Monday, May 28, 2007

Michael Brass, BCSE Chairman: "Published Archaeologist"? (Inflating Your Credentials - Part 6)

Introduction

Previous parts in this series:

Part one: Introduction
Part two: The BCSE's chairman, Mr. Michael Brass
Part three: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misrepresentation of Mr. Brass's vocation
Part four: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misleading description of Brass as "published"
Part five: Who "published" Michael Brass? Answer: Michael Brass did!

In our last article, we looked at Michael Brass (the BCSE's chairman)'s, book "The Antiquity of Man". This is the cornerstone of the description of Brass as "a published archaeologist". We revealed that in fact this book is self-published, through PublishAmerica, a notorious vanity publisher.

Since that time, the BCSE has altered its description of Brass... by making the word "published" a hyperlink to Brass's own website. I'm not sure what this is meant to achieve... possibly it's meant to rebut the idea that they're pulling the wool over your eyes by hiding from you just what "published" means.

And now...

As promised last time, the results of my investigation into the question: "How many copies of his book has 'published archaelogist' Michael Brass sold?"

PublishAmerica, as a print-on-demand self-publisher, doesn't have its books available in bookshops - unless the author personally persuades a bookshop to take them. Otherwise, you have to order them specially.

As such, the only places where you can get such books is either to ask for them by title, or to order them sellers which have a policy of trying to make available every book in existence, such as Amazon or equivalent. Brass's own website lists four sources:

  1. Amazon.com
  2. Amazon.co.uk
  3. BarnesAndNoble.com
  4. PublishAmerica (i.e., direct from the publisher)
(http://antiquityofman.com/book_overview.html)


Amazon and Barnes and Noble publish sales ranks for their titles So let's take a look at the page for Brass's book

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1591293855/ancientegyptandw


Amazon.com Sales Rank: #1,285,419

OK - so with a sales rank past 1 million it's not a best-seller. But just how many copies sold does that number translate to? How do we turn rank into copies? Well, it turns out that a number of researches have already done the hard work for us...

1. Witness 1 : Rampant Techpress

The gloriously named "Rampant Techpress" have authored an article titled "Inside the Amazon Sales Rank", available at http://www.rampant-books.com/mgt_amazon_sales_rank.htm. They tell us that a major publisher kept tabs on its Amazon ranking for 25 titles over a 6 month period, and came up with this table translating sales rank into weekly sales:

Amazon        Actual
Sale Rank Books Sold per week
--------- -----------------
75-100 250-275/wk
100-200 225-249/wk
200-300 150-200/wk
450-750 75-100/wk
750-3,000 40-75/wk
3,000-9,000 15-20/wk
10,000+ 1-5/wk

Well, that table doesn't go beyond "10,000+" - we need another couple of zeroes on the end! But it does tell us that we're not talking about the "sales every week" category. The article then points us to another source, researcher Morris Rosenthal...

2. Witness 2 : Morris Rosenthal

Rosenthal's article is online at http://www.fonerbooks.com/surfing.htm. Rosenthal tells us that a book that has sold a lifetime total of one copy will likely get a rank in the three-millions, and that Amazon probably has four million titles it can obtain in all. He then gives us a graph of sales rank against copies sold per week - going up to ranks of 1 million.

Some of the quotes from Rampant Techpress don't appear in Rosenthal's article, and appear to be based on an older version of that article, from 2001. The Rampant article goes on to say that a sales rank of 1,000,000 translates to about 3 copies every 500 days, whilst 2,000,000 means about 1 copy every 1,000 days. Another tit-bit from Rosenthal is that if your sales rank is in the 1,000,000 region, you only really need to check it twice a year to compute an average position.

3. Witness 3: fluff.info

I was pleased to come across this third witness, because it contains a clear, recent date at the top: August 2006. He gives us this useful tongue-in-cheek table which he compiled:

1-10          Oprah's latest picks
10-100 The NYT's picks
100-1,000 Books by editors of Wired Magazine, topical rants by pundits/journalists, `classics'
1,000-500,000 Everything else (still selling)
500,000-2mil Everything else (technically in stock)
http://fluff.info/blog/arch/00000188.htm

This puts Brass firmly in the "we can get it, but nobody at all is actually buying it" category.

4. Witness 4: Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal has a freely available article, at http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB117...21.html.
This article is low on data as far as sales ranks below 50,000 go - but supplies this tit-bit: "Outside the top 1% or so of books, few sell multiple copies a day, so little separates books with rankings tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, apart. Morris Rosenthal, an author and publisher based in Springfield, Mass., who has studied the Amazon charts, says a day without a sale can send a book ranked 10,000 to as low as 50,000."

So, with a sales rank of 1.2 million, it seems fairly certain that Brass's book is in the category of "not selling any copies at all". And in recent days, I came across one blogger whose mention of his own book seemed to confirm this analysis:

The WSJ article also gives us this significant fact:

"One major quirk: Used and new book sales are counted equally. So an author anxious about his sales ranking could put a few dozen of his books for sale for a penny apiece and ask a friend to buy them all."

