The pseudo among the pros: know your warning signs

The Beardmore relics

While preparing an on-line guest lecture today on pseudoarchaeology for an anthropology class at Wilfred Laurier University, I came across a Powerpoint presentation I had prepared for an earlier talk, in which I addressed the Beardmore relics hoax and issues of professional misconduct. My book on the hoax, Beardmore, grappled with issues of accredited academicians and museum professionals behaving badly, and explored how power could be exercised through and across professional networks to suppress efforts to expose truths about controversial claims or discoveries. I also addressed these issues on this blog in 2018. The final slide in that Powerpoint presentation summarized my perceptions of warning signs of such misconduct, which were also informed by my doctoral dissertation and the resulting book on the historical and ongoing misinterpretations of Dighton Rock.

Do I think this is some kind of rampant problem? No. But I have experienced and witnessed examples, and the potential is always there, which was a major reason I wrote Beardmore.

I’ve posted the summarizing points of that slide here, which people are free to use (and cite appropriately). There’s also a PDF of the slide.

•intolerance of alternate theories and refusal to weigh new evidence

•misuse of institutional/professional power and networks to silence critics

•exercises of power for the sake of retaining power

•cliques masquerading as scholarly consensus. Gatekeeping (journals, grants/awards, symposiums)

• “identification with institutional power” (Edmund Carpenter, 1961). Toxic loyalty. More important to defend “reputation” of institution and colleagues than to engage scholarly evidence.

•contrary views are considered an attack on colleagues or an institution rather than a normal part of scholarly debate

•institutions advancing or tolerating historical interpretations because they are “popular,” “marketable,” or “politically useful” rather than scholarly.

•Abandonment of scholarly rigour in hope of reaching a broader audience. “We welcome all interpretations.”

—Douglas Hunter, author of The Place of Stone (UNC Press, 2017) and Beardmore (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018)

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