Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Breakthrough discovery!

Scientists have discovered the earliest retraction of a scientific work, back in the Upper Paleolithic. Check this out at Retraction Watch.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Authorship: Who gets credit?


"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham
www.phdcomics.com 
Several things have gotten me thinking about issues of authorship. I've been publishing quite a bit with student co-authors lately, so this is an active topic with me and my students. In fact, authorship is most commonly a topic of concern when students are involved. Should students get authorship credit on published articles? How is this determined? Many professional societies have explicit principles and guidelines about this. The Society for American Archaeology evidently does not have any guidelines. The American Anthropological Association has a brief statement in its Code of Ethics stating that faculty should not steal data and credit from deserving students. Okay, but that is not particularly helpful.

I recently came across some personal authorship guidelines I had written up a few years ago. They correspond to my normal practice, and they agree with published discussion of this issue in the professional literature (see references below). My emphasis when I wrote these up initially was on the use of artifacts and data from my fieldwork projects, but the principles apply more widely.


(1) People who participate intensively and creatively in the research described in the work usually deserve authorship. Basic data-gathering under the direction and supervision of another does not qualify one for authorship. Thus student supervisors on an excavation typically do not qualify for authorship, whereas students or others who are involved in the design of the fieldwork and other aspects of the research may qualify for authorship. Students who apply someone else’s classification to a group of artifacts in the lab typically do not get authorship, whereas students who design and carry out a specific artifact study, establishing their own procedures, classifications, and datafiles, usually qualify for authorship. Authorship implies intellectual and practical contributions beyond simply supervising excavations or carrying out artifact classifications designed by another person.
(2) Authorship implies that each author has contributed directly to the compilation or analysis of some part of the data described in the article and/or the development of some of the ideas in the article.
(3) Authorship implies that each author has contributed directly to the writing and editing of the article (and that each has seen the final submitted version).
(4) Authorship should be discussed openly among the relevant individuals. It is best to discuss expectations and possible outcomes early in the research process, and then refine and revise the publication plans as the research and writing proceeds.
(5) The contributions of individual authors to multi-authored papers should be described explicitly and concisely in the paper (typically in the acknowledgements section or in a note).



Case study 1:  I always have a bunch of undergrads working in my lab at ASU on various research projects. Normally, they help with data collecting, data entry, and such, and thus they rarely quality for authorship on publications. But several of us did a study applying the Gini index to some central Mexican sites (it's under review right now). I had two anthropology majors gather some data, not thinking that they would end up being authors of a paper. One (Emily Colon) was asked to transcribe some documentary data to Excel so that we could analyze it. We ran into a roadblock and needed to find a way around some missing information (how do you calculate the area of a field if only a single dimension is given?). When I started to tell Emily how to proceed, I found she had already done the next step on her own, without guidance (finding relevant sources, looking for patterns, reaching a conclusion). By taking the initiative and helping devise a method to overcome the missing information, she made a creative intellectual contribution to the research, so she became an author. I asked the other undergrad, Rebecca Harkness, to look at maps of Teotihuacan apartment compounds so that we could figure out how households fit into the rooms. She went to town on this and, on her own initiative, devised a method for calculating the number of individual apartments, based on principles of space syntax. This was also a creative scientific contribution to the research, and she became another author. The other two authors are graduate students (Tim Dennehy and April Kamp-Whittaker), who made numerous contributions to the research and to the writing. I made sure each of the students wrote up their particular part of the project, so the paper is truly a joint production. We did discuss authorship openly, and we indicate in the acknowledgements who made what contribution to the paper.

