Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reviewing Peer Review

While waiting for our flight to the other side of the world for our latest Seasons 3 shoot on America Unearthed, I decided to write a blog post about the subject of so many posts: peer review. For years I’ve heard academics complain about peer review of my work on the Kensington Rune Stone and other “taboo” artifacts. They argue and posture hoping they can somehow negate the conclusions I’ve drawn. The fact is all my work has been peer reviewed by some of the most competent, qualified, knowledgeable, objective, and experienced professionals and academics one could want in the hard science disciplines of geology and engineering. The problem skeptical archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and historians have is they are trying to assert that the “academic” peer review process is the only acceptable way to truth. Besides trying to frame the argument to their distinct advantage, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Academic peer review in principle works well to a certain degree; if you have the luxury of time and are in an environment immune to the problems commonly seen in academia such as territoriality, competition for funding, runaway egos, intimidation, threats of retribution, favoritism, and ordinary personal pique. In the fourteen years I’ve been involved in the investigation of mysterious artifacts and sites I’ve encountered all of these failings in my dealings with many academics. They insist there is no legitimacy to my or anyone else’s work unless I have gone through the process they dictate is the only acceptable way. Readers of this blog know what I’m talking about.

If this review process is so perfect, then why has it not been able to accurately answer the question of the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone, Bat Creek Stone, Spirit Pond Rune Stones, the Newport Tower, and Tucson Lead Artifacts? The fact is academic peer review and publishing process has failed miserably. Further, defenders of the “faith” refuse to look inward and take a critical look of their sacred process to try and figure out what went wrong. Instead, they turn a blind eye to obvious failures, dig their heels in and attack those who dare to question. Allow me to present a particularly egregious example I have been personally involved in that still has reverberations with on-going research.

In 2006, Richard Nielsen and I published our 5-year collaborative work titled, The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence. Nielsen and I became close friends and the collaboration of his runological and linguistic work and my geological work on the artifact produced voluminous new factual data and discoveries that were all consistent with the artifact being a genuine medieval artifact. Shortly after our book was released, financial and personal issues - details of which can be found on the Internet - prompted Nielsen to publically announce that our professional and personal relationship was over. The details of the “breakup” are not important. What is important is the well-documented course of actions Nielsen then chose to pursue.

Nielsen reached out to the academic community in Sweden by admitting he was “bad” for working with the lowly professional geologist and asked forgiveness. Once accepted by one scholar in particular, he then went about things the “academic way” and set his sights on the Runestone Museum. Using the goodwill generated by the previous five years he gained their trust and suggested research that in principal was a good idea. He proposed a digital 3D scan of the artifact using the latest technology. This was performed in November of 2008. In the cleverly worded contract he drafted for the museum, he made himself the sole benefactor of the entire digital data-base. He then refused to provide a copy of that data. To date, that data is still not available to anyone except his sole Swedish academic contact and his then girlfriend/advisor who both apparently believe this is the proper “academic way.”

Now armed with the 3D data base, Nielsen then wrote and published on his own personal website a series of “academic” papers essentially undoing our joint KRS work and bashing me personally. When I eventually read these papers that I assume were “peer reviewed” by his Swedish colleague, it was obvious to me what was going on. Nielsen’s plan was to try to undermine everything I had done and paint himself as the now worthy “academic” and resurrect the KRS in his image. Crazy as it sounds, this story is true. Hardly bitter or angry (well, I was angry when I read the garbage he had written knowing full well he, too, knew it was crap), I feel sorry for my former colleague for the damage he’s done to himself and the Kensington Rune Stone. As of April of 2014, Nielsen still has not released the digital 3D data to the Runestone Museum or any other competent researchers, academic or otherwise.

So what do we take away from this sordid affair? Well, one of the unfortunate events is opportunistic skeptics cite Nielsen’s bogus research as legitimate criticism of my work. I’m sure most don’t realize the “research” they cite is blatantly bias, never had legitimate peer review, and self-published on his own website. Even the writer of a blatantly anti-diffusion page on Wikipedia felt it was appropriate to use Nielsen’s “academic” work to criticize my research on my own Wiki page. Upon deleting the garbage I was chided for editing my own page which incited a debate among the Wiki editors.

With Darwin Ohman
next to a modern rune stone
I carved to commemorate
the 2006 book:
“Kensington Rune Stone:
Compelling New Evidence.”
After a week of condescending discussion of my demanding that they either delete the fraudulent citations or remove my Wiki page altogether, they removed my page. No doubt they were quite happy to see any mention of the “heretic’s” KRS work go dark. So much for the academic peer review process in this case. For readers interested in an unbiased take on this latest sad chapter in the history of the Kensington Rune Stone, I suggest Darwin Ohman’s, Taking a StandClick Here. Darwin takes no pride in writing this article but felt it had to be done.

Let’s get back to peer review. I’m quite sure most academics don’t fully understand what we do in the professional world with regard to peer review which I would argue is just as thorough, faster and, in cases like the Kensington Rune Stone, is more accurate and reliable. The reason I’ve been the principal geologist in over 7,000 forensic projects in almost 30 years is because we have to produce. Academia doesn’t have deadlines and the review process can take years which I don’t believe has produced a better end product.

The other major difference between academic and professional peer review is accountability. As licensed professionals we have taken an oath to perform our work professionally, ethically, and to protect the health and welfare of the public. If licensed professionals are found guilty of incompetent work or unethical practice, we risk losing our license to practice. Further, we are required to testify to our facts, interpretations and conclusions in a court of law under oath. What accountability does a tenured professor have?

When all is said and done, I’m fully prepared to testify and defend my peer-reviewed work on all the artifacts and sites I’ve published results on. I’m really tired of listening to “academic” bloggers and Amazon power-trippers using arrogant posturing and name-calling trying to claim sovereignty over scientific method and the peer review process. Instead, we would all appreciate it if these people would stop trying to dictate what they think is proper scientific method and start practicing it. If you are truly curious about the Kensington Rune Stone and other artifacts and sites, then ask intelligent questions and let’s discuss it like adults. If you don’t “believe” they are genuine, then be happy in your “faith” and take your complaints somewhere else.