfalls are common. None of the cited features are exceptional.  Ixer and Bevins are quite aware of the contents of our papers, and have never challenged any of the field evidence which we have presented.  It seems to me that they have therefore ignored material which should have been cited, and have presented something as established when it clearly is not.

I should make it clear that this dispute between one group of earth scientists and another relates to the interpretation of field evidence at two sites, collected over a period of five years.  It has nothing to do with another ongoing (and vigorous!) argument about how, when and why an assortment of erratic boulders, slabs and pillars found their way from West Wales to Stonehenge.


Dr Brian John

Fig. 15. Carn Goedog, showing perched blocks, ice-moulded surfaces and broken bedrock. Natural, according to some, and a Neolithic quarry, according to others. (Image: Brian John)


TonyH said...

Yeah, and, in a similar vein, Mike Pitts, in the journal "British Archaeology" which he also edits, had just TWO WORDS, namely "ADMITTEDLY CONTROVERSIAL", to include when mentioning what he calls "the indications of quarrying at a known Stonehenge bluestone outcrop in Wales".

I follow this Blog regularly as well as trying to keep abreast of all printed and other media comments made by Archaeologists and Geologists on the geomorphological counter - arguments to their otherwise [seemingly unchallenged!] claims that their "quarries" are for real and not merely wish - fulfilment borne out of hubris.

Basically, they have not mentioned the challenges made by Geomorphologists, in properly peer - reviewed Papers, to the "Neolithic quarry" claims. It particularly saddens me that Mike Pitts, whom I otherwise respect, hasn't felt the need to print a counter - argument in
"British Archaeology", in the intersts of balance and Science. All he;s given us are two words, coyly inserted for minimum impact, into a VERY large article.

TonyH said...

Mike Pitts also edits the Society of Antiquaries' fortnightly on - line Newsletter, as I have recently discovered.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Mike Pitts should know that Rhosyfelin is not a KNOWN Stonehenge bluestone outcrop, since Rhosyfelin is not linked to any KNOWN bluestone monolith but just to some fragments thrown up during digs. In any case, the geological evidence is disputed. There are NO identical matches in the Jovian fabric slides examined, and the geologists have no idea how many other outcrops there may be of the foliations that were sampled at point 8, at the tip of the spur.

So this is a CLAIMED bluestone outcrop, not a known one.

BRIAN JOHN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Ixer said...

Now publish their reply or are you going to 'ignore' that.

Craig Rosyfelin was only a SMALL part of the bluestone work as reported in the original article. Only you are obsessed with it.

Publish your correspondence with the editors I dare you.

READ the original article not the sentence you think was written

The truth is that most people have weighed your evidence against other evidence and have made their judgement. Papers that cite every theory however bizarre would never be published.

The geology today article is an excellent up to date account of the present work done by the pet rock boys and is accepted and cited as such.

The value of work is its influence. You must regret that yours appears to have little.

BRIAN JOHN said...

What reply are you talking about, Rob? The Editor has not sent it to me, and I have not seen it. The journal is behind a paywall, and I have asked (twice) for a PDF of the relevant page -- but it has not been sent.

So we are going to be talking at cross-purposes until I have seen what is in print.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Quotes from the original article:

"A systematic search of outcrops within the Fishguard Volcanic Group suggested a petrographical similarity between the main strongly foliated rhyolitic debitage and outcrops in the Fishguard Volcanic Group around Pont Saeson (see Fig. 7). More detailed sampling of the area showed that a 70 metre long outcrop, Craig Rhos-y-felin (Fig. 2), was the source of this debitage and small scale, systematic sampling along this outcrop demonstrated Stonehenge debitage could be pin-pointed to a large (at the time hidden) north-west facing planar face, a surface that does not look natural (Fig. 8). Subsequent archaeological excavations have shown features consistent with ancient quarrying. More recent detailed mineral geochemistry and high precision radiometric dating have continued to confirm the initial petrographical provenancing of this material to Craig Rhos-y-felin, whilst also showing that the four rhyolitic and dacitic orthostats do not come from there."

"………...very recent excavations at Carn Goedog have revealed evidence for Neolithic working of the outcrop (Parker Pearson and others, in press)."

"Indeed, the question of movement by ice is not ruled out by the available geological evidence although consensus favours human transport. The best that can be hoped for is that a number of undisputed Neolithic quarry sites can be found and recognized and that together they indicate the most likely pathway along which the stones were moved."

This is what you said, not what I think you said. You kindly sent the PDF of the article to me, presumably because you knew it would be publicised and scrutinized and discussed. That is what this blog is for.

The article was of course much larger, giving a very useful summary of the state of play re bluestone provenences. Discussion of some of your work will go on, involving other geologists, no doubt. So yes, the points you make about quarries and quarrying are just a small part of the whole. But my whole point in writing to the journal was that you ignored several opportunities to state that the quarrying evidence is disputed; that you chose not to cite the work of other earth scientists who deserved -- at the very least -- some acknowledgement and respect; and that you even expressed the hope that more quarries might be found!

