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President Obama Supports Scientific Integrity of Anthropology

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA President Leith Mullings.

As an anthropologist and President of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), I was especially gratified to hear President Barack Obama acknowledge the discipline of anthropology and support its scientific integrity.  In a speech at the 150th Anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama said:

 (Pablo Martinez Monsivais – AP)

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais – AP)

And it’s not just resources. I mean, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.

Nearly 100 anthropologists are members of the National Academy of Sciences, many of whom are among the 12,500 active members of the AAA. In an era in which some members of Congress are attempting to undermine the peer-review process and academic freedom in research, it is heartening to have the support of the President on these important issues.

I look forward to the President’s continued support for the critical contributions anthropologists make to the understanding of human kind in all of its aspects.

Economic Anthropologists Join World’s Largest Professional Anthropology Association

SEA LogoThe American Anthropological Association (AAA) is pleased to announce that the Society for Economic Anthropology (SEA) has merged with the AAA. The merger of the two groups became official on March 13 of this year, and former SEA members will now form a new section within the AAA, the Society for Economic Anthropology.

 In December, 2012, the membership of the American Anthropological Association voted to incorporate the Society for Economic Anthropology. In May of last year, SEA President, Katherine Browne formally proposed a merger of the two organizations by which SEA would cease to exist as a separate corporation and be folded into AAA as an unincorporated section of the association.

The SEA is a group of anthropologists, economists and other scholars who are interested in the connections between social and economic life.. In presenting the vote to with members, AAA President Leith Mullings noted, “This merger presents an opportunity for the AAA to expand its reach across an interdisciplinary and international spectrum, affirming the unique insights of a four field tradition”. Other benefits include the acquisition of a highly respected publication

The merger converts the highly respected SEA monograph series into a peer-reviewed journal, Economic Anthropology, to launch in January 2014 as the newest publication in the AAA publishing portfolio. Economic Anthropology expands the AAA’s coverage of issues that connect social and economic anthropology. The journal is devoted to publishing scholarship concerned with economic aspects of local and global life such as “urbanization”, “inequality” and “social change.” Economic Anthropology will also publish scholarship that addresses interconnections between scales of micro and macro study, and transformations in domains that include economic realities.

As a new AAA section, SEA will continue to offer its three prizes, the Halperin Memorial Fund, the Harold Schneider Prize, and the SEA Book Prize.  The SEA Rhoda Halperin Memorial Fund is a competitive annual prize awarded to three Ph.D. students in anthropology who demonstrate the late Dr. Halperin’s love of economic anthropology and her concern for people living on the margins. Students engaged in economic research focused on social exclusion and poverty are provided small dissertation research grants ($1,000) to help them develop their topics and proposals, and subsequent travel money ($500) to present their findings at the Society for Economic Anthropology annual spring conference. The Harold K. Schneider Prize Competition is an annual student paper competition established by the Society for Economic Anthropology to honor its first president and to encourage new scholars in the field of economic anthropology. The SEA Book Prize is awarded every two years to recognize the single best publication in the field of economic anthropology.

This new AAA section will also continue to hold an annual conference each spring. The 2013 SEA Annual Meeting will be held at Washington University in St. Louis, MO from April 11-14. This year’s conference brings together researchers from all fields of anthropology as well as other social sciences to present and discuss research that engages with the broad theme of inequality.

SEA President Browne, a professor of anthropology at Colorado State University, is excited for this shift within the society. “Thanks to the support and resources of the AAA, this merger prepares the way for our beloved SEA to expand its scholarly reach and visibility, and to connect to a broader public. We could not be more pleased about our new status” Browne notes.

AAA is pleased to welcome the Society for Economic Anthropology as one of its 40 sections.

Action Needed As American Diggers Goes International

As the Spike TV show American Diggers goes international, AAA Executive Board Member, Sandra L. Lopez Varela has a special request in today’s guest blog post.

The American Anthropological Association is supporting the petition of our fellow Spanish archaeologists to stop the airing of “Un Tesoro Bajo Tus Pies”, through Discovery MAX: http://www.change.org/es/peticiones/discovery-max-que-se-retire-el-programa-un-tesoro-bajo-tus-pies

This television series is the translated version into Spanish of “American Diggers”, produced by Spike TV, and that the AAA, along with other professional organizations, strongly opposed to, back in March of this year, as it wrongly represents archaeology as a treasure-seeking adventure. Committed to the scientific stewardship of the past, the AAA has sent letters to the corporate and international management of Discovery Enterprises inviting them to follow up the example given by National Geographic Channel and to initiate a similar dialogue with professional associations and archaeologists to promote an educated depiction of archaeology. But above all, the AAA has expressed its deep concerns about the potential looting and subsequent illegal trade that Discovery Communications are promoting around the world by airing “American Diggers” internationally, through their affiliated sister networks. We invite you to support this initiative and increase the voices expressing that the content of “American Diggers” is contrary to the ethics of archaeological practice.

Sandra L. Lopez Varela, Ph.D., RPA
Archaeology Seat, Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association

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

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

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.


Leith Mullings

American Anthropological Association


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