“An Open Access Oops?” – my #patc4 source

“An Open Access Oops?”

I generally believe that making my research and my results open access is a moral imperative. But recently, certain events in the reception of our research on the trade in human remains online have made me wonder if there are situations where the greater good is served by _not_ making our work openly available. In this piece, I recount what happened and reflect on the contexts of archaeological openness.

Delivered: 15 minutes/ 45 secs per tweet. Below is the text I pasted into the ‘what’s new?’ box as fast as I could go. Turns out you can’t schedule a thread in tweetdeck; or if you can, I couldn’t figure it out.

Hi folks, I’m Shawn Graham; I’m a prof in the history dept @Carleton_U . Somewhere along the way I became a digital archaeologist. My #patc4 paper is “An Open Access Oops”.

Lemme tell you a little story & let me ask some little questions. /1

[gif House saying oops ]

Firstly, I became a digital archaeologist from necessity. If people shared data, I cld pretend to myself that I was ‘doing’ archae! Open access was a lifeline. Playing, exploring, & building from other people’s data allowed me to re-invent myself /2 #patc4

I’ve always felt then, aside from all the other arguments for open access, there was a moral imperative to pay it back. Right? I had benefited; now that I’m in a position to do it, I need to get my materials out there, in remembrance of the lost post-phd guy I was. /3 #patc4

Fast-forward. I never set out to study the trade in human remains http://bonetrade.github.io. But here I am, & we’ve been publishing in OA journals, making code and data freely available… Good, right? Well… here’s what happened. Let’s air what feels like a fail. /4 #PATC4

[gif ‘fail’ krusty, judges 0]

In january, the faculty did a piece on our ‘Bone Trade’ project (@damien_huffer) (here: https://m.carleton.ca/fass/story/innovative-historian-studies-the-sale-of-human-remains-on-the-internet/).

This summer, a local journalist wanted to talk to me about the project; the story was published here: https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/carleton-prof-harnesses-machine-learning-to-explore-the-bone-trade-netherworld /5 #PATC4

So far, so good! Everyone wants their research to attract some attention, right? The Citizen is part of the Postmedia group, so the story got taken up by various papers across Canada.

Then a political candidate bought a human skull as a gift for her boyfriend. /6 #PATC4

[oh no < – kermit gif]

APTN, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, broke the story and asked me for comment, having seen the other newspaper article. The APTN story was taken up by lots of other outlets, including Newsweek. Suddenly, there were interview requests everywhere /7 #PATC4

Our work made it into Wired (the politician did not) https://www.wired.co.uk/article/instagram-skull-trade . But, in trying to be ‘balanced’, it seems, the story included interviews w collectors. And they made the editorial decision to embed _in the story_ posts from Instagram selling human remains /8 #PATC4

The story was picked up and re-worked across multiple outlets. Here’s the Sun’s attempt https://www.thesun.co.uk/tech/9542441/human-remains-for-sale-instagram-black-market/. We’ve been erased from the research, and the nuance we try for in our work is lost. But the collectors are getting a lot of oxygen! /9 #patc4

A number of outlets contacted us, for interviews (including BBC), requesting that we also put them in touch with collectors. I refused to do this. If we were studying sex trafficking, would you ask us to put you in touch with pimps? /10 #patc4

[gif why monkey]

I know this is not a particularly egregious case; there are far worse out there. But we know that buyers/sellers of human remains are reading our work and adapting accordingly. With the press attention, and the celebration of the ‘eccentric’ collectors, + /11 #patc4

how much traffic have we driven to collectors? to what degree have we helped promote the trade we are studying? how have we changed their behaviour to _enhance_ their ability to trade without prying eyes? /12 #patc4

These human remains were collected in morally, ethically, legally dubious circumstances. To reduce them to clickbait is to return us to the era of ‘human zoos’. How many times will these people be dehumanized? But… we published OA. We put our material out there. /12 #patc4

It’s our fault, right? Publishing the work needs to be done openly, I thought, given how these remains were collected in the first place in secret (eg https://www.academia.edu/14663044/Harlan_I._Smiths_Jesup_Fieldwork_on_the_Northwest_Coast p154). sunlight, disinfectant?

Maybe I was wrong. /13 #PATC4

But hiding the work behind paywalls is wrong, too. Publicly funded work should be accessible by the public (which publics, SG?). We didn’t conceive the project as ‘public archae’, but if we had we would not have gotten into this mess of inadvertently promoting sellers. /14 #PATC4

A month or two later, I return to scraping Instagram, and I notice new figures active, old figures gone, & maybe the internet’s short attention span has taken care of the situation. Maybe I worry too much. But is this a case where OA is the wrong approach? /15 #patc4

Or is the error: the attracting of attention, drawing the eye of a media ecosystem addicted to both-sides-ism, an ecosystem addled by ‘engagement’ mechanics predicated on outrage? /16 #patc4

[eye of sauron]

I know I conceived this project without thinking about how, if you study things online, things online have a way of pushing back. In which case, I decided to talk about it here at #patc4, so that I can learn from wiser heads. /17

The human remains trade in its origins is part of the literal flow of human bodies from around the world into the West. As @priscillaulguim reminds us https://twitter.com/priscillaulguim/status/1169382105547202561 OA assumes I have the right to share; but not always true & the contexts are complex. /18 #PATC4

I am also from the global north, the consumer of these bodies, of these data. Unthinking OA (as @priscillaulguium alluded to last night https://twitter.com/priscillaulguim/status/1169382281485701127) allows me to profit academically from these bodies one more time. /19 #patc4

Before I was a prof, OA let me play at being an archaeologist. Now on the other side, I want to get my research out there: but naive OA, especially in archaeology, is not without its risks, as this summer has demonstrated. I need to do better. /fin #patc4

[screenshot of the thing below]

PS One more thing- The one seller, who got progressively higher and higher profile in the news stories? IG deleted his account. His webstore remains, but he’s rebuilding on Instagram. The internet makes Red Queens of us all. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Queen_hypothesis /really fin