Kuhnian Huns

Back in August I blogged about a manuscript where a scholar appealed to Thomas Kuhn’s old theory of paradigm shifts in order to evade criticism of their work. At the time I couldn’t give the real details as I had received the manuscript in my capacity as journal editor.

I’ve said before that I consider it an editor’s duty to correct muddle in debates, both in the interests of scientific advancement and to help contributors avoid looking silly. So I wrote to the scholar in question and asked her to work some more on her contribution, specifically to address more of her opponent’s substantive arguments. I also suggested that her reference to Kuhnian paradigm shifts was a poor argument.

This author doesn’t share my view on the matter, and I don’t have editorial veto, so the current issue of Fornvännen (2008:4) contains a largely unaltered version of the original manuscript by Lotte Hedeager, Chair of archaeology in Oslo, titled “Paradigm exposed: reply to Ulf Näsman”. The issue at hand is not of course tomatoes in Neolithic Ireland: it’s whether the Huns are likely to have ruled southern Scandinavia in the Migration Period.

‘However, Näsman makes a simple equation between data and historical fact by ruling out theory. A reply to his critique therefore requires an exposition of the two different academic approaches – or paradigms – involved, his and mine.’

‘Such a change of research paradigm took place in Scandinavian archaeology during the 1970s with forerunners in the 1960s, when a new so-called “processual”, theoretical archaeology replaced, or rather supplemented, an empiricist, non-theoretical positivistic research tradition […]. With the addition of a so-called “post-processual” paradigm from the 1980s onwards, we are now in a situation where practitioners of three different research paradigms still work side by side. This situation leads to competing and sometimes incommensurable interpretations of the past, and Ulf Näsman’s critical comments on my article exemplify just that.’

‘Ulf Näsman’s critique of my NAR paper exemplifies this paradigmatic difference of interpretation. This is already evident from the title, where he keeps “Scandinavia and the Huns”, but replaces my subtitle with “A Source-Critical Approach to an Old Problem”. It clearly signals two different paradigms: an objective, positivistic source-criticism is applied in order to deconstruct a theoretical, interdisciplinary interpretation combining history and archaeology. Näsman’s paradigm demands that such bold, theory-based (and thus subjective) interpretations be confronted by restrained, objective source criticism. As a result we now have two completely different interpretations of the same data. One may ask, how wrong is it possible to be? Or is it the very concept of “right or wrong” that should be discussed?’

‘To summarize: all of Näsman’s “neutral” and “objective” interpretations of the empirical evidence are as solidly anchored in a subjective historical research paradigm as are mine. The main difference between us is his lack of theoretical reflection (or consciousness), and consequently his lack of insight into his own theoretical paradigm. While we share a fundamental respect for and knowledge of the empirical data base of the Iron Age, we approach the interpretation of that very same database in a fundamentally different way. In this our discussion highlights and exemplifies basic mechanisms of Kuhn’s concept of research paradigms, not least their incommensurability.’

Repeat after me, please: “Poe. Moe.”.

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Tåby Figurine Is A Medieval Candlestick


Bronze candlesticks, early 15th century, made in Germany or Flanders. Top: Rute parish, Gotland. Height c. 18 cm. Photograph by R. Hejdström. Below right: Fragment from Tåby parish, Östergötland. Photograph by M.R.

i-475b6e5d56af104883c7e6759821044d-P1000722lores.JPGBack in November I checked out the enigmatic Tåby figurine and blogged about it. Now I’ve found out what it is: it’s part of a 15th century candlestick and there’s a complete specimen in the Gotland County Museum. The Gotland specimen was kept above ground, in use and in repair from the Middle Ages until recently at a farmstead in Rute parish. Arthur Nordén wasn’t aware of it, but wrote of the Tåby figurine, “It is possible, for instance, that it may have served as a decoration on a chandelier, as holder in a candlestick or some such.”

Walls Impede Wifi

i-263fe8bc0170b7546cafa8a6afb52604-wifi logo.gif

My experiments with the wifi installation in our house and the excellent Bredbandskollen TPTEST bandwidth tester (mainly for machines in Sweden) has taught me a few interesting things about wifi.

  • Your operating system may report the quality of the connection in percent or columns or somesuch. This is not directly proportional to the actual bandwidth you’re getting. One percentage estimate may correspond to a wide range of bandwidth figures.
  • The bandwidth of a wifi connection is extremely sensitive to obstacles such as walls, doors, even waste paper baskets.

I started with the access point sitting on the floor near the middle of our house, and got 7 Mbps. Then I moved it less than three meters onto the wall, thinking that a high placement would improve bandwidth. Instead it dropped to 3 Mbps. So I moved it onto the window ledge, one meter from its original placement, and got 9 Mbps. (Note that I get 11 Mbps when I use an ethernet cable instead of wifi.) None of the three placements has line-of-sight to my computer’s antenna.

