#134 The Future of the Past

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There’s an article out today from a professor at Western University in Ontario Canada named Elizabeth Greene. She is a Classical Studies professor in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The article is entitled “The Future of the Past”.

Greene mentions that students always ask her whether everything has already been found. Of course she tells them that there are still many things to find and many questions to answer. The part of the article I want to talk about concerns the following:

Forty years ago, archaeologists weren’t too concerned to take a soil sample of every square meter (sic) of earth they removed the way we are today; or to consider microscopic data such as seeds and pollen analysis to discover new info about landscape and diet of people in the past; nor did they use isotope analysis of teeth to discover where an individual spent their childhood.

Pueblo BonitoA few years ago my wife and I went to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The central feature of Chaco Canyon is Pueblo Bonito. It’s a massive, semi-circular, residential Native American complex (~850 AD to ~1100 AD). When the site was visited by explorers over 100 years ago they built fires next to some of the walls where fires had been prehistorically. Of course, they had no idea that the carbon being deposited on the walls would ruin the radiocarbon dating potential of the deposits that were already there. Radiocarbon dating was still at least 60-70 years off.

When I record sites here in the Great Basin they usually aren’t as glamorous as Pueblo Bonito or as full of data potential, however, there is still a lot that can be learned. At my last company there was a tendency to only record what was necessary to determine whether the site was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) or not. There are people there now that will essentially guess at attributes and quantities for large can dumps and complex features. They feel that the site is not important enough to give a detailed recording effort to. I disagree (one of the reasons I was laid off, I’m sure).

Can Scatter, Nevada.When someone determines that a site is not eligible for listing on the NRHP they give the client the go ahead to destroy the site at will. That’s especially true here in the Great Basin where the site will likely be consumed by a massive open pit mine at some point. So, when I record a site, I record as many attributes about the artifacts and features that I can. My feeling is that even though I may not be able to get much out of an artifact right now there may be analytical methods or techniques in the future that will be able to benefit from my recording. Unlike Pueblo Bonito, you can’t go back to many of these sites and record additional information since it will likely have been destroyed.

This is one of the reasons why I want to reduce the cost of site record preparation and report writing time by utilizing digital recording methods. It will allow people to spend more time in the field and less time in the office without charging the client more for the same product. The client can be happy while the archaeologist is ethically satisfied that they did their scientific duty.

We aren’t going to get clients to pay more for our work. They already see us as an impediment to getting their permits and to completing their projects. So, it’s up to us to change the way we do our jobs with the use of technology so we can maintain high ethical and scientific standards while charging the client a fair price at the same time.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field.


Greene, Elizabeth M.

 2012 The Future of the Past. Western News 16 November: London, Ontario, Canada.

#26 TAM9: Placebo Medicine

This was a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Steven Novella discussing the Placebo effect and what it means. Mark Crislip began by defining it in basic terms as, "bullshit". Nice.

The discussion is based around the idea that alternative medicine has pretty much agreed that the placebo effect is real and that they are now trying to get the placebo effect from their treatments because it is still beneficial to the patients.

Mark Crislip: If CAM is equal to a placebo and placebo is equal to nothing then CAM is equal to nothing. It was brought up that there is a placebo effect in Parkinson's. Not everyone agrees. Steve Novella is commenting on how the brain can be a tool for pain management. You can convince the brain of different things that are akin to a placebo which might lend some validity to it. There is, however, no direct way to measure pain in response to placebo.

On the big screens are a couple slides from this weeks New England Journal of Medicine relating the effectiveness of Albuterol in treating asthma. They compared the results between Albuterol, a placebo, sham acupuncture, and a non-intervention control. The results showed that Albuterol greatly improved lung function while the other three had no effect. However, in the patient's reported results the placebo and the acupuncture appeared to have a nearly equal effect as the drug. The panelists are discussing how this is being reported in the media. They are saying that the placebo has a positive effect when the physical results show that the effect is really all in the patient's head. So, the acupuncture and the placebo made the patients feel better mentally but they still had reduced lung function. Wow.

The panel is disagreeing as to wether the placebo effect belongs on medicine. Crislip is not buying it. He is constantly saying that he doesn't want to use the placebo effect because he feels that it is essentially lying to the patient. The others seem to disagree. Unfortunately, I think the placebo effect would, and does, work in a lot of the people in this country. Personally, I would rather have the truth and the real medicine. If I can't be cured, tell me. I'll start working on those things I need to do before I die. Steve is saying that there is a gray area where you use certain treatments that may or may not work but you do it to placate the patient.

Don't placate me or lie to me! I want the truth! Doctor: You can't handle the truth!

Live blogging from TAM9, Las Vegas, NV.

#25 Ethics of Paranormal Investigation

The first event this morning at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 is a panel with James Randi, Karen Stollznow, Ben Radford, Joe Nickell, and Banachek, and is being moderated by Julia Galef.

The panelists are discussing going undercover and using deception during their investigations. They all feel that some deception is necessary occasionally. Randi, with his Darwinesque beard, does not go undercover and uses agents, such as Banachek for Project Alpha, instead.

The crowd is much smaller than yesterday. Many people are likely still in bed after partying all night. Other academic conferences that I've been to had ethics panels in the morning of the second or third day. Is it because the subject has a tendency to be a little dry and no one will be there? Might have to investigate that. Back to ethics.

Banachek feels that you need to set rules ahead of time for the investigation you are doing otherwise you could be seen as just doing a con. That seems logical. A serious investigation or an under cover operation should be treated as a science experiment that utilizes the scientific method. Would a college IRB approve an undercover experiment into the paranormal?

When dealing with issues of confidentiality it depends on the person. Nickell feels that it's a judgement call. If the person you are investigating is public and has a public persona then he feels it is OK to publish about them. Banachek feels that psychics prefer their privacy and he tries to preserve that if he can. Ben Radford once kept pictures of the front of a family's house out of an article to give them privacy. In another case a family thought they had a ghost. He let them down by saying if you had a ghost, it's gone now. He didn't run in, guns blazing, saying that they are full of crap and that ghosts don't exist.

Joe Nickell related an interesting story about a local skeptics group. The group wanted him to go with them to a haunted house. He agreed but when they wanted to bring a reporter he objected. He said that it creates an adversarial environment where the group is now trying to debunk something and could be playing to the needs of the reporter. As in academic research, you still need to preserve the integrity of your research subjects and make sure that you don't intentionally humiliate them.

Radford discussed the "children never lie" phenomenon. Parents are reluctant to believe that their children could be responsible for alleged paranormal activity. Randi agrees and says that children constantly test their environment to see what they can get away with.

The main point of the ethics discussion centered around truth and honesty. The panelists all agreed that you need a set of rules before you set out so you know how to respond to any situation that comes up. They also agree that humiliating your subjects and demeaning them for their beliefs is something they try to avoid,

I wonder whether it is ethical to NOT tell people that ghosts don't exist or that they can't tell the future. Don't tell them in a way that is disrespectful but do tell them. I feel that people need to know and part of the point of the investigation is to challenge paranormal activity. Of course, I'm not a paranormal investigator so these are just my opinions.

Live blogged during TAM9 in Las Vegas, NV.