Tuesday 28 July 2020

Rand Corporation Allegedly "Vindicates Antiquities Trade"

There's some real comedy gold on the internet these days around a recent RAND Corporation report that came out in May (Matthew Sargent, James V. Marrone, Alexandra Evans, Bilyana Lilly, Erik Nemeth, Stephen Dalzell 2020, 'Tracking and Disrupting the Illicit Antiquities Trade with Open Source Data' Santa Monica CA, USA). I downloaded the text a while ago, thinking to give it some attention, but took some time getting around to it. As, it seems did the antiquities trade lobby. I'm going to draw attention here to some of the things that lot have been saying and hope to get into the report itself next week. There are four texts worth noting as they are typical examples of the sort of crap dealers get up to. Just for now, take it that they basically have either got the wrong end of the stick about the report itself and/or are misrepresenting it in a most blatant way:
1) Anon ("ADA"), Rand Corporation Demolishes Current Thinking on Antiquities Trafficking. June 5th 2020;
2) Kate Fitz Gibbon, 'RAND Corporation Debunks Facebook and Dark Web Ties to Illegal Antiquities', Cultural Property News (ACCP) July 19th 2020;
3) Riah Pryor, 'Extent of Trade in Looted Antiquities is Exaggerated, Report Claims' The Art Newspaper 325, July?August 2020.
4) Anon, 'Art Industry News: A New Study Says the Size of the Illegal Antiquities Trade Has Been Wildly Overstated + Other Stories' Artnet News, July 28, 2020
I think the real status of the fuss is summed up by two comments in the AN article (which seems to draw on the ADA text):
Those in the trade have been quick to back the findings. Vincent Geerling, the chairman of the Association of Dealers in Ancient Art [IADAA], says “the report confirms everything we have been saying for years, including who is responsible for the misleading picture being given and why.”
Others say the debate over the scale of the trade has long been had. “The report is correct in its main conclusions, though they are what many specialists have been saying for some time,” says Peter Campbell, a maritime archaeologist who has written on antiquities trafficking.
The report is not without its problems, a major one of these is that it follows the US State Department sponsored narrative of the primacy of ISIL-looting (including, p.1, the Abu-Sayyaf documents)* and antiquities "funding terrorism" (sic). So it's not surprising that when the evidence is marshalled, a different picture emerges, as several of us have long argued (Sam Hardy, Michael Press, Chris Jones, myself and others). The problem with the trade lobbies' take on matters is their "what everybody says [about the antiquities trade]" in fact is "what some US journalist/not-terribly well-prepared US journalists have been saying".

Also it is worth recording that ADA notes specifically that (on page 3-introduction)** "the report blames “bloggers, journalists and advocacy groups” who pen sensational headlines for perpetuating the distortion". I only wish I could think of those sexy "headlines" that would replace my readers reading the text.

The ADA text starts off by stating, apparently in all seriousness, that the RAND report "reveals" that the "antiquities trade is NOT worth x-billion dollars". ADA might like to point us in the direction of any text in the last ten years when any serious researcher into the antiquities market says it is. Nevertheless there are many texts indicating that maintaining this straw man argument is a fixation mainly of the antiquities dealers and their lobbyists. They claim that the report shows that "illicit trade in antiquities is largely ad hoc rather than organised" obviously they missed the bits of the report that show it is both. Quoting as evidence of a smaller market and demand the "relatively low sell-through rates of legitimate antiquities at auction and through galleries" does tend to ignore the price factor. I did a post on some glass vessels sold at Christies a while ago for a major markup on the price that exactly the same items would fetch on eBay. The report does look at online sales, but somehow the conclusions drawn on that basis (and an old article of Roger Bland) seem not to have been noticed by ADA.
ADA Chairperson (Linkedin)
“ADA chairman Joanna van der Lande said: “As with so many of my colleagues and fellow association members, I am delighted that this report, from arguably the most respected independent research organisation in the US, confirms what we have been saying for years. “In exposing the propaganda and misinformation, the RAND Corporation also highlights how major international policy has been shaped by dishonest agendas rather than solid evidence, and this is truly shocking when one considers the cost not only to the legitimate art market, but also to cultural heritage protection. Those responsible need to be honest about their motives and be held to account in future if they continue to manipulate and misappropriate the evidence.”
Ooo. Can we hold dealers to the same account if we find them manipulating and misappropriating evidence? Please? What are their "motives"?

Triumphant smile
It would be difficult to find a more graceless text from the antiquities world than Ms Fitz Gibbon's  attack. This has less in common with any "cultural" policy but is sheer small-minded provincial nastiness. Her long monologue (like the ADA text), completely ignores what the RAND report determines, but concentrates on aspects of what, to nobody's real surprise, it does not confirm. In fact, it mostly concentrates on ATHAR and its recent campaign against the use of Facebook for spreading information on antiquities. Five of Fitz Gibbon's six pages discuss ATHAR, ATHAR and ATHAR, and people connected with it. Nasty.

Now, some posts on my blog indicate that I have not always agreed with some of the conclusions of ATHAR, questioned some of the material presented by The Antiquities Coalition, I think we need to look at a lot of things critically. But this text is sheer meanness. The American Committee for Cultural Policy, one hopes, should be able to do better than that.  I do not think the ACCP's text has anything useful to the discussion. It's just a disagreeable uncultured rant that serves as a monument to the ugliness rampant in certain segments of US society in Trump's America.

The  Artnet News text is short, derivative (sensationalist) and mixes two reports together.

*That I see as a forgery, and the "antiquities found" as a plant.

**and look at the irony of page 3's footnote 8, referring to that false US State-Department ISIL-loot model.

1 comment:

David Gill said...

It would seem that these researchers seem unaware of research on the antiquities market. Where is, for example, the work by Christos Tsirogiannis? What about Sarah Parcak's observations about the link between looting in Egypt (observed by satellite) and the patterns of Egyptian antiquities emerging on the market? For Syria, what about the BBC Radio 4 'File on 4' rigorous investigation into antiquities arriving in London?

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.