5. Witness 5: David Field

This blogger has authored a book on a particular English Puritan, John Howe, who lived from 1630 to 1705. To mark his "birthday", Field wrote this short post:

There's far more about him than you'd ever want to know HERE and at Amazon sales ranking 700,787 (!) this is a book which could do with another couple of people looking at it - thereby doubling its readership.

http://davidpfield.blogspot.com/2007/05/happy-birthday-john-howe.html

Note what Field says:
  • His own book's sales rank was 700,787
  • It could do with another couple of readers
  • Another couple of readers would double its readership
I then kept an eye on the Amazon page linked, and saw the sales rank jump to around 50,000 before starting to drop down again - today it is at 271,214. It take this to mean that Field did indeed find another couple of readers!

Summing it up

Taking all the witnesses above together, we come up with the following: the book upon the back of which the BCSE present its chairman as a "published archaelogist" has likely sold 1 or 2 copies through Amazon.com in the past 2 years. We cannot be sure that this means new copies, though; according to the Wall Street Journal, this includes the trading of second hand copies too. So we may be talking about 2 copies; or about 1 copy, bought and then sold second hand... I guess it's probably not really worth investigating that one...

What About The Other Sites?

Amazon.com is the world's biggest book-seller; a sales figure there gives a pretty clear idea of how many copies a book is selling - especially when that book is only otherwise available by special order. But for completeness, I also consulted the sales ranks at amazon.co.uk and the Barnes and Noble website:

Amazon.co.uk : 840,288 (here)
BarnesAndNoble.com : 713,156 (here)

As the Amazon UK and Barnes and Noble sites sell less than the main Amazon.com site, those sales rankings will translate into even worse sales figures.

This now is all three sellers with a public listing for this book: the only other place to obtain it is to order it direct from the publisher (or get a book shop to do it for you).

Conclusion

The only debate over Brass's book's sales appears to be this: More than 1 copy in the last year, or not? As many as 5 copies in the last 2 years, or less than that?

The BCSE chose Brass to represent it as its chairman, because he was the most qualified guy they could find. And in order to describe his credentials, they name him as a "published archaelogist", and bring forward his book "The Antiquity of Man" as his main literary achievement. A little research from "BCSE Revealed" has shown this:

  • Brass's profession is that of an IT worker, not a full-time archaeologist

  • Brass, when questioned by me, confirmed that his publications record basically consists of his book, and one article - an article which is a version of his honours' dissertation and is freely downloadable.

  • Brass's book is published by... Brass himself, using a rather notorious vanity publisher who various investigators have established do not even check manuscripts before publishing them.

  • And now... we have revealed that Brass's sales figures are single digit.

The revelation of these sales figures reveals why, as we discussed in our last article, when accepting a book PublishAmerica strongly encourage its authors to buy 50 or 100 copies for his own friends and family - the authors that PA are getting it seems typically aren't going to sell any to anyone else.

As I toured the net, I found a few mentions of Michael's book by fellow campaigners against the allowing of criticisms of Darwinism - some of them had bought it and read it. In the light of the above research, it seems likely that these are the only people who have bought it and read it.

We are left, then, with the unavoidable conclusion: the book on the back of which Brass promotes himself, and the BCSE promote him, as a "published archaelogist", is a book whose only readers are - these people themselves.

And that's one more set of facts published for future researchers into the BCSE to know exactly what kind of group we're talking about. That's one more set of facts for readers of the BCSE's website to evaluate how honestly the BCSE can be trusted to present material, just how much fact-twisting they have to do in order to make themselves seem credible.

David Anderson


Update: Mr. Brass has been in touch to dispute the facts of this last post in the series; he wishes to inform me that since 2002 he has sold between 140 and 150 copies, currently at a rate of 19-25 a year. Brass's explanation for the discrepancy between these figures and those in the article above appears to be that bulk purchases only have a small effect on the sales rank; this appears to imply that many of those purchases were bulk, but Brass did not actually say so to me. As the major thrust of this series is about Brass's reasons for calling himself a "published archaeologist" and as the main point in this examination of Brass's book is that it is self-published, I won't be pursuing this point as it has very little relevance to the wider picture.

Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Not even trying to pretend any more...

When the BCSE first launched, it presented itself to the world as a body of scientific educators, taking pains to tell us all that its interest was all to do with science, and not religious at all.

However, I had been tracking the BCSE before its launch, and this was about as convincing as a man with no legs announcing that he was going to be next the Olympic high-jump champion.

We have already many times displayed the evidence that, far from being a religiously neutral bunch of science educators, the BCSE:

  • Didn't even have one science educator within its membership.

  • Was led and run by a management consultant who had never worked in the world of science at all.

  • Was dominated by hard-line atheists of Richard Dawkins variety.

Any remaining pretence of being unmotivated by religion was blown away when "BCSE Revealed" exposed a hidden page on the BCSE's website, in which BCSE leader Roger Stanyard laid bare his ignorance and prejudice in all its none-too-attractive glory:

Well, nowadays the BCSE hardly bother with the pretence any more. Maybe this is because of what I've blogged a couple of times already: the statistics show that nowadays the BCSE are just a subset of their original founders who talking to themselves, having failed in their attempt to gain a larger membership by covering up their true nature: one, two. So, might as well stop pretending.

