The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, May 29, 2009

Psychic Archaeologists

Some years back, a former boss of mine, by the name of Travis, worked on a project for the State of Colorado. The project involved the excavation of a prehistoric settlement site, and attracted a good deal of interest from both the news media and the historic preservation community.

On one particular day, a representative from the state government came to view the work, and brought a friend of his. As it turns out, this friend of his claimed to be able to identify archaeological sites and features using his psychic powers (perhaps he phrased it differently, claiming to feel energies or some such thing, Travis could not remember). At any rate, he identified several locations within the site, flagging them, and describing what would be found should Travis excavate at these locations (one was a burial, another was a hearth feature, etc.).

Because this yahoo was a friend of the government official, and that official's agency would have to approve the final report, Travis had little choice but to excavate. So, as demanded, time and money was wasted excavating the spots that the alleged psychic flagged, and - much to everyone's surprise - nothing was found at any of these locations. With this waste of time done, the excavation continued along its correct course, and the work was finished.

A few days later, Travis was reading the newspaper, when he saw an article about the project. The article described the involvement of the "psychic archaeologist" and, quite at odds with reality, stated that the guy had correctly predicted the locations of buried features.

Travis called the newspaper, and, after a bit of run-around, finally was able to speak with the reporter. He explained to the reporter that the "psychic" had failed to locate any features, and that those locations that had been flagged all turned up negative results.

The reporter's response? "Well, we all have an opinion on the matter" followed by hanging up the phone.

Of course.


Kay said...

It never ceases to amaze me how people confuse the notion of an opinion with a fact.

Anthroslug said...

I have always disliked the way that the phrase "well, we both have opinions" is used to stop discussion, as if both opinions are equally valid. In my experience, the phrase usualy means "well, you have a well-informed, carefully thought out opinion, and I am spouting bullshit. So, instead of cede the point, I'm going to say something to try to make our views seem equal, despite the fact that they are not."

Evan Davis said...

What?! I know the media likes to skew their facts to fit the opinion they want to appeal to, but just completely ignoring evidence? Wow.

Anthroslug said...

Yeah - when I heard this story, I was blown away. It was, and remains, one of te stories I pull out when someone tells me that such-and-such a paranormal claim "must be true" because they red it in the newspaper.

Evan Davis said...

Lisa said she has to combat this whenever she talks to her mom. "But it was on the news Lisa. Do you think they would say it if it was an outright lie?"