Case study 2: After directing two seasons of my first post-PhD fieldwork project, I published a paper (in JFA) describing the houses we had excavated. I was feeling expansive and generous, and put all of the student excavation supervisors on the article as authors. While it made me feel warm and nice to give credit to these people who helped make the excavations a success, I probably should not have listed everyone as authors. I designed the methods, with only limited input from most of the students. After my next excavation, at Yautepec, I wrote a parallel paper on the excavated houses. This time, the paper had only three authors: me, Cindy (my wife), and Lisa Montiel. The other excavation supervisors did a good job and I have acknowledged their contributions in various ways. But Cindy and Lisa were the ones who most helped design our excavation strategy and methods, I gave them the most difficult excavations, and they helped train other students. They also contributed more than the other students to the write-up of the excavations. So they deserved authorship to a far greater degree than the other students.

Of the concerns in the scholarly publishing literature (see citations below) are the issues of "honorary authorship" (authors whose name are added to a paper, but who have not contributed directly to writing it) and "ghost authorship" (major contributors to the research and writing whose names are left off the author list). I admit I'm a bit confused about the latter practice. I guess I could write a paper with some students, and then remove my name from the published version. I take a very practical view of collaboration. If I make a major contribution to the research and writing, then I am a co-author. If a student does the work and writes the paper on his or her own, then I don't need to be an author.

One of the best sources of insight into ethical issues such as authorship is the booklet, "On Being a Scientist." If you haven't read this, you should. You can download a copy for free. Seidemann (2004) is an interesting study of authorship and other student issues in archaeology, by a legal scholar published in a law journal. It's rarely cited by archaeologists, though.

Fine, Mark A. and Lawrence A. Kurdek
1993    Reflections on Determining Authorship Credit and Authorship Order on Faculty-Student Collaborations. American Psychologist 48: 1141-1147.

National Academy of Sciences2009    On Being A Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research. 3rd ed. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. .

Pimple, Kenneth D.
2012    Authorship in Scientific and Academic Research. CORE Issues in Professional and Research Ethics 1: Paper 4.  http://nationalethicscenter.org/content/article/176.

Seidemann, Ryan M.
2004    Authorship and Control: Ethnical and Legal Issues of Student Research in Archaeology. Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology 14: 451-496.

Seidemann, Ryan M.
2006    Authorship Credit and Ethics in Anthropology. Anthropology News 47 (1): 29-31.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ups and downs in publishing

This summer has had its ups and downs in my various efforts to publish books and articles. I did get one book sent off to the press, an artifact report from excavations done long ago. But my agent is having trouble finding a commercial publisher for my popular book manuscript. I just received an acceptance on a paper co-authored with my student, Angela Huster, but not too long ago I got my second recent rejection from American Anthropologist ("This is a definitive rejection, without the possibility of revision and resubmission." Wow.). So, what have I learned? Here are a few things.

  • If a disciplinary journal is edited by a scholar whose publications have involved policing the boundaries of his or her discipline, then perhaps that is not the best place to send an in-the-face interdisciplinary paper. Both of my rejections from American Anthropologist this year were interdisciplinary papers, each with an explicit message of "anthropology has something to learn from this other body of research." Well, according to some reviewers and the editor, maybe anthropology doesn't have anything to learn from other fields. Chalk up one more personal beef with the American Anthropological Association and the attitudes of many anthropologists (read why I resigned from the American Anthropological Association). My chair recently suggested I apply for the AA editorship, and I almost fell down laughing.
  • Latin American Antiquity is off to a great start under the new editorship of Geoff Braswell and María Gutiérrez. My praise is not based on the fact that they accepted our paper, but on two aspects of the review process. First, the reviews were done in under three months. For a "fast" journal these days, that isn't great, but for an archaeology journal, that is a very good turnaround time. Second, the editors didn't let a single cranky and negative review interfere with their decision. Sometimes journal editors play it "safe" and offer a rejection, or a "revise-and-resubmit" on the basis of a single very negative review. But in this case Geoff and María made the right call and accepted the paper. Around 90% of the criticism of the cranky reviewer was based on one procedure we followed, which supposedly invalidated all of our conclusions. But the critique ignored material presented in another section of the paper that obviated the negative implications of that one procedure. So kudos to the editors for not getting hung up with the one cranky review.
  • Commercial publishers are looking for the next Jared Diamond. Most of the replies by editors at the big commercial presses (Norton, Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.) said that my book manuscript looked interesting, but the projected sales figures from the marketing department were not high enough to justify an offer. Aztec households and communities just aren't sexy enough. They'd love a manuscript that shows how archaeology can solve a major social problem today (as in Jared Diamond), or even some straight archaeology about flashy things like tombs and kings, if written with flair, in first-person terms. But household archaeology? Not ready for prime time. But we haven't given up yet.......
  • It is disappointing when you gear up for a big fight, which then doesn't happen. Jason Ur, Gary Feinman and I just published a critique of Jane Jacobs's screwey notion that cities preceded domestication and agriculture in prehistory:
Smith, Michael E., Jason Ur and Gary M. Feinman  (2014)  Jane Jacobs’s 'Cities-First' Model and Archaeological Reality. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(4):1525-1535.

