Opinion: You cannot police research
Meidum Geese By Francesco Tiradritti
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BY: Monica Hanna

Dr. Monica Hanna recipient of the  SAFE beacon award for 2014: I have read some interesting reactions to the research of Prof Francesco Tiradritti on the “Meidum Geese” (which he identifies as fake) and I would like to share my thoughts on the matter. I do not wish here to support Tiradritti’s results or to oppose them; in order to do so, one should read his full article and then do probably as much research as he has done before.

Anyway, the easiest and most reliable way to verify or disprove his claims is through carrying out non-destructive X-Fluorescence spectroscopy on the paintings. Maybe he should have applied for a permit to do it beforehand.

Reasoned discussion is at the core of the scientific method. The only way to counter-argue research is by producing more scientific research and not through media attacks. At the same time, Tiradritti’s results should not have hit the media before its official academic publication.

I have read proposing on The Cairo Post “that Tiradritti should have discussed his conclusions with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities before making them public.” Is this a suggestion that the Ministry should have control on academic research? If Prof. Tiradritti had taken his results to the Ministry of Antiquities, would they have allowed him to carry out further scientific tests?

Monica Hanna

Dr. Monica Hanna

 

This is a good example of an outdated mentality: like in a police state, research is monitored and repressed by a patronizing force. Well, it is bureaucratically impossible to expect all academic research to go through a sort of Mogamma-like structure within the ministry: this would over-burden an already malfunctioning institution. Most important though, as a matter of principle, it is not conceivable that a political body exerts pressure or control over what must be free scientific activity.

On the contrary, as Prof Khalid Fahmy, professor of History at the American University in Cairo, has more than once called for, research has to be freer, more open, more encouraged and less met with hostile attitude. We need to open wide our archives and our museums.

Successful museums around the world, such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, are putting their entire collections online, and sadly, the Egyptian Museum even forbids photography. How can this help research and tourism around the world? If I spend a lovely day at a museum and take a photo of a piece I like and then show it to my family or share it on social media with my friends I will actually advertise the museum and encourage more people to go and visit its collections. Accessibility to heritage not only adds to our knowledge and research, but also safeguards this heritage through finding meaning and identification with the public.

Referring to my former question, “would they have allowed him to carry out further scientific tests?” The hostility is evident. It is not acceptable to label Tiradritti’s research as mere “lies,” as the director of the Egyptian Museum stated in a recent al-Ahram online article. One can feel suspicious about the method, can express his/her doubts about the evidence, and eventually disprove the theory, but to call it “lies” implies a kind of intentional malice that should not belong to scientific research. The MSA cannot have such a fragile academic standpoint. Antiquities and Heritage are not the personal property of the Ministry of Antiquities.

That is why many times the reaction on research or criticism is personal. Opposing studies proving or disproving the authenticity of a piece of art have been published for years before, sometimes addressing very important objects such as the head of Nefertiti or the Artemidorus Papyrus.

Finally, I find it illogical that the MSA gets so angry over some research results, while the ongoing looting and land grabbing of archaeological sites all over Egypt does not provoke even a small reaction.

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Comments

  1. Peter Lacovara
    April 10, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    No reputable scholar would think of publishing an object in a Western Museum without the knowledge and agreement of its curators. The Cairo Museum deserves no less respect.

    • Robert
      April 18, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      The “Meidum Geese” have been “published” for well over a century; no one needs “the knowledge and agreement of its curators” to suggest a new view point.

    • Mahmoud
      October 21, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      Really? It happens all the time unless the object has not been published at all in the first instance.

  2. Brian V. Hunt
    April 11, 2015 at 4:36 am

    Right on the money as usual, Monica. Well done.

  3. R. Curtis Payton, II
    April 11, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Dr. Hanna: Thank you! Your OpEd is applicable not just to Egyptology but to the greater scientific community.

  4. Bob Myers
    April 12, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    If we look at Egyptian Cultural History, we see a lot of ingenious adaptations to keep the meritocracy and the nepotocracy in balance, beginning with the image of Seth vs. Horus.

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