Saving Artifacts from Confirmation Bias
Kelly H. Gross
When I started as a consultant to manage the development of a project called The Hidden Codex, I expected that the science and antiquities community would be excited over the prospect of discovering a new genuine cultural artifact. Boy was I wrong. The experts had something else entirely in store for me.
I had just begun to experience what I have now come to know as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to notice only that which confirms one’s beliefs and to discount contradictory information.
Our artifact, called a codex, had been lying around on museum shelves, largely forgotten until the early eighties when carbon date testing became widely available. The owners, a group of investors in Ohio, submitted some cloth samples for analysis with surprising results. These tests showed that the codex was over 300 years old, created between 1660 and 1710 in Mexico.
Now, nobody owed us anything in our research but there is a presumption of adherence to the rigors of the principles of science with those who are widely respected as experts in their field. What I’m saying is we would expect that the heavy hitters would give us the benefit of the doubt all else being equal. But that is not what happened. We found that our artifact was greeted with orchestrated skepticism, read prejudice. Through the process of analysis the judges became champions of denial and were utterly dismissive. If it was up to them we may have lost a valuable opportunity for the scientific community.
Fortunately we did not give up so easily and our results will be preserved for others to benefit from our research in the future.
Is this real evidence or not?
Our team was assigned the task to assemble and interpret all the previous material first and then undertake any new analysis based on the gaps in knowledge from the previous efforts.
In 2003 the investor group began conducting analytical testing on small samples of the codex. They did photo studies and carbon date testing. Some of those early results are included below.
The photos and test results were sent to two separate Maya authorities who were kind enough to agree to review the material. They included a respected author and a university professor that were supplied with a great deal of data and images from the testing. They will remain anonymous with one exception.
The first study presented is the photo-micrographs and the study in ultraviolet light done by professional photographers. The experts had all this material available during their analysis.
The next series is the carbon dating results graph from Beta Analytic.
These tests indicate the age of the plant material substrate fiber onto which the chalk surface is applied. The results indicate a date of 1660 CE. The carbon dating data was also shared with the experts. The experts were also provided with a detailed photo study of the artifact using various magnifications. When they reviewed our material, they responded in writing with pointed remarks criticizing the content and workmanship of the artifact.
Here are some of their comments.
- “I don’t feel that this is an original painting but rather an average attempt by a 19th-20th century artist to piece together something from several sources iconographically to make it look old… However the object may be old and the painting was applied in recent times”
- “I do not believe it is an authentic codex painted by an indigenous artist trained in the native tradition”
Remember, these folks are the ones who wrote the book on these subjects. They obviously did look at the object in detail but failed to affirm any of the positive aspects and failed to produce any references to other works, which do exist. Why would the experts refuse to give us the benefit of the doubt and consider any other options?
Actual forgeries were discovered near the Southern border between the late 1880’s and the 1910’s. These were easily identified as poor quality attempts. Mostly they were crude hand drawings that were done in black ink.
The experts attempted to explain their reasoning for denying any possibility of authenticity.
As the scientific carbon date origin date of 1660 to 1710 would be problematic to contradict, the experts needed to come up with a plausible explanation. The reason given, by the experts, was that our artifact was likely a fake because the ancient blank cloth-paper was probably stolen from tombs and inscribed with faux images much later by clumsy forgers in the 19th – 20th century.
This leap to conclusions seems to be based on pure conjecture and is not what is expected from men and women of science. One would like to reserve a portion of respect for the individuals highly regarded for their previous work. A cursory review by anyone reveals the distinction between the obvious imitation shown above and The Hidden Codex.
It had begun to seem like a pattern was developing, that without examining the object itself, they have both come to similar conclusions.
Our third example is that of Dr. John B Carlson. We were introduced to Dr. Carlson in 2011 by a consulting firm that asked him to evaluate our artifact for a business opportunity. After reviewing the material we produced, he declared it to be a fake similar to all the others he has debunked. We asked him to document his findings. He told us he would only produce the report if we paid him. He demanded the sum of one thousand dollars in advance. We paid the fee and awaited the report. We were anxious to deal in good faith and be able to objectively work through our discovery and consider information from both sides. But the report never came. For months he emailed us the report was forthcoming. We have repeatedly attempted to contact Dr. Carlson. He has not responded and has not returned the money.
We realized we faced a major challenge – Overcoming resistance – We found The Art & History Establishment was resistant to acknowledge “unprovnanced” works. In other words, they only recognized artworks with certificates of authenticity signed by the artist.
I doubt if any other known codex has such a documented linage that does not begin with being looted by the Spanish. So, if authentic, this would be the first such artifact to be discovered.
