Speaking Truth to Power

March 12, 2013

This just in from the Department of Anthropological Irrelevancy:

Some people angry;

Somewhere grass continues growing.


At least two petitions have been established over the past few days for National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Both basically are attempts to call attention to the fact that Napoleon Chagnon has been elected (last May) to the NAS.  Because it’s convenient, I am going to focus on this one, which calls for the NAS “to exercise greater care in its next round of elections.” For those of you aren’t fluent in Academese, this roughly translates to:


Put simply, some people are exercising their God-given rights as Americans to get infuriated about something that most other folks could care less about.

Now, I am going to ignore the following issues: 1). If Chagnon’s election to the NAS is such a travesty, why are people only getting incensed about it NOW, 10 months after the fact; and 2). Why do neither of these petitions address Sahlins’ second reason for resigning from the NAS (i.e., increased NAS-support of anthropological involvement in military affairs).

The absolutely great thing about on-line petitions is that people give their names, so there’s transparency (more or less) about who’s saying what and who’s agreeing with who.  And, with things like Academia.edu, Scopus, Google Scholar, and Departmental Web sites…even a quasi-literate chimpanzee can find people’s academic credentials nowadays.  Luckily, I happen to have an entire colony of quasi-literate chimpanzees, a pallet of Apple Macintosh Color Classics I recently rescued from a high school basement, and 15 metric tons of bananas.  More importantly, these chimps are bored…bored and really itching for something to do

The chimps wanted to know two things:

1). Who was upset enough to challenge the criteria for election into the NAS; and,

2). Where did these people get their highest academic degree, or if they are currently pursuing a degree, where are they pursuing it?

It took a lot of time, but my techno-saavy chimpanzees banged on their keyboards all day and came up with the following:

As of work-leaving time (ca. 7 AM CST) this morning (March 11) a total of 262 signatures had been made on this particular petition.

Of those, 106 (40%) were made by individuals who are neither American citizens nor students or professors of anthropology.  These folks, nice as they may be, were excluded from consideration of these data.  The chimp advisory panel made this decision, because 1). The NAS is a US-backed institution and only US citizens are eligible for full membership.  And, 2). the petition itself begins “As professors and students of anthropology” and therefore, anyone not a student or a professor of anthropology shouldn’t be represented by this petition.  What could I say?  The chimps didn’t want to leave themselves open to the accusation of being complicit in an attempt speared by people outside [of our discipline and of our country] to seize control of the story, research funding, and book sales. It’s the chimps’ decisions here, not mine.

Removing citizens from other countries and US citizens without at least a B.A. leaves 156 US-based individuals with at least a B.A. in anthropology who seemed to think the NAS should be more selective in its already highly selective selections of elections.  Most of these people are current university faculty or students, with a small number of university staff/lecturers/adjuncts/post-docs, as well as employees of state agencies, non-profits, and private industry.

But, the chimps were very VERY excited when they determined that of these 156 individuals, the VAST majority had received degrees from…wait for it….the University of Chicago.  That’s right: Remove anyone who has received or is in the process of earning a degree from Chicago, and you’re left with around 100 people who are upset about this whole thing.  If you further remove the folks who received their papers from Berkeley, Columbia, NYU, and CUNY, as well as current students from Buffalo and Virginia, you’re basically left with roughly 60 individuals.  Putting this into perspective, the AAA Web site currently boasts 11,000+ members.  I’m pretty sure that even a keyboard-banging chimp can realize we’re not dealing with “a majority of anthropologists” here.

Admittedly, the chimps may have made some mistakes in coding people’s affiliations, and they’ve yet to master a chi-square test to evaluate whether the results are statistically significant…so, don’t put too much faith in them.  Also, it might be interesting to see both where these people were/are students for all of their degrees and where they are currently employed.

As I said before: This issue is as dead as Vanilla Ice, Zubaz, and Crystal Pepsi.

Addendum: It appears as if around 40 more people signed the petition by 11 PM CST this evening, so perhaps this significantly changed the results.  Anyone with their own colony of computer-using chimps is welcome to evaluate that.