Soul Warrior

This past weekend the Swedish Skeptics celebrated our 30th anniversary with a two-day conference in Gothenburg. It included the annual business meeting of the society at which I was reelected as chairman for a second year. And at dinner, I sang a song about how I view my role in the society, and the Swedish Skeptics’ role in Sweden at large. It’s Tomas di Leva’s 1991 Själens Krigare, “Soul Warrior”. Here’s a quick translation.

Can you feel it?
It is everywhere
Space opening
In our hearts

I am the soul’s warrior
With love as my weapon
I am the soul’s warrior
And the light in the tunnel
I am the soul’s warrior
And I help you get to Paradise

Forget everything
In green hypnosis
Beauty fights for us
We make a cosmic wave
Butterfly, long for more!
Glow!
Become reborn again!

Among stars I sneak
And spread my seed by the power of thought
My kiss is a whirlwind
Spin, oh my Earth, through famine and distress
Indifference is everyone’s death

You can do whatever you want

Lala, lala, dreams shall sing in the blue

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Church of Sweden Church Sold As Housing

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In England and other countries, churches have long been deconsecrated and used as shops and for housing. In Sweden, this has previously only happened to nonconformist chapels – quite frequently, actually. But now, the first Church of Sweden church with a churchyard has been sold.

֖rja church near Landskrona in Scania is a neo-Gothic yellow brick structure built in 1868 after its Medieval predecessor on the site was torn down. It was closed in 2003 due to insufficient interest from congregants, and in 2005 it was deconsecrated. But unlike the nearby 1909 new church of Maglarp, ֖rja isn’t being torn down, possibly because of its greater age and venerability. It has been sold for 1 krona to a family who intends to make it their home.

1970s Concretist Sculpture

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This 1976 piece of public sculpture is at the playground next to my house. It’s titled Del av helhet – helhet av del, “Part of whole – whole of part”, referring to its modular makeup.

I haven’t really paid any attention to it since Juniorette became old enough to go out and play without grownups. But just now I took a walk in the sun and caught the piece with good lighting. It’s taller than I am, a sturdy climbable aluminium structure as was en vogue in the 70s. It forms a slightly narrow double portal into the playground for people approaching from outside the Boat Hill housing area. Kids from the tenements enter the park that way.

The artist is Bertil Herlov Svensson (b. 1929). A self-taught painter and sculptor, he debuted in 1967 after a career as a sailor and carpenter. These concretist aluminium works are characteristic for him, and we have at least one more in Fisksätra, the prominently placed Arkitektura Skulpturum whose silhouette is Fisksätra’s logotype.

Once while we lived in the tenements I took Junior here to play. He climbed the sculpture and came down frightened. On top of the thing, someone had written a graffito where they threatened to kill themselves. I hope they never did. I like that sculpture.

Mutual Support

Early 20th century, a newlywed couple celebrates their wedding night at a hotel. In the morning, the young man chivalrously pricks his finger with his pen knife and smears some blood on the bedsheet.

50 happy years later, the couple returns to the hotel to celebrate their anniversary. And in the morning, the woman can finally return the favour. She blows her nose on the bedsheet.

Choosing and Accessing My Reading Matter

I listened to BBC Click about the future of publishing and had the idea to look at a couple of parameters in my reading habits: where I get the idea to read each book-length text, how I get hold of them and what form they take. Here’s about the past year, April 2011 through March 2012 (38 books).

Inspiration
45% Author I like
32% Recommendation from friend / family
13% Chance discovery
5% Publicist pitch
5% Work demands

Access
34% Gift (all but two from Super Dear Reader Birger)
16% Library
10% Download (2 public domain, 1 creative commons, 1 pirated)
8% Workplace
8% Review copy
5% On-line snail mail order
5% Flea market
5% Lent by friend / family
3% Book fair
3% Urban book store
3% Anthology I participated in

Form
58% Paperback
29% Hardback
10% E-book
3% Word processor manuscript

Note that the single book I bought in a physical store was a copy of a friend’s new book at its release party…

Ales Stenar: Q&A

Livescience.com asked me a bunch of question about the Ales stenar stone ship on the occasion of Mörner & Lind’s new bizarro paper. They didn’t use much of what I wrote, so I’ll put it up here.

LS: What is the most remarkable thing — physical, historical or otherwise – about Ales Stenar?