Reminds me of the time when my work computer was off-line and I solved the problem by moving the system unit 15 cm.

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New English Gold Hoard Tpq AD 15

i-ac49387abdb3198a3c71156b9447dd83-image0318_b.jpgThanks to a good metal detectorist and a swift response by British Museum archaeologists, all English Iron Age aficionados can now enjoy and study a hoard of 824 indigenous gold stater coins, buried in AD 15 or shortly thereafter. The hoard was in a plain pottery vessel, buried in a rectilinear cultic structure near Wickham Market, Suffolk. It’s the largest Iron Age gold coin hoard reported from Britain since 1849.

In Sweden, we don’t have a single coin deposited at such an early date, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Danes don’t either (though they do have other very cool imports of the period).

Via Archaeology Daily, with thanks to Reggae Roger for the heads-up.

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Gratuitous “Of” In US English

Listening to podcasts and reading blogs I’ve come across a new dialectal quirk of US English. I don’t like it. It’s ugly.

In standard English worldwide, people will tell you how much or little there is of something, how few or many of them. “I can’t get enough of her”. “I put too much of my savings into stocks.” “There are too many of them.” “It’s not too much of a problem.”

“Of” goes with adjectives having to do with quantity and number. Not, for instance, with size, colour or shape.

Now, look at the fourth example above and imagine that “much” might be exchanged for any adjective. Then you get the turn of phrase that’s irking me. “It’s not too big OF a problem.” “Is that too strong OF a way to put it?” “Is my dress too green OF a colour?”

Hear ye, Americans! When you put that gratuitous “of” there, you sound like demented hillbillies! Please desist — if that’s not too great a favour to ask of you.

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Finally On-Line Again

After a bit less than a month’s wait our new house is finally on-line! The winter of our off-line discontent dissolvèd made glorious broadband summer. So far only at 11 Mbps when we were promised at least 12, but the ADSL modem isn’t currently on the first phone socket, so I hope to eventually be able to squeeze some more bandwidth out of the setup.

I now face the slight problem of how our desktop machine will interface with the modem in the long term. I was planning on going wireless to eliminate cables, but so far the USB dongle I bought for the purpose isn’t working very well. When it works at all it’s only giving me 6 Mbps, and I don’t know if there’s a linux driver for it. But I’ll figure it out.

In other news, portly eunuch Shitty Arnie has taken a bad whipping from one of the other neighbourhood cats and walks with a limp. The psycho feline bit off two of the claws on Arnie’s right-hand hind paw! It’s a rough ‘hood, apparently. I have taken to throwing shoes at other cats who venture into our yard, just to give Shitty Arnie some breathing room. Alas, I have yet to hit one of the trespassers.

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Film Review: 10 MPH, 10 Yards

i-a7d76e53b8686a92438f56d65bd7dedc-10yards.jpgWhen I was offered a review copy of the new documentary film 10 Yards Fantasy Football, I replied, “No use sending that to a guy with no interest either in real nor imaginary football. But please do send me your award-winning 2006 Segway documentary road movie, 10 MPH Seattle to Boston!”. Film makers Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell kindly decided to send me both films, and it turned out I was right. I liked 10 MPH with its beautiful landscape footage and charming roadside interviews. It has my recommendation, for what that’s worth to a movie that’s already won the award for best documentary at numerous festivals.

10 Yards, however, is IMHO strictly for those tens of millions of people who take an interest in American football. I understood little of it, and while I can see the same fine cinematic craftsmanship here as in 10 MPH, I quickly got bored with the content.

Fantasy football is a huge fan pastime where players assemble imaginary teams at the start of the football season, each made up of actual players scattered across many actual teams. Then you follow your players game by game and add up their accomplishments according to certain scoring rules. Thus, at the end of the season, your fantasy team may win its fantasy league. Along the way you make friends with the other fantasy football managers. Seems like a perfectly reasonable hobby to someone like myself, who likes to play boardgames and has hunted down hundreds of tupperware boxes under stones in the woods using his GPS navigator. But it’s not my hobby. More importantly, it’s a completely non-visual hobby.

I don’t know if the film makers were aiming to reach a non-football-literate audience with this film. In 10 MPH, we see them do something pretty grandiose that they have never done before: they ride a slow vehicle across the US on small back roads where there is a lot to see. Here, instead, we see them engage in a rather mundane hobby that’s been part of their lives for years.

Weeks and Caldwell are good at what they do. For their next project, I hope they will once more take on a subject that is unfamiliar to them and has some level of wider appeal. I have no doubt that they will then be able to make another film as fine as 10 MPH.

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It’s been over half a year since the last de-lurk. Aard currently has over 150 returning visitors daily (out of about 730 uniques). Since not everyone checks in every day, this translates to several hundred — possibly a thousand — regulars who read the blog at least once a week. So, everybody, please comment away, as briefly or verbosely as you like, and do consider telling us a little about yourself!