I tell the story of why it was necessary to respond to a crazy model elsewhere (an old blog post, and then a recent post on Wide Urban World). But our paper was written as a critique of an article in the same journal by geographer Peter Taylor, who champions Jacobs's model. Taylor believes in the primacy of theory over evidence. Archaeologists don't REALLY know what happened in the past, and thus, "In such situations of knowledge uncertainty, it is the plausibility of theoretical positions [rather than evidence] that matter’ (p. 425 of Taylor, Peter J.  (2012)  Extraordinary Cities: Early "City-ness" and the Origins of Agriculture and States. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 36(3):415-447.). So we expected to get a reply to our critique from Taylor. The journal editor was looking forward to this, and planned to use the debate to generate publicity, but evidently Taylor never submitted anything. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Global history" that leaves out half of the globe

One would think that a work that claims to be "global" in scope would cover the entire world. So what should we make of the new book, A Companion to Global Historical Thought, that leaves out half of the globe? Is this ignorance, oversight, condescension, or what? Here is the citation:

A Companion to Global Historical Thought (2014, edited by Prasenjit Duara, Viren Murthy, and Andrew Sartori; Wiley Blackwell.


I haven't seen the actual book, just the table of contents and one chapter that an author had posted online. The first section, "Premodern historical thought," reviews history and historical thought in a variety of early traditions, from India to China to the Ottoman empire. So where is the New World? I checked the publisher's website, and found this blurb. I had to add two and a half words to avoid lying (I wouldn't want to post something blatantly incorrect, would I?):


A Companion to Global Historical Thought provides an in-depth overview of the development of historical thinking from the earliest times to the present, across part of the world, directly addressing the issues of historical thought in a semi-globalized context.  FROM THE PUBLISHERS WEBSITE


If the editors are willing to devote eight chapters to these various regional traditions of "premodern historical thought," one would think they might have been able to skip one of the TWO chapters on India to include at least one chapter on the ancient New World.

Did ancient New World cultures have historical traditions before the arrival of European conquerors? of course they did. Most likely every distinct culture (and there were literally thousands in the New World prior to Columbus) had a historical tradition. But there are at least four regions where these indigenous traditions are sufficiently well known (with surviving oral and written accounts) and sufficiently analyzed by rigorous scholars, to warrant inclusion alongside early Japan, China, and India.

(1) Central Mexico

The Aztecs had a rich tradition of political and social history, and the scholarly bibliography runs into the hundreds of works. Here are four important ones:
  • Boone, Elizabeth H.  (2000)  Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. University of Texas Press, Austin.
  • Gillespie, Susan D.  (1989)  The Aztec Kings: The Construction of Rulership in Mexica History. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
  • Navarette Linares, Federico  (2011)  Los orígenes de los pueblos indígenas del Valle de México: Los altépetl y sus historias. Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
  • Nicholson, H. B.  (1971)  Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican Historiography. In Investigaciones contemporáneas sobre la historia de México, pp. 38-81. El Colegio de México and University of Texas Press, Mexico City and Austin.
Or check out some of my own works on the topic:
  • Smith, Michael E.  (1984)  The Aztlan Migrations of the Nahuatl Chronicles: Myth or History? Ethnohistory 31:153-186.
  • Smith, Michael E.  (1992)  Rhythms of Change in Postclassic Central Mexico: Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and the Braudellian Model. In Annales, Archaeology, and Ethnohistory, edited by A. Bernard Knapp, pp. 51-74. Cambridge University Press, New York

