In the first article, Tiffany Jenkins rails against the posting online of rumours of looting in Egypt, suggesting that those who post them are prejudiced against the people of Egypt. For instance, she says:
The rapid repeating of unverified information without proper scrutiny, across social media and blogs as well as in mainstream news outlets, suggests a broader fear of an unpredictable mass and the idea that museums in this part of the world are unsafe. There is a presumption that Egyptians just don’t quite know how to care for cultural heritage while they concern themselves with making trouble in the name of democracy.Marianne Luban, meanwhile takes a very different line when talking about the Electronic Egyptologists' Forum (EFF), but her remarks could equally be read more generally as a complaint that Egyptology is sluggish and hasn't adapted to the latest developments in social media. And as we are seeing in Egypt, social media is now having huge impact on society as a whole. (Click on the article heading to read my commentary.)
I am not going to get drawn into Marianne Luban's comments on the EEF in particular, but generally I believe her observations about how ancient Egypt is discussed are more accurate than those of Tiffany Jenkins. I see no justification for Jenkins' claim that repeating of unverified information implies a presumption that Egyptians don't know how to care for their heritage. In fact, I would say that very many people online have been at pains to acknowledge how much gaffirs, imams and the ordinary people of Egypt have done to protect their cultural heritage during the current political unrest. I think she also misunderstands social media and crowd sourcing. Yes a lot of blogs just repeat previous stories - and some media - without proper attribution, and crucially without saying when the story surfaced. I am not pretending they add much other than an indication what is of broad interest. However, the work Margaret Maitland has done at the Eloquent Peasant in identifying the items from Tutankhamun's tomb demonstrates the power of crowd sourcing. Unless stories had circulated, they might not have reached Margaret so they she could do the analysis. For me a fundamental issue in Jenkins' line is an apparent belief that information should pass around a restricted circle until somebody verifies it, at which point it can then be released to the public. That is precisely Luban's complaint. By restricting raw information flows, research is slowed and inhibited.
It's also noteworthy that Maitland did her analysis and research out in full public view, updating it several times a day in response to contributions from visitors to her blog. For me that is the future of academic effort - real-time collaboration and a willingness to share and to make mistakes in public. It takes courage, but in my opinion it does deliver superior and faster results.
BTW, over the past ten days, other than yesterday I have worked almost full time to gather and share information about the situation in Egypt, and I know Andie Byrnes has put in a similar effort. We were still swapping emails this morning at 3am. In the current climate "verified" is a difficult word but I have put a huge amount of work into reviewing material I have posted here - and there are stories that I have decided just didn't seem credible enough to post. I think we would have done the world a disservice had we not reported stories of looting - abd I still fear many of them will prove to be accurate.