December 9, 2010

Anthropologists say sayonara to science

Nicholas Wade reports in the New York Times:
'Science' Is Cut from Anthropology Group's Guiding Plan, Deepening a Rift

Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan.
The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.
... Until now, the association’s long-range plan was “to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects.” The executive board revised this last month to say, “The purposes of the association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects.” This is followed by a list of anthropological subdisciplines that includes political research.

... Dr. Peregrine, who is at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, said in an interview that the dropping of the references to science “just blows the top off” the tensions between the two factions. “Even if the board goes back to the old wording, the cat’s out of the bag and is running around clawing up the furniture,” he said.

He attributed what he viewed as an attack on science to two influences within anthropology. One is that of so-called critical anthropologists, who see anthropology as an arm of colonialism and therefore something that should be done away with. The other is the postmodernist critique of the authority of science. “Much of this is like creationism in that it is based on the rejection of rational argument and thought,” he said.
The flames have been fueled by blogs, like one in Psychology Today by Alice Dreger, a historian and medical ethicist. Reporting on an American Anthropological Association meeting in New Orleans, she wrote, “Non-fluff-head cultural anthropologists are feeling utterly beleaguered in this environment that denigrates science and consistently promotes activism over data collection and scientific theorizing.”

This implied dichotomy between anti-science anthropologists who write about race, ethnicity, or gender and scientific anthropologists who don't study those topics is a bit misleading. The are also anthropologists who study race, ethnicity or gender scientifically (several of whom are on my blogroll). The work of Darwinian anthropologists of sex differences like John Tooby and of ancestral differences like Henry Harpending are the hidden key to this controversy. The anti-science anthropologists fear that if anthropology is allowed to be a science, then all sorts of politically incorrect scientific knowledge about humanity will emerge. The pro-science leaders try, publicily, to pooh-pooh those fears.

40 comments:

SFG said...

I recall you commenting on the split at one of these big universities, with two separate departments. (I thought it was Stanford, but I checked and they only had one dept.)

I did check: the political anthro dept. had a lot more Jews. ;) So either you and KMac have a point, or Jews don't like science.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Another crack in the canvas.

Duane Legate said...

From Alice Dreger's blog:

"It's safe to assume the AAA will not be promoting the public understanding of how human behaviors evolved, especially if those human behaviors are anything that might make some or all humans look violent, greedy, harmful to the environment, or (worst of all) sexually dimorphic."

Anonymous said...

Well, at least they're being honest about it.

Although, on the flip side, I imagine that they were emboldened to abandon their duplicity because they knew that there was no longer any moral spine remaining in the academy to support a resistance.

Apfels said...

Very strange. Back when I was an anthropology major (way back in the 1960's sonny boy!) the lefties favored science in a manner of speaking since good data might well lead to a vindication of Marxist materialism: culture, values, and thought simply reflect material conditions. I see things have changed.

I mean, I knew a lot of anthropologies have gone from Karl to Groucho in the Marx Department but it seems I didn't know the half of it. I will offer up a semi-defense of the non-scientists here, though, and I wonder what people more attuned to the current situation will make of it.

My semi-defense is that you don't need to be a reflexively anti-colonial, post-modern political activist to not consider science to be at the heart of anthropology. I know this can get semantic, but if science is supposed to be about hypothesis testing, there is a long and indeed venerable tradition in anthropology that is anything but. That tradition is one that favored interpretation over explanation--the qualitative tradition rather than the quantitative one. It is fine to favor quant, especially if you are doing the genetic stuff, but that does not mean that all folks who favor the interpretive tradition are radicals.

But I haven't been paying attention to the field of late, so maybe they are. Maybe, like Psycho degenerated into Hostel, the Boasian tradition has totally morphed into silliness. I'd hate to think so, since interpretation remains an important tradition, linked to but separate from the tradition of explanation.

fenster

beowulf said...

This implied dichotomy between anti-science anthropologists who write about race, ethnicity, or gender and scientific anthropologists who don't study those topics is a bit misleading.
...Because the best employment prospect for both, the Central Intelligence Agency, doesn't really care. :o)

"A North Africa Story: The Anthropologist as OSS Agent 1941-1943"
http://www.ossreborn.com/index_files/9.html

Dennis Dale said...

The other is the postmodernist critique of the authority of science. “Much of this is like creationism in that it is based on the rejection of rational argument and thought,” he said.

Is this even fair? Creationists offer ridiculous logic; pomos reject logic as such.

Anonymous said...

When science and politics collide, politics wins.

elvisd said...

Anthropology attracts the best and the worst in the social sciences. Its twin is political science. I've usually seen the two as occupying one camp in the social sciences, and sociology and psychology in the other, though the weakening of anthro has been coming on for a while.
Anthropology has always been huge, broad, and accommodating seemingly everything. It makes their discipline enormously attractive to interdisciplinary thinkers. The danger, though, is that it attracts charlatans and the intellectually lazy as well. It's a shame this kind of crap is happening, though hardly surprising.

My parents were anthro minors in school and it really sharpened their minds. It was still a decent area to study back in the day, as far as the social sciences went.

Nanonymous said...

