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

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xiv kalendas junias

James Boswell, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (died 17...
Image via Wikipedia

ante diem xiv kalendas junias

  • c. 160 A.D. — martyrdom of Pudentiana
  • 175 A.D. — Commodus departs for Germany
  • 307 A.D. — martyrdom of Cyriaca and companions at Nicomedia
  • 1795 — death of James Boswell, author of Life of Dr. Johnson