Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Type Variety, Systematics, and Scholarship

I recommend that those interested in archaeological systematics read Michael E. Smith's blog on Culbert and Rands' recent "type-variety" article in LAA. http://publishingarchaeology.blogspot.com/2008/08/news-flash-type-variety-classification.html Smith points out a serious failure in the editor/review/writing process in this article that resulted in the failure to cite previous literature that already did what they claimed to do (show that type-variety is flawed and cannot be a "single" classificatory system). The result is an article that is pretty much a "duh" for anyone who has read anything on classification or formal theory in archaeology. Sadly, the way their conclusions are framed - that ceramic complexity is too great -- will lead some to believe that the solution is some numerical technique, a bigger computer, or some new-boffo-annealing-self-organizing-strange-loops - or whatever. This of course misses the point that "ceramic complexity" isn't the problem, its the lack of a problem that is a problem. Without any question, there can't be a way of knowing whether any system of chopping up the world is better than any other. Without questions, what would the "right" (or "correct" or "real") classification look like? How would we know when we found it?

More immediately upsetting is the discipline's acceptance of poor scholarship - for example, literature reviews and relevant citation. When authors who are writing in Latin American Antiquity can't be bothered to read articles from the 70s in American Antiquity (all of which are available on JSTOR) and the reviewers and editors let them get away with that, then there really is a problem.

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