We should at least congratulate these anthropologists for being honest. They have stopped doing science long ago.

Maybe now the real anthropologists will form their own association? After all, "science" figures is in most dictionary definitions of anthropology. The American Heritage Science Dictionary: "The scientific study of humans, especially of their origin, their behavior, and their physical, social, and cultural development.". Webster: "the science of human beings; especially: the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture".

diatribal said...

When they are not they inventing new, longer words that become anachronisms to displace perfectly fine old words (retarded becomes mentally handicapped becomes persons with disabilities becomes PWD)(negros becomes colored people becomes African-American becomes AA, become black but you need to be careful saying that)(queer becomes gay becomes queer becomes lesbian gay and transgender becomes LBTG) they are hijacking words and applying new meaning to them. Anthropology implies science, invent a new word for indigeny worship. Marriage has been around for a long time, invent a new word/Acronym.

dsfasdfdas said...

It should be called ANTHROPOLITICS.

jack strocchi said...

He attributed what he viewed as an attack on science to two influences within anthropology. One is that of so-called critical anthropologists, who see anthropology as an arm of colonialism and therefore something that should be done away with. The other is the postmodernist critique of the authority of science. “Much of this is like creationism in that it is based on the rejection of rational argument and thought,” he said.

Bones, tomes and 'nomes.

Luke Lea said...

"“Non-fluff-head cultural anthropologists are feeling utterly beleaguered in this environment that denigrates science and consistently promotes activism over data collection and scientific theorizing.”

Research project: a participant-observer study of the primitive tribe of cultural anthropologists that denigrates science and consistently promotes activism over data collection and scientific theorizing.

Anonymous said...

I wish economists would refrain from calling their subject a science.
Yes, anthrpology IS scientific, in that it is evidence based.
But the vast bulk of modern economics is what Feynman called 'cargo cult science'.
- Economics failed (as we can see in the current financial train-wreck), because basically it isn't true.

Thomas said...

The problem of course lies in the fact that those who "study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights" can today be reliably counted on to regard "studying and advancing public understanding of humankind in all its aspects" as anathema.

The PC Inquisition said...

This new definition sounds redundant. It overlaps all existing identity studies: Black, Chicano, Asian, Woman, Native American, GLBT, etc.

Will this create a turf war or are radical ideologues happy to have more warriors on the university payroll?

And what becomes of the original scientific Anthropology as it's existed for over 500 years? Will it continue as a distinct field or oes it get diced up and folded into many fields like pharmacology, neuroscience, genetics, human biology, psychology, etc. It makes it harder for the plebs to connect dots contra to the ruling PC ideology.

Will more rational and hard-nosed countries like China and Japan keep this flame of knowledge alight as Anthropology enters the dark ages in the PC-dominated West?

Jack said...

It should be called ANTHROPOLITICS.

Indeed. Scientific anthropologists should form their own group now (as they apparently should have done some time ago). Perhaps "The Non-Result-Oriented-Anthropology Association"?
- formerly JP98

Anonymous said...

"Economics failed (as we can see in the current financial train-wreck), because basically it isn't true."

Newton failed? The world can't be described mathematically?

That's rough.

Wellp, trash all the sciences. Theology gogo

kurt9 said...

They should form two separate branches of anthropology. One that is science-based and the other that is not. It sounds like the two groups have been fighting for the past 10 years anyways. They should go their separate ways.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the politics first anthros should simply be moved over to the sociology department. It would be a better fit for everybody.

Kylie said...

How about "anthropolemy"?

Or "anthropocrisy"?

Or "anthroplicity", which neatly conflates both "duplicity" and "complicity"?

agnostic said...

"Will more rational and hard-nosed countries like China and Japan keep this flame of knowledge alight as Anthropology enters the dark ages in the PC-dominated West?"

Seeing how they've never been major contributors to the field, whether through their natives or their descendants in the West, probably not.

Hardly any Asians even study anthropology, let alone contribute, so they won't even have much interest in mere preservation of existing knowledge, which requires a passion for studying the stuff.

If you're just talking human genetics, they'll keep on with that, but it's not like the West has abandoned that -- only how much genetics fits into the big picture of human nature.

East Asians don't want for hard-nosededness, but they more or less lack the basic curiosity about the nature of mankind in the broadest sense.

ATBOTL said...

"So either you and KMac have a point, or Jews don't like science."

Jews love science and are very good at it. The problem is not Jewish scientists, it is anti-white Jewish ethnic activists who masquerade as scientists.

Whiskey said...

It's SWPL-ism, or what Spike Lee called (in his essay) "the Magical Negro" (Legend of Bagger Vance, Radio, Shawshank Redemption) or a showing of AVATAR that never freaking ends.

Status mongering among upper income, highly educated (indoctrinated), class-differentiating people (including particularly Jews, Mainline Protestants, and post-Catholics) have adopted a debased Post Calvinism. The doctrine of the predestined saved and damned identified by their Uber-PC views.

Non-Whites, primitives, and the like are studied not to find things out, about how human societies order themselves to survive, manage conflict, and so on. But rather to become the most status-laden, idolizing primitiveness in a rejection of modern complexity.