Exhibit One

Here's Ian Lowe, BCSE committee member and membership secretary (note too the "Forum Admin" under his name). He'd like to hire a graphic designer, to help him with some atheist activism. Ian doesn't even try to pretend that this is separate from his interest and involvement in the BCSE (which would be hard for him to do, as Ian has never been involved in scientific research), and so asks you to e-mail him at his BCSE e-mail address, ian@bcseweb.org.uk, if you're interested. Possibly Ian wants some help with the "Scottish Atheist Council" (www.scottishatheistcouncil.org.uk), another organisation with a grand sounding name, but for which Lowe himself appears to be the only active member.


Exhibit Two

The BCSE's "More about the BCSE" page (http://bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/Main/MoreAboutTheBCSE) page contains various bits of blurb about how the BCSE are a single-issue organisation, with no interest beyond defending Darwinism within schools. e.g.:

"Our strategy is to raise public awareness of the fraudulent science (and lack of science) behind both creationism and intelligent design and the attempts to get both taught as science or in science lessons in publicly funded schools.

...

BSCE has no other agenda that the single issue stated above. ... We are not here to back any one political movement or any one view on religion. ... We do not object to or support religion or atheism. We do not object to the teaching of creationism or intelligent design outside of the science lesson or as non-scientific subjects.

We do not promote any religious or atheistic viewpoint."

Well, anyone who's been following "BCSE Revealed" for any length of time will know just how much that assurance is worth.

Roger Stanyard himself wrote those words; but even he doesn't even try to pretend that he believes them any more. One long-time poster on the BCSE forums opined that too many in his denomination doubted the Darwinian story, and that he would like to do something to combat it:

"A friend who's an elder in a neighbouring Presbyterian church (not a YEC one), has told me that I should raise the issue for debate at the general assembly. Apparently I need only two signatures to do this (1) the clerk of session and (2) another elder."

http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?p=9045#9045

Stanyard's reply?

If you care to contact me off-site I can give you a senior name in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland who should be able to help you.

Roger

http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?p=9046#9046



That's a bit off-message, isn't it, for someone who pretends that his organisation has no interest in what goes on outside of schools?

Unfortunately for the inquirer, though, as "BCSE Revealed" has been reading his posts over the months, we've noticed that he has rather uncritically swallowed Stanyard's alternative version of Christian history. Stanyard has a habit of taking American atheist/Buddhist activist Lenny Flank's words as if they were unimpeachable truth, and as a result spreads a rather bizarre version of Christian history, according to which the historic doctrines taught by Christ and the apostles, recorded in the Bible, affirmed in the historic church creeds and confessions and so on, in fact only sprung somewhere out of a particularly darkened corner of America in the 19th century. Stanyard refers to all Biblical and apostolic Christianity as "fundamentalism", and tells his followers that a kind of easy-going theological liberalism was the norm.

I've chuckled at this many times, but as the intention of "BCSE Revealed" is simply to document the BCSE's incompetence as science educators rather than to correct their bizarre views on theology and history, I haven't said much about this. But if Mr. Henderson wants to ask his church to affirm the infallibility of evolutionary teaching, he's going to have a bit of an obstacle. The official doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland say this:

"It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good." (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 4, Paragraph 1).

"Question 15: What is the work of creation?

Answer: The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good." (Westminster Longer Catechism, question 15)

SECTION III - THE STANDARDS OF THE CHURCH
10. The Word of God as set forth in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and the supreme standard of the Church.

...


12. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, as a witness for Christ, has adopted subordinate standards in which is set forth what she understands the Word of God to teach on certain important points of doctrine and worship. These subordinate standards are a testimony for truth and against error, and serve as a bond of union for members of the Church.

13. The Confession of Faith (as approved by the Church of Scotland in her Act of 1647), and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, prepared by the Westminster Assembly of Divines, are the subordinate standards of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

http://www.presbyterianireland.org/pdfs/The_Code_070124.pdf

These quotations highlight something significant. Christians in past ages were not unfamliar with the teaching that the universe and life within it was a result of purely natural, unguided processes which tooks place over vast periods of time. Before Darwin attempted a biological explanation of how such a thing could be, atheists had spent plenty of time trying to explain away the order, design and magnificence of the universe. And before Darwin, Christians had asserted that the origin of the world and life were supernatural (not natural), the result of divine activity, through definite and distinct divine acts spread over a short period of time. And so, the historic Christian confessions which mention the beginning, all do it in supernatural terms, often mentioning six days, as the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, above, do.

The lesson from this is that anyone lurking in the BCSE forums ought to take Stanyard's words with a large barrel-full of salt.

Summing Up

The BCSE's claim to be only interested in what goes on in schools, and to have no interest in what goes on elsewhere, and especially not to be interested in campaigning against Christian churches... not very convincing, is it?

David Anderson



Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Michael Brass, BCSE Chairman: "Published Archaeologist"? (Inflating Your Credentials - Part 5)

Previous parts in this series:

Part one: Introduction
Part two: The BCSE's chairman, Mr. Michael Brass
Part three: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misrepresentation of Mr. Brass's vocation
Part four: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misleading description of Brass as "published"

In our last article we began looking in more detail at the BCSE chairman, Mr. Michael Brass.

