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The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is a strange organization. I often wonder how it operates, but then I realize I don’t even wanna know because there’s often no real logic to their madness. Take into consideration these cases:

Case 1: About 4 years ago the AAA decided to close access to almost all their journals, directly against the Federal Research Publication Access Act. This spurned a lot of discussion regarding ownership of publication, author’s rights and the AAA’s motivation behind it. Most of us wondered how could the AAA, who didn’t fund the research, produce the data, and write up the analysis, close off the information to the world? Here was a bit of my outcry over the matter, archived by afarensis in June of 2006,

“The hypocrisy that surrounds the AAA when it begged for anthropologists to protest to the US government to not cut funding but their recent resiliency to not give back is outstanding in this matter. I don’t get why the AAA won’t open their eyes and see that this form of publishing helps to ensure long-term access to scholarly articles. Unlike articles that are licensed in traditional article databases, like their closed AnthroSource, public libraries and institutions of the people (like universities) can create local copies and repositories of these resources. People, by working together to make repositories of open access literature, can ensure continued access to these scholarly publications into the distant future.”

From this idiocy, a nice project spun off but hasn’t in my opinion been a viable alternative. Unfortunate.

Case 2: Once upon a time the AAA was an organization that scoffed at social media and Web 2.0, specifically blogs. It’s hard to dig up exact references since many links have died… But I do distinctly remember them issuing a statement saying blogs are useless forms of communication, with a little wink wink nod nod to this said blog.

When they redesigned their homepage a couple of years ago, they deployed several blogs. They even sent me emails asking for link exchange. Sure people are allowed to change their minds, but I wondered what’s with the change in heart? Suffice to say, I didn’t add them back.

Case 3: The AAA just had their annual meeting and yes, everyone’s reporting that decided to do away with science. It’s true, Peter Wood of the Chronicle, writes on them actively deciding to nix science out of the Mission Statement. I’ve copied and pasted the presumed edits to the mission statement he provided below the read more link.  Another related decision made is defining the role of AAA, away from ethnography and scientific experiments and observations to anecdotal and subjective journalism… Again without ethnology and ethnography — what is cultural anthropology?

Alice Dreger of Fetishes I Don’t Get, writes on some of the anger she experienced from other scientific anthropologists,

“The primatologist Sarah Hrdy (a member of the National Academy of Sciences) wrote, “My reaction is one of dismay-actually, even more visceral and stronger than that-albeit not surprise.” The scientists I talked to want to know (as I do) exactly what is the AAA Executive Board’s justification for all this. They are confused about whether they should bother to fight, or just give up and depart the AAA already.”

The Society for Anthropological Sciences, a division of the AAA, objected to these changes, I am sure most do. I don’t understand why this change is being done. In a time and age when we need to strive to objective data to make informed decisions, this organization is moving away from that, and consciously. Why?

Could it because anthropology is largely not considered a science outside of the discipline — so the AAA chooses embrace what most think of us?

Again it is hard to get into the minds of such a dysfunctional organization. They seem to never make the right decision. An analogy that works in my mind is the AAA is to anthropologists as the Clerical Theocracy of the Islamic Republic are to Iranian population. As many governments help make decisions to move forward and advance their society, both the AAA and the mullahs regress their organizations further back in time.

Here is the marked-up copy of the mission statement showing the deletions crossed out and the additions bolded:

Section 1. The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies public understanding of humankind in all its aspects. through This includes, but is not limited to, archeological, biological, ethnological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research; The Association also commits itself and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. and its use to solve human problems.

Section 2. To advance the science of anthropology the public understanding of humankind, the Association shall: Foster and support the development of special anthropological societies organized on a regional or functional basis; Publish and promote the publication of anthropological monographs and journals; Encourage anthropological teaching, research, and practice; act to coordinate activities of members of the Association with those of other organizations concerned with anthropology, and maintain effective liaison with related sciences knowledge disciplines and their organizations.

Section 3. To further the professional interests of anthropologists, the Association shall, in addition to those activities described under Section 2: Take action on behalf of the entire profession and integrate the professional activities of anthropologists in the special aspects of the science; and promote the widespread recognition and constant improvement of professional standards in anthropology.