Sunday, June 10, 2012

Science type 1 vs. Science type 2

In a previous post, Rejected by Science!, I identified two different concepts of science in archaeology. Archaeological science type 1 is the pursuit of knowledge in a way that conforms to a scientific epistemology. In the words of John Gerring:

·         “Inquiry of a scientific mature, I stipulate, aims to be cumulative, evidence-based (empirical), falsifiable, generalizing, nonsubjective, replicable, rigorous, skeptical, systematic, transparent, and grounded in rational argument. There are differences of opinion over whether, or to what extent, science lives up to these high ideals. Even so, these are the ideals to which natural and social scientists generally aspire, and they help to define the enterprise in a general way and to demarcate it from other realms.” (Gerring 2012:11).

Archaeological science type 2, on the other hand, is the use of non-archaeological scientific techniques by archaeologists, for whatever purpose. Ideally, science type 2 is done in pursuit of the goals of science type 1, but such is not always the case. In my previous post, I identified two situations when archaeological science type 2 is done in ways that do not conform to type 1:
  • Relativist, post-modern archaeologists who criticize a scientific epistemology for archaeology often use archaeometric methods (science type 2), in pursuit of goals that are not scientific.
  • Methodologically sloppy archaeologists sometimes aim to use science type 2 methods to further science type 1 ends, but their sloppiness prevents progress.

There is a third condition where archaeological science type 2 can be done at odds  with type 1 science that I did not discuss:
  • Non-archaeological scientific techniques are often used to make exaggerated, sensationalist claims that go beyond the "replicable, rigorous, skeptical" nature of scientific research.
For a very nice example of this phenomenon, see Rosemary Joyce's blog posting, "Good science, big hype, bad archaeology." NSF-supported LIDAR mapping in Honduras (a science type 2 method, for sure) has been interpreted, without ground-truthing, as possibly identifying a legendary "lost city" of Ciudad Blanca (see the Univ. of Houston press release here).  Never mind that scholars have identified this "city" as a figment of legend, not fact. Now in these circumstances it is often difficult to know just who thinks that Ciudad Blanca may have been found. Did the LIDAR scientists tell their press agent this story? Or did they merely mention Ciudad Blanca as an aside, but it was trumpeted by the press release (a frequent practice)? Government officials in Honduras are evidently jumping on the bandwagon too.

To my mind, this episode illustrates the problems that can occur when the two types of archaeological science are in conflict with one another. But right now it is merely a controversy in the realm of press releases and blogs and the internet. The rubber will hit the road when the research is submitted to a scholarly journal. And at that point one can only hope, as I suggested in my earlier post, that the editors will not be fooled into thinking that archaeological science type 2 that is done is opposition to science type 1 is really a scientific endeavor epistemologically.

Gerring, John
2012    Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, New York.

By the way, that earlier post "Rejected by Science!" is BY FAR the most popular post in the history of this blog, with perhaps more hits than all of the other posts combined. I am puzzled by this, not sure why it is so popular. I am not complaining, just curious. If you have any ideas, let me know.


Anonymous said...

I just don't think that that any individual can meet the criteria of your type 1 yet not be implicated in an aspect of the type 2 or 'lower' faults - and that many "relativist, post modernist" folk are not critiquing "scientific methods" but rather the interpretations that derive from a particular application of those methods.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Anonymous- Could you elaborate a bit? I'm not sure I understand the comment. What are "lower faults"? What I call science type 1 is not method or technique narrowly construed. I mean a scientific approach to the phenomena at hand. Relativists don't often say they reject science per se; it is more often phrased as a rejection of positivist approaches, or a rejection of a scientific understanding of past societies, or the use of a term like "scientistic" in a pejorative way. But, to my way of thinking, these are all rejections of science type 1.