Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogging has been light, but here's something about the American Anthropological Association’s witch hunt

Not just a witchhunt, but--on a parallel track--part of a continuing war between evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists. The story begins here in 2000 with a fictitious story about a measles epidemic about the Yanomamo. Much has been published about this in the last 10 years and now there's a new paper out Robert Kurzban, an evolutionary psychologist, summarizes it and notes its implications for evolutionary psychologists. I'd recommend the summary, but if you prefer the full paper, it's here in pdf form and the abstract is:
In September 2000, the self-styled “anthropological journalist” Patrick Tierney began to make public his work claiming that the Yanomamö people of South America had been actively—indeed brutally—harmed by the sociobiological anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and the geneticist-physician James Neel. Following a florid summary of Tierney’s claims by the anthropologists Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) saw fit to take Tierney’s claims seriously by conducting a major investigation into the matter. This paper focuses on the AAA’s problematic actions in this case but also provides previously unpublished information on Tierney’s falsehoods. The work presented is based on a year of research by a historian of medicine and science. The author intends the work to function as a cautionary tale to scholarly associations, which have the challenging duty of protecting scholarship and scholars from baseless and sensationalistic charges in the era of the Internet and twenty-four-hour news cycles.
Note that Kurzban's post is worth reading even if you do read the whole paper.

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