Why is the Word ‘Science’ Not Good Enough for the AAA?

I recently caught a New York Times article about this and thought I’d share just briefly.

The American Anthropological Association recently revised it’s Long Range Plan, removing all mention of the word “science” and replacing it with softer, feel-good terminology. Where the purpose in the Long Range Plan used to read, “to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects,” it now reads, “to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects.”

Huh? How is this better?

The word “science” was previously mentioned in the Long Range Plan of the AAA in three places. Now it is non-existent.

And there’s been some backlash. Boy howdy. Two blog articles that the AAA actually links to are Anthropology Without Science and No Science, Please. We’re Anthropologists. I’ve put a few more from just from Zemanta at the bottom.

So the AAA responded, but, to me, it’s every bit as wishy-washy as the decision they’re being criticized for.

In their response, the AAA board says, “[a]nthropology is a holistic and expansive discipline that covers the full breadth of human history and culture.  As such, it draws on the theories and methods of both the humanities and sciences.”

If by “holistic” they mean it makes use of all the natural sciences to examine and define human culture and history, then that’s fine. Why not simply say so? By why must it rely on or even draw upon the humanities? Just about any definition of “the humanities” you find expressly excludes “the sciences.” This is utter bollocks. The suggestion is that its okay to draw upon religious explanations and speculative post-modern critique to examine human culture past or present. If anything should be excluded and excised from the long-range plans of the AAA it should be this sort of non-scientific codswallop.

They go on to say, “[c]hanges to the AAA’s Long Range Plan have been taken out of context and blown out of proportion in recent media coverage.  In approving the changes, it was never the Board’s intention to signal a break with the scientific foundations of anthropology…” and they go on to cite their What is Anthropology? document as evidence of this.

But if it was “never the Board’s intention to signal a break with” science, why not simply just put back the word science in the Long Range Plan? A word that has far more utility and express intent than the probably post-modernist appeasement of weasel-wording they settled upon.

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About Carl Feagans 312 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.