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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.

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 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.

American Anthropological Association Request for Proposals – Ethics Small Grant Program

Purpose

The goal of the AAA Small Grants Program is 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 details on the 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.

Conflict of Interest Statement

All CoE award committees follow NSF guidelines regarding potential conflict of interest between applicants and reviewers.

Deadline

The deadline for proposals is November 1, 2011.  Please send proposals, acceptable in the following format only, and questions about the program via email to laradeeb@gmail.com in advance of the deadline.

Proposal Format

1. Application Cover Page should include the name, organization/department, address, phone number, and AAA membership number of the applicant, the title of the project, and the total amount in the requested budget.

2. Summary or Abstract (1/2 page) Present a brief summary of the entire proposal.

3. Project Description, including timeline (two pages) The project description should address the following questions: (a) What is the new curricular material to be developed? (Provide detail on form, content, and development strategies and intended audiences — including the potential involvement of undergraduate or graduate students and the broader public). (b) What is the curricular lacuna(e) that this new material will fill?  (c) How will this new material address the specificities of anthropological ethics?  (d) How will this new material be disseminated, in addition to a write-up in AN and on the ethics blog?  (e) What is the timeline for the production of this new material?

4. Summation of Applicant’s CV (2 pages maximum)

5. Budget Explanation (approx. 1/2 page) Provide justification for the budget and any additional information to help the review committee understand how calculations were made. Explain any unusual line items in the budget. If the requested grant amount will not cover all project expenses, please indicate the other sources of funding. You may also identify other contributions in this section, such as your time, resources of your department, equipment and other materials.

Grant Timeline

The successful applicant(s) will be notified in December 2011 and the grant awarded in January 2012.  The new curricular material must be completed by November 1, 2012.  A final report (1 page) is to be submitted to Committee on Ethics Chair Lara Deeb <laradeeb@gmail.com> by December 1, 2012.  The successful applicant is also responsible for providing a write-up about the new curricular material for the “Ethical Currents” column of the December 2012 issue of AN as well as providing additional content and links for the AAA ethics blog.

Latest Draft Principle from Ethics Task Force Posted

The Ethics Task Force has posted the latest draft principle for member review and comment. Here is a special message from the Task Force:

As a reminder, the task force has been asked to undertake a thorough review of our current code of ethics, and to suggest revisions. We have begun a process of drafting revisions, and are asking for your involvement in that process.

When reading through the postings, please keep in mind: rather than incorporating all of the complexities and areas of concern — as well as all the unique concerns and situations particular to a given subdiscipline or context of anthropological practice — into a single document, we are seeking to identify broad principles applicable to all anthropologists, principles which will be supported by layers of additional resources–explanatory text, examples from different contexts or areas of practice, case studies, and resources from other disciplines. We are asking for your involvement in drafting and refining these principles. We want to use your comments and suggestions to both revise the principles as appropriate and to help us determine if we’ve captured the concerns of the members, on the one hand, and the demands placed on the code on the other.

As you read through our blog postings over the next several months, please:
   1. carefully read each principle as it is posted to the blog, paying attention to the content  and thinking about its relevance to your practice
   2. make relevant comments and suggestions on the blog site in a timely manner.  Feel free to share personal stories, case examples, competing interpretations, etc.
   3. pay attention to the ongoing conversations about the principles and do background reading if you are late to join the discussion of a particular topic

Thank you for being part of this important discussion.

-The Task Force

Click here to view the latest draft principle: Protect and Preserve Your Records. To view previous draft principles, click here.

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