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Harvard Anthropologist Honored by Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency

The Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University recently announced that it current Director, Theodore C. Bestor, received the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Award for the Promotion of Japanese Culture from the Agency of Cultural Affairs in Japan.  The Agency of Cultural Affairs is a special body of the of the Japanese Ministry of Education, established in 1968 to promote Japanese arts and culture. Dr. Bestor is the twelfth person to receive the honor.

Help AAA Contribute to Huffington Post

HuffPost AAA Home Have you read Past President, Alan Goodman’s recent Huffington Post piece – Biophobia Not. Biology and Science in Anthropology?

AAA has a contributing relationship with The Huffington Post. AAA members are encouraged to contribute to this unique relationship. Blog posts should be written geared toward a public audience; a conversational, informal style is ideal. News-driven, topical posts perform best on the site. The post should be 500-8000 words in length. If you are interested in contributing a blog post for the Huffington Post, please contact Joslyn (josten@aaanet.org).

To submit a blog post please submit the following information via e-mail to Joslyn at josten@aaanet.org:

  • Name
  • Author biosketch (this will appear at the bottom of the article)
  • Title
  • Blog post of 500-800 words
  • Section the post should be categorized in (see list of Huffington Post sections by clicking “All Sections” on the menu bar)
  • Images are welcome (must be .jpg and a maximum of 500 pixels wide)

AAA reserves the right to refuse submitted posts or multimedia content for both the AAA blog and its contribution to the Huffington Post. Items submitted to the Huffington Post are subject to the Huffington Post editorial process. Huffington Post editors will determine to post or refuse the content. This process can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks.

Click here for details.

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

Science, Advocacy and Anthropology

By Leith Mullings, Monica Heller, Ed Liebow and Alan Goodman


Do you remember the arcade game ‘Whack-a-Mole’? Plastic animals pop up at random from their holes in a table’s surface. The player bashes them back into their holes with a rubber mallet. As the pace picks up, initial delight is replaced by a growing sense of futility. Every time a mole is whacked back into its hole, another pops up somewhere else. The debate about whether science and advocacy are inimical is starting to feel like this.

It has popped up again in this week’s New York Times Magazine in reference to our discipline, anthropology. Contrary to some loudly voiced claims, both advocacy and science are (and long have been) at the core of our discipline. At the same time, of course, both continually raise important ethical questions requiring continued conversation, examination and debate; indeed, the American Anthropological Association recently approved a new statement on professional responsibilities. They both also require a commitment to good scholarship, and to lively but civil scholarly debate, in which arguments are considered persuasive because of a consistent body of evidence whose reliability and validity inspire confidence, not because of exceptional circumstances presented in a made-for-the-movies sensational fashion. (see also Professor Elizabeth Povinelli’s review of Noble Savages).

Let us use the problem of ‘race’ to illustrate the complex relationship between what counts as good or bad science, and significance of advocacy in anthropology. Our modern discipline’s origins are derived directly from an uncritical acceptance of, as well as a critical response to overt 19th and early 20th century ‘scientific racism.’ ‘Science’ legitimated prejudice and bigotry, holding that races were genetically separate and hierarchically ranked, and thus rationalizing slavery, Jim Crow laws and even genocide. And lest we think that ‘scientific racism’ is some archaic relic that was driven out of the public conversation, one need only consult the more recent arguments of authors such as Herrnstein, Murray, Rushton, Jensen, and Lynn.

In an attempt to bring sounder evidence to the debate, our Association’s current Race Project draws from all fields of anthropology and provides a modern, and eminently scholarly, understanding of race, casting a critical eye on race and racism through the lenses of history, science, and lived experience. The project, and the book that accompanies it, RACE: Are We So Different?, is also a form of advocacy, raising public awareness about how human variation differs from the popular, and sometimes even academic, notions of race. It argues, specifically, that 1) race is a recent human invention, 2) popular ideas about race emerge from history and culture, not biology, and 3) race and racism are embedded in institutions and everyday life.

The more general point is that at the very core of our discipline are commitments to the best of science and the best of advocacy. Advocacy suggests at minimum an ethical position to try to protect and better the lives of the individuals we work with, in particular those who are without access to power. Science stands for prediction (based on current understanding), followed by systematic observation and analysis and then, usually, revised understanding. But there is something more: we recognize that science is a practice that is undertaken in a social context, and as such it can be limited by the social hierarchies of its time, creating burdens and benefits, winners and losers. To have this awareness is not ‘anti-science.’ Indeed, it offers the sort of tough love of science that all responsible scientists ought to share. And every time the debate about ‘science’ versus ‘advocacy’ re-emerges, we cannot but hope that our discipline’s lengthy track record of critically embracing science can show that the debate itself is based on false premises.
We’d love to put an end to the futility of the science versus advocacy version of “Whack a mole” so we can focus on quality anthropological work for the public good.

Leith Mullings is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and President of the AAA.

Monica Heller is Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and Vice President and President-Elect of the AAA.

Ed Liebow is the Executive Director of the AAA.

Alan Goodman is Professor of Biological Anthropology at Hampshire College, and a Past President of the AAA.

Letter to the Editor of Forbes Magazine

Below is a copy of the Letter to the Editor of  Forbes by AAA President Leith Mullings:

October 31, 2012

Editor
Forbes Magazine
60 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10011-8868

To the Editor:

The American Anthropological Association read with concern Forbes’ recent article entitled “The 10 Worst College Majors.” Concluding that anthropology/archeology is “the worst choice of college major in economic terms” because other undergraduate majors earn a higher salary at graduation is less like comparing apples to oranges than comparing aardvarks to toaster ovens.

First, an undergraduate degree is sufficient to be credentialed as, say, a professional engineer, but professional anthropologists/archeologists require a graduate degree for most entry-level positions. Anthropologists/archeologists with those credentials have a much better than average job outlook, with a 50% higher than average growth in jobs between 2010-2020 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Further, many business, law and medical schools encourage applicants to obtain an undergraduate degree in anthropology as good preparation for their programs.

Assessing whether contexts for comparison are equivalent is one of the skills anthropologists teach, and the American Anthropological Association regrets that it is one Forbes has not learned.

Sincerely,

Leith Mullings

President
American Anthropological Association

Calling All Anthropologists: We Need a Photo of You!

The American Anthropological Association seeks photos of anthropologists in “the field” for use in the new website, This is Anthropology. We hope to collect a wide variety of images of anthropologists in action who represent the breadth of our field and the diversity of our discipline.

K Fine-Dare interviewing Pablo Gomez Semanate at family festival, Barrio San Enrique de Velasco, 2009. Photo courtesy Byron Dare.*

Submission Details

  • We seek photos that primarily feature an anthropologist, although other additional individuals present in the photo are allowable if the submitter has permission to use the image in this way.
  • Photos should be in .JPG or .TIFF format. We recommend submitting high-resolution images, up to 5MB.
  • Photos can be submitted online at: http://www.aaanet.org/customcf/anthro_pics/index.cfm.
  • The deadline for consideration is 5pm on Friday, July 27, 2012.

About the New Site

This is Anthropology, designed primarily for a lay audience of students and parents, features information about anthropology, about anthropological careers, the skills we use and how to become an anthropologist. It also features the ability for anthropologists themselves to make profiles and use an interactive map to list projects, affiliations and the schools they attended.

Questions:

Please contact Jason Miller at jemille3@mail.usf.edu.

*This select photo and a corresponding article were published in Anthropology News (52:5), official newspaper of the American Anthropological Association.

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