Brass describes himself, and the BCSE describe him, as a "published archaeologist". What Brass/the BCSE failed to mention, is that in fact Brass is an IT worker, and that his publications record includes nothing more than a version of his Honours dissertation. Or in other words, we've caught the BCSE trying to pull the wool over our eyes, again.

What About The Book?

Last time, I promised to look at Mr. Brass's book. This is something which Brass himself makes a lot of. When I e-mailed him to question him over the honesty of describing himself as "published", his reply was:

"I ... am published: my book, a paper in a peer-reviewed edited publication and have a forthcoming peer-reviewed journal paper coming out this June."

Note what Brass says: he "is published" (passive tense - giving the impression that someone else other than himself is the publisher). As with the description on the front page of the BCSE website ("Michael Brass is a published archaeologist"), the impression is clearly given that Brass is a serious player in the academic world. (We looked at the details of Brass's paper last time; it is a paper available for free download; the publication is an electronic one, not a regularly printed journal.)

Let us look, then, at Brass's book, "The Antiquity Of Man".

Who Published It?

The publisher of Brass's book is "PublishAmerica". When I noticed that, I thought that it rang a bell. It seemed familiar. Hadn't I heard about them before?

And indeed, I had. PublishAmerica are a notorious "vanity press" or "author mill". Whilst advertising themselves as an authentic publisher, they are in fact a vanity press for those who cannot get their works published elsewhere. I had heard of PublishAmerica because not too long ago, a group of science fiction fans had planned and executed a hoax designed to prove their true status.

In order to prove that PublishAmerica was not an actual publishing house, they decided to collaborate together to produce the worst science fiction novel imaginable. They took time to come up with a plan, to produce the worst book, "Atlanta Nights", they possibly could - one that wouldn't get past 5 minutes scrutiny from a real publisher, and would only be taken on by the most grasping vanity press. It would have the following features:

  • Its author: "Travis Tea"; or "Travesty" for those of you just getting out of bed!

  • Each chapter would be written by a different person. Authors would not even know where their chapter would come in the book. One participant said: '"It's like the 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' of novels," Macdonald said. "Some of the chapters are hard-boiled detective [style], some are women's sexy shopping novels. There's a little bit of horror. It changes from chapter to chapter. Which characters were in which chapter was determined by rolling dice."'

  • Each author would try to make his chapter as dire as possible.

  • None of the authors would see each other's chapter. They would have no idea of the plot or characters - even their names!

  • One chapter was included twice.

  • Chapter 21 was left blank, because the writer missed the deadline.

  • Portions of two chapters were '[run] through a software program that randomly reordered the words ... The result is Chapter 34, nine pages of disconnected gibberish that begins: "Bruce walked around any more. Some people might ought to her practiced eye, at her. I am so silky and braid shoulders. At sixty-six, men with a few feet away from their languid gazes."'.

  • Others would have sentences and paragraphs randomly re-arranged to be utterly incoherent.

Did it work? You bet... the letter came back from PublishAmerica, telling them that their work was of acceptable standard, and they would be working with them to get it into print! "PublishAmerica has decided to give 'Atlanta Nights' the chance it deserves". You can read more about this hoax here: http://www.lisamaliga.com/AtlantaNightsLosAngelesTimes.htm

As I did further research on PublishAmerica, I discovered the following facts which demonstrate their status as a vanity press, not a real publishing house:

  • The advance they offer their authors is a nominal $1 (worth about 50 pence).

  • They have been hoaxed by people seeking to expose their "vanity press" status on numerous occasions.

  • Their books are not stocked in bookshops, because they are printed one at a time, on demand. Once ordered, they cannot be returned; stockists will not take their books.

  • They encourage their authors to seek to find a hundred friends and family for an initial print run for any books.

  • They expect authors to do their own publicity and advertising and spend their own money on it. PublishAmerica spend no money on advertising their authors' books.

  • The only places you can obtain their books from are from themselves, and order-on-demand stockists (including Amazon).

The normal term used to describe PublishAmerica was "author mill" - they give authors who can't get their books published elsewhere the impression of being real authors, and churn them out by the hundred-load. The Internet is crawling with would-be authors angry that PublishAmerica took them for a ride - just Google for it.

Now, I have no problem with the concept of "publish on demand". The technology is available, and its a good idea for low print-run books. I don't have a problem with Brass using them. If you can't get a publisher to accept your manuscript or you know you're not going to sell many, go for it. The problem, though, is that Mr. Brass is claiming his self-published book as the evidence that he is a bona fide "published archaelogist", and evidence that he is a fit person to write to national newspapers in the guise of the chairman of a credible national scientific body.

What happened when I wrote to Brass and put these facts to him? Here's what I said:

"Secondly, you appear to have one book published by a notorious vanity publisher, PublishAmerica. I note the glee which Roger Stanyard exhibits if he can link someone with whatever he can classify as a "diploma mill"... and yet the BCSE seeks to boost its credentials on the back of being self-published by a notorious author mill? Do you see why someone might suggest this is a double-standard?"

Brass's reply was as follows:

A book published by a respected publish-on-demand company is entirely different to diploma mills; the latter is perpetuating academic fraud.


