Sunday, January 27, 2008

the Urge to Cheat

A news story this week out of Los Angeles reports that federal investigators applied for search warrants to follow up on suspicions of illicit activity at four museums.

It was alleged in affidavits related to the search warrants that staff at two museums looked at artifacts in the possession of a smuggler and meet with the sellers of stolen goods, knowing that the objects headed their museums might be tainted.

In an odd twist of fate, one collection of materials acquired by the Pacific Asia Museum came from Ban Chiang in Thailand, a bronze age site that I discovered in 1966.

Patty Gerstenblith, a law professor, commented that “by not thinking about what they buy, they are putting money into an international network of smugglers, looters, thieves and destroyers. As educational institutions, museums have a responsibility to look beyond that particular object that they may be acquiring.”

In short, overlooking all the circumstances, not taking long-term factors into account, is unethical for museums and their staff as well.

It seems that the urge to cheat, to profit selfishly at the expense of others, is not limited to participants in business and market transactions.

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