Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Tactics of a Dealers' Lobbyist

In the light of some recent posts and activities of IAPN's and PNG's lobbyist, Peter Tompa, who is also a member and representative of the ACCG, I have been considering his tactics again as I have witnessed them multiple times and commented on their apparent purposes in the past.  It is perhaps worthwhile to survey some of those tactics here.

Personal AttacksPersonal attacks are often used as a substitute for engaging with the substance or accuracy of another party's comments.  Users of personal attacks attempt to impugn another party's character, often with misleading or false commentary, so that they do not have to engage with and/or provide evidence to counter an argument or position.  Peter Tompa has often used personal attacks as a tactic and frequently allows his compatriots to post personal attacks in the 'moderated' comments section of his blog.  A recent example on Mr. Tompa's blog may be found here.  He also is proud to count among his comrades the outspoken ACCG leadership; they have consistently made particularly repulsive  attacks against organizations and individuals who advocate preservation, characterizing them as fascists, Nazis, or similar to terrorist organizations.  A summary of some of these repugnant remarks is available in my 2012 article on the North American trade in ancient coins (pp. 100-104).

Dismissal/Denigration.  A common component of personal attacks include the dismissal of one's credentials and/or the denigration of one's credentials by applying inaccurate labels.  Academics who advocate preservation and sensitivity to looting issues are, therefore, often dismissed as "ivory tower" elitists.  A recent example on Mr. Tompa's blog is found here (the post also contains a straw man).  Like the personal attack, such dismissal evidently has as its aim to excuse not engaging with the evidence or argument of a different position (pointed out here). Mr. Tompa almost exclusively refers to preservationists like myself, David Gill, Paul Barford, Rick St. Hilaire, and others as "archaeobloggers," as if blogging is the only way our research and opinions are disseminated, and as if we do not have any other credentials and professions.  Rick St. Hilaire is not even an archaeologist, but a lawyer and specialist in cultural properties!  But Mr. Tompa does not like Rick St. Hilaire's insights and position on cultural property issues and so he gets called an "archaeoblogger," a label that the lobbyist and his friends use as a slur.  In a recent post, Mr. Tompa has again referred to me as an "archaeoblogger and anti-trade advocate," in spite of the fact that I have rarely blogged for several years now. My occupation is that of tenure-track professor at a ranked research university.  I teach and have authored numerous articles on ancient coins and coin iconography in addition to co-edited a book on coin iconography; a single-authored book will be in print by the end of the year.  My research on the relationship between looting and coin trade in its current incarnation has also been published in several peer-reviewed outlets.

Deception.  Deception is frequently another component of personal attacks or dismissal.  After all, the ultimate effect or goal is to avoid formulating effective counter argumentation and presentation of fact-based evidence.  For example, Mr. Tompa recently characterized me as an "anti-trade advocate."  That is an incorrect characterization.  Anyone may read for themselves what I have blogged in the past or what I have published.  What I have consistently critiqued is the problematic relationship that the trade in its current incarnation has with looting and the illicit market in coins and antiquities.  Mr. Tompa seeks to maintain a no-questions-asked status quo, evidently protecting business interests that wish to remain unconcerned when it comes to the sourcing of material!  In fact, in my 2012 article, I suggest that a solution to obstruction posed by trade lobbying groups, which cater primarily to a dealer interest, is to circumnavigate them and engage directly with collectors (pp. 104-107).  An "anti-trade advocate" would hardly suggest engagement with collectors.  For an unvarnished riposte to the notion that preservationists are inherently "anti-trade," or as one unsightly comment on Mr. Tompa's blog that Mr. Tompa allowed (from a dealer known for hyperbole and personal attacks) suggests, "anti-science," see here.

The Straw Man. A common tactic is the straw man.  By falsely attributing a statement or position to an individual and demolishing it, one does not engage with one's real position and makes the opposition appear foolish and absurd.  In so doing, the user of a straw-man argument creates an imagined, inaccurate character.  The straw man is a debate tactic often used in American political discourse.  A popular example is Clint Eastwood's imaginary engagement with President Obama in an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention, whereby he attributed positions to President that he does not hold and potential statements the President wold never make (some comments here and here).

In the comments section of one of his recent personal attacks against me, Mr. Tompa has claimed again that I have stated that Ptolemaic and early Roman period coins did not circulate out of Egypt (this all bears on the "first found in" argument that is part of the ACCG's test case).  I posted a comment to that blog again asking him to substantiate the claim as I have never made it.  Curiously, my comment was never posted. Maybe he never received it.  Nonetheless, what I have said is that such coins tended to circulate primarily within Egypt as Egypt had a well-known closed currency system that promoted the retention of such coins.  I have even published a Ptolemaic coin in the coin finds from Yotvata, Israel, although the site is very near the modern Egyptian border.  So surely I would never state that no single Egyptian coin would never make it out of what is modern Egypt.  Mr. Tompa's straw man claim is demonstrably false.  It also curious that, in his own dealings with CPAC, he never acknowledged the well-known fact that Egypt had a closed currency system and that Ptolemaic and early Roman period Egyptian coins are primarily found in Egypt.  Mr. Tompa attempts to distort my own position, which takes an honest account of the evidence, in order to distract from his own untenable position, which itself purposefully ignores decades of scholarship and common knowledge on coin circulation in Egypt. 