Well, at least we know that Brass knows what "academic fraud" is. But apparently, he has difficulty in seeing that promoting yourself as a "published archaeologist" on the back of a vanity-published book might be a case of it. I have less admiration, though, for Brass's decision to describe PublishAmerica as "respected"; in choosing to do so, Brass gives us a clear indication that he cannot be relied upon for sane or accurate judgments.

Brass appears to have problems with simple truth-telling, and with falsely inflating his own reputation. PublishAmerica is "respected" in the same way that the BCSE is: by its own fans only, and a source of amusement to the rest of the world. Here's a short extract from the Wikipedia article on PublishAmerica. The BCSE are fond, in the absence of other sources to support their case, of claiming Wikipedia as a reliable source; what do they think of this?

"In December 2004, PublishAmerica agreed to publish the novel Atlanta Nights, which was later revealed to be a hoax designed to illustrate PublishAmerica's low quality standards. It was not the first such hoax either; a previous author had submitted a manuscript with the same 30 pages repeated ten times, which PublishAmerica had accepted.

In December of 2006, PublishAmerica offered a contract to another "sting" manuscript, Crack of Death by "Sharla Tann.""

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PublishAmerica


In case you're still a bit groggy, "Sharla Tann" sounds remarkably like "Charlatan" ! The authors of this hoax have their own website, where they say: "We knew that PublishAmerica was nothing more than a modern-day vanity press, cleverly disguised to attract thousands of na├»ve writers with promises of easy and free publication, only to rip them off on the back end – AFTER their book was published, not before. ... PublishAmerica had done it again: proved beyond a doubt that they do not read manuscripts. They had not, apparently, even read the name of its author." (http://crackofdeath.com/crack_of_death.htm)

I quoted this to Brass, adding these questions, to which Brass declined to offer me any reply:

"I find it interesting that you publish articles on your website on the subject of what is and isn't a legitimate scientific publication - and yet you describe PublishAmerica as "respected" ? How can we take your opinion on these kind of things seriously if you're defending PA?"

Conclusion

Once again, we have caught the BCSE, and this time its chairman, indulging in an act of palpable fraud. Misrepresenting their credentials, they offer us Michael Brass as a "published archaeologst". The facts, though, are that he is an IT worker hoping to start work on a doctorate in the future. His publications record comprises a version of his Honours' thesis, and one self-published book from a notorious vanity publisher whose standard practice is to offer authors fifty pence for their work annd encourage them to buy a hundred copies themselves for their family. According to Brass, PublishAmerica is a "respected" publisher; according to the real world, PublishAmerica is a vanity press that does not even bother to examine the name of its authors, much less their manuscripts.

The BCSE loves to try to do what it can to discredit those who dare to criticise its materialist dogma. In doing so, they've made some pretty bizarre and obviously bigotted pronouncements. In particular, we saw BCSE leader Roger Stanyard, whose knowledge of Christian theology is appalling - a fact evident to anyone who has read his ramblings - setting himself up as an authority on theological education, and deciding that any Christian institution that wanted to keep its independence must be automatically suspect. I got my theology degree from an accredited university (Glamorgan), but I'd be the first to say that I know many training schools that decided it would be wiser to remain independent of the Department of Education, and are first rate. But when Stanyard sees an opportunity to slander Christians some more - and in his mind branding them as uneducated or charlatans on the basis of non-accredited qualifications is a great opportunity to do this - his eagerness and prejudice often swiftly overtake his rational senses. Yet when it comes to his own organisation, he's a lot more generous. In fact, he seems to have a major blind-spot. Publish your own book, and you can qualify as a serious academic. Be offered fifty pence for your ramblings, and become a credible figure in science education. Have a side-line interest, and be described as a professional! Brass submitted this self-description to Stanyard - and Stanyard swallowed and published it without altering a word.

But actually, we're not there yet. It gets more damning still. We now have to ask the question which will probably cause Brass and the BCSE the most embarassment of all ...

... how many copies has "published archaelogist" Michael Brass actually sold of his works? How many copies were the print-on-demand publisher called on to print? It feels cruel to have to answer this question, or any of the above. But I notified Brass two months ago of what I knew; but Brass is standing by his own words, and the BCSE have not modified a single word on their website. I call on the BCSE to publish the figures, before I do... the comments are open!

David Anderson



Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Decline And Fall Of The BCSE (2)

(For the previous post on this topic, see here).

The hard figures are only pointing in one direction. Two-thirds of a year after the BCSE's launch, it has fewer fans now than when it began. Instead of strong growth, it is seeing decline. People have seen what kind of outfit the BCSE is - and are voting with their feet.

The following graph plots the number of unique usernames posting in the BCSE's web forums, month by month. There is growth after the first month; after that, things are only moving in one direction:



Now, statistics of course can be misleading. When they give us answers, how do we know if we've asked the right questions? The above graph doesn't distinguish between those who are heavily involved, and those who just posted once. How about if we limit it to those who posted three times in a month? This shows the BCSE's peak as being in January (with the slight dip in December probably due to the Christmas period). This corresponds more accurately with my gut feeling:


How about if we take 5 or more posts? Same story:


If you look at that last graph, you'll see that the number of those still interested in the BCSE's offerings only just exceeds the size of the BCSE's committee. And we haven't even reached those summer months where people become less interested in the Internet yet...

