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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.

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

Last Call for Comment on AAA’s Posted Draft Code of Ethics

Today is the last day to review the posted Code of Ethics and submit your comments to the subcommittee charged to review the draft code. E-mail ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org to share your comments.

Please Review the Proposed Code of Ethics

Just a reminder – you, the membership at large, are invited to review the posted draft Code of Ethics, and submit your comments by January 30, 2012 to ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org for the subcommittee to consider.  Your input is crucial to this process, and we thank you for your dedication to our association.

In the event you missed it, here’s the background of this revision process:

At the 2011 AAA Annual Meeting recently held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, the AAA Executive Board (EB) voted to receive a draft revision of the AAA’s Code of Ethics as revised by the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review. The EB also passed a resolution thanking the task force and its chair, Dena Plemmons, for all of their hard work. Beginning in early 2009, the Task Force was commissioned to review the Code of Ethics and consult extensively with relevant AAA committees and commissions, the Section Assembly, the membership at large and other interested parties. The Task Force finished its review in October 2011.

After receiving the draft, the EB appointed a subcommittee to review the draft code which is currently available for review on the AAA website. The subcommittee is chaired by Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller, and members include Hugh Gusterson, Jean Schensul, Ida Susser, Vilma Santiago, Deb Martin, Sandra Lopez Varela and AAA President Leith Mullings (ex-officio). The subcommittee will present its recommendation to the Executive Board at its May meeting.

Review of the Proposed Code of Ethics – Deadline Approaching

The January 30th deadline to review the posted draft code of ethics and submit your comments is quickly approaching.

At the 2011 AAA Annual Meeting recently held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, the AAA Executive Board (EB) voted to receive a draft revision of the AAA’s Code of Ethics as revised by the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review. The EB also passed a resolution thanking the task force and its chair, Dena Plemmons, for all of their hard work. Beginning in early 2009, the Task Force was commissioned to review the Code of Ethics and consult extensively with relevant AAA committees and commissions, the Section Assembly, the membership at large and other interested parties. The Task Force finished its review in October 2011.

After receiving the draft, the EB appointed a subcommittee to review the draft code which is currently available for review on the AAA website. The subcommittee is chaired by Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller, and members include Hugh Gusterson, Jean Schensul, Ida Susser, Vilma Santiago, Deb Martin, Sandra Lopez Varela and AAA President Leith Mullings (ex-officio). The subcommittee will present its recommendation to the Executive Board at its May meeting.

We invite you, the membership at large to review the posted code, and submit your comments by January 30, 2012 to ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org for the subcommittee to consider.  Your input is crucial to this process, and we thank you for your dedication to our association.

Review of the Proposed Code of Ethics

At the 2011 AAA Annual Meeting recently held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, the AAA Executive Board (EB) voted to receive a draft revision of the AAA’s Code of Ethics as revised by the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review. The EB also passed a resolution thanking the task force and its chair, Dena Plemmons, for all of their hard work. Beginning in early 2009, the Task Force was commissioned to review the Code of Ethics and consult extensively with relevant AAA committees and commissions, the Section Assembly, the membership at large and other interested parties. The Task Force finished its review in October 2011.

After receiving the draft, the EB appointed a subcommittee to review the draft code which is currently available for review on the AAA website. The subcommittee is chaired by Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller, and members include Hugh Gusterson, Jean Schensul, Ida Susser, Vilma Santiago, Deb Martin, Sandra Lopez Varela and AAA President Leith Mullings (ex-officio). The subcommittee will present its recommendation to the Executive Board at its May meeting.

We invite you, the membership at large to review the posted code, and submit your comments by January 30, 2012 to ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org for the subcommittee to consider.  Your input is crucial to this process, and we thank you for your dedication to our association.

The Proposed Code of Ethics – Please Review

At the 2011 AAA Annual Meeting recently held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, the AAA Executive Board (EB) voted to receive a draft revision of the AAA’s Code of Ethics as revised by the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review. The EB also passed a resolution thanking the task force and its chair, Dena Plemmons, for all of their hard work. Beginning in early 2009, the Task Force was commissioned to review the Code of Ethics and consult extensively with relevant AAA committees and commissions, the Section Assembly, the membership at large and other interested parties. The Task Force finished its review in October 2011.

