Monday, January 05, 2015

Fishing With Explosives

Reading stuff from the Stationers' Register and thinking about them has me thinking.  I basically read through a year's entries, and then some others, looking mostly at newsy stuff.  Reading through got me thinking about how easily folks sometimes slip from the singular even to thinking that if it was done once, it was probably done more than once, to thinking that it was probably pretty darned common, and everyone did it.

When I was younger, I knew someone (probably 10 or so years older than I was then) who'd blown most of a hand off fishing with explosives long before I'd met him.  When I knew him though, and in the context I knew him, everyone seemed to know how he'd blown off his hand, and no one seemed to think it was much worth mentioning (except the one other person in the context who was almost as young and naive as I was).  Using explosives is a horribly efficient way to fish, evidently.  The shock goes through the water, damaging swim bladders, killing fish one and all, so that they float to the top and the fisher scoops up the ones s/he wants.  It's environmentally really, really bad, of course, and pretty dangerous, but my thinking went:  well, if one person fished with explosives, then probably other people do it, and maybe it's even fairly common.

Now, I have no idea how common it is.  I never heard blasts, and I imagine fishing with explosives would get expensive fast, wouldn't it?  And be pretty dangerous.  So, that might lead me to think it's far less common, and this guy was a real anomaly.

If you were to look at the historical record someday, you might see a hospital record of the injury.  If it had gotten into a legal record somehow, there might be that.  Or there might be no record whatsoever.  And this is something that happened in the age of newspapers, television, radio, and so forth, but I really, really doubt it made it into any sort of written record in the news media because of where and when it happened.

And how would you read whatever record you found, if there were one?

Would it be, wow, here's this weird fishing technique?

Would it be, if one person does this, others must have, too?

Would it be, if others must have done this, too, then it was probably fairly common, common enough not to be noteworthy except by a person recalling it much later?

We "all know" about the Portuguese nuns, but the very weirdness tells us that the prosecution is pretty darned unique.  What that doesn't tell us is what sorts of sexual activities were or weren't unique, or did or didn't count as sexual, even.

And what I don't know about what was happening in a county of England in the early 17th century, well, one could write volumes and volumes.

But I'm pretty sure that what this pamphlet records as news didn't happen at all.  Hrm.


  1. I think that's the representativeness heuristic (or maybe the availability heuristic causing selection bias because super memorable stuff seems like it is more prevalent than it actually is). I hang out with a bunch of cliometricians and representativeness is one of the really big things that they worry about.

  2. Portuguese nuns what now?

  3. When you work with court records, you worry about this all the time. It's always good when you find a couple of cases that float in the same territory. But those "Great NEWES" pamphlets are always really weird. Have you read David Cressy's Travesties and Transgresssions? He does a little puzzling about some of these weird cases....

    1. Thanks, Susan, Cressy is on my reread list, and has just moved up several notches.