The experts however had all contracted a case of confirmation bias. They have all reviewed hundreds of ancient documents but when they reviewed ours, they were unable to recognize any significant features similar to other works. Their criticisms focused only one or two of the small icons. Their conclusions were based on representations of the elements that were not identical to works they were familiar with.
So in all of this contact with the experts, we were still left with not even a single critical report based on objective criteria.
A Controversy Brewing
How do we know that the experts are doing a fair analysis? We can usually see the balance & objectivity in the scientific method shown in their work. However in this case it may be that they did not give an entirely balanced & objective review. A decision was made to check and verify some of the information they presented. There was concern some important details may have been overlooked.
We brought in McCrone Associates Analytical Labs to review the artifact for authenticity. Below is a photo showing the micro-sampling process of the codex. Expert conservator Andrea Chevalier performs the extraction of individual samples.
The following tests were performed by McCrone.
- Polarized Light Microscoscopy (PLM)
- Energy dispersive X-Ray Spectrometry (EDS)
- Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
- Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR)
This group of tests was designed by the ICA in conjunction with McCrone engineers to determine the origin of the pigments used in The Hidden Codex. This was largely in response to comments made by the experts who had reasoned that the images were applied in the 19th or 20th centuries.
The letter on the right confirms the findings of the analysis of The Hidden Codex
samples performed by McCrone Associates. In order to preserve the integrity of the process, the ICA was used as a third party to conduct the samples to the McCrone labs in Chicago and officially receive the notification of results.
Their conclusion is that “the results are fairly conclusive…a date of early 18th century is within range.”
Here is the most important finding: “the analysis did not find any obviously modern materials.”
…And this is significant since it seems to contradict the opinion of the experts we saw just a moment ago.
The page on left represents the actual output graph from the mass spectrometer. We included two detail charts to allow collaborative analysis and review.
The graph is for the RED pigment sample.
The spikes in the graph indicate the individual elements that are present in the sample.
The table indicates the relative atomic weight.
The chemical formula for vermillion is HgS. As would be expected for cinnabar based pigment, there are high concentrations of mercury 4.25% and sulfur 5.38%.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Palenque-ausgrab.jpg
Photo on left shows red-brown pigment sample at 200X. On right is a Maya tomb section painted with cinnabar. Note the similar shades. Try this trick: unfocus your eyes for 30 seconds and see if the same color appears in both.
The black specks likely represent the native crystalline Mercury Sulfide of cinnabar. In a unique behavior, when the black crystal particles are crushed, the red color inside is revealed. This mineral is naturally occurring in Mesoamerica and the property has been known to artists for thousands years.
This is the blue pigment sample. Below the graph indicates the relative concentrations of the elements present in the sample.
The formula for Prussian blue is Fe7(CN)18 .
Maya blue is (Mg,Al)2Si4O10(OH)·4(H2O) Palygorskite,(Na,Ca)0.33(Al,Mg)2(Si4O10)(OH)2·nH2O Montmorillonite and C16H10N2O2 indigo. Can you notice which of the elements in the formulas are present below?
Real Science: Output from the EDS X-Ray Mass Spectrometer Results
The test results indicate that The Hidden Codex was made by natives somewhere between 1710 and 1720.
No modern materials were used which suggests that the artifact is authentic.
The Hidden Codex has now been the subject of more analytical tests than any other codex in the world. Yet the experts are unwilling to acknowledge even the possibility that there could be useful information to be discovered.
We recognize that there are many questions left unanswered. Who made it and why? How was it kept from the Spanish?
These are valid questions the establishment apparently has a great reluctance to acknowledge that there could be anything interesting here. There is apparently little motivation to put forth any significant effort at uncovering any further details. This could be due to the fact that these experts have enough experience and have seen enough to be conclusive beyond any reasonable doubt. On the other hand, should we suspect the tendency towards confirmation bias? Since what they were looking at did not exactly duplicate their expectations, they have demonstrated that they are resigned to see and accept only the status quo. The end result may be that no new information is discovered. Fortunately Copernicus did not take that route either and eventually published his book. We now have the ability to share our story and allow others to consider the possibilities.
If this has happened to us, how many other artifacts have been denied consideration due to confirmation bias and therefore never studied? The experts themselves admit that more native documents like the codex are likely out there yet to be discovered. Would they anticipate receiving a warm welcome also?
Exciting story to tell
The more we get new information discovered or revealed, it seems to give rise to more fascinating questions. Questions we are not able to deal with on our research team and which has made possible opportunities to cooperate in this ongoing research project.
This is a call for others to review our existing analytical results and to help us determine the significance of the findings. In order to meet the new challenges posed by the unanswered questions, we offer our samples and data to any serious researchers to help us continue the search for answers.