Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Social media attack to blog post to journal article

figure from my paper
My paper, "Social Science and Archaeological Enquiry", was just released, online, by the journal Antiquity (last week, I think). It is volume 91 (356), pp. 520 - 528. You can find a copy here.   This is without a doubt the strangest journey to publication of any of my papers, so maybe it is worth telling. I have the Grateful Dead on in the background, which helps. The story begins with my attendance at a talk on the "new materiality" by Rosemary Joyce at the University of Colorado Department of Anthropology in late January or early February, 2016. I did not like the lecture, and I made some snide remarks about it in this blog, here.

The new materiality: Vacuous or just incomprehensible?

Looking back, I was perhaps a bit harsh in my tone, bordering on rudeness. Some students from UCB posted some critical remarks about my post on their departmental Facebook page.

You can see some of the posts from the Boulder group here.

I fired back and posted some more remarks on my blog. I was taken to task by the department chairman, in a rather rude ad hominen post, for shooting my mouth off without restraint, rather like a small child. You can find all this pretty easily if you are interested (note: it is not very interesting...). Nearly all of the criticisms from Boulder suggested that my speech was not valued. I was insulting; I was trying to spoil their special lecture; I should not say such nasty things about their distinguished visitor. Many people came along and liked their critical posts. I became a pariah to UCB Anthropology-Facebook. But not a word about the intellectual content of the lecture or my reaction to it.

I was dismayed, insulted, and demoralized by my first social-media hazing event. The comments to some of my blog posts discuss some of these issues. But to me, the key issues were--and are--scientific and intellectual. I found the whole approach of Rosemary Joyce's talk to be anti-scientific and thus detrimental to the advance of the kind of archaeology I advocate in this blog. I was particularly incensed at her argument that fields like archaeology had to choose between the humanities and the natural sciences. She claimed that, given the inadequacies of natural science, we should choose to follow the humanities. This is so wrong-headed, it drove me nuts.

My reactions led to me create a series of posts that clarified my views of science, social science, and the place of archaeology. Writing these helped me clarify my own views of the topic, and try to put them into a framework that would be clear to other archaeologists (ever wonder why i blog? This is a primary reason - it helps me clarify my thoughts).

Science, Social science, and archaeology: Where do we stand?

Pascal Boyer's view of science, social science, and the humanities

Why is it important to strive for a more scientific archaeology?

Why is a scientific archaeology so hard to achieve?

((you can get to the later posts from the first one))

After this whole event had died down, it occurred to me that I should present these ideas in a larger venue, in a streamlined and more efficient context. Why had no one called the postprocessualists to task for their outdated and inaccurate views of positivism and science? Why haven't scientifically-minded archaeologists shot back at the epistemological hogwash? So I sent off a short piece to Antiquity, and they accepted it. I was a bit nervous, wondering if it was entirely proper to put ideas from a blog post into a journal article. But this was not at all a literal re-doing of the blog. The basic message was the same, though. I came across the paper on archaeological theory by Julian Thomas, and found that none of the work I do - theoretical or empirical - would fit under his definition of "archaeological theory." So I contrasted it with the list of different approaches to archaeological theory given by Jarvie and  Zamora-Bomilla. I also continued some of the themes from my paper on archaeological arguments.

So the path of this article was:

- attended a talk I did not like
- wrote a snarky blog post about it
- was attacked on social media
- sharpened my thinking in a series of blog posts
- condensed and sharpened the ideas further for a journal paper

So, I figured that it was time for another blog post (this one). Perhaps I should give a bad lecture on the whole affair and complete the circle. Or maybe I should shut up and concentrate my efforts on publications, not blogs.

To quote my favorite rock band, "What a long strange trip its been....."


Jarvie, Ian and Jesús Zamora-Bomilla (editors)
2011 Sage Handbook of the Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Sage, New York.

Smith, Michael E.
2015 How Can Archaeologists Make Better Arguments? The SAA Archaeological Record 15 (4): 18-23.

