The American Anthropological Association is severing its ties with science. This was the top article listed in the science section of the NYTimes today, and frankly as someone who is going to be graduating with a B.S in Biological Anthropology I'm feeling quite abandoned by the AAA.
So what's going on here? The AAA still considers anthropology a science, but is seeking to be more welcoming to non-science related research. However, this move is a clear blow against science related anthropology. Nicholas Wade, who authored the NYTimes piece described it as, "The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines...and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights."
For anyone who is unfamiliar with anthropology it's the study of human beings, and it's split into four sub-disciplines: cultural anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical/biological anthropology. For me, I study human evolution and I'm interested in continuing onto grad school to study paleoanthropology. I have no interest in living peoples whatsoever (no offense), but does this make me less of an anthropologist?
I'm firmly sticking by the fact that what I'm studying is a science. Two articles featured on the AAA website are "Anthropology without Science" and "No Science Please. We're Anthropologists" which were both negative responses to this move.
Have cultural anthropologists suddenly shunned the scientific method when approaching their observations and setting up their research plans? Have they dropped use of statistics? Is social science not science? Science is still in anthropology, and to drop the term from mission statement is ridiculous. If the AAA truly wants to create greater public awareness and understanding, they can't sweep half the field under a rug.
This move fails to resolve any tension described above by Wade. Instead it fosters even more. For me, seeing the NYTimes headline was heartbreaking. It makes me feel as if I am a minority within my own field, confirming what I have noticed in school in which general anthropology (cultural) is a very popular major, and biological anthropology is literally unheard of.
I will not be joining the AAA. I would join the SAS (Society for Anthropological Sciences) gladly, because even though it is smaller I would be around like-minded individuals. Why would I pay dues to an organization that has quite publicly denounced what I do? Anthropology is dividing, and not quietly. I am entering a field in relative turmoil but at least I know exactly where I stand.
Anthropology, whether some anthropologists like it or not, uses science in it's most basic definition. Merriam Webster's definition of science reads, "The state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding." Isn't anthropology seeking to understand humans and their behaviors, rituals, traditions through observation and other methods?
The AAA can only represent our field to the public after they have gotten over their own self-denial and ignorance.
I realize these are big words for an undergraduate but part of my reasons for undertaking this blog was to foster accessible public information on evolution. I plan on going into some sort of public education in the future (since American attitudes are so poor on evolutionary sciences) whether through broadcast, web based mediums, or museum exhibition. The AAA wants to increase public understanding of humankind instead of promoting anthropology as a science, but science is one of the greatest tools for understanding humankind.
Wade, N. Anthropology a Science? The Expert's Disagree. 9/12/10 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/science/10anthropology.html?_r=1&hpw
Long-Range Plan. The American Anthropological Association. http://www.aaanet.org/about/Governance/Long_range_plan.cfm