The effectiveness argument

Many years ago, when I lived in Durham, I happened to discover one day that there was a wargames show on. I went and had a great time, and one of the things that I remember was playing in a Trojan War game being run by a guy called Nikolas Lloyd. I later discovered that he had a web page, and these days he is making a series of YouTube videos. There are a lot of good ones, including lots about what reenactment can teach us about the practicalities of using ancient weapons and armour. His style is great, very charming and clearly sincere. I approve. If you are interested in ancient warfare and/or its portrayal in popular culture, I think you should watch a few — and they’re usually nice and short.

Here is one, about mail:

Now, as it happens, I quite agree with him that mail armour must have been more effective than some people would like us to believe. But while that’s true, my inclination in general is to treat the argument ‘people used it, and therefore it must have worked’ with a big-ass grain of salt. Obviously, this does not apply to loads of things that people used assiduously and/or spent huge amounts of money on for centuries. Astrology, for instance, or bloodletting. Really just the whole of medieval medicine. And there are tons of examples of this happening even when lives were at stake. So I’m not sure that the empirical evidence of people’s own eyes is necessarily a guarantee of a change in their behaviour. You would hope, but I’m not sure.

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The effectiveness argument

One thought on “The effectiveness argument

  1. The problem with astrology and blood-letting etc is the wonders of the placebo effect. Whether an arrow goes through chainmail is a pretty empirical thing. But whether vague predictions and waffle about planets holds true – specifically holds true enough compared with other medical methods – is harder to measure and quantify, especially without knowledge of things like the placebo effect, germ theory, or that “Deus vult!” isn’t a rational argument.

    However, the general failure to challenge conventional wisdom is a hallmark of history.

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