(2) Oaxaca

Both the Mixtec and Zapotec speaking polities of Oaxaca maintained painted books and carved stone records of their histories. Many of these have survived, and they have been rigorously analyzed by scholars. A few examples:
  • Jansen, Maarten E.R.G.N. and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jinénez  (2011)  The Mixtec Pictorial Manuscrirpts: Time, Agency and Memory in Ancient Mexico. Brill, Leiden.
  • Oudijk, Michel R.  (2000)  Historiography of the Bènizàa: The Postclassic and Early Colonial Periods (1000-1600 A.D.). CNWS Publications vol. 84. Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies, Universiteit Leiden, Leiden.
  • Urcid, Javier  (2001)  Zapotec Hieroglyphic Writing. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology vol. 34. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC.

(3) The Maya area

The historical traditions of the Classic-period Maya were recorded in stone (and probably in painted books that have not survived), and the traditions of their conquest-era descendants were recorded in painted hieroglyphic books and maintained in oral tradition:
  • Houston, Stephen D.  (1993)  Hieroglyphs and History at Dos Pilas: Dynastic Politics of the Classic Maya. University of Texas Press, Austin.
  • Roys, Ralph L.  (1967)  The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman
  • Schele, Linda and Peter Mathews  (1998)  The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs. Simon and Schuster, New York.

(4) The Inca

Historical traditions are less well preserved in cultures that lacked full writing systems, but Inca professional historians kept track of history and the accounts were taken down in writing soon after the Spanish conquest:
  • Covey, R. Alan  (2006)  Chronology, Succession, and Sovereignty: The Politics of Inka Historiography and Its Modern Interpretation. Comparative Studies in Society and History 48:169-199.
  • Julien, Catherine  (2000)  Reading Inca History. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.
So, if history did exist as a self-conscious domain of discourse in New World societies, and if many texts have survived, and if historical traditions have been ably analyzed by scholars for decades, then why were they left out of this book? To repeat, was this due to ignorance, oversight, condescension, or what?

Monday, May 26, 2014

James C. Scott thinks archaeology is worthless

Many archaeologists working on complex societies like to cite the works of James C. Scott, the political scientist/anthropologist/historian at Yale University. His works on peasant resistance (Scott 1976, 1985, 1990) are influential in the archaeological resistance literature, and his book on how some state regimes try to control people and society but end up creating more problems than they solve (Scott 1998) is widely cited. I'm not fond of Scott's works - they are simplistic and they often miss the main point of the topics he writes about. I don't want to get sidetracked here. But if you are one of those who likes his book Seeing Like a State, you may want to check out the scathing reviews by sociologists Russell Hardin (2001), and Michael Mann (American Journal of Sociology, 1999, vol. 104-6, p. 1813). Hardin was so exercised about deficiencies in Scott's theoretical approach to knowledge that he expanded the critique in his book review essay into a later book chapter (Hardin 2009). Or (to get some idea of Mann's views of Scott) think about Scott's scheme in relation to Blanton and Fargher (2008); that will show you how simple-minded and biased his account is (IF you have read Blanton & Fargher, that is).

Anyway, Scott recently wrote an interesting and incisive review of Jared Diamond's latest book, The World Before Yesterday in the London Review of Books. There is a nice post about Diamond's book and Scott's review in Savage Minds. While most of Scott's review is fine, I can't let his final sentence go unchallenged:

"We have virtually no credible about the world until yesterday [that is, about life and society before the modern era] and, until we do, the only defensible intellectual position is to shut up."

