Commentator and link contributor to DN, Jeb Card, has an article out on what the public thinks about archaeology, co-authored with David S. Anderson and Kenneth L. Feder. For a long time (too long?) the professional reaction to pseudoscience has been no reaction at all. Is it time to change that? Archaeologists are responsible for how they represent the human past. That means calling out irresponsibility.
All three of the authors of the current paper have had multiple variations on this experience, and we suspect most SAA members can relate. We have been asked about Atlantis, the Pyramids, how the Mayas and Aztecs of South America (yes, we know) built their sewer systems, about the six-fingered aliens who gave the Maya a base-twelve number system (yes, again, we know), crystal skulls, and many, many other topics. Over the years, we have become increasingly interested in the attitudes of the people who ask these questions and how professional archaeologists should respond to these somewhat unorthodox claims. In our experience, the majority of people who ask these questions are not idle time wasters, nor are they typically out to proclaim a strongly held personal belief, but rather quite the opposite. These questions are often asked in an excited and happy manner. (The mocking questions usually involve Indiana Jones, or one’s state of employment.)The motive here is typically one of real, often pent-up, curiosity. That motorist in Louisiana had it, and we’ve seen it time and again from airplane passengers, college students, dinner party guests, bar patrons, taxi drivers, and even colleagues in universities and museums. With an archaeologist present, they finally have someone whom they can ask about the archaeology special that aired on cable television last month.
If you check out her page on Facebook, you can find her testing the DNA from cremated remains and from the elongated skulls of Central America. Also, there are several Bible references there. Thus concludes your Ketchum update.
Is a reaction to nonsense needed? Yes. Hence – Doubtful News exists. The public is VERY INTERESTED in this subjects and in the “mysteries” that are presented in the media. They expect scientists to address them. If actual scientists don’t do a good job with this, and just ignore it, there are MANY others who will step in and garner the public’s attention. Some may even be convincing in feeding a warped worldview. Not good. Speak out. Your opinion matters. Fair critique is an important part of skeptical activism.