Wall, ancient Letocetum, in Staffordshire.
I saw an interesting funding opportunity on ReadWriteWeb and, because it’s only open to Americans, I thought to share it. Kickstarter.com looks like it could be useful for funding small-scale academic projects.
The idea is simple enough, you look through the various projects on the website and if you see an idea you like you pledge some money to it. If a project raises all the money it needs in pledges before a deadline then credit cards are charges and the project gets the money. If the project doesn’t get enough money the pledges lapse. The project gets nothing, but this also means there’s no obligation to fulfil targets on a cut budget.
You’re probably not going to fund a large or even medium-sized Hadron collider with this, but for sub-$5000 projects, it might be a possibility. It strikes me as a good match for some archaeological work. The difficulty is working out what you can give back. Ideally you’d want to publish all your findings, so it’s hard to justify keeping back useful information for backers only. You could give priority to backers like subscriber-only updates live from the field. The difficulty I foresee with this is that it then means on top of work, you’ll want to spend a couple of hours each day producing the updates. If you’re somewhere where updating from the field is difficult, like the Sahara, then it’s harder to work this model. Tweets from a private account won’t be much of bonus if the backers can’t interact with the fieldworker(s).
On the other hand if you have a known budget with a known number of backers then you can budget to include producing premium content. So saying that anyone that pledges over $X get a limited-edition hardback edition of the report is feasible – or at least it would be if Lulu’s cost calculator had been working when I wrote this. On the downside $20 from a $50 pledge would be lost producing the content, but that’s still a net gain of $30. Giving something back to the backers seems pretty essential as they’ll be the obvious market for your next project.
At the moment the site is limited to American projects because the system works through Amazon payments. If it’s successful then it’ll either expand or else a bigger start-up with open a globally-accessible competitor. Either way if the balance between premium content and open-access can be found, then it could be an alternative source of funding, for projects with popular appeal.
I’m now giving serious thought to funding future projects of my own. Because I tend to stick to basic survey, my own costs tend to be travel and car hire. One idea I’m considering is commercial sponsorship. If a nonsense survey can earn someone £500 for simply attaching a name, then producing a news-worthy story should be worth a few thousand to the right sponsor. That means proving news-worthiness. I’ll be looking hard at publicity for my next paper as I got it badly wrong last time. If I learn from that I’ll take a radically different approach.
I’ve been sat on this post for a couple of weeks. One reason for not putting it up is I’ve been busy and this post might annoy a few people. Kicking off a discussion and then ignoring it is impolite, so it has had to wait. Another reason is that it’s another post on whether (and how) academics should accommodate religious beliefs. There’s been a lot of posts on this elsewhere because of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s invective-sodden publicity howl for their book Unscientific America. Mooney and Kirshenbaum believe that people should show respect for religious beliefs, and any atheist who disagrees is engaged in acts of violence. There’s a rich vein of irony to be found in the headline of their recent LA Times piece. You may wonder if they’re on a crusade for respect for a specific religious tradition rather than all of them. There’s many people who’ve written many posts about flaws in Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s reasoning. Many of them are good, but I’m not interested in simply adding a ‘me too’. At best it’s boring. At worst its cowardly mob-following — and boring.
Still it’s possible there could be something to debate. By nature I prefer to work with people than against them. I’d like to say it’s because I’m such a nice person but I’m probably confusing laziness with niceness. Life is easier if you don’t have to work against people. If accommodation of religious beliefs works then that’s so much less work to do. So what would an accomodationist stance look like?
An answer can be found in a book chapter by Kyle S. Van Houtan and Stuart L. Pimm: “The Various Christian Ethics of Species Conservation”. It’s a discussion of an attempt to use theology to understand some of the more reality-proof Christian groups in an attempt to change policy on conservation. If you’re expecting a laugh-a-minute deconstruction of the paper then you’re in for a disappointment. It opens with a quote from William Placher which argues morality has very little to do with religion. Whether or not you agree with them Van Houtan and Pimm are clearly on speaking terms with reality,
The problem addressed by Van Houtan and Pimm is the resistance to environmental campaigns by fundamentalists. Fundamentalists identify one of the evils of science in general is the lack of a moral imperative. Whether or not you’d describe Christian fundamentalists as moral is irrelevant here. Their perception of science is that it is, at best, a moral vacuum. This contrasts with ecologists who see their work as having a strong moral base. The first difficulty identified by Van Houtan and Pimm is language. If you’re in a narrow mindset where only Christianity is moral then identifiably unchristian language is clearly used to describe immoral activity. It’s a small step from Evolution, which is obviously the work of the Devil, to Ecology. This puts Ecology firmly on the side of the apes. If you believe in angels this is a dealbreaker.
