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Scientists Respond to The New York Times

For the third time in three years, The New York Times has published an article by Nicholas Wade (12/20/10, 12/13/10, and again on February 18, 2013) that includes misrepresentations of the American Anthropological Association’s views on science, ethics, and the role of debate in the advancement of knowledge. Some have found their way into the recent article by Emily Eakin in The New York Times Magazine Section (2/17/13). In light of these misrepresentations, we present for the record the exact wording of core guiding documents of the Association.

The American Anthropological Association’s Statement of Purpose (Mission Statement) last amended in 1983 reads as follows: “The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects, through archeological, biological, ethnological and linguistic research; and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.”

The AAA’s Long Range Plan, revised April 22, 2011, states: “The American Anthropological Association will support the growth, advancement and application of anthropological science and interpretation through research, publication, and dissemination within a broad range of educational and research institutions as well as to the society at large.”

Furthermore, while AAA does not take sides in intellectual disputes among individual members, the Association remains committed to ethical practice and to robust debate about disciplinary ethics. The Long Range Plan states: “The AAA will reinforce and promote the values associated with the acquisition of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. This includes a commitment to the AAA Code of Ethics.” The new version of that code, now entitled AAA Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility, was released in 2012. The Statement reflects the multiyear efforts of two different working groups and an Association-wide discussion of draft versions. The final version was adopted by vote of the membership in 2012.

Finally, the Association continues to view lively debate as key to knowledge production. Disagreements about what is good science and what is bad science do not translate into an attack on science.

Indiana Jones is to Anthropology as Fred Flintstone is to Neolithic Life

Below is a copy of the Letter to the Editor of the New York Times Magazine by President Mullings in response to the recent article by Emily Eakin.

To the Editor,

While we recognize that the figure of Indiana Jones is attractive, it is about as useful for understanding anthropology as Fred Flintstone is for understanding life in the Neolithic. Your article perpetuates an outdated and narrow stereotype of our profession. The 11,000 members of the American Anthropological Association alone actually spend their time doing a vast array of things. Today’s anthropologists can be found in such diverse endeavors as leading the World Bank, designing health care for areas devastated by disaster, or researching  the causes of the 2008 recession or the deaths of 100 boys in a defunct reform school in Florida. The  representation of a field paralyzed by  debates about  ‘science, ’ vs. ‘advocacy ’ is similarly inaccurate, given the non-polarized ways most anthropologists today understand ‘science’, ‘advocacy’ and the nature of the field. The article also misses one of Napoleon Chagnon’s lasting legacies to our field: the reminder to engage in constant reflection about anthropological ethics. The American Anthropological Association recently did just that, releasing its new Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility in October 2012. Finally, we consider lively debate neither dangerous nor self-serving: it is a key to knowledge.

Leith Mullings
President
American Anthropological Association
Distinguished Professor
Graduate Center, City University of New York

Small Grant Award for Developing Ethics Curricular Materials Announced

On behalf of the American Anthropological Association, the Committee on Ethics (COE) is pleased to announce the Small Grant Award for Developing Ethics Curricular Materials has been made to Elisa J. Gordon, PhD MPH and her collaborator, David Perlman, PhD for their project, Research Ethics Learning Modules for Medical Anthropology and Ethnography.

Elisa J Gordon

Elisa J. Gordon, PhD MPH
Photo courtesy of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

The curriculum project will produce a series of self-paced, voice-over video slide shows in HTML5 with a Creative Commons copyright, making the learning modules free to the public. The modules will be hosted on the web, including Bioethics 2.0™ and Project Phobos™ websites. An instructor’s guide will provide additional guidance for incorporating the modules into existing curricula, with a bibliography of additional resources. The investigators have prior experience in bioethics education and developed a broad dissemination plan through professional association meetings and multiple internet venues.

David Perlman, PhD.Photo courtesy Penn Medical Center for Bioethics

David Perlman, PhD.
Photo courtesy Penn Medical Center for Bioethics

Drs. Gordon and Perlman will report on their work in the “Ethical Currents” column of the Anthropology News in the coming year.

The COE applauds this collaborative application for its attention to practical issues of research ethics, the conduct of anthropological research and mechanisms of regulatory oversight.

The COE is a standing committee of the AAA charged with advancing the theory and application of ethics to anthropological research and practice across the discipline.

Anthropologists Approve Comprehensive Overhaul of Ethics Code

After a five-year review process, members of the American Anthropological Association have approved a rigorous overhaul of their ethics code.  The code offers guidance to anthropologists as to how they should conduct themselves in professional and academic settings, in collecting and disseminating research data, and in their relationships with research subjects, colleagues and students.  The new document, titled “Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility,” strengthens the previous ethics code, adapts it to the digital age, and makes use of a fundamentally new format.  Members were given six weeks to vote on the code, which was approved by an overwhelming 93 percent of those who voted.