After receiving the draft, the EB appointed a subcommittee to review the draft code which is currently available for review on the AAA website. The subcommittee is chaired by Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller, and members include Hugh Gusterson, Jean Schensul, Ida Susser, Vilma Santiago, Deb Martin, Sandra Lopez Varela and AAA President Leith Mullings (ex-officio). The subcommittee will present its recommendation to the Executive Board at its May meeting.

We invite you, the membership at large to review the posted code, and submit your comments by January 30, 2012 to ethicsfeedback@aaanet.org for the subcommittee to consider.  Your input is crucial to this process, and we thank you for your dedication to our association.

AAA Code of Ethics in Review

Have you reviewed AAA’s complete draft Code of Ethics? AAA members have until Saturday, September 3rd to review and comment on the draft Code of Ethics. Visit the Ethics Task Force tab at the top of this blog page for complete commentary and draft stages of this Code of Ethics review.  Be sure to share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment for the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review.

Click here to review the draft to the existing Code of Ethics.

Draft AAA Code of Ethics Compared With Existing Code

KEY:

2009 Code in Times New Roman, black (with an exception, explained below)

Draft code in Calibri in red

To facilitate the work of the task force, we’ve decided to produce a side by side comparison document with the new draft code of ethics provisions and the latest (2009) version of the code. The 2009 code is presented in its current order in black. Each section of the current code is followed, where appropriate, by the draft code revisions in red (with the draft principle named in parentheses after the text).  Where necessary/useful, particular pieces of the draft code corresponding to specific text in the current code is underlined and bolded.

Where text in the current code has not been explicitly / evidently reiterated in the draft code, that text is in blue and italics.

The preamble, the introduction, and the epilogue are not included here; the Task Force continues work on those sections. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Continue reading

Complete Draft Principles Released by Ethics Task Force

The task force wants to take this opportunity to thank all the members, both as individuals and as representatives of and participants on AAA committees and sections, for your thoughtful engagement with this process of drafting principles for a new code of ethics over these past several months. These principles can now be reviewed and discussed as a whole by the AAA membership to examine whether this complete draft document adequately and coherently addresses key areas and concerns of anthropological practice.

During this process, we have reflected on what it is that a Code is supposed to do for its members. One purpose is to state clearly that anthropologists are responsible for engaging in an on-going process of ethical thinking and practice that grapples with dilemmas that necessarily emerge in conducting research and other aspects of our professional lives. Another is to assist faculty members and their students in teaching and learning about ethical dimensions and laying foundations on which anthropologists can continue to build throughout their careers. A third is to be of real value to anthropologists in the actual contexts in which they make ethical decisions. Finally, this framework must be flexible enough to adapt to diverse circumstances and adjust to the wide range of contexts of anthropological practices, while providing core principles informing ethical practice in real-world situations.

Our sense is that a new Code can more squarely address the third and fourth challenges, but only if seen as one resource among many. No code or set of principles or guidelines can anticipate every unique circumstance of practice, nor dictate direct actions in specific situations; instead the draft principles presented here are meant to provide a preliminary place to start the ethical decision-making process. Persons using the Code as a guideline are encouraged to seek out additional resources to help make manifest the principles in the code, including examples of the sorts of problems that anthropologists currently face and discussions as to how to approach them; such examples will eventually be available through the AAA Website. This Code of Ethical Practice affirms that anthropologists are responsible for making carefully considered ethical choices and are prepared to make clear the assumptions, facts and issues on which those choices are based.

The principles were initially released one at a time for several reasons.  First and foremost was to allow members to focus on each individual principle in turn; we wanted to encourage deliberate and substantive discussion on the merits of each as a meaningful and relevant principle on its own. Second, the work of the Task Force itself was — and remains —  ongoing, with additional meetings and discussions scheduled throughout the remainder of the year until we submit the final report to the Executive Board in November.  Finally, this was meant to be part of an iterative process in which ongoing discussion by the membership would determine both how each draft principle should be revised and how many additional principles might be needed to adequately address the concerns identified from discussion by the membership.

The Task Force invites your comments and suggestions on these draft principles through the end of August. We will then take all member comments and concerns and continue working on these principles, as well as crafting the preamble and introductory sections, and compiling other resources to help contextualize these guidelines.

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Do no harm

Anthropologists share a primary ethical obligation to avoid doing harm to the lives, communities or environments they study or that may be impacted by their work.  This includes not only the avoidance of direct and immediate harm but implies an obligation to weigh carefully the future consequences and impacts of an anthropologist’s work on others.  This primary obligation can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge and can lead to decisions not to undertake or to discontinue a project. Avoidance of harm is a primary ethical obligation, but determining harms and their avoidance in any given situation may be complex.