MR: Its excellent state of preservation and restoration. These large stone ships form a common category of monuments, but few are currently as nice-looking as this one. (Ales stenar is not one of the largest ones we’re aware of.) Also it sits in a scenic spot in one of Sweden’s main tourist regions.

LS: When was Ales Stenar constructed, and what lines of evidence point to that/those date(s)? How reliable or refutable is that information?

MR: A number of radiocarbon dates all point to the later 1st millennium AD, most likely the 7th century. This period is known as the Late Iron Age in Sweden. Specifically, the chronological phase is known as the Vendel Period and precedes the Viking Period. The date coincides with that of all large stone ships we have dated. The analyses at Ales stenar dated charcoal retrieved from under the huge stones and inside a central posthole for a post apparently used to secure the measuring rope when plotting the design onto the ground.

LS: Who built it? (e.g., Which community or group of people planned it, and what type of workers would have actually done the construction?)

MR: The local slave-owning aristocracy.

LS: In general, what would their society have been like? (e.g., Did they live in organized settlements? How far did they travel to trade? Where did they get their food? Etc.)

MR: Pre-urban. Decentralised. Agrarian. Hierarchical. Largely illiterate. Cosmopolitan. Warlike. Mercantile. Nautical. This is the world of Beowulf.

LS: What tools and technology did they use (or presumably had access to) to build Ales Stenar?

MR: Oxen, slaves, rope, sleds, wooden spades and simple steel tools. No gun powder.

LS: Why was Ales Stenar built? Have buried human remains ever been found at the site?

MR: Probably as an ostentatious grave monument, judging from excavated examples of the monument category. An urn burial found at the site pre-dates the stone ship judging from radiocarbon. Ales stenar was rather brusquely freed from drift sand using a bulldozer after WWII, and it has only seen small test-pit excavations. We do not know if its primary burial survives. It is not likely to be (have been) an inhumation or richly furnished judging from excavated examples elsewhere.

LS: What are some of the more notable theories (both plausible and outlandish) you’ve heard regarding its construction?

MR: I have heard nothing outlandish regarding the methods of construction. Regarding the motive for construction, local amateur scholar B.G. Lind put forward the idea 15 years ago that the ship might have been an astronomical calendar. This idea has no supporters among academic archaeologists.

LS: What is it about this site that inspires such speculation? Can you think of other sites from this region or period of time that inspire similar, or even more, speculation?

New Age mystics like standing stones. It is an international movement. And as I said, Ales stenar is in an excellent state of preservation and restoration. Also it sits in a scenic spot in one of Sweden’s main tourist regions.

Fornvännen’s Autumn Issue On-Line

Fornvännen is not only a paper quarterly on its 107th year, but also an Open Access journal that appears for free with a 6-month delay. The autumn issue for 2011has just gone live! All papers have English abstracts and summaries.

  • Påvel Nicklasson on 19th century zoologist and pioneering archaeological theorist Sven Nilsson.
  • Roger Wikell et al. on the horse that pulls the sun on a recently identified Bronze Age rock carving in Östergötland.
  • Svante Fischer et al. on a major new solidus coin hoard from Åland, in English.
  • Ulrika Stenbäck Lönnquist and Stig Welinder on the whys and wherefores of excavating charcoal burners’ huts and kilns.
  • Andreas Nordberg on the concept of cult sites in archaeology.
  • Anders Andrén on social structure in Medieval Gotland.
  • Torsten Svensson and Emma Arkåsen on the demolished Medieval church of Lofta in SmÃ¥land and 19th century painter Carl Samuel Graffman who copied its murals.
  • Karin Viklund on Bronze Age farming at Umeå in Västerbotten, in English.
  • Ny Björn Gustafsson on a Viking Period metalworking Hoard from Gotland, in English.
  • Lars Schreiber Pedersen, on German archaeology professor Herbert Jankuhn’s Nazi youth.
  • Ingela Harrysson on fieldwork methodology at the 1st Millennium cemeteries of the Stockholm area.
  • Book reviews.Looking at this table of contents, I am yet again reminded of how much fun it is to edit such a wide-ranging and polyglot journal!