Scott's position in his book review essay is that Jared Diamond can only speculate about human life and society in the distant past, and that his speculations are heavily biased, misleading, and wrong. Scott is correct in his more limited point that contemporary hunter-gatherer society is a poor model for Paleolithic human society. But, "no credible evidence" ?? I guess we archaeologists are just scurrying around playing in the dirt for nothing. We can't say anything "credible" about life in the distant past. In other words, archaeology is worthless for purposes of social history or long-term changes in human society.

Scott's essay is mostly quite good. He does make one stupid statement: that all past states were slave societies, with up to 85% of the population in slavery (give me a break). But apart from that, I was just starting to think this was an insightful essay, and my low opinion of Scott was starting to improve slightly, when I got to the final line, quoted above. Perhaps James C. Scott's "only defensible intellectual position is to shut up" about topics he knows nothing about. And this, of course, is precisely the basis of his critique of Jared Diamond.........


POSTSCRIPT:

This is true resistance, with real consequences

PS - Why don't I like Scott's work on resistance and hidden transcripts? I am a materialist. If the peasants are being screwed by the landlords, then that is the dominant social-economic fact. It makes no difference whether they accept the public transcript or not. It makes no difference if they elaborate "everyday forms of resistance." It makes no difference whether the peasants follow the proverb that begins Scott's 1990 book on resistance: "When the great lord passes the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts" (Scott 1990:v). Farts don't bring about change. What makes a difference is when the peasants express their resistance by attacking the bulldozer operators with machetes, or when they take up arms and horses (and big hats) to follow Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in attacking the federal armies. Resistance is only important when it has clear social and political
Mexican Revolution
 consequences. For a more scholalry expression of these views, see Brown (1996).

References

Blanton, Richard E. and Lane F. Fargher  (2008)  Collective Action in the Formation of Pre-Modern States. Springer, New York.

Brown, Michael F.  (1996)  On Resisting Resistance. American Anthropologist 98:729-735.

Hardin, Russell  (2001)  Seeing Like Hayek (review of Seeing Like a State, by James C. Scott). The Good Society 10(2):36-39.

Hardin, Russell  (2009)  How do you Know? The Economics of Ordinary Knowledge. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Scott, James C.  (1976)  The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Emiliano Zapata

Scott, James C.  (1985)  Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Scott, James C.  (1990)  Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Scott, James C.  (1998)  Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Scott, James C.  (2009)  The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Getting into the journal Science through the back door

Well, since I can't seem to get myself into the journal Science as an author (see my post on my second Science rejection, and one on my third rejection; my first rejection was back in my pre-blogging days), I guess I'll just have to settle for getting quoted in one of the journalism articles in Science.

Wade, Lizzie  (2014)  Beyond the Temples: Turning Their Backs on Spectacular Monuments, Archaeologists are Studying Ordinary Households to Uncover the Daily Rhythms of Long-Lost Cities. Science 344:684-686.

This is a decent discussion of non-monumental archaeology in Mesoamerica, with only a couple of silly points included (I won't mention these, to save some people embarrassment). For me, the fact that I am not misquoted or misunderstood is a pleasant surprise. I was impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of author Lizzie Wade in our phone conversation a month or two ago.

It is really great to see several projects from the University at Albany (SUNY) getting featured. Marilyn Masson and Rob Rosenswig are featured and quoted in the article, as is Rob's student Rebecca Mendelsohn, and my former Albany Ph.D. Tim Hare. Albany has a fantastic Mesoamerican archaeology program, a fact that some university administrators there can't seem seem to understand. But the journal Science understands.

And, it's always good to hear some interesting news about Teotihuacan from some of the top people working there (Linda Manzanilla, Ian Robertson, and Mike Spence).

The Tlamimilolpa compound at Teotihuacan
And speaking of Teotihuacan, just wait till you hear the new results on inequality at Teotihuacan, from my research group at ASU (the paper is under review).It will blow your socks off!