Wealth generation REQUIRES more and more CHANGE and COMPLEXITY just to keep up, particularly connecting China, India, and Asia to the rest of the world. Hence rich White folks reject that for some fake-Rousseaouian fantasy of noble savages, AVATAR, "Magical Negroes" and the like.

Anonymous said...

The only surprise was that the post-modern anti-empirical crowd would be so open about their hatred towards science. I thought that a large number of them either didn't think hard about how unscientific their discipline was or that they liked to play lip service to science by claiming they were "scientific" and thereby convince naive undergrads that their politically driven drivel was based on rationality.

Rob said...

Anyone familiar with Boas's work will know that science and anthropology were never exactly joined at the hip.

kurt9 said...

The science-oriented anthropologists should create a separate organization - the American Science-based Anthropological Association - ASAA.

Anonymous said...

Anthropologists know what side their bread is buttered on, especially ones working at state universities, where course enrollment determines faculty size and the push is on to bestow higher ed credentials on as many Hispanics as possible. There aren't too many fields of concentration where an affirmative action student can slide by with an 8th grade reading level -- gender studies is one; chicano studies is another; bowdlerized anthropology makes three.

Dextrology said...

Depending on where you study anthropology at, you get to explicitly pick between science-based anthropology and political activism-based anthropology, even at the undergrad level. Many schools are now putting these two branches in separate departments, so the socio-cultural anthropologists end up in one building and the archeologists, biological anthropologists and paleoanthropologists end up in another (and even further divided amongst themselves.)

Silver said...

When science and politics collide, politics wins.

The reasoning is, "We have to lie because -- where is your compassion, man? -- the only alternative is reality!"


How about "anthropolemy"?

Or "anthropocrisy"?

Or "anthroplicity", which neatly conflates both "duplicity" and "complicity"?


If you ask me it all adds to one big anthrospiracy.

bjdouble said...

It will be a relief when this controversy is over and anthropologists can go back to solving humanity's problems.

Anonymous said...

No, Newton DID NOT fail.
His equations hold up now, held up in the pre-historic past when there were no men about and will hold up in the far distant future when we are all gone.
Newton famously declared 'Hypothesis non fingo' - ie 'I don't feign hypothesis', his laws explained the solar system to a level of precision that guides space craft and enables us to predict planetary orbits for millenia ahead, not to mention build skyscrapers that don't collapse and jet airliners, but he couldn't and didn't come up with an explanation of gravity.
Einstein changed the picture, but the basic Newtonian laws still hold up for all intents and purposes.

CuChulainn said...

I think this could actually be a good thing. After all, the lefties were really just cloaking their ideology-driven insanity in the term "science" by having their lefty cronies review their manuscripts and accept them in Anthropology journals to add authenticity to such nonsense as the phrase "there is no such thing as race". Now, they will no longer be able to claim that it is validated by science. And, as others have mentioned, a separate group can form which can get back to doing genuine Anthropological science.

Anonymous said...

"There aren't too many fields of concentration where an affirmative action student can slide by with an 8th grade reading level -- gender studies is one; chicano studies is another; bowdlerized anthropology makes three."

Poly Sci makes four.

International Jew said...

Is like climate science versus geophysics, where the new departments (or "programs", "centers") forge ahead with political program unencumbered by scientific standards.

Kylie said...

"I think this could actually be a good thing. After all, the lefties were really just cloaking their ideology-driven insanity in the term 'science' by having their lefty cronies review their manuscripts and accept them in Anthropology journals to add authenticity to such nonsense as the phrase 'there is no such thing as race'. Now, they will no longer be able to claim that it is validated by science."

Can't agree. In a halfway sane world, your point would be well-taken. But in our wholely insane world, the omission of the word "science" just means the left is bold enough now to proceed without it. By rejecting any mention of science, they are marginalizing it, saying it no longer matters enough to be part of the mainstream. It's feelings, not facts, that matter, not just in the political realm but in the academic realm as well.

The concern with facts, reason, logic, proofs is part of the white male world-view which the left has successfully upended, if not overthrown altogether.

I find this development rather ominous and am surprised so many of you seem to view it so sanguinely.

CJ said...

SFG said ...

"I recall you commenting on the split at one of these big universities, with two separate departments. (I thought it was Stanford, but I checked and they only had one dept.)"


I don't remember Steve dealing with it, but Duke University has two separate anthro departments. The more scientific one is called Evolutionary Anthropology and is affiliated with the medical school. The insane cultural Marxist one is called Cultural Anthropology, and if you think insane is going too far just click that link and check out the picture of the director of graduate studies.

Steve may have written about this, but as best I can remember I learned about the two-department situation from KC Johnson's blogging on the Duke lacrosse team/stripper craziness.

Anonymous said...

One way to beat the left at their own game would be to set up Men’s Studies Departments as a counterweight to the Women’s Studies. Studying sexual differences is not nearly as politically volatile as race so it would be much more difficult to attack. Feminism is a rigid ideology much of which has been built on bogus science and thus is ripe for deconstruction.

Anonymous said...

http://www.american.com/archive/2010/december/demography-versus-geography

Bad news for GOP.