While anthropologists welcome work benefiting others or increasing the well-being of individuals or communities, determinations regarding what is in the best interests of others or what kinds of efforts are appropriate to increase well-being are complex and value-laden and should reflect sustained discussion with those concerned.  Such work should reflect deliberate and thoughtful consideration of both potential unintended consequences and long-term impacts on individuals, communities, identities, tangible and intangible heritage and environments.

Balance competing ethical obligations due collaborators and affected parties

Anthropology is an inherently social enterprise, whether in terms of teaching, inquiry, or professional practice.

Anthropologists develop collaborative and often interdependent relationships with, among others, research participants, students, professional colleagues, employers and funders.

These varying relationships may create conflicting, competing or crosscutting ethical obligations, reflecting both the relative vulnerabilities of different individuals, communities or populations, asymmetries of power implicit in a range of relationships, and the differing ethical frameworks of collaborators representing other disciplines or areas of practice.

Anthropologists have an obligation to distinguish the different kinds of interdependencies and collaborations their work involves, and to consider the real and potential ethical dimensions of these diverse and sometimes contradictory relationships, which may be different in character or change over time.  When conflicts between ethical standards or expectations arise, anthropologists should make explicit their ethical obligations, and negotiate an ethical approach. Recognizing that anthropologists work in diverse settings and that research projects are shaped by anthropologists and their collaborators, nevertheless anthropologists remain individually responsible for making ethical decisions.

Collaborations may be defined and understood quite differently by the various participants. The scope of collaboration, rights of the various parties, and issues of credit, acknowledgment and data access should be openly and fairly established at the outset.  Collaborations normally involve compromise, and anthropologists must be sensitive to relationships of power and whether such compromise is freely given.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Be open and honest regarding your work. Make your results accessible.

Anthropologists should be clear and open regarding the purpose, methods, outcomes, and sponsors of their work. Anthropologists must also be prepared to acknowledge and disclose to participants and collaborators all tangible and intangible interests that have, or may reasonably be perceived to have, an impact on their work.

Transparency, like informed consent, is a process that involves both making principled decisions prior to beginning the research and encouraging participation, engagement, and open debate throughout its course. Achieving transparency should not conflict with the primary obligation to avoid harm to the individuals, communities, environments, or resources being studied.

In general the results of anthropological research should be made freely available, except in cases where restricted dissemination serves to protect the confidentiality, privacy, safety, and/or dignity of participants, and/or protect cultural heritage or tangible or intangible cultural or intellectual property.  Dissemination of the results of anthropological research to the participants is expected; however, when sharing results with participants is deemed to be inappropriate the reasons must be clearly explained as part of the consent process so that all involved are aware of any reasonable limitations prior to consent.

Research that by design does not allow the anthropologist to know the full scope or purpose of a project (i.e. compartmentalized research ) is ethically problematic, since by definition the anthropologist cannot communicate transparently with participants, nor ensure fully informed consent.  Researchers who mislead participants about the nature of the research and/or its sponsors; who omit significant information that might bear on a participant’s decision to engage in the research; or who otherwise engage in clandestine or secretive research that manipulates or deceives research participants about the sponsorship, purpose, goals or implications of the research, are not fulfilling basic requirements for openness, honesty, transparency and fully informed consent.

Balance the responsibility to disseminate with its potential consequences

The results of anthropological research are complex, subject to multiple interpretations and susceptible to differing and unintended uses. Anthropologists conduct research in order to expand our understanding of lives, histories, cultures, and communities. Thus a general goal is communication of new knowledge in a timely fashion. However, anthropologists have an ethical obligation to consider the potential impact of both their research and the communication or dissemination of the results of their research. Anthropologists should consider this issue prior to beginning research and throughout the research process. Explicit negotiation about dissemination and data access with sponsors/clients may be necessary before deciding whether to begin research.

Anthropologists should not normally withhold research results from research participants when those results are shared with others. There are circumstances, however, where restrictions on disclosure may be appropriate and ethical, such as where participants have been fully informed and have freely agreed to limited dissemination.  In some situations  other kinds of limited dissemination may be appropriate where such restrictions will protect the safety, dignity, or privacy of participants; or protect cultural heritage and/or tangible or intangible cultural or intellectual property.  Proprietary, classified or other research with limited distribution raises complex ethical questions which must be resolved using these ethical principles. Anthropologists must weigh the intended uses of their research and work to evaluate potential uses of their research and the impact of its dissemination now and in the future.