2017 Social Science and Archaeological Inquiry. Antiquity 91: 520-528.

Thomas, Julian
2015 The Future of Archaeological Theory. Antiquity 89: 1287-1296.


Lisa-Marie Shillito said...

Don't stop blogging! I find it very valuble to read informal thought processes. Same reason I do my own blog. Looking forward to following up the social sci refs.

Michael E. Smith said...

I seem to have no time for anything these days! But as I often tell people, blog posts don't take a lot of time. And it is fun to be fast and loose with one's prose. A reviewer (for Camb Arch Journal) once complained that my prose was too blog-like. I'm not sure if that is a compliment (clear, direct and uncluttered) or a criticism (not convoluted and academic).

Pretzel Bender said...

Having read Cambridge archaeological Journal I can say with certainty that it is a compliment to be more "blog like". In fact, my chair (upon reading my cake blog) noted that it was clearly written and easy to read, er, rather unlike the rest of my writing apparently! :)
I'm glad you wrote an article on your thinking. A happy ending to an overly dramatic social media reaction.

Tom Dye said...

I was surprised not to find some discussion of what archaeological enquiry entails. The word "enquiry" appears in the title of the article, then disappears from view.

I think this is important because archaeologists frequently consider enquiry to consist entirely of reasoning to a hypothesis. In this kind of reasoning, an archaeologist makes an observation that is surprising in some way, then thinks creatively about a state of affairs that might "explain" the surprising observation. The idea is to reason to a hypothesis -- "If this state of affairs is true, then the observation I made is not surprising." In this stage of enquiry, where creativity enters the process, the archaeologist draws on a wide range of inspirations. Social science might be one, history or another humanity another, agent-based modeling yet another, etc. The laundry lists presented in the article make this point emphatically--archaeologists have found inspiration widely.

It makes little sense to argue that archaeologists should reason to a hypothesis in one way and not another, though much of the archaeological literature attempts just this. Inspiration is, well, inspiration and we should be happy if it comes to us, regardless of the source.

Instead, reasoning to a hypothesis should be judged by its practical consequences. Does the hypothesis change our habits? Does it lead to law-like structurations of our archaeological observations that provide a basis for arguing from a set of particular observations to generalizing statements about the past? These last two steps, one deductive and the other inductive, are necessary for a logically complete specification of inquiry.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Tom - I'm not anxious to get hung up on the term "enquiry." Actually, I don't like the paper's title. Reviewers didn't like my intitial title "A social science model for archaeology." The editor said it would probably go into a "Debates" section, or perhaps a "Futures" section, and not to worry about the title. So I inserted the title as a place-holder until I knew how the paper would be included. Then came proofs and I wasn't thinking about the title, and it ended up with a title that I'm not thrilled with.

But I think the purpose and main points are clear enough, even if the title isn't the best description.

Your description of "enquiry" and "reasoning to a hypothesis" sound like what I call post-hoc explanation in my 2015 paper on arguments:


But I'm not sure this is what you are getting at.

Tom Dye said...

@Michael E. Smith - Thanks for your response. I'm sorry to have left you unsure of what I was getting at and hope to flesh things out a bit. First, though, I'm pleased you are publishing on the structure of archaeological arguments and that this work has led you to touch on "enquiry," albeit apparently inadvertently. To my mind, these are timely and important topics, and I've read your Antiquity and Archaeological Record papers with interest.

My point has to do with a logic of archaeological inquiry that is based on the work of C. S. Peirce. Peirce considered inquiry to be the process by which doubt resolves to belief. Peirce's ideas on inquiry were introduced to archaeology at a CAA conference more than 15 years ago, but the paper has received less attention that I think it deserves:

Djindjian, F. (2001). Artefact analysis. In Z. Stančič and T. Veljanovski (Eds.), Computing Archaeology for Understanding the Past, Number 931 in BAR International Series, pp. 41–52. Oxford: Archaeopress.