…[E]thics in nontheological language will be worse than unattractive to Christians—such ethics will be incoherent. Theological language is what gives Christian ethics intelligibility. As a result, casually using “nature” or “biodiversity” in place of “creation” is incredibly significant when considering Christian environmental ethics.Van Houtan and Pimm p119
This is clearly dead centre in Mooney and Kirshenbaum territory. We have a scientifically illiterate audience. We have a crisis for which there is clear scientific evidence; Van Houtan and Pimm would like to save up to a third of the planet’s species from extinction in the next century. We also have language identified as a major factor in preventing action. It would seem that science communication is urgently needed, but to whom? After a brief survey which shows that the planet’s ecosystem definitely is in danger. Van Houtan and Pimm move on to tackling the Christians. They are clear that Christians are plural.
This is one of my bugbears. It’s certainly easy to rail against stupid Christians, but stupidity is not a requirement for many Christian sects. The idea that Christians are morons is not just a case of lazy framing by non-Christians. It’s a political gambit by fundamentalists too. If I’m head evangelist for the Church of Christian Lunacy then I won’t campaign against the teaching of science because it’s Lunatic policy. I’ll say that the campaign against science is a Christian matter. This is a subtle attempt to pull Catholics and Protestants into the fight on my side because there’s the implication that if you don’t accept this Lunatic idea, you’re not really a Christian. It works because, as Van Houtan and Pimm make clear, there isn’t really leadership from the Churches on ecology. There are many different positions. To make things easier Van Houtan and Pimm neatly construct a four-fold typology of ecological positions.
This recognition of the diversity of Christian positions matters if you’re looking for a positive action:
Experience teaches that, when participants in two different fields of knowledge meet, they will have symmetrical views. For example, when economists meet ecologists, the former have a detailed drawing of the economy and a single, simple box for “ecology,” whereas ecologists have a detailed drawing of environmental processes and a single, simple box for “the economy.” This seems the case for religion and the environment. Those concerned with the practical issues of protecting the environment are likely to see the multifaceted problems of their trade, but view religion, ethics, and the church as single and monolithic. The reverse is also common.Van Houtan and Pimm p131
This is a useful insight. Again I think it could support the Mooney-Kirshenbaum proposition that public Atheism harms Scientific communication because, if people like Richard Dawkins are the most prominent scientists, the obvious label on the Science box is ‘godless’. We therefore have a starting position for rebuilding science communication. What do Van Houtan and Pimm give use as tools for working on that? I’ll discuss this in full below.
Now I’ve discussed that, the next obvious question is why do Van Houtan and Pimm say so little about science communication given they’re talking about ecology? The reason is that they’re aware of the audience they’re talking to. The issue, even for those who’d style themselves as scientific sceptics, is not science. It’s religion and politics. They really go to town on this discussing the links between right-wing political groups and the nuttier Christian factions. They criticise the Cornwall Declaration and its reliance on technological fixes to various inconveniences:
Overexploitation is not a concern because the ability to extract natural resources increases with technological advances. One assumes that even biodiversity loss can be mitigated through biotechnology. If species drift close to extinction, surely their populations can be bolstered through Jurassic Park–like efforts… Are we to believe these arguments? More important, is there a biblical cause to do so?Van Houtan and Pimm p134 (My emphasis)
This makes sense within the frame where Van Houtan and Pimm are working. As far as I’m concerned the definitive statement biblical statement on ecology is purely of historical interest. The idea that I should care about it as a guide to modern living makes my mental gears crunch. If I were a Christian like Pimm and – presumably – Van Houtan, I would see things differently, as they make clear in their conclusion.
