Thursday, 19 October 2017

Online archives in research and education

Hey all,

I’ve been pondering the utility of publicly available collections as we enter next week’s theme. As promoters of online research tools will say, online archives can transcend physical borders, provide access to rare collections, and connect researchers and students around the world. Archives, such as, can also be useful in introductory classrooms. Osteology (both human and zooarchaeology) has had a trend for a while of some institutions building online photo repositories of skeletal collections, with the idea that they can used educationally. Here is an example. Others aim for public access to datasets, or to facilitate researchers connecting and sharing data.

Here I would also like to call attention to efforts to make 3D collections available. MorphoSource is a data archive created by Duke University that allows researchers to store and organize, share, and distribute their 3d data. The intentions of this archive is to allow any registered user to immediately search for and download 3d morphological data sets that have been made accessible through the consent of data authors. The stated goal of MorphoSource is to provide rapid access to raw microCt data to as many researchers as possible.
Personally, I’ve used online databases and photo repositories to double check my work. I've also used online archives to provide students access to imagery when studying outside of the lab. The prospect of 3D collections in the future is exciting, since much more detail will be captured and shared. Bone collections can be difficult to accumulate ethically and/or access can be logistically impossible. Online archives open bone collections to lower income areas, more remote areas of the world, and allow the public to view rare specimens. Tangentially, I also enjoy how online databases and their associated communities facilitate communication. Just as an example, searching through online communities of researchers once connected me to a fantastic thesis on deer carpals that really improved my non-human ID skills. Part of what excites me about projects like MorphoSource is the idea that it will make it easier for researchers working on the same problems to find each other.

While I have found this open communication and access to datasets to be beneficial, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the potential downsides. With a push to make collections available online, what’s being lost? I can think of how in osteology the feel of the bone (such as smoothness, roughness, etc. Or the infamous “is it bone?” lick-stick test) can, at times, be almost as important as an accurate visual assessment. Even 3D online collections can’t convey that sense of touch. While the online archives are handy, I can't say I would promote them as complete replacements for physical collections. Additionally, while easy access to datasets is generally thought of as a net benefit, what about “armchair anthropologists” using that data to make claims? For example, some “armchair geneticist” blogs have occasionally co-opted public genetic datasets to support claims of racial realism. Should we also worry about such appropriation, or just accept it as something we need to get ahead of? What do you think?

Monday, 16 October 2017

Article for October 23rd 2017

Hi everyone,

this is the article for the next class:

Andrea De Mauro, Marco Greco, Michele Grimaldi, (2016) "A formal definition of Big Data based on its essential features", Library Review, Vol. 65 Issue: 3, pp.122-135.

I'll see you around!


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Just who is "Fringe" and who is "Mainstream"?

Starting last class with Arwen's excellent presentation, each class going forward will feature at least one fantastical archaeology website review. So we're going to be talking a lot about what some characterize as fringe theories of the past, present, and how that shapes the world around us.

As always seems to be the case for me (thanks Google!), as you send me the links for the various web sites you want to review, my social media feeds start to fill up with "sites/posts I might like" which I really would rather not. There sure seems to be a lot of places on the web to explore how the past is understood in the present that isn't at all familiar to me... making the "fringe" seem, well, more abundant than the word might otherwise imply.

Well there may actually be something to this sense of pervasiveness, after all. Jason Colavito tends to explore such things as a debunker of fringe theories and whose site shares a lot in terms of format and intent, if counter messaging, with the fantastical heritage devotees' web sites we are looking at in class. In a recent blog, he reports on a fascinating survey out of Chapman University, in California. As I don't think anyone chose his site as a site for their review, I'm going to assume I'm safe in talking about his post here!

Jason is talking about the results from a portion of the 4th annual American Fears Survey, carried out and very recently released by Sociologists and Political Scientists at Chapman. This survey looked at a lot of different aspects of the fears Americans are willing to acknowledge in 2017. And perhaps it'll come as no surprise given the age we are living in, but the results and trends generally are worrisome and, well, frightening.... basically, people are more frightened by more things about and in the world these days. You can view a brief video describing the main results of their findings from 2017 here.

Jason's blog dug down into the survey and focused on the section that explores Paranormal America and paranormal beliefs. As he points out, based on the survey results from the last 3 years, belief in various paranormal theories, from advanced ancient civilizations like Atlantis (55%, up over 15% in a year), to the presence of aliens in the ancient past (35% up 15% in two years), to Bigfoot (16% up 8% in two years... sorry Jeff!), belief in fringe or fantastical theories has risen markedly in a short period of time. In fact, perhaps the most surprising result for me from the Chapman survey was the researchers' comment in this section noting "...we find that only a fourth of Americans (25.3%) do not hold any of these seven [paranormal] beliefs."

As Jason notes: "People write to me all the time to ask why I bother to talk about “crazy” topics like aliens and Atlantis. I am flabbergasted to report now that it is because more Americans now believe in Atlantis than do not." Yikes! For us, this realization has to be a sobering counter to our disciplinary warm and fuzzy notions that archaeology advances a collective, and presumably better, understanding of the past.