physical anthropology exodus and Republican scientists

So these articles came out last week, but I’ve been out of commission for a while because of the usual end of the semester stuff, not to mention trying to finish this thesis proposal and Ph.D apps and work.

The first has to do with the fact that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) dropped the word “science” from a recent publication of their long-range plan. I don’t think this really means a whole lot in and of itself (the article, which can be found here, (though you need a NYTimes password (but you have one of those already, don’t you?)) does a really good job of putting it in context), but I can’t help but see it has a clear harbinger of the failure of American four-field anthropology. At least when it comes to physical anthropologists.

As a budding paleoanthropologist with a more-than-casual interest in general vertebrate paleontology, this doesn’t really affect me. I had no intention of joining the AAA and this only makes that solid. The question is: will there be a mass exodus of biological and physical anthropologists from the AAA? Should they have left a long time ago? How many members of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) are also in AAA? I guess that’s three questions.

But man, the last paragraph in the story is cold.

Dr. Dominguez denied that critical anthropologists or postmodernist thinking had influenced the new statement. She said in an e-mail that she was aware that science-oriented anthropologists had from time to time expressed worry about and disapproval of their nonscientific colleagues. “Marginalization is never a welcome experience,” she said.

Is anybody else reading a lot of schadenfreude in Dominguez’ last line? As if she’s saying “Now look who’s being marginalized, bitch.” ‘Cause that’s what it seems like to me.

And the second article, from Slate. The subheadline says that most scientists are Democrats. As it is a kind of headline, it is misleading. Only 55 percent are Democrats. 6 percent are Republicans, and the rest are unaffiliated/”don’t know.” To me, that’s the most heartening thing about that little poll. 39 percent of a certain population does not identify with either party? If there were ever a case to be made for philosopher-kings, that’s it. Now, since it’s a poll the particulars of are probably bullshit, but I’d guess that the gist is more or less the same.

The article seems to be saying that in an ideal world, there would be a roughly equal number of Republicans and Democrats among scientists, and it seems to be assigning the blame at least partly on the recent politicization of science (particularly in the realm of climate change). I think this is at least partly true – scientists are not immune to politics. But what if there were no economic or policy consequences to responding to climate change? What if the question really was just “Is the overall climate of the earth changing at a faster pace than it has in the recent past and does mankind have anything to do with it?” Would we still see as much dissent from certain politicians? Of course we wouldn’t.

I also think that we’re in a weird anomalous era where Republicans have a near  monopoly on (supposedly) religiously-based social conservatism, something that I think is anathema to many scientists. This will probably change as time goes on (one hopes).

But the author doesn’t mention the OBVIOUS solution to the problem: pay scientists more. I’m totally serious. If the average scientist had the opportunity to make as much money as the average medical doctor (a profession that has a much more equal distribution of political philosophies) I’d be willing to bet that the ideology gap would shrink.


About alexclaxton

Paleoanthropology grad student, pop culture obsessive
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4 Responses to physical anthropology exodus and Republican scientists

  1. Hb says:

    I think that distribution is somewhat skewed compared to many other populations. Independents and unaffiliateds are the majority
    in several states and significant pluralities in most.

  2. alexclaxton says:

    I suppose I underestimated the amount of independent and unaffiliated voters among the general population (but it seems to huddle at around 30 percent over the whole country). I’d be curious to do a real comparative poll across a number of different professions – I’m sure something like that has been done.

  3. Lia says:

    I am interested (and slightly offended) by the differentiation you make between “scientist” and “medical doctor”. While I don’t think the two are necessarily synonymous, I think they’re hardly mutually exclusive.

  4. alexclaxton says:

    They’re not mutually exclusive at all, and I only used medical doctor because it was the first thing that popped into my head. I should have used lawyer. Either way, you get my drift.

    That said, the average medical doctor isn’t really a scientist.

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