Certainly, there are paths of environmental ethics that are secular, some of which are certainly unfaithful to both the Hebrew and Christian portions of the Bible. For those of faith though the primary concern is not nature itself nor humanity, but obedience to the scriptures. The remaining challenge then, requires theologians to teach the scriptures, ecologists to measure the state of the environment, and both to work in concert… We do not call for a baptizing of secular agendas—either liberal or conservative—but rather obedience to God’s word.Van Houtan and Pimm p136-7
I think, as far as it tackles the problem identified by Van Houtan and Pimm, their paper makes complete sense. This is about galvanising militant Christians and you don’t do that with science. It’s an approach brings ethical problems of its own and a political cost. For example, Van Houtan and Pimm show the importance of the biblical character of the message in its delivery — but who delivers it? Could a young black woman deliver this message to a white patriarchal church in Florida? That’s a particularly pointed question, but accommodating the principles of various churches means that you state arguments from personal revelation or prejudice should replace arguments backed with evidence in public debate. Science is about evidence so while this approach might work politically by getting a result, in the longer term it is antithetical to science communication. Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s policy of accommodation sinks.
It’s hard to be certain because this example isn’t mentioned in their book. This is a bit odd.
Stuart Pimm certainly is mentioned in Unscientific America. He’s thanked for his comments on the book. It’s peculiar that he didn’t think to mention that he’d been involved in the kind of reaching out to science-resistant people that Mooney and Kirshenbaum were after. It’s particularly odd because Pimm is a Professor of Ecology at Duke University. Sheril Kirshenbaum, I’m told, is a Marine Biologist at Duke University. I’m not sure what her marine biological work there is, because the only mention of her research I found was a reference to her Science of Kissing but it’s likely she would have come into contact with quite regularly Pimm as she’s listed as being part of Pimm’s working group.
One of the recurring criticisms of Unscientific America is that it’s shallow and superficial. I think the above is a case in point. I have some difficulties with Van Houtan and Pimm’s paper, I don’t think it tackles the political environment of Christianity particularly well. As they mention, discussing the funding of the far-right Christian groups, there are bit social and political factors behind this. I think there’s interplay between religious belief and political funding. The impression I get from Van Houtan and Pimm is closer to a Patron/Client relationship. That’s not an entirely fair criticism though. For a start it’s the old chestnut “They didn’t write an entirely different paper that I wanted them to write.” It’s also not the end of the conversation. I think their ideas could be usefully picked up and developed or applied to other contexts. It lays out a positive argument which you can discuss. Bruising their Religion, the comparable chapter in Unscientific America, in contrast says much more about their personal blog-warring than it does about religion and science in the USA. Mooney and Kirshenbaum may, or may not, agree with Van Houtan and Pimm’s analysis but it’s clearly a missed opportunity that they didn’t think to mention it.
It’s also worth returning to the box. Not all Christians are stupid. Van Houtan and Pimm are very clear about that and talk about taking their message to specific Christian groups. They do not, as far as I read the chapter, argue that all the public should be treated like they’re in the remedial class. In the meantime since I started writing this Mooney and Kirshenbaum have published an article in the LA Times. Having previously criticised Dawkins for being an atheist in the public sphere, they now criticise him for being a scientist in the public sphere. I know Christians who hate what Dawkins says, or at least what other people say Dawkins says. Nonetheless they have a keen interest in science and are perfectly capable of coping with Evolution and science in general without any patronising allowances. Van Houtan and Pimm’s model has the sophistication to leave room for them. I much prefer following a policy that states religious people are not inherently more stupid than atheists.
A couple of years ago Martin Rundkvist pulled together a series of blog posts from around the world under the heading The Ever-Present Past: Your Nearest Site. My nearest site is probably an air-raid shelter from the Second World War, but despite three trips I couldn’t find any visible remains. If you live in the UK there’s a very good chance the closest archaeological remains will be some form of civil defence from the 1940s but — until large numbers of the British are willing to accept the war is over — it’s going to be hard to persuade people they’re heritage.
There were two sites I could find and I was equidistant from both of them, so I chose Derby Silk Mill. Not everyone has a World Heritage Site on their doorstep. If I’d gone a couple of miles in the opposite direction this would have been the site posted.
This is Swarkestone Bridge, the longest stone bridge in England. It crosses the river Trent and its floodplain. There’s been a crossing here since at least the fourteenth-century, but the current bridge mainly dates from the Georgian period with most of it built at the end of the eighteenth-century. It’s about a kilometre long and someone has kindly put up a video about it on YouTube.
