In the blog "aardvarchaeology," Martin Rundkvist shared with his readers a recent grand proposal he is sending out to the Swedish Research Council. This is a cool part about the current state of the internet: sharing of information of all kinds. In the old days, proposal were all paper and basically inaccessible to anyone since they ended up at grant agencies and few folks were willing to "publish" them in any traditional format. Now, we can read and provide feedback on research ideas in real time. Cool.
You can read his research proposal here.
While I appreciate the general ambition of the work, the proposal characterizes many of problems that plague research in the cultural phenomena: common sense thinking. Here, Rundkvist, an avid advocate for science based research, succumbs to the blind spot most have when trying to explain human behavior: the illusion that we can make observations that are not simply about ourselves. Lacking any theory for his units (e.g., sacrificial sites), he basically is going to end up demonstrating that there is stuff out there and will construct some kind of plausible story to make it all seem explained. But it will simply be a good ripping tale, not science. In the same way that the Flying Spagetti Monster is also a good ripping tale. Or that old dude that supposedly wrote that book. Or whatever.
Here are my comments from the Rundvist blog. Although perhaps unintelligible or a major wet blanket, I really do mean these things in the best possible critical sense.
One concern I would have about this proposal if I were reviewing it is whether or not you are going to get "results" regarding spatial distributions regardless of what you do. In other words, I would be shocked if you didn't falsify the notion that the features you are looking for are randomly distributed about the environment. Why would they be? Falsifying the random distribution hypothesis only falsifies statements from probability theory, not archaeological theory. If not random, then what? Who knows? -- especially since the observations have no necessary links to each other and have no necessary connection to the way in which you propose to describe the landscape.