Deflection/Innuendo.  Sometimes one simply changes the subject or makes innuendo to distract from the question or issue at hand.  So rather than presenting evidence to substantiate his straw-man claim that I apparently said Egyptian coins never  traveled outside of Egypt, Mr. Tompa instead began making innuendos about "hidden" comments to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee.  First of all, Mr. Tompa makes assumptions since he could not know if I submitted confidential comments to CPAC for any particular hearing or not.  Secondly, the CPAC makes allowances for confidential comments to be submitted under certain circumstances where they could not be made publicly.  If one submits confidential comments to CPAC, appropriately following the guidelines, the contents of those comments are no business of a trade lobbyist, especially one who chooses to engage in underhanded and slimy tactics.  Finally, we see the purpose of deflection and innuendo: not only does he have me going on about a different subject now, attempting to distract me and his readers from his straw-man claim, he still has not substantiated his straw-man claim!  He cannot, after all, substantiate a straw-man claim. By their very nature, straw-man claims are indefensible when you ask for substantiation and evidence.

Intimidation. Why does the lobbyist want access to comments that are potentially privileged or sensitive?  No doubt he wants to spin and twist them on his blog, using the tactics above, in an attempt to intimidate into silence those with opinions different from his own.  He has already criticized individuals with opinions different from his own for speaking at public hearings or submitting public comments to CPAC in the past.  Mr. Tompa and his cohorts are well-known for using the tactics of intimidation.  In the past they have communicated directly and secretly with colleagues of preservationists in attempt to impugn their reputations in the eyes of their colleagues and, worse, in an attempt to compromise their employment.  I have a file documenting each attempt that is currently known to me.

Why?  Why does Mr. Tompa use such tactics?  One reason may be true ignorance of the issues or a misunderstanding of them.  He is, for example, angry about an article I recently published that critiques the "first found in" argument presented in the ACCG's test case.  Mr. Tompa dismisses the article as "obscure" and suggests the article is somehow "hidden" because it is published in a peer-reviewed print journal.  David Gill points out how ill-informed the statement is that the journal is obscure and that the article is somehow hidden (here and here).  Rather than expecting him to find the article for himself, the lobbyist is upset that I have not shared the article with him, although I shared it with colleagues.  I explained to Mr. Tompa that the article cannot be placed for free, public download on a third-party website at this time owing to copyright issues and that I will not send him nor the lobby's founder an offprint as they are neither colleague nor collegial.  He persists nonetheless.  And this is not the first time that the lobbyist has behaved this way (for a response on the first episode, see David Gill's post).  It is particularly troubling that Mr. Tompa does not seem to understand, at least in what he writes, how publication and research works (or evidently how to access a prominent archaeological journal in a library) since he himself is a legal professional and purports to represent dealers and collectors who claim to be independent scholars, who would necessarily conduct library research and publish in peer-reviewed journals.

But if the lobbyist and the organizations he represents are not truly ignorant of the issues and are not ill-informed about the evidence that is out there, why might he liberally use the tactics summarized here?  Readers of the lobbyist's blog might take Mr. Tompa at his word and not follow up on original sources or explore for themselves the validity of his statements and arguments.  Perhaps this convinces his constituency of the good work he does for them and for the organizations he represents.  Perhaps there are other reasons, one of which may be the awkwardness of engaging with real evidence to advance his position or to counter the evidence-based position of preservationists.  Fortunately, policy makers and researchers use more than blogs and tend to check sources and look for evidence and substance.

Update 5/31/2015.  Mr. Tompa has responded to this post via a comment on his own blog.  Interestingly, he does not link to my post so that readers can easily find it for themselves.  It is more or less what I expected: further demands that I answer questions to satisfy his innuendo of a hidden conspiracy.  There is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing on his part, no apology, and no substantiation of his recent straw-man claim (an impossibility after all).  Interestingly, he seems, however, to acknowledge the deployment of underhanded tactics on his part by implying that whatever he does, it's okay because I have already done what I accuse him of; that, quelle surprise, is not substantiated.  Indeed, I do not recall fabricating statements and attributing them to him (the straw man), nor do I recall me or my colleagues implying he or his compatriots are fascists or Nazis (a form of personal attack commonly used in ACCG quarters), nor do I recall trying to undermine his employment (intimidation) as he and his ACCG-friends have.  We are all very aware of how you operate, Mr. Tompa.  It is truly a pity that organizations have spent good money to support such a despicable and painfully transparent modus operandi.  At least its transparency and lack efficacy will only hinder the cause to protect the damaging status quo.