Scam Publisher Fools Swedish Cranks

Perennial Aard favourites N-A. Mörner and B.G. Lind have published another note in a thematically unrelated journal. It’s much like the one they snuck past peer review into Geografiska Annaler in 2009 and which Alun Salt and I challenged in 2011. The new paper is as usual completely out of touch with real archaeology, misdating Ales stenar by over 1000 years and comparing it to Stonehenge using the megalithic yard. No mention is made of the fact that this unit of measurement was dreamed up by professor of engineering cum crank archaeoastronomer Alexander Thom and has never had any standing in academic archaeology. The megalithic yard does not exist.

At first I thought, damn, they’ve managed to game the system again. But then I looked into the thing some more and came to the conclusion that this time, Mörner & Lind have been scammed, poor bastards.

The journal they’ve published in is named the International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It’s an on-line Open Access quarterly, and though it has an ISSN number for a paper version as well, this is not held by any Swedish library. This may not be cause for suspicion, because the journal is new: its first four issues appeared last year. The Head Editor is professor of astronomy at a young English university that is quite highly ranked within the UK.

So far, it may look like Mörner & Lind have simply published in a low-impact but legit academic venue. But let’s have a look at the publishers of IJAA, Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP). This outfit publishes from Irvine, CA, but its web site is registered in Wuhan, China, where its president Huaibei “Barry” Zhou is based. He is apparently a physicist. According to a 2010 statement by Zhou to Nature News, he co-founded SCIRP in 2006 or 2007. In the five or six years since, the firm has launched over 150 on-line Open Access journals. Uh-oh.

Suspicions about SCIRP began to gather in December 2009, when Improbable Research, the body behind the IgNobel Prize, said the publisher might offer “the world’s strangest collection of academic journals”. Improbable Research pointed out that at the time, SCIRP’s journals were repurposing and republishing decade-old papers from bona-fide journals, sometimes repeating the same old paper in several of its journals, and offering scholars in unrelated fields places on editorial boards.

This was taken up by Nature News in January 2010, when they contacted Zhou and received the explanation that the old papers had appeared on the web site by mistake after having been used to mock up journals for design purposes. “They just set up the website to make it look nice”, said Zhou. While he had otherwise represented himself as president of SCIRP, Zhou now told Nature News that he helped to run the journals in a volunteer capacity. The piece reports that SCIRP had listed several scholars on editorial boards without asking them first, in some cases recruiting the names of people in completely irrelevant fields. In other cases, scholars had agreed to join because a SCIRP journal’s name was similar to that of a respected publication in their field. Recruitment efforts by e-mail had apparently been intensive and scattershot.

Now, what is this really about? Why is SCIRP cranking out all of these fly-by-night fringe journals that anybody can read for free? The feeling across the web is that it’s most likely a scam utilising a new source of income: the “author pays” model built into bona fide Open Access publishing. A kinder way to put it would be that SCIRP is a pseudo-academic vanity press.

Instead of charging a subscription fee, many Open Access journals charge authors a publication fee once their manuscripts have gone through peer review and been accepted. This gets research out of the stranglehold of the big publishing houses (Elsevier et al.), making it available to tax payers and scholars in poor countries. Instead of putting huge money into their libraries to buy expensive journal subscriptions, universities can distribute smaller amounts among their faculty to pay Open Access publication fees.

But Mörner & Lind’s new paper has clearly not been vetted by any competent scholar. This suggests that anybody can publish anything in SCIRP’s International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics as long as they pay the fee. Its Head Editor tells me by e-mail that he is “concerned about the refereeing process and should investigate”.

And as for the other 150 SCIRP journals? Well, what can you tell me, Dear Reader?

(SCIRP has a few other lines of business too. One is apparently scam conferences. Beware of the International Conference on Internet Technology and Applications.)

Update 16 April: Michael D. Smith, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Kent, stands by his journal. He wrote me today:

I have checked – the article was indeed refereed properly.

I also note that your blog contains many many errors and also draws on selected information taken out of context.

I believe few academics would agree with him regarding the quality of the peer review in this case — be they astronomers, archaeologists or archaeoastronomers.

Easter Cryptogram

In order to find her easter egg, my daughter first had to solve a +1 transposition cryptogram with appended translation table. It gave her the location of a note with a +9 cryptogram where she was given the offset but had to write her own translation table. This led to a +9 cryptogram that resolved into Mandarin written with pinyin. She needed little help. Though since there were no tone indicators in the encrypted pinyin, she at first searched beneath a window (chuāng) instead of under a bed (chuáng).