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Unformatted text preview: 9/26/07 Anthro 125 Snakes in Tombs: Archaeologists as Spies The question of morality in science has always been hotly debated. There are some who view scientists as the noblest followers of the noblest goal of all: the search for truth. Others view the pursuit of science as a career like any other, with opportunities for advancement, some of which may involve loosening one's morals. However, situations, even in science, are rarely as clear-cut as this distinction. These two viewpoints are expressed through the thoughts and actions of two famous archaeologists: Sylvanus Morley, who performed spy work in tandem with archaeological research, and Franz Boas, who published a letter exposing and denouncing Morley's espionage. Though Morley's actions can be considered unethical from a scientific perspective, Boas' reaction to Morley's doings was not purely as the result of his repulsion to Morley's compromise of his professional integrity. As an American archaeologist working in Central America during World War I, Sylvanus Morley was in a prime position to survey the Central American coastline for German U-boat outposts. After receiving a grant to perform research on lost Mayan temples in Honduras, Guatemala, and other Latin American regions, Morley volunteered his services to the Office of Naval Intelligence, the predecessor to the American Central Intelligence Agency (Harris and Sadler, 2003). The issue arises from the fact that Morley was allowed entry into Central America under the premise that he was a pure scientist, and was thus allegedly neutral in all political affairs. By reporting his activities and observations to American intelligence, Morley was effectively spying on Central America under cover as a non-politically biased researcher. By using deception to perform espionage on foreign nations, Morley was indeed, according to Boas, "prostituting science" (1919). Despite this fact, I feel that Morley's actions, though ethically unsound, were not deplorable. In times of war, any advantage over one's adversary is welcome, and Morley offered great service in scouting for German bases in Central America, which would have directly threatened American soil. In addition, the information relayed by Morley to ONI was much of the same information he planned to publish in scientific journals after completing his research (Harris and Sadler, 2003). Instead of directly interfering with affairs of state in foreign nations, Morley was giving Naval Intelligence the equivalent of an advance copy of his publication. Boas' argument fails not only in terms of the scope and nature of Morley's work, but also on the merits of his own professional history. Much of Franz Boas' research involved indigenous peoples of North America. One of the most fruitful methods of gaining knowledge about the history and culture of Native American tribes was the examination of burial sites and graves, which Boas carried out with the utmost zeal. At times, Boas was little more than a grave robber, exhuming the bodies of newly dead Native Americans, seeing them as little more than objects to be observed (Costura, 2007). The extreme lack of respect exhibited by Boas for the cultures of other peoples destabilizes his attack on Morley's ethical violations. With his letter, Boas exposes himself as a hypocrite who ignored the respect for the dead that is a component of the code of professional ethics for archaeologists. In addition to his already shaky moral ground, Boas' situation provided ample motivation to take such a strong stance against Morley. As a German-born American archaeologist, Boas would have certainly come under suspicion had Morley been exposed as an archaeologist-spy. The easiest way to avoid suspicion and possible discrimination for Boas was to publish a letter adamantly opposing Morley's actions in Central America. However, the existence of archaeologists doubling as spies was not generally known at the time, and Boas' article caught the public by surprise. In order to save himself from landing in trouble, Boas effectively exposed his colleagues as spies, thereby ensuring his safety while also jeopardizing the safety of every man in his field of study. Boas furthers his hypocrisy by proclaiming that Morley has "done the greatest possible disservice to scientific inquiry" (Boas, 1919), while it is in fact Boas who was endangering every archaeologist with his letter. Morley used illicit methods to better serve his country. On the other hand, Franz Boas' evocation against Morley was the moral opposite: a self-righteous damnation which was intended to better his own position. As Price notes, the American Anthropological Association saw Morley's actions as "`abuse' of his professional position for political ends" (2000), and thus censured him from their governing council. Had his record and motives been immaculate, Boas' written tirade against Morley would have been seen as a fiery condemnation of Morley's deed and a staunch defense of the purity of science. However, Boas was not a perfect scientist himself. Neither Morley nor Boas was completely innocent in this affair. Morley gave up part of his scientific integrity and risked his relationships with Central American powers to serve his country, while Boas claimed to uphold the power of truth in science, while at the same time using Morley's situation to help himself and hinder his colleagues. Sylvanus Morley's actions as a spy did violate science's code of ethics, but Franz Boas' reaction to Morley was the greater of two evils, in that it was driven by personal motivation rather than nationalistic sentiments. CITED LITERATURE Boas, Franz. 1919. "Correspondence: Scientists as Spies." in The Nation. Volume 190. p. 797. Costura, Daniel. 2007. Personal Communication. September 19, 2007. Price, David. 2000. "Anthropologists as Spies." in The Nation. Volume 271, No. 16. p.24. Harris, Charles H., and Louis R. Sadler. 2003. The Archaeologist Was a Spy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/16/2008 for the course ANTHR 125 taught by Professor Costura,daniel during the Fall '07 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).
- Fall '07