As with much of Peirce's thinking, the logic of inquiry has three parts, which Djindian labeled Acquisition, Structuration, and Reconstitution. Acquisition deals with what we archaeologists generally think of as data; these are the things that are what they are irrespective of how or what we think of them. Structuration refers to a confrontation between the acquired data and a law-like observation scheme. Reconstitution is a generalization of the resulting particular observations. Late in his life, Peirce argued that each part of inquiry was associated with a particular kind of inference. Using Djindjian's terms, Acquisition involves reasoning to a hypothesis (something Peirce called "abduction"), Structuration involves necessary reasoning (deduction), and Reconstitution involves generalization (induction).

My claim that "archaeologists frequently consider enquiry to consist entirely of reasoning to a hypothesis" was neatly confirmed by your conflation of the two: "`enquiry' and `reasoning to a hypothesis' sound like what I call post-hoc explanation."

While I agree that your discussion of post-hoc arguments in the Archaeological Record paper is about reasoning to a hypothesis, I think that discussion misses the mark because it lacks a clear view of inquiry.

To my mind, that discussion gets off on the wrong foot because Binford was confused about about post-hoc arguments.
a) Post-hoc arguments don't have to be untestable.
b) Testable post-hoc arguments are "research activities." They are the reasoning to a hypothesis that represents the Acquisition part of inquiry.
c) Post-hoc argumentation is one way the community of inquirers (Peirce believed inquiry was carried out by a community of inquirers, not individual research projects as Binford appears to have assumed) implements the method of multiple working hypotheses, which you rightly discuss in positive terms.
d) HARKing (without the various auxiliary errors you list) is one way inquiry builds on previous research.

So, with this background, my claim is that your social science archaeology represents one of many ways archaeologists might reason to a hypothesis. I think it is a useful and productive way to reason to a hypothesis and have thought so since I read your review of How Chiefs Become Kings in Cliodynamics. However, I also think that Dave Killick's social constructionist reasoning to a hypothesis is extremely useful, and perhaps that Rosemary Joyce's reasoning is too, though I didn't attend the lecture that set you on edge. My point is that useful reasoning to a hypothesis can be based on any kind of background information; the sole criterion to distinguish good from bad is whether or not it leads to productive inquiry, which by necessity also includes Structuration and Reconstitution.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Tom - I've never been able to make much sense out of Pierce. Perhaps his scheme can make some kind of sense out of archaeological epistemology. But I am really quite a poor abstract thinker and I get confused with discussions like this.To me, it sounds like Djindjian is using terms from Pierce to classify archaeological reasoning. OK, but I'm not sure where that gets us. One reason I published my arguments paper where I did is that I was afraid that if I submitted it to a peer-reviewed journal, reviewers would jump all over me for not getting abstract details of reasoning or enquiry correct and not citing lots of philosophical sources.

But I think we should be able to do archaeology and accomplish some of our goals without recourse to philosophical debates about abstract ideas. I guess I just have to plead ignorance here, and I am probably saying dumb things. I guess I am less interested in being philosophically sophisticated than in getting archaeologists to do some simple things (like make an argument that can be falsified) well. Much archaeology today is so very bad on the issue of argumentation and explanation, that is is not hard to find simple ways to improve the situation. If I am off-base philosophically, I apologize.

Tom Dye said...

@Michael E. Smith - Fair enough. We definitely agree on the issue of arguments that can be falsified.

I strongly recommend the paper by Djindjian. He skips the philosophical details and illustrates Peirce's pragmatic approach with several archaeological examples, which might suit your way of thinking about these things. He even sorts out the Binford/Bordes debate in a way I wish I'd hit on when we studied it in graduate school.

My own take is that archaeologists are, as a group, quite clever at reasoning to a hypothesis. The Structuration step seems to me to be the big hurdle.

Thanks again for your work on these issues.