Journalists Just Aren’t Trying Any More

In various posts in the past — usually ones associated with reportage about spurious claims — I have often pointed out that the folks involved have titles (usually something like “historian” or “archaeologist” or whatever) which they really have no legitimate claim to have (although one might cynically observe no one claims to be a dilettante). What makes things worse, though, is that the various journalists reporting on such events either merely parrot the claimed title or worse, they’re the ones who come up with the title to begin with. A glaring case in point of this sort of thing can be seen with an antiquities smuggling case that is currently filling my box. The gist is some American who took a bunch of folks to Egypt and Israel has been charged with illegally selling/smuggling antiquties. We’ll just compare how this American is described:

Art Daily‘s initial paragraph:

The suspect, a retired university lecturer with a Ph. D in history from the United States, sold among other things, silver coins from the Second Temple period and 1,500 year old clay oil lamps. He planned on leaving the country with a handful of checks and cash totaling more than $20,000.

People’s Daily (second paragraph):

The suspect, an expert in Egyptian history and culture who worked as a tour guide, received the items from robbers who plundered archaeological sites across Israel, and then allegedly sold the antiquities to American tourists while guiding them through the country.

Jerusalem Post:

A retired university lecturer from the US was held for questioning this week after allegedly selling and trying to smuggle abroad hundreds of valuable archeological artifacts.

The suspect, a former history lecturer specializing in Ancient Egypt, is alleged to have sold ancient coins and other historical relics to some 20 tourists he was guiding in Israel, and to have tried to leave the country with cash and checks totaling over $20,000.

Media Line:

An American history professor has been arrested by Israeli authorities at the country’s main airport as he attempted to slip out of the country with items allegedly obtained from illegal grave robberies.

Ha’aretz:

A retired lecturer from the United States is being held on suspicion of illegal trafficking in antiquities, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Tuesday.

John Lund, 70, a tour guide from Utah, is suspected of having sold stolen artifacts to tour groups he led in Israel, according to the authority. Lund was reportedly detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday, as he was about to leave the country, officials said.

CNN:

Israeli authorities arrested a retired American university lecturer this week on suspicion of selling ancient artifacts illegally to U.S. tourists, they said Wednesday.

The suspect, a tour guide, is accused of selling ancient coins and 1,500-year-old clay lamps, and pocketing the equivalent of $20,000.

I could go on and on. Whatever the case, depending on who you ‘talk to’ we have a suspect who is either a “history professor”, a “tour guide”, a “retired lecturer”. an “expert in Egyptology”, an “Egyptologist”, or various combinations of these. Now, in my world, a “professor” is someone who has achieved an academic rank in a university (the top rank), after having completed numerous levels of university education (usually, in North America, B.A./B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D.). A “history professor” has degrees in history and formal training with historical sources, research, etc.. An “Egyptologist” is a further specialization involving formal training in the history and archaeology of ancient Egypt. A “lecturer” is someone who probably does not have the complete qualifications to claim the title of “professor”, but who teaches courses at a university in the subject of their degrees something different entirely depending on what country you happen to be in.

Now the John Lund in question has a webpage with an ‘About’ page, of course … here’s some info from that:

In 1972 Brigham Young University awarded him the degree of Doctor of Education. Because of his emphasis in research, he completed the equivalent of a Doctoral Minor in Statistics.

Dr. Lund’s work has taken him on a thirty year journey where he has taught as adjunct faculty at major universities throughout Washington, Idaho, California and Utah.

Elsewhere, we find he works for a group called Fun For Less Tours … at that website, there is a page of articles written by various tour leaders and Lund appears to have penned a couple of historical interest. That doesn’t make him an historian. That doesn’t make him an Egyptologist. There is no indication that any of his ‘lecturing’ had anything to do with things pertaining to the ancient world. If I were to take a bunch of wood and build a nice little shed out back, could I claim to be an engineer? If I went to my neighbour’s house and pushed their little shed over and I was arrested, would the press even think of giving a headline like “Engineer destroys neighbour’s building?”. So why is it that in the fields of archaeology and/or history, that anyone who audited a course in college or watched a tv documentary is given leave to claim to be an archaeologist, or historian, or some other “professional” designation? Granted, there is a ‘grey area’ of sorts … there are professional historians out there who do write scholar-level books (Stacey Schiff, e.g.) but they do have genuine historical background and skills. But it seems to be an increasing problem amongst journalists in giving undeserved and unearned professional titles to folks who are little more than dilettantes and in so doing, give those people much greater auctoritas in the eyes of the public than they really should have. As can be seen, it really isn’t that difficult to find the background of these people, so why aren’t journalists putting in the effort?

