What Do They Say About Ethics in Other Fields?


As concerns arise about distortions in academic and curatorial research on the field of contemporary fiber art and craft, an appropriate response is to ask questions how research leading to those distortions is designed and executed.

However, in the field of art, little transparency and discussion is encouraged regarding its research.  This Tab includes articles that illustrate the discussions in other professional fields which are more open regarding questions about reliable professional research practice and ethics.


Must You Actually Read The Books to Give the Prize?, New York Times, 12/02/1989.

For Sale:  On-Line Bookstore's Recommendations, New York Times, 02/08/1999.

Amazon.com Plans to Revise Its Ad Program, New York Times, 02/10/1999.
Payola, PC Computing, 01/2000.
Wish You Had an Ethics Code?, OPERA America Newsline, 10/1999.

Buying Art?  Choose An Adviser Carefully, The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, 12/21/2000.
The Lies of Joseph Ellis, New York Times, 08/21/2001.
Historian's Prizewinning Book on Guns is Embroiled in a Scandal, New York Times, 12/08/2001.
As Historian's Fame Grows, So Do Questions on Methods, New York Times, 01/11/2002.

Stephen Ambrose and Plagiarism, New York Times, 01/12/2002.
Gift to the Smithsonian with Conditions, New York Times, 02/09/2002.


Must You Actually Read The Books to Give the Prize?, Edwin McDowell, New York Times, 12/02/1989, p. A19.

In this article the Times reported that "Robert L. Heilbroner, the chairman of the nonfiction panel for this year's National Book Awards, evoked scattered murmurs and hisses at the awards ceremony on Wednesday when he said he had not read most of the 190 books submitted for the prize.  Instead, he said, he narrowed his selections with such shortcuts as reading the first and last pages of some books, looking at blurbs and examining the index and table of contents."

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For Sale:  On-Line Bookstore's Recommendations, Doreen Carvajal, New York Times, 02/08/1999, p. A1&21.

In this report, Ms. Carvajal wrote that "The E-commerce pioneer Amazon.com strives for a clean look for its on-line bookstore.  That is why executives consider it unnecessary to clutter its World Wide Web pages and pithy book recommendations with notices that publishers are starting to pay to have titles featured as "New and Notable" or "Destined for Greatness."

The Times article continued:  "But it will always be a question in my mind:  Is this 'destined for greatness' or is this paid for?" said Jonathan Bulkeley, the chief executive of Barnesandnoble.com.

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Amazon.com Plans to Revise Its Ad Program, Doreen Carvajal, New York Times, 02/10/99, p. C1-5.

In this article, Ms. Carvajal reported that Amazon.com would follow ethical guidelines that are more stringent than those followed by some publicly funded museums.  She wrote that "Faced with e-mail rebukes from its customers, Amazon.com, the on-line bookseller, yesterday revised its advertising policy, pledging to disclose when book publishers pay the company to feature titles."

And the articled included that "Mr. Curry [spokesman] said that customers had sent Amazon electronic mail expressing surprise at its advertising program."

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Amazon.com Site Tells Users of Book Promotion Payments, Doreen Carvajal, New York Times, 03/02/1999, p. C6.

In this article the Times continued to report on the strong public reaction to the undisclosed conflicts of interest on a commercial website:  "Responding to complaints from customers, Amazon.com retooled its popular on-line bookstore yesterday so that it would disclose when publishers pay money to subsidize titles that are highlighted or featured with favorable reviews."

The article reported that Mr. Risher said the response of consumers to the disclosure of the promotional practice was "almost surprising in its intensity:  and that many consumers simply wanted the company to be more open about the system."

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Payola, Taylor & Jerome, PC Computing, 01/2000, p. 53.

These writers reported that in "Early last year Amazon.com was caught rolling in the hay with book publishers, pocketing up to $10,000 a pop to run purportedly independent book reviews.  Even die-hard customers were outraged.  The company retreated, but the damage was already done.  Today Amazon.com's reviews mostly clog bandwidth.  Nobody with a lick of sense would trust them to buy a book. . . . .  Sites that brazenly prostitute their content won't last.  But on their jolly way to the grave, they're tarnishing everyone's reputation."