I say mainly because often there’s damage from accidents; being a Grade I scheduled ancient monument isn’t giving the bridge that much protection and it’s common to see rebuilding going on. The bridge needs to be used as it’s still the main route from the city of Derby to Melbourne and the south of the county. A sensible solution might be to build a second bridge alongside the old bridge and have each one take traffic in one direction obly. However, it’s probably more cost-effective over the life of an individual administration to leave it to be damaged and replace it bit by bit, so in some ways it’s also a modern reconstruction of what a Georgian bridge might look like if it wasn’t rebuilt on a regular basis.
It’s easy to overlook that ancient monuments have a life which changes in different eras. If the bridge were purely Georgian, then it wouldn’t be around in the 21st century. The idea of sectioning of areas of the modern world and declaring them to be the past gives them quite a bit of privacy. It’s common to find evidence of social activities that you wouldn’t want to share with the wider public at ancient sites. For instance the tombs I visited in Tunisia were quite deep in beer cans, which wouldn’t be something you’d want out in the open in an Islamic country. Visiting this morning I found foil, a spoon and evidence of a small fire by the side of the bridge. It was hidden amongst the undergrowth and out of sight of the local houses and pub. Clearly this is evidence of a soup party. Obviously seeing as the pub, a short distance away, serves food people wouldn’t want to be seen publicly consuming home-made soup there. The landlord would get tetchy. So instead, after a few drinks, they go the the privacy of the bridge away from the modern world and heat up small quantities of soup in a metal spoon over an open fire.
I don’t know of any archaeological studies of modern soup consumption at ancient sites, nor of extreme icing. Extreme icing is where you get the icing sugar and ice through a syringe and hypodermic needle so you can do the really fiddly bits on wedding cakes. Why someone would take a wedding cake to an ancient site is a mystery to me, but clearly they do because it’s not unusual to see the syringes and needles. I don’t know if you could get funding for that kind of archaeological research though as it’s verging on the socially useful.
If you’re a sympathiser of Bonnie Prince Charlie then Swarkestone marks the end of the road south. It was here where Jacobite forces, invading from Scotland, came to a halt. Charles Stuart had invaded promising his allies that had assurances that the English would rally to his cause. At Swarkestone he was forced to admit he’d received no such promises. His council of war voted to return to Scotland.
Derby might also mark one of the few examples of Englishness as a form of self-defence. The Scottish army camped by Kedleston Hall one its way back. Supplies are important, so someone from the army approached the hall to secure food for the 5000 soldiers. Seeing the size of the army and the potential ruin of his household it is said the lord of the manor insisted everyone turn off the lights and pretend they were out. This surely has to be a modern invention, but I do like the idea of the lord picking up a reproachful card slipped under the front door: “We called this AM/PM to pillage your hall for victuals but there was no reply. Please contact us to arrange a more convenient time. Regards, the Jacobite Rebellion.”
Some blog posts are a long time in the writing, but this sets a new record for me. Around May 2000 I was trying to think of a way of ripping off Le Corbusier’s quote A house is a machine for living in with regard to tombs.
It’s not a position I’d strongly defend. Tombs do other things as well. They mark territory to newcomers who may not know the local land. They’re a way of appropriating resources and position for the individual, if they plan their funeral while they’re alive.
If you want to be poetic, they also could be time machines. Once you have a settlement with a concept of deep roots, then it becomes possible to think about projecting your influence beyond your own lifetime. You can touch the future from a distance, but if that works, it only works in the memories of the living. It’s might seem a fanciful idea, but it’s spelled out in the earliest surviving history.
This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory…
One of my supervisors has already written something along similar lines about reaching out beyond the human lifetime. The archaeological record is messy and often not in fine enough resolution to distinguish between one generation and the next. Finding those differences is going to be harder when you start thinking about how people tried to blur those boundaries.
It’s an idea I’d like to return to, but for now I’m just making this as a note to myself.
This very briefly introduces the statistical method I used to analyse the Greek temples of Sicily for astronomical alignments. It’ll be the basis for a paper On the Orientations of Greek Temples in Sicily. The whole thesis will be made available later via Open Access some way or another. I would say via the British Library’s EThOS system, but I’ve had no luck with that.