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The SAA meeting, 2014

The annual meeting of the SAA (Society for American Archaeology) just concluded in Austin, Tx. It was a fun and exhausting meeting. I was able to talk to most of the people I wanted to see, I met some interesting people, heard some good talks (and some bad talks and lots of mediocre talks). Here are a few random points:

Texas Barbecue!


I had two (count em, 2) excellent barbecue meals while in Austin. My in-laws picked me up for lunch one day, and we went to the County Line Barbecue just outside Austin. Great food, funky atmosphere, great view. Then I went to a home barbecue at the house of Michael Love and Julia Guernsey. Wow, Michael makes a mean briskit! Add beer and a bunch of interesting people, and that party was a high point of the weekend.

Boring (um, yawn, well, umph, snort, I wasn't really snoring, was I?)


Yes, there were some boring talks. Well, actually there were MANY boring talks. See my post for advice on how you too can achieve a boring result in a conference presentation! A lot of people told me that my presentations were interesting and entertaining. I do have a good style (if I do say so myself), but could that mask a lack of content? I have been tempted to give a completely vacuous presentation sometime, but with flashy powerpoints, jokes, and a lively style. Sort of like the people who submit nonsense to journals to see if they will accept the paper.

The Congress Street Bridge Bats


I did walk across the Congress Street bridge just after dusk, and I think I saw a bat! Had a nice dinner with some Mayanists at the funky Margarita Cafe, and we walked back along Congress St.
We clearly missed the dramatic flight of hundreds of bats, but I think there was one straggler flying along, plus a few drunk graduate students looking for the Penn State party (no, it wasn't under the bridge).

Risky behavior (mine)


I did admit to some potentially illicit behavior during my presentation at the Presidential opening symposium Wednesday evening. Hopefully the relevant law enforcement types didn't attend and won't come after me. This reminds me of the public admission I made in an SAA session a number of years ago. It was a session in honor of George Cowgill, and I mentioned some risky behavior I had engaged in as an undergraduate. No, I won't repeat that here. I am far too stuffy and dignified for such admissions.

Is this blog too edgy?


This seems like a pretty tame blog to me. I only say outrageous things now and then, and those things are probably not considered outrageous to anyone but a few cranky archaeologists. But today a colleague suggested that some of my posts are too edgy or over the limit. Hmmmmm. Maybe I should say something really over the top. A couple of years ago, a departmental staffer offered to send tweets when I made a post. Ok, fine. But then when I posted my advice on "how to give a bad conference talk," she decided that was too outrageous for university approval. Was I encouraging bad behavior? That's not the right signal for a university program. I guess we are supposed to be boring. That ended my free tweets from my unit (now there are new staffers, and they are tweeting my posts again, if I remember to tell them).


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Is bad research unethical?

Suppose I were to decide to fudge some data in a publication. Maybe I refrain from reporting some

inconvenient data that don't support my argument, or perhaps I push my pet interpretation hard and don't bother to acknowledge counter-arguments or contrary data. Are these things unethical?

I refrain from this kind of activity. These activities seem deeply problematic and against my fundamental beliefs. I will usually make a stink if I catch such activities by colleagues or students. They are certainly against the standard ethical canons of science (see On Being A Scientist, something I often assign in graduate seminars). But I can't find anything suggesting they are against archaeological ethics. There is nothing in the Society for American Archaeology's Principles of Archaeological Ethics about this kind of scientific misconduct. The various collections of articles on archaeological ethics on my bookshelf don't say much about these problematic research practices. I would guess that the SAA journals would not accept papers with problematic methods like those I mention above, but the SAA style guide does not mention this at all.

This all seemed pretty normal until this afternoon. While reading up on rational choice theory, I found a reference to "post hoc theorizing" as something considered very negative in political science. Because I've been on the lookout for a concise description of what Binford called "post hoc accommodative arguments," I followed out some citations. Binford accused a lot of authors of this sin, but he never describes it in detail, or precisely what is wrong with it. I have always tried to get students to avoid this practice, but I've been looking for help from the published literature.