Balanced? I think not.....

Robert Ixer said...

Of course you don't think it balanced because you are not rational about this. You have lost the ability to doubt.

Read the words they are scrupulously neutral.

ALMOST 30 years ago I said the transport mechanism for the bluestones cannot be shown but evidence for quarrying would 'prove' that they were anthropogenically moved. I also said that the key to the story was the identification of the non Preselli bluestone. Few people took much notice.
Perhaps in 30 years it will be your turn.

The article was not about quarrying other than a glancing blow.

Robert Ixer said...

Ah non-preselite bluestones (aka) spotted dolerite.
Although the non Preseli bluestones, all sandstones, are important. Namely the Lower Palaeozoic sandstone and the Devonian Altar Stone.

It is the odds, as ever so, that are the key.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Scrupulously neutral? Your words are posted above, and they are clearly biased towards the interpretation of features as associated with quarrying. You could and should have mentioned that the "evidence" is disputed, and chose not to. Readers will judge for themselves whether my criticisms in the letters pages of Geology Today were justified. It is irrelevant that most of the article was about the hunt for provenances -- if you then throw in assorted comments about quarrying that's your choice, and you live with the consequences. You did not need to do it.

As for your other comment: "Papers that cite every theory however bizarre would never be published." That's a bit weird, if I may say so, suggesting that the two papers by Dyfed, John and me were associated with some bizarre theory! Let me remind you that there were not associated with any theory at all. They were papers based upon detailed analyses of field evidence at one "quarrying" site. One described the Quaternary sediments and offered a sequence of events consistent with what we know about the regional chronostratigraphy. The other looked at a list of features interpreted as quarrying or engineering features, and found them to be entirely natural. Perfectly straightforward, sound science. You should have cited the papers, and instead ignored them.

If there is any "bizarre theory" around here, it is the "Neolithic quarrying" theory, and on that basis you would have been a good deal wiser if you had ignored it right from the start. That's what I am sure you would have done if you had scrutinized the evidence more carefully on the ground. Think Occam's Razor and Hitchens's Razor......

Robert Ixer said...

You see you personalise everything. Good Science is impersonal or you become a post-processionalist.

The sentence "Papers that cite etc....... never be published" had nothing to do with you or your interpretation of the rock scatter at the two quarry sites. (The interpretation is not bizarre but I think incorrect, or rather, less important than the archaeological evidence). It had not entered my mind I was thinking of the Stonehenge neo-cabalists. It was a general statement that we are selective in what we consider to be relevant and useful in order to restrict the reference section.

Your belief that the bluestones at Stonehenge are erratics I DO think is bizarre and against rational thought.

You are becoming very irrational It is self-defeating. Your work is in the literature- railing because it has not won you a paid trip to Norway and a gong or has largely been sidelined is counter-productive.

Incidentally your letter as reported above has MANY variances with that published in Geology Today. You should check and correct these errors. I guess it was the letter you wished you had sent.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I have now read the Ixer / Bevins reply to my note in Geology Today. I'd better not publish it, since it is not in print yet -- it will be in Geol Today 34 (3), May-June 2018, on p 85-86. Anyway, it's perfectly innocuous. It says nothing that we didn't know already -- and just restates the fact that the article was about a wide range of geological work for a "lay audience". It says the references to "quarrying sites" were more or less in passing, and that the article was clearly referencing the work by MPP et al -- without mentioning that RB and RI were the second and third authors in that paper! So they are clearly heavily implicated in the promotion of the quarrying thesis -- they cannot escape from that. They then plead that theirs is an "open minded approach" while confirming that their statements about quarrying were made without any reference to the fact that the "evidence" is hotly disputed. That is precisely what I have been complaining about.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Rob, this is getting very petty and personal. Distasteful too. What in earth is all that nonsense about paid trips to Norway and gongs? I desire neither a paid trip to Norway nor a gong. I fastidiously avoid personal attacks -- but I do hold authors accountable for the things they say. Quite right too. There is a long-standing tradition that papers are referred to when they are criticised (or praised) as "Smith and Jones, 2018" or whatever. It would become absurd if we were to try referring to papers by their titles or in any other fashion.

Since when has my work been sidelined? I'm not going to get into a slagging match over how many citations I have received as compared with anybody else. People will pay attention to my research as they see fit, and history will tell who is right, on assorted contentious issues. I enjoy putting things on this blog, and take some pleasure from the fact that rather a lot of people seem to find them entertaining and -- dare I say it -- educational.

By the way, the version of my note to Geol Today was the last version I agreed with the Editor. I had no idea it had been changed until I saw the final version as a PDF the other day.

Because of the rather unpleasant nature of some of the comments contributed to this thread, I am shutting it down here and now.