UPDATE (an hour or so later) … I note that Jim Davila blogs in a similar vein today: “EGYPTOLOGIST” ACCUSED OF ANTIQUITIES SMUGGLING:

UPDATE II (the next day) … Dr Lund’s side of the story: Utah historian accused of smuggling antiquities out of Israel

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13 thoughts on “Journalists Just Aren’t Trying Any More

  1. Kataplexis says:

    “A “lecturer” is someone who probably does not have the complete qualifications to claim the title of “professor”, but who teaches courses at a university in the subject of their degrees.”

    It is rather wrong to assume that lecturers don’t have the complete qualifications to claim the title of professor. Many universities including the UC system in California (many of whom found themselves recently unemployed even after serving as full time university lecturers for decades at their respective schools) and many other major universities have splintered tenure or tenure-track lines from permanent non-tenurable faculty whom they title “Lecturers.” Many, if not most of these faculty today have PhDs in their discipline, conduct and publish peer-reviewed research in their field and do professional service. The only difference between them and a “professor” is that the university has decided to make the position tenurable or not. There are, in fact, adjuncts across the US with more than ample professional qualifications to be “professors” but the US system of higher education has moved dramatically away from tenure in the last decade (see a flurry of articles in both the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed among other places). Almost all of us in Classics know people who fall into this category, if not personally, at least by reputation. Some of us have been there.

    This guy does not fall into that category, but to assume a person titles “lecturer” isn’t professionally qualified to be a professor is both unrealistic and kind of insulting to the myriad faculty who have all the qualifications and do all the work of tenured and tenure-track but have simply not been lucky enough to get one of those ever increasingly sparse tenure lines. So, like the journalists you are condemning, maybe be a little more careful yourself with the way you use the titles.

    • rogueclassicist says:

      Point taken … in the Canadian system, a ‘lecturer’ (in Classics or other humanities) is usually someone who has not yet achieved their Ph.D. or is a recently-minted one and is hired to teach one or two courses. My ‘mistake’, however, is really not analogous to the situation I describe above …

      • I much echo Kataplexis. My department makes heavy use of “Lecturers”. All of us have Ph.D.s, most from top 10 programs. We attend conferences, we publish, we do university service. In short, we do everything a professor would do, but are not on tenure track.

        In the present market, this fate awaits many a graduate, even from the very best of programs. The job description may say “Lecturer” or “Visiting”, but the result is the same. A number succeed in moving on to regular professorships, some get caught in a permanent, but non-tenured position.

        Non-tenured and contingent faculty – many with full qualification, but bad luck, bad advising, or poor market timing – now constitute the bare majority of faculty within the US system as a whole. However, they teach a disproportionate percentage of the undergraduate course load (I have seen studies claiming as high as 75-80% of all contact hours). These are people who bear all the burdens of higher ed, but are categorically ineligible for any of its benefits, in part because of the very stereotype you perpetuate (lecturer=underqualified teaching tool).

        Your dismissal of such people is both insulting to those relegated to this slot and betrays a significant lack of familiarity with current realities in higher ed in general, and the field of Classics in particular. It is not sufficient to print a vague strike-through of the text and say “point taken”. A responsible reporter would take full responsibility for the error and publish a retraction after such a mistake. Blogging is not bound by the ethics of journalism, but may I suggest that you consider doing likewise.

      • rogueclassicist says:

        Even before your comment, I made changes to the post (I crossed out the offending sentence; I did not excise it entirely, otherwise Kataplexis’ comments would not have made sense) … if I ‘retract’ the statement entirely, neither kataplexis’ nor your comment will make any sense. If it makes you happy: I HEREBY APOLOGIZE FOR APPARENTLY DENIGRATING THE TITLE OF LECTURER. HAPPY? If you do not like what I say in this blog, please read others; better yet, please start your own. I did not start a blog to have usenet style/troll-like arguments with people about minor issues about how a particular word happens to be used in one post of thousands. I also don’t think that my ‘neglect’ in this one use of a word — after running this blog for seven or eight years and with plenty of internet experience in other forms before that, warrants the blanket dismissal that I’m unaware of “current realities”.