So I found some work on the problems of post hoc theorizing (see sources below). The main difficulty is that this practice prevents testing of one's hypothesis, since the interpretation is dreamed up after the data are gathered. It makes it difficult to know when an interpretation might be wrong. Post-hoc theorizing also opens up one's interpretations to random variation: the results are more likely to be due to chance. But then I was surprised to find these authors suggesting that this practice is also unethical.


“Graduate students in psychology are routinely taught the importance of delineating one's hypotheses in advance (i.e., prior to collecting data). Established researchers continue to regard it as questionable and possibly unethical to theorize after one's empirical results are known." (Baumeister and Leary 1997:313).

Post hoc theorizing jeopardizes the experimental method of psychology (and of much political science), and this is evidently considered an ethical lapse in that field. But I have never heard anyone suggest that the use of post hoc accommodative arguments was an ethical lapse in archaeology. Why not? I am no expert on ethics, but my guess is that the lack of a well-established methodology of data analysis in archaeology is the reason. We have canons of proper excavation technique, and if I were to screw up a dig and damage a site without proper documentation, it may violate archaeological ethics (I'm not really sure here; does incompetent excavation violate the principle of stewardship?). But my interpretation of Binford's critiques of post hoc accommodative arguments is that he was criticizing methodologically bad science, not unethical practices.

Should faulty argumentation, or other stronger cases of scientific misconduct, be considered violations of archaeological ethics? I'm not sure about this, in part because I haven't bothered to think much about it before this afternoon. But I admit that I have to admire the field of psychology if faulty experimental methods are considered an ethical breach. Perhaps archaeology needs stricter codes of ethics.

--------------------------------------------------------------
NOTE: I added this following material April 7, partly in response to Robert Mahaney's query.

Here is Kerr's (1998) list of the problems with HARKing ("Hypothesizing After the Results are Known"):

  • Translating Type I errors into hard-to-eradicate theory
  • Propounded theories that cannot (pending republication) pass Popper’s disconfirmability test.
  • Disguising pot hoc explanations as a priori explanations (when the former tend also to be more ad hoc, and consequently, less useful).
  • Not communicating valuable information about what did not work.
  • Taking unjustified statistical license.
  • Presenting an inaccurate model of science to students.
  • Encouraging “fudging” in other grey areas.
  • Making us less receptive to serendipitous findings.
  • Encouraging adoption of narrow, context-bound new theory.
  • Encouraging retention of too-broad, discomfirmable old theory.
  • Inhibiting identification of plausible alternative hypotheses.
  • Implicitly violating basic ethical principles.

 As for the ethical issue, Kerr notes that this practice is not mentioned in the codes of ethnics of the American Psychological Association, or the National Academy of Sciences. But he continues (p. 209):

·         “I think a case can be made that HARKing violates a fundamental ethical principle of science: the obligation to communicate one’s work honestly and completely. Albert Einstein states this principle well: ‘The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.” HARKing can entail concealment. The question then becomes whether what is concealed in HARKing can be a useful part of the ‘truth.’ ... The content of what is concealed or misrepresented in HARKing is undoubtedly less crucial than what is misrepresented when results are fabricated, but the damage done by widespread and recognized HARKing to mutual trust among scientists may be qualitatively the same.”  (p. 209)


Baumeister, Roy F and Mark R Leary  (1997)  Writing narrative literature reviews. Review of general psychology 1(3):311-320.

Green, Donald and Iam Shapiro  (1994)  Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Kerr, Norbert L.  (1998)  HARKing: Hypothesizing After the Results are Known. Personality and Social Psychology Review 2(3):196-217.

Leung, Kwok  (2011)  Presenting Post Hoc Hypotheses as A Priori: Ethical and Theoretical Issues. Management and Organization Review 7(3):471-479.