The message is clear: People have taken a look at the BCSE, and said "no thanks". Can the majority be wrong? Yes. Are they this time? I don't think so...

I repeat what I said last time. I don't expect the BCSE to close this week. Some of its members are far too fanatical. If you have the gumption to pass yourself off as a national authority on science education to MPs and newspapers when you haven't even got a basic qualification in the area, then you're clearly not too bothered about reality. I expect the BCSE to carry on vomiting up their output for a while yet. But I expect fewer and fewer people to be fooled by it.

David Anderson



Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The BCSE's Chairman - "Published Archaeologist"? (Inflating Your Credentials - Part 4)

Previous parts in this series:

Part one: Introduction
Part two: The BCSE's chairman, Mr. Michael Brass
Part three: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misrepresentation of Mr. Brass's vocation

As we've progressed in this investigation, we've seen that the BCSE's front page claims that its chairman, Mr. Michael Brass, is a "published archaeologist", whilst failing to mention that in fact he is an IT worker who pursues an interest in archaeology outside of his working hours. Put alongside the description of other BCSE committee members ("IT consultant... entrepreneur... retired.... management consultant"), the impression given is that Brass (who, we are told, lives in Cambridge), is probably a professional academic with a high standing in his field - rather than a young man of about 30 who is about to start working towards his doctorate (his Yahoo profile page, last updated 2 years ago today, states he is 28 and is slightly more honest than the BCSE's website, giving his occupation as "Archaeologist/IT" - http://profiles.yahoo.com/mikearchaeology).

And anyone who's had the briefest of tours of the BCSE website knows that if they got the opportunity to find a non-Darwinist indulging in this kind of double-speak, they'd have a party that went on for weeks.

What Does "Published" Mean?

As I mentioned last time, the misleading description of Mr. Brass's vocation is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the dishonesty in the description of the BCSE's chairman goes.

The basic statement on it is "Michael Brass is a published archaeologist". Interested in this, I began researching Mr. Brass's publications record. We've seen already (in part two) that Brass is not shy when it comes to self-publicity. Here's how Brass signs himself off on the BCSE forum:




"Chairman, British Centre for Science Education.
MA in Archaeology, University College London".


Given this, it shouldn't be too tricky to track down Mr. Brass's publications record. I went to his web-site to have a browse.

And The Results?

My research led me to believe as follows: that once you drop self-published material (whether by Mr. Brass on his own website, or self-published by print-on-demand), you have the following:
  • One article in an electronic journal, freely available. "Tracing the Origins of the Ancient Egyptian Cattle Cult", freely available from http://www.antiquityofman.com/brass_EEF2002.pdf. This article appears to be based on Brass's Honours dissertation in 1998, when Brass would have been around 20.

  • ... that's it.
(Brass's own book, "The Antiquity of Man", is something we will examine in a later article. Suffice to say for now that it is self-published, and hence not something that would "count" in the world of academic publications.)

I scratched my head. I googled. The BCSE have appointed this guy as their best candidate to be chairman. He is "a published archaeologist". This is the sum of their description of him. What was I missing? I googled some more. One article that is the write-up of his Bachelor's thesis... and that was all I could find.

Well, I thought that if this was all that it was, then this was a staggering deception even for the BCSE. So, I dropped Mr. Brass an e-mail:

Hello Michael,

I'd be interested in your comments on your mini-bio on the BCSE website,
as follows:

'Michael Brass is a published archaeologist, holding archaeology and
history degrees from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and an
archaeology Masters degree from University College London. He has a web
site at http://www.antiquityofman.com, lives in Cambridge and is a
Christian who has written a book entitled "The Antiquity of Man:
Artifactual , Fossil and Gene Records Explored".'

I believe that this description is somewhat misleading, if not grossly
deceptive, as concerns your present job and your publications record. I
believe that if Roger Stanyard were to come across such a misleading
description for a non-Darwinist, he would have a field day writing up a
piece for your organisation's wiki...

What's your take on that? Why is the description so misleading?

Regards,
David

Brass's reply was to tell me that the description was he wrote it; that it was "completely and utterly factual". But what about the meat of it? What about those publications? In Brass's own words:
"I ... am published: my book, a paper in a peer-reviewed edited publication and have a forthcoming peer-reviewed journal paper coming out this June."

So there we have it - in Brass's own words, there only exists his (self-published) book, and the paper based on his Honours dissertation which you can obtain for free over the Internet. There is, however, one journal paper forthcoming later this year.

Now, I don't doubt Brass's hard work and deep interest in the study of archaeology. But I do doubt his integrity in using this as the basis to describe himself as a "published archaeologist". I wrote to Brass again as follows (note that the topic of Brass's self-published book is something I intend to examine in a later installment):

Michael, having seen the amount of detailed material on your website, I don't doubt your competency at all. I don't doubt that you hold those degrees either, and respect the amount of study you must have put in to gain them. I don't doubt too that your ability in your field goes beyond your mere degrees and that you have put in much work beyond them.