The first AAA ethics code was written in 1971, in response to controversies over the Vietnam War. Where previous AAA ethics codes resembled straightforward legal codes, the new Principles of Professional Responsibility take the form of a hyperlinked living document in a simple, user-friendly format.  While still offering guidance for ethical conduct in the form of general principles, the new document features embedded hypertext links to pertinent case study materials, reference documents, websites and articles. The Statement has a series of references after each defining principle to allow the readers to find further sources of information and data.  These resources give readers a richer sense of the context of the ethics code and of specific dilemmas anthropologists have faced in their work. Continue reading

Last Chance to Vote on Code of Ethics

Today is your last chance to vote on the revisions to the Code of Ethics.

Your vote will be whether or not to accept the 2012 Principles of Professional Responsibility (with the understanding that the text links to supporting or background materials are expected to be changed and updated over time).

In order to vote, you can login through the Account/Member Profile LOGIN area at the top of the page of the AAA website. You can access the AAA site (www.aaanet.org) using your favorite browser.  Once you login, you will see a VOTE NOW button. Click on it and you will be taken to the ballot where you can cast your vote. You can review the text of the statement on ethics by clicking on the details button on the ballot. If you have any difficulties or questions, please email us at ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org

Request for Proposals – Ethics Small Grant Program

Small Grants For Developing Ethics Curricular Materials

Goals of the Program
The AAA Small Grants Program seeks to foster the development and use of curricular materials for the teaching and communication of ethics and ethical practice across the discipline of anthropology. Administered by the AAA Committee on Ethics, this small grant program encourages the awareness of and innovation in ethics curricular materials used in introductory, undergraduate, and graduate classes. Proposals for the development of curricular materials in a variety of forms are welcome, including texts, films, blogs, websites, exhibits, and other innovative media forms.  The grant recipient(s) will have ten months to complete these new curricular materials, the results of which will be featured in the “Ethical Currents” column of the December issue of AN as well as on the AAA ethics blog, and highlighted at the Annual Meeting.

Eligibility
All members of the American Anthropological Association are eligible to apply. Please visit www.aaanet.org for details on joining the Association, dues and benefits of membership.

Proposals may request from $200 to $1,000 and must address a clearly-defined curricular material development project.  Note, the total budget allocation for this grant program for is $1000, thus proposals that include matching funds are encouraged. The Committee On Ethics reserves the right to subdivide funds between worthy applications; your proposal, therefore, may be funded in part or in whole. Please provide budget justification with this in mind. Continue reading

Cast Your Vote, AAA Members, on the Code of Ethics

Today’s special guest blog post is from AAA President, Leith Mullings.

Dear AAA Member:

After a five-year process, I am pleased to now ask you to vote on revisions to our association’s Code of Ethics. As many of you know, in 2005 the Executive Board (EB) set up the Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) to consider issues raised by efforts to recruit anthropologists to U.S. military and intelligence projects. At the 2007 business meeting, the AAA passed a resolution calling for restoration of four clauses in the 1971 Principles of Professional Responsibility to the AAA Code of Ethics. Subsequently, CEAUSSIC recommended a comprehensive review of the Code.

In 2009, the EB established an eight-person task force to undertake this review. The task force was selected to represent the concerns of all the subfields, academic and practicing anthropologists, anthropologists who consult with the military, as well as those who are critical of it. After extensive consultation, the task force submitted a revised Code to the EB in November 2011. The EB posted the new draft code on the association website and invited comments from the membership. Once the comment period closed on January 30, 2012, a representative subcommittee of the EB made revisions based on members’ comments. This document was then brought before the Executive Board in May, 2012. After extensive discussion and additional revisions the EB voted unanimously to accept the document that is now presented for your vote. In addition, the EB agreed that the 1971 title, “Principles of Professional Responsibility,” better represented the new document, which we also suggest can be referred to as a Statement on Ethics.

As my EB colleagues Hugh Gusterson (George Mason U) and Monica Heller (U Toronto) noted in the September 2012 AN, this version will be placed on the web, is considered to be a living document and has hyperlinks to key background texts, to which we expect members to contribute. Our intent is that the Committee on Ethics be stewards of this document, facilitating on-going discussion.

Your vote will be whether or not to accept the 2012 Principles of Professional Responsibility (with the understanding that the text links to supporting or background materials are expected to be changed and updated over time). The balloting will close on October 25. Many thanks to all of you who helped to create this document.

In order to vote, you can login through the Account/Member Profile LOGIN area at the top of the page of the AAA website. You can access the AAA site (www.aaanet.org) using your favorite browser.  Once you login, you will see a VOTE NOW button. Click on it and you will be taken to the ballot where you can cast your vote. You can review the text of the statement on ethics by clicking on the details button on the ballot. If you have any difficulties or questions, please email us at ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org

With best wishes,

Leith Mullings
AAA President

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