Limited dissemination poses significant risks.  There may be equally great risks associated with dissemination itself.  Once information is disseminated, even in a limited sphere, there is great likelihood that it will become widely available. Thus, anthropologists should consider situations where preventing dissemination may be the most ethical step.

Informed consent is a dynamic, continuous and reflexive process

Anthropological researchers working with living human communities should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied.  The degree and breadth of informed consent may be influenced by the nature of the project and its setting. Minimally, informed consent would include sharing with potential participants, in an understandable form, the research goals, methods, funding sources or sponsors, expected outcomes, and anticipated impacts as well as establishing expectations of anonymity or credit. Researchers must present to research participants the possible impacts of participation, and make clear that despite their best efforts, anonymity may be compromised or outcomes may differ from those anticipated.

Consent must be freely given, and anthropologists must be sensitive to circumstances in which consent may not be truly voluntary or informed. In the event that the research changes in ways that will directly affect the participants, forms of participation should be revisited and consent renegotiated. The informed consent process is necessarily dynamic and continuous; the process should be initiated as part of project design and continue through implementation as an ongoing dialogue and negotiation with those studied. Informed consent does not necessarily imply or require a particular written or signed form. It is the quality of the consent not its format that is relevant.

Protect and preserve your records

Anthropologists have an ethical responsibility for ensuring the integrity, preservation and protection of their work.  An anthropologist’s  ability to protect and use the materials collected may be contingent upon complex issues of ownership and stewardship.

Researchers have an ethical responsibility to take precautions that collected data and materials will not be used for ends other than those specified at the time the data were collected.  These issues are not always clear at the time of data collection, but the researcher is responsible for considering and communicating all likely or foreseeable uses of a subject’s datasets as part of the process of informed consent or obtaining permission. Researchers are also responsible for consulting with research participants regarding their views of generation, use and preservation of research records.  This includes informing research participants whether data and materials might be transferred to or accessed by other parties; how they might be transformed or used to identify participants; and how they will be stored and how long they will be preserved.

Researchers should use appropriate methods to ensure the confidentiality and security of field notes, recordings, samples or other primary data and the identities of participants. Ethical decisions regarding the preservation of research materials must balance obligations to maintain data integrity with responsibilities to protect research participants against future impacts. Given the multiple constituencies for and new uses that are often made of anthropological research, such as by heritage communities, the interests of preservation ordinarily outweigh the potential benefits of destroying materials for preserving confidentiality. Researchers generating object collections have a responsibility to ensure the preservation and accessibility of the resulting materials and/or results of analyzed samples, including associated documentation.

In the absence of other agreements or obligations, an anthropologist is presumed to own her/his notes and records, and has an ethical responsibility to ensure their integrity and continued accessibility after the anthropologist’s death.  Other factors (source of funding, employment agreements, or negotiated agreements with collaborators, among others) may impact ownership of records.  Anthropologists should determine record ownership relating to each project and make appropriate arrangements accordingly as a standard part of ethical practice.  Researchers should be aware that records may be subject to legal claim based on applicable laws and jurisdictions.

 

There is an ethical dimension to all our professional relationships.

Whether they work in academic or applied settings, anthropologists should strive to maintain respectful relationships with colleagues. In mentoring students, interacting with colleagues, working with clients, or supervising staff, anthropologists should comport themselves in ways that promote a supportive and sustainable workplace environment.

In their capacity as researchers, anthropologists are subject to the ethical principles guiding all scientific and scholarly conduct. They should not fabricate evidence, plagiarize the work of others, or otherwise knowingly misrepresent information. They should also be alert to the potential of bias to compromise the integrity of anthropological work. When they see evidence of research misconduct, they are obligated to report it. They should not obstruct the scholarly efforts of others when they are carried out responsibly.

In their role as teachers and mentors, anthropologists should provide instruction on the ethical responsibilities associated with every aspect of anthropological work. They should facilitate, and encourage their students to engage in, dialogue on ethical issues, and discourage their participation in ethically questionable projects. Anthropologists should publicly acknowledge student contributions to their research and writing, and compensate students justly for any assistance they provide. They should give students appropriate credit for the authorship of their ideas, and encourage the publication of worthy student work.

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