However anyone comparing the description of the other 6 committee
members, which lists their present job, with yours, and the average reader will assume that "archaeologist" is describing your professional vocation. The lack of mention of any other job, compared with the other six, is clearly misleading. If Roger Stanyard caught a non-Darwinist doing this, we know what he'd say... Secondly, you appear to have one book published by a notorious vanity publisher, PublishAmerica. I note the glee which Roger Stanyard exhibits if he can link someone with whatever he can classify as a "diploma mill"... and yet the BCSE eeks to boost its credentials on the back of being self-published by a notorious author mill? Do you see why someone might suggest this is a double-standard? Thirdly, I note that your website appears only to list a single article in an electronic journal - though I confess I may have missed something. You say that you have one paper article forth-coming. Again, if such an absolutely minimal basis were used by a non-Darwinist organisation to describe its staff as "published", we know just what Mr. Stanyard would be saying as he wrote the wiki page for it - don't we?

In reply, Brass told me:
You are welcome to describe my research as minimal; those who count, and whose views I value, disagree.

...

The bio stands.

I noted the twist in Brass's words; I described his publications record as "minimal"; he replied to talk about his research. I wonder why he did that?

You Be The Judge

What would the BCSE be saying if it could find opponents of Darwinist who were indulging in this kind of thing? If the BCSE's leader/researcher/spokesman Roger Stanyard found out that, say, a creationist or ID supporter had set up an organisation called "The United Kingdom Science Forum" and that it was advertising its own chairman as a "published chemist"... and if Stanyard found out that in fact the fellow was a 30-year old with one self-published book and Internet article from his honours' dissertation... what do you think he'd say?

Having read the BCSE's output over the last year, I think I know what they'd say. It wouldn't be complementary. They'd be having a field day.

So... what about if we apply the same standard to the BCSE itself?

Well, what do you make of that? Is this gross hypocrisy? Are the BCSE qualified science educators? Are they pretending to be something they're not? Is their existence one long campaign of deceipt?

You be the judge.

David Anderson



Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Inflating Your Credentials (Part 3)

In my opinion, there's not much reason to bother with the "BCSE" for the time being. They are just one more group of people who aren't going anywhere. They seek to slander others whilst doing nothing positive themselves. The world has plenty such people and groups, and we ought to do real work instead of paying attention to them.

But, you never know where the people involved are going to pop up again. Maybe again in future people will want to know - who are these guys, and where are they coming from? So I've got some more documentation I'd like to bring out.

In parts one and two of this series, we looked at some of the BCSE's attempts to investigate whether those it opposes are inflating their credentials - and how silly and nasty these attempts end up making the BCSE looking. If the same kind of criteria were applied to the BCSE... a national centre for science education, with no science educators, run by an atheist with no experience in the field at all? You get the picture! I haven't yet tired of reminding my readers of the occasion when Roger Stanyard, with no qualifications in the subject since leaving school, accused a member of the Institute of Physics on live radio of being ignorant of the subject...

Michael Brass

In part 2, I started looking at Mr. Michael Brass, the BCSE's "chairman". This is more of a nominal role as we have seen; Roger Stanyard was and is the BCSE's de facto leader in all departments. My guess before the BCSE announced its official leadership was that Brass would be appointed to one of the more official public roles, because he, unlike Stanyard, actually has a Masters degree in a relevant subject!

We've seen so far that our previous dealings with Mr. Brass have shown a consistent pattern: Brass has a problem with over-reaching himself. But we've only seen a small fraction of it so far...

Mr. Michael Brass: The BCSE's Description

On the BCSE's front page (www.bcseweb.org.uk), the BCSE lists its committee members as follows:

  • Michael Brass is a published archaeologist...

  • Roger Stanyard is a management consultant...

  • Alan Bellis is an entrepreneur...

  • Dr Brian Jordan BSc (Hons), MSc (Distinction) PhD who lives in Yorkshire, is a retired clinical biochemist...

  • Tim Chase is a software engineer resident in Seattle in the USA.

  • Paula Thomas is a former Computer Consultant with an academic background in Mathematics and Law.

Now, we'll leave aside some of the misleading statements here and there. ("Academic background" - that sounds like a research or a university teaching post, doesn't it? Ah...). Focus on the descriptions. Software engineer.... management consultant... retired... enterpreneur... archaelogist.

What is the impression that the BCSE want to give you about Michael Brass? I'd say, that he is, by vocation, an archaelogist. Wouldn't you agree? Brass's full statement is as follows. Read it carefully. What else about Brass's work does it mention?

'Michael Brass is a published archaeologist, holding archaeology and history degrees from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and an archaeology Masters degree from University College London. He has a web site at http://www.antiquityofman.com, lives in Cambridge and is a Christian who has written a book entitled "The Antiquity of Man: Artifactual , Fossil and Gene Records Explored".'

An archaelogist who lives in Cambridge. Why do you think they mentioned Cambridge? It all sounds rather prestigious, doesn't it? Do you think he's one of the university's own archaeologists? Perhaps he has a teaching post there?

BCSE Revealed ... Reveals

So - what's the reality? What is Brass's actual job?