      • rogueclassicist says:

        … and by the way, for many years I had the ‘rank’ of ‘lecturer’ myself …

      • I am not trying to start a “troll-like” argument and I think a touch of civility rather than immediate sarcasm and insult would do your blog well. The genre I had in mind was strong letter to editor, not ad hominem flame mail. If you read it as the latter, my apologies. That was not my intent.

        And the core of my point was that this is *not* a fringe concern, but a developing, well-documented major issue in American higher ed (which you appear to treat dismissively). It is not a non sequitur to the post, for the main topic is the use and abuse of academic titles.

      • rogueclassicist says:

        Fine … what do you want me to do about this? I’ve apologized, I’ve editorialized, I’ve explained. I did not have “immediate sarcasm and insult” … any perceived sarcasm and insult was a response to people ignoring/not accepting what I had done after an initial complaint. It might be a “major issue” in academe, but in the context of this particular post, it has to do with the credibility of people the media grants titles to. I have long railed about this in the context of various claims relating to the ancient world. That is the purview of this blog. The metaconcerns of American academia is not. I’m sorry if this metamatter is a great concern to you, but this isn’t the forum to discuss it if it has nothing to do with a journalist granting a title relating to the ancient world of Greece and Rome to someone who really does not merit same and in so doing, giving them auctoritas/prestige which they do not deserve. I will not be printing a formal retraction, if that is what you are seeking … I’ve done all I intend to. If you’d like the last word, feel free to take it. I think I’m pretty clear on this.

  2. Daniel O. McClellan says:

    In the British system you’re a lecturer unless you’re given their rough equivalent of tenure. I think the reason for laziness here is just the nature of news reporting in the internet age. The public’s attention span is very short, and if you don’t get the article in today then something else is going to have their attention tomorrow. As a result, journalists use whatever resources they can to get the job done quickly. That’s just my outside observation, though.

  3. Kataplexis says:

    No. It isn’t directly analogous. They are haphazardly throwing around a bunch of words that they have little interest in understanding but which the random use of causes insult to actual professionals in the field. You are functioning under a very limited specific definition of a term that limiting the definition of is inaccurate and can also be insulting to actual professionals in the field. Of course, this leaves aside the fact that a lecturer in the UK is actually a very prestigious position. So, the lesson? When in Canada, it means one thing, when in the US it means something else and when in the UK it means something else entirely. So, surely the journalists could perhaps be forgiven for failing to understand the distinction (which you yourself don’t understand and which could be said to fall under the auspices of Hartman’s Law) even if they should not be forgiven for eliding his status as a qualified lecturer in Education (perhaps) for being qualified as such is antiquities.

  4. Sarah says:

    In a local bookshop I saw an advert for a forthcoming talk by someone described (I presume by herself) as “author and wisdom teacher”.

    I would love to know what the qualifications are for “wisdom teacher”…

  5. Terrence Lockyer says:

    Very much agree about the designation issue. Perhaps the worst case is that of “scholar”, which usually means “academic”, but of course can also legitimately be claimed by non-academics (Housman prior to 1892 is perhaps the clearest example), and since it has no strict requirements is easy to claim.

    In our system here in South Africa, BTW, “lecturer” is a generic designation for anyone who teaches in post-secondary education, regardless of qualifications or seniority, but also an academic rank (in at least some institutions there are or have been titles of “Junior Lecturer”, “Assistant Lecturer”, “Lecturer”, and “Senior Lecturer”, and sometimes even finer distinctions like “Junior Assistant Lecturer”), holders of which may well have the qualifications of professors in their subjects (and while professors without PhDs are rare, they are not unknown). “Professor” as title or form of address is reserved for those at the rank of Associate and full Professors, and the latter especially tend to be limited in number, so there are a lot of highly qualified academics who remain just “lecturers”, and may do so throughout a long teaching career.

  6. A lot of the problem in the Internet age is information deluge. A lot of different people will say the same thing in maybe a little different of a way which when re-related leads to more skewing of the truth.

    It’s the proverbial fish that keeps getting bigger. In short we live in a very infantile age.

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