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Wish You Had an Ethics Code?, Sallee Ebbett, OPERA America Newsline, 10/1999, p. 11.

(OPERA America is the national association for opera companies in the U.S.A.)

In this article Ms. Ebbett wrote, "While just about everyone has, at one time or another, chuckled that the term 'business ethics' is an oxymoron, most will agree that they want their organizations to treat employees fairly, deliver a quality product, deal honestly and responsibly with its customers and suppliers, and not break the law.  In essence, people want to be associated with ethical organizations.  Companies have been writing Codes of Ethics for several years now, and most people can name organizations they feel are ethical."

She continued this probing discussion asking, "But what about non-profit organizations?  Perhaps because the "profit motive" is removed from the mission statements of non-profits, it is assumed that they are already ethical organizations.  Perhaps the fact that most non-profits come into being to satisfy some critical social or cultural need, they are perceived to be on a higher plane than 'profit-for-profit's-sake' businesses.  But non-profits face ethical dilemmas just as corporations do, so they need to consider creating their own Codes of Ethics to guide them when such crises occur."

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Buying Art? Choose An Adviser Carefully, Daniel Costello, The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, 12/21/2000).

In this report Mr. Costello described that "Ten months ago, Julie Mussafer was in the baseball-cap retailing business.  Now she has a better job:  She's an art adviser."

The article continued that "Ms. Mussafer, of Boston, tells her 15 clients what art to buy and how much to pay for it.  She assists them in deciding what art looks best where and is already making enough money to expand the business.  There is only one problem:  She doesn't have, nor claim to have, any art experience.  No art-history degrees.  No base of knowledge culled during years in a prestigious gallery.  She doesn't even make it to museums all that much. . . .

Mr. Costello explained that "The roaring art boom is spawning a surprising boom of its own:  the professional art adviser.  Don't know what you like?  They'll teach you.  . . .  Just don't ask them if they know about art.  Many of the newest advisers streaming into this field don't have anything more than a couple of college art-history classes on their resumes.  . . .  Some, including veterans of this booming business, take kickbacks on the side from art dealers and recommend pieces they own themselves, hoping to get more than just their regular, already considerable, commissions.  Both practices are legal but frowned upon in the art world."

He notes that "Part of the problem is that there are no professional guidelines, and no certification process, for advisers, something that is standard in most professions, from brokers to hairstylists."

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The Lies of Joseph Ellis, Editorial, New York Times, 08/21/2001, p. A16.

The editorial addressed factual misrepresentations made by a well known writer and professor of history.  The Times stated, "By suspending Joseph J. Ellis without pay for a year, administrators at Mount Holyoke College have acted fairly and appropriately, though they must have done so with regret.  Mr. Ellis, a history professor and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author this year of 'Founding Brothers,' admitted to lying in the classroom about his past over the last decade after an article about those lies was published in The Boston Globe in June."

The Times articulated a reasonable expectation and understanding shared widely in the public when it wrote that "Mount Holyoke's penalty is severe enough to remind Mr. Ellis, and everyone else, that the integrity of the classroom is sacrosanct.  What matters is the basic honesty of the intellectual transaction that takes place there."  The public trusts many academic fields to uphold these standards although those standards are not clearly articulated in academic research on contemporary art.

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Historian's Prizewinning Book on Guns is Embroiled in a Scandal, Robert F. Worth, New York Times, 12/08/2001, pp. A1&15.

In this article about Michael A. Bellesiles, history professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Mr. Worth reported on his acclaimed book about guns in colonial America.

The article stated, "Over the past year a number of scholars who have examined his sources say he has seriously misused historical records and possibly fabricated them.  They say the outcome, when all the evidence is in, could be one of the worst academic scandals in years."

The article noted that many of the records underlying the research were destroyed by a flood, but that remaining records, when checked, "showed an astonishing number of serious errors, almost all of them seemingly intended to support this thesis.  In some cases his numbers were off by a factor of two, three or more, said Randolph Roth, a history professor at Ohio State University."