Michael Brass is an assistant IT worker at a finance firm, Amadeus Capital Partners (http://www.amadeuscapital.com/), in Cambridge, and pursues his interest in archaeology in his spare time. He got an honourable mention on his boss's website, here:

"Recruited an assistant - Michael Brass, and gradually he picked up the more routine, and then the rather less routine work as the year wore through."
http://web.ukonline.co.uk/richard/cv05.html


The clinching proof came when I began getting e-mails from Brass after launching "BCSE Revealed". They came from within the network of Amadeus in Cambridge. "BCSE Revealed" has had many visits from Internet addresses belonging to Amadeus - that is, from Brass, at his place of work.

Now, there's no doubt in my mind from my research that Brass has done a lot of work and gained a lot of knowledge in the field of archaeology. His deep interest is clear to see. But to be described without qualification by the BCSE as "an archaeologist" alongside other peoples' vocations, is a bit me telling you I'm an athlete...

Brass is around 30 years old, and is about to start work part-time on a doctorate (which I think will be in London, but I have mislaid the evidence for this). There is one place on the BCSE forum where he lets out that archaelogy is his part-time interest rather than his employment:

http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?p=5114#5114


Summing It Up


That's a rather different picture to the grand-sounding claims on the BCSE's front page, isn't it? I'll leave you to decide whether it qualifies as a down-right lie, or just deliberately misleading. But it's certainly not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

But just how did this mistake come about? Maybe someone within the BCSE was writing up the bios, and forgot to run Mr. Brass's past him? Maybe that someone actually thought that Brass is an archaeologist with a teaching post at one of the universities?

Nope. My aim in "BCSE Revealed" is to publish verifiable facts, so that people can compare and contrast with the unverifiable innuendo over at the BCSE's website. So, I ran a number of things past Brass himself to make sure of my facts. Here's what I said, and here's his reply:

Me: I believe that this description is somewhat misleading

Brass:
Er, I wrote it... It is completely and utterly factual ... why would you assume that an organisation's chairman would be so blatantly incompetent as to either not write or verify his/her own short bio on said organisation's website?

So it's not a mistake - Brass actually wrote the description himself. This ties in with what we'd seen before - a consistent pattern of over-reaching. If Brass had equivalent credentials to those he is opposing through the BCSE have, he wouldn't need to do this.

Of course, the very reason I was e-mailing Brass was to avoid assuming anything - to get the full picture. I replied to Mr. Brass as follows to clarify what I was getting at and get his comments:

"anyone comparing the description of the other 6 committee members, which lists their present job, with yours, and the average reader will assume that "archaeologist" is describing your professional vocation. The lack of mention of any other job, compared with the other six, is clearly misleading. If Roger Stanyard caught a non-Darwinist doing this, we know what he'd say..."

In reply, Brass continued to justify the description of himself as completely accurate, and continued to neglect to say anything about Amadeus Capital or his work in IT. I replied:

Michael, your organisation represents itself in public to MPs, newspapers and the BBC as being an authority on science education. You are the chairman. Moreover, your organisation makes public strident criticisms of those whom it considers as being insufficiently qualified to speak on various topics. The front page of that website describes you in terms which would lead people to think that you are a full time archaeologist - which you're not, are you? As such, I think that your record is very much a matter of valid public interest.

Brass at this point announced that he didn't want to discuss the matter, that he knew what my real agenda was, that I was smearing him, and that it was all none of my business. My response:

My agenda is hardly a secret. My agenda, as it says repeatedly on my blog, is to document the fact that in representing itself to the public, MPs, etc., as a qualified voice on the subject of science education, the BCSE is committing a gross act of fraud. ... That's why I e-mailed you.

...

I have no desire to be competent at either smearing or insinuation. I've asked you some straight questions, so that I can get some facts.

Brass made no reply. Apparently, he only wanted to tell me I was smearing him, but didn't want to tell me where. Again, I saw with his e-mails the consistent pattern of the BCSE: they've got plenty of time to churn out derogatory responses to what you say to them, but no time to actually answer any of the pertinent questions. Brass accuses me of "smearing" him, of having an agenda, of being a pseudo-scientist etc., but completely overlooks the main point: that he and the BCSE have some serious questions about their openness, trustworthiness and credibility. They lobby MPs and tell the public that they are a national centre of science educators - but on completely vacuous grounds. I've published nothing except what you can verify - the facts. Why is Brass so worried about this? He's been in the BCSE long enough to know what a "smear" is - it's when you drop innuendo and ask people to believe it without good reason. But I'm doing the very opposite - which is why the BCSE dislike me so much.

Is That It?

Actually, the above material is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the BCSE's misrepresentation of its chairman's credentials go. The remainder is far more damning than this. I e-mailed Brass in February on this topic, to see if he was standing by it. Since that time, the description on the BCSE website has remained completely unchanged.

Stay tuned...

Update 27th June: Mr. Brass contacted me on the 24th of June to state that Richard Parker was incorrect in describing him as an assistant; Brass says " I'm currently the System Administrator" and that Parker has since left the company. This is the first time, some months after I first began questioning Brass, that he has actually confirmed that he is an IT worker. Brass also wished to take objection to my sentence that e-mails "came from within the network of Amadeus in Cambridge", saying that it gave the impression that he had e-mailed me using his work address; no such impression was intended.

David Anderson


Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.