This is (what I hope is) the final version of the Delphi presentation. It briefly covers the ground that formed the basis for Knowing when to consult the oracle at Delphi. There’s more unpublished material, but rather than trying to produce Delphi II, I’m going to make it part of the forthcoming Calendrical Calibration paper.
I’ve started to consolidate various web presences into one Me Portal as Kimberly Alderman called it. It means moving from WordPress.com because in the end a hosted solution isn’t flexible enough. I’d still highly recommend WordPress.com, especially as a site for new bloggers. Still the little things, like spending an afternoon writing a script to import links, start to annoy. Now Postalicious will read what I’ve marked with a ‘share’ on Google Reader and you can read the latest shares on the home page.
The entries now fall into six categories: The Past, Science, Politics, Digital Academia and Life. The sixth category, for those who can count, is Featured. That’s the easy way of sticking stories into rotation on the front page.
The reason for doing that is that it should work better for various aggregators. Maia Atlantides doesn’t need to know about a photo of a cute kitten that I’ve seen, so I can provide a Past feed which only sends the relevant stuff. Likewise I’ve been thinking for a which of adding this site to an Atheism aggregator, but a lot of what I write wouldn’t really be relevant for that either. Now I have a Politics feed. I could have called it Philosophy, but I’m wary of people in the humanities who call themselves philosophers without any basic grounding in the subject. Even if it is philosophy, they also tend to be posts about the art of living with people so it’s also politics with a small p. I’ll probably change the Digital Academia name when I can work out what a combination of Lifehacking / Education / General internetness should be called.
Lots of image and video links are broken. I’ll try and fix them as and when I can. On the plus side I’m hoping that adding video and audio will have become a lot easier.
I’ve changed the comment system to be operated by Disqus. It should operate more or less as it did before. You can leave a comment by leaving a name and an email address. The email address won’t be made public. However, there’s certain extra things you can do, You can sign in with your Twitter account, your Facebook account or Open ID if you prefer. You can also sign up with a Disqus account and aggregate all your comments. If Disqus and Intense Debate could talk to each other and agree a common standard then you’d be able to effectively blog like Statler or Waldorf, gathering together all your comments on other posts. If it takes off then adding a system like this could add more value for the commentators on the blog. I say if as it hasn’t yet. I’d expected Automattic to make more of their acquisition of Intense Debate by rolling it out on WordPress.com.
I can now expand the site in some directions. I’m holding off adding a forum for now. I’m not sure there’d be a lot of point, though I’m sure it would add a lot of hassle moderating it. I used to play with Pligg, but I don’t think another Past-themed version of that is necessary. Maia Atlantides does a good enough job aggregating posts. On the other hand there’s plenty I can add.
There’ll be a photoblog sooner or later. Probably showing 700px or 800px wide images on a black background. Text looks better on white, but photos tend to work better with a darker background. WordPress simply isn’t a suitable engine for serious photoblogging at the moment.
I also want to get to grips with Wikindx. For me it’s a word processor with built in bibliographic tools. For everyone else it’ll be a way of following my bibliography. I’d like to work out what to do with CiteULike as well, but at the moment it simply doesn’t it in with how I work. I suspect if more people I knew were using CiteULike it would get more useful.
I’ll also be able to set up short urls for support for conference talks. For instance I could set up a site ca2010.alunsalt.com to support a talk given at the Classical Association conference next year. I’m not planning to go there, so it’s a bit of a waste for now, but the principle is sound. To an extent this is a bit of polish for my online presence before the next round of job hunting, but it’s more about making my life easier by gathering together various webby things into one toolbox.
Oh and the ‘follow me’ tag at the right of the page? Stolen from Civil War Memory. Basically if it’s not nailed down and I like it, I’ll take it. And I’m still on hiatus as far as I’m concerned.
I’m still busy working on re-formatting which is proving to be very slow and tedious. I’ve also found out the version of Photomatix I was using to develop my photos was out-of-date. Here’s some photos I reprocessed to test the new version. They were taken at the Lunt, a recontructed 1st century AD Roman fort near Coventry. It was one of those days it was either about to start raining, or else it was raining or both. If you’re wondering about both, I got to the car while it was raining. Then it really started to rain.