In this case, a lack of accuracy regarding the evidence examined for the research was openly discussed.  This transparency was very important

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As Historian's Fame Grows, So Do Questions on Method, David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, 01/11/2002, pp. A1&19.

In this article on historian Stephen E. Ambrose, the times reported practices that violated acceptable research guidelines in the field of history writing.

Mr. Kirkpatrick wrote that Mr. Ambrose "acknowledged that his current best seller, 'The Wild Blue,' inappropriately borrowed the words and phrases of three passages from a book by the historian Thomas Childers, 'The Wings of Morning.'  A closer examination of 'The Wild Blue' by the New York Times indicates that in at least five other places Mr. Ambrose borrowed words, phrases and passages from other historians' books.  Mr. Ambrose again acknowledged his errors and promised to correct them in later editions."

The Times noted that in his defense "even while conceding mistakes, Mr. Ambrose also defended his overall methods.  He noted that in each case he included a footnote to the works he used, and he sometimes praised the books in his text."

Guidelines for academic research practice exist in many fields in the liberal arts and sciences.  The Times article detailed that "In general, professional historians consider it a failing to rely so closely on a single work by another historian for whole passages in any event, even when attributed.  More important, Mr. Ambrose should have marked direct quotations in the text, or at the very least noted the closeness of his paraphrase in his footnotes, historians say.  College students caught employing the same practices would be in trouble."

And Mr. Kirkpatrick quoted Northwestern University history profession Dr. Sherry:  "'Any of us professional historians can occasionally slip into uncomfortably close paraphrase, but very few of us do it as much as he seems to have been doing it in this book.  This would be for me as a teacher, unacceptable in a student, much less in a professional historian.'"

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Stephen Ambrose And Plagiarism, Dean Sluyter, Letter-to-the-Editor, New York Times, 01/12/2002, p. A14.

Mr. Sluyter's opinion was that "At the school where I teach, we have an honor code.  There is not a single student, from the youngest seventh grader on up, who would not immediately recognize any one of Stephen E. Ambrose's near-verbatim appropriated passages as plagiarism — the deliberate passing-off of another's work as one's own — and grounds for a failing grade.  There is not a single student who would use the excuse offered on Mr. Ambrose's behalf — that he was under time pressure — and expect any sympathy.

He continued in his letter to express that "What is particularly disturbing is Mr. Ambrose's claim that 'I am not out there stealing other people's writings.'  The initial offense was damaging; it's the failure to come clean when caught that's fatal.  A biographer of Richard Nixon should understand that."

While it is very important not to distract from the question of theft of materials, it is important to include the concern that unattributed or inaccurately attributed materials obscure transparency.  They make it virtually impossible to verify their accuracy and reliability — a verification which is one of the prized attributes of academic research practice.

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Gift to Smithsonian with Conditions, Robert Carlson, Letter-to-the-Editor, New York Times, 02/09/2002, p. A18.

Mr. Carlson's opinion was "What a breath of fresh air from the Smithsonian Institution ('Museum Insisted on Control of $38 Million Gift,' news article, Feb. 6).  It's about time that someone told the 'donors' that their money doesn't buy them the reputation of the institution they're supposedly supporting.  I have nothing but respect for the museum's chairman, Ivan Selin, and the scholars who operate and curate it.  Their scruples and reputation are worth more than the $38 million they turned down."

Mr. Carlson's opinion is founded upon his experience:  "As a past president of the Glass Art Society, I have firsthand experience with collectors who insist on attaching curatorial license to their donations.  The American art patronage system is almost totally dependent on private money.  It's a sad spectacle to see wealthy amateurs guiding the curatorial decisions of respected institutions while the professionals must sit on their hands and keep their mouths shut.  I pray that the fortitude exhibited by the Smithsonian will spill over to other institutions."

The poorly disclosed financial influences referred to in Mr. Carlson's letter could have affected the entire Smithsonian, including its sub-division, the Renwick Gallery, which is funded by the public to study and create an accurate record of American decorative art — including glass and fiber art and craft.

[For further information on the issues referred to in all these articles, see also The LIBRARY section, where there are reviews of books covering this issue in great detail.]