Secrecy and Anthropology

From Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 3, 2007:

With debate over the role of anthropologists in aiding the military machine a theme threading through their annual meeting, scholars voted Friday to demand that the American Anthropological Association reinstate strict language from its 1971 code of ethics prohibiting secret research. Members at the meeting – who, for the second time in about 30 years and the second year in a row constituted a quorum in excess of the required 250 – also voted overwhelmingly to oppose “any covert or overt U.S. military action against Iran.”

The language anthropologists want reinstated on secrecy – which, the resolution’s sponsor affirmed would apply to anthropologists doing work for corporations too – stipulates that “no reports should be provided to sponsors that are not also available to the general public and, where practicable, to the population studied.” Like every item of business discussed Friday other than the resolution on Iran, the resolution on secrecy was not filed for consideration 30 days in advance, as is required under association rules, and so will be submitted to the association’s executive board on an advisory basis only. (…)

After the vote, Gerald Sider, of the City University of New York, expressed his dismay with the use of AAA as a platform for anthropologists who work for the military, and said he’d like to see the association publicly register its condemnation of the practice. But Paredes, who fills the practicing/professional seat on the AAA executive board, stood up to explain why he had opposed the board’s recent statement against the Human Terrain System, a project in which anthropologists work as contractors for the U.S. military in war zones for the purpose of collecting cultural and social data for military use. If the project is having any part in reducing harm, he said, he wants no part morally in condemning it.

Also on Friday, members approved a resolution submitted by Roberto J. González, of San Jose State University, and William O. Beeman, of the University of Minnesota, to oppose the use of military action in Iran, condemn any public relations campaigns designed to convince the U.S. public to support any military action, and urge the president and Congress to work toward a peaceful and diplomatic solution. The resolution was the only one submitted 30 days in advance, and therefore, per the organization’s bylaws, it will be put to the entire AAA membership for a vote.