Now, suppose you decide that you want to make a weak argument that few of your colleagues will find convincing. While I am of course being sarcastic here, as I was in my post, "How to give a bad conference paper", this is a serious point. Why? Because it often seems that archaeologists must at some level be making this decision. They make weak arguments. So, the purpose of this post is to help them out by reminding them of tips and tricks to make bad arguments. I will mostly provide links to past blog posts where I discuss these issues.
(1) Use analogy incorrectly.
Do not develop a formal argument by analogy, based on a sample of source examples and carefully extrapolated to your archaeological data. Ignore Lewis Binford's suggestion to treat an analogy as a hypothesis to test, and whatever you do, make sure you avoid Alison Wylie's brilliant and definitive discussion of the role of analogy in archaeology. Cherry-pick one analogical case from somewhere in the world and claim that it supports your case.
You could check out my previous post on this topic, although be warned that it is a reverse argument: it assumes that you might want to make strong arguments and use analogy well.
(2) Make post-hoc interpretations.
Don't bother to set up initial hypotheses or expectations. Who knows what you fill find when you dig into the ground, anyway? Do your fieldwork or lab analysis, then scratch your head and try to dream up a nice-sounding interpretation. Slap some currently fashionable idea onto your data, and voila, you are done.
You could check out my earlier post on post-hoc arguments, or the one on trying to prove that you are wrong.
(3) Use empty citations to back up your shoddy scholarship.
Don't use citations to other works to supply data and cases that provide a foundation for your arguments. Instead, cite sources that that have no empirical data, but rather offer opinions and speculations that agree with your argument. Avoid citing studies with data that go against your views or models; instead cite those that agree with your ideas but lack any data. These are called empty citations.
You can check my prior post on this topic, and please follow the links there to Ann-Wil Harzing's original discussion of empty citations. Oops, I am being straight here, not sarcastic.
I find it really depressing that the archaeological literature (particularly the archaeology of complex societies) is so full of weak arguments. This acts to prevent the development and accumulation of reliable archaeological findings, which impedes the empirical advancement of our field. The sloppy use of analogy, post-hoc interpretations, and empty citations are all part of the picture. We need to get our act together. If you have not read and carefully studied Wylie (1985), you should do that immediately. And then check out chapter 7 of Booth et al (2008). Check out some of the methodological works from the social scientists I cited in my previous post. And finally, read my article on this topic (once I get around to writing it.......)
Booth, Wayne C., Gergory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams (2008) The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Wylie, Alison (1985) The Reaction Against Analogy. Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 8:63-111.