I had a brief, but unsettling, conversation while waiting for the bus home from work today. As I was walking up to the bus stop I noticed someone whom I first mistook for a middle-aged version of someone I knew almost 25 years ago. So, I’ll admit that the two of us felt a little awkward at the start. But the interchange soon rankled, and I think you should understand why.
‘Aren’t you Mike Love,’ I asked. He plainly had no idea who I was talking about.
He gave his name and his affiliation, which was said so quickly all I could gather was that he was some kind of microbiologist.
Hoping to dispel the awkwardness of the moment, I said, ‘Not the Beachboy Mike Love. The Mike Love who’s an archaeologist.’
My counterpart then said something that really frosted me–something like ‘No, we’re all scientists where I work.’ I’m sorry, but I didn’t get a Ph.D. in anthropology at UC Berkeley in the late 1980s and early 1990s just so I could stand quietly by while some overly self-important gas-bag of a microbiologist pees in my face. So, without even thinking I looked straight at him and said, ‘That’s a rather bigoted statement, don’t you think?’
He looked at me like I was speaking Martian. [Shows his ignorance, really, ’cause my Martian is really awful and I never speak it anywhere outside of the shower.] Then he said that I must have misunderstood him, that what he meant was that archaeology wasn’t a Natural Science, like microbiology. ‘We do controlled experiments, where every variable is controlled. Archaeologists don’t do that.’
So, once again, I caught his gaze and let him know that just because, in large part, archaeology lacks a deductive component in its search for knowledge, our two disciplines were equally scientific, philosophically speaking. Again, I received the blank face of disbelief and had the sense that our two realities were thoroughly incommensurable.
Finally, I said something like, ‘Well, I’ve probably done enough to ruin your afternoon, so I’ll be on my way.’ Almost guffawing as I strode away, he said ‘Have a good one!’
And I went across to my bus stop and sat there fuming.
Too many times I’ve had to listen to the invective and sarcasm aimed at archaeologists and social scientists in general, always from those who consider themselves working in one of the so-called hard sciences. Frankly, I’m fed up being characterized in that way by male exponents of the physical sciences. The slur goes well beyond the Freudian to the downright homophobic.
And that’s why I feel like having a conversation with you about why so many members of the general public think science uses deduction and produces sure and certain knowledge, and why, especially, physical scientists for the most part agree with them. As I said in an earlier post, early universe physicists employ the identical form of analogical reasoning that archaeologists do, but are treated with a great deal more respect and reap at least 10 times the government funding for doing so. Why?
Help me understand, please. Some. One.