Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hugh Gusterson, "When Professors go to War"

Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology at George Mason University, was featured in Foreign Policy this month. In his article, “When Professors go to War,” he describes the potential ramifications of a Pentagon-funded Minerva Project. Given anthropology’s lean to the left and lingering frustration about the (mis)use of social science research in Vietnam, many anthropologists, Gusterson argues, are unlikely to participate in Minerva. Opting out of Minerva compromises the Pentagon’s reported mission of sponsoring research from across the political spectrum. Gusterson writes, “The Pentagon will have the false comfort of believing that it has harnessed the best and the brightest minds, when in fact it will have only received a very limited slice of what the ivory tower has to offer­--academics who have no problem taking Pentagon funds. Social scientists call this ‘selection bias,’ and it can lead to dangerous analytical errors.” The solution is simple: fund through agencies that have experience supervising social science research, such as the NSF or NIH.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, Defense Secretary William Gates, and the House and Senate Armed Services and Budget Committees, AAA urged to have NSF oversee the funding process. It appears some progress has been made. NSF recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the DoD, allowing collaboration between the two agencies. However, this does not mean NSF will be reviewing Minerva proposals, and additional efforts are needed to facilitate joint solicitations.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

AAA Responds to Laptop Searches

The Fourth Amendment requires that federal authorities have a warrant to conduct a search and seizure of personal property. Routine border searches have long been considered exempt from this law, and “reasonable suspicion” is required to conduct non-routine and invasive searches. This recently changed when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal officials—namely, Custom and Border agents—can randomly search and seize electronic information stored on laptop computers, cameras, cell phones, MP3 players, and other devices without “reasonable suspicion.”

This poses obvious risks to anthropologists and their research participants. AAA President Setha Low issued a letter urging Homeland Security to reevaluate its policy. In the meantime (and as standard practice), we advise social scientists to code all identifiable information (names, locations, etc.), delete information that could used to identify or harm participants, encrypt any sensitive data, and/or store their research in a secure online database.

AAA is not alone in its response. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Asian Law Caucus, Muslim Advocates, and Association of Corporate Travel Executives have also protested electronic searches. According to the NYTimes, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) also expressed concern about the actions of the US Customs and Border Protection Agency during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the subject.

Have a specific concern or suggestion? Leave a comment.

John Jackson Jr., "Anthropology: The Softest Social Science?"

John Jackson Jr., associate professor of communication and anthropology at UPenn, had an interesting post on The Chronicle Review's blog yesterday. In his post, "Anthropology: The Softest Social Science?," Jackson expresses concern about anthropology's presence and standing in the public realm and the credibility that is all too easily ascribed to quantitative disciplines.

If you enjoy Jackson's humor and insights, visit his blog--AnthroMan--and leave a comment.

Call for Papers, "Death and the Fieldworker: Dealing with Loss in Ethnographic Research"

Anthropologists and other social scientists who conduct ethnographic fieldwork are invited to submit an essay for consideration in a new edited volume on death in the context of fieldwork. Essays will explore the meanings, ramifications, and challenges of death and dying within three broad contexts. First, what is the relationship of investigators with their research communities when there is a death? With death, it seems, community life and individual relationships destabilize. As ethnographers, we are not immune to feeling the stress and grief of losing close friends and collaborators in the field. Second, what is the relative importance of some deaths (juvenile, human, ideological, linguistic, etc) over others within a community? The death of an individual represents more than just the passing of the life of that person. It can also mean that the sum total of cultural knowledge carried by that individual and enacted through her or his social relationships dies as well. Ethnographers and communities feel the impact of the loss of such culture bearers, albeit in different ways, as the loss of cultural knowledge or community potential. Finally, how do communities and researchers learn the management of unexpected or endemic mortality and chronic sorrow? Fieldwork partly becomes a process by which we learn from those around us different ways of coping. These may not be ways we fully adopt, but they certainly inform a greater understanding, or epistemology, of death and continual loss.

Essays should be ethnographically driven, theoretically grounded, and humanistically compelling. Interested authors should submit a 500 word abstract and curriculum vitae by e-mail attachment to Jon Wolseth (jwolseth@gmail. com) and Samantha Solimeo (Samantha@solimeo. com) no later than August 22nd, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Secrecy on the Rise

Federal policy dictates that "fundamental" research should remain unclassified. However, according to a report released by the Council on Government Relations and the Association of American Universities, federal agencies appear to be incorporating more restrictive clauses into research grants and contracts. The report found 180 instances of restrictive language at 20 research institutions in 2007, a substantial increase from the 138 found in a 2003-2004 survey. The majority of restrictions are from the Defense Department, but other agencies have also made use of them. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Pentagon officials, called upon the DoD, as well as other agencies, to back off the restrictive language. Gates has ensured universities that research funded by the Minerva Project will remain unclassified. But we still advise all scholars to look for secrecy clauses prior to accepting any grants or contracts.

Please comment below if you've encountered these clauses before and have any advice for our readers.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

China Blacklists Scholars

Inside Higher Ed reported that scholars have been blacklisted from China following their contribution to a book, Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland, on the country’s western province. Although the number of blacklisted scholars appears to be rather small, the potential effect on the academic community could prove to be quite large. Many hesitate to discuss issues related to Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen, and the Falun Gong, and the blacklist is likely to expand this self-censorship, particularly among younger scholars. Academics are also concerned that speaking about these issues could endanger their relations with Chinese scholars, universities, and research institutions. Anthropologists who conduct fieldwork in the People’s Republic are well aware of the intricacies of Chinese bureaucracy, and we trust their ability to discuss sensitive topics in an appropriate manner. But for those of you who are new to Sino studies, please contact the AAA so we can put you in touch with members who have the necessary experience to guide you.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Minerva & NSF

The Pentagon has launched a program called the Minerva Research Initiative that would fund university-based social scientists to study topics of interest to the Department of Defense, such as the Chinese military and religious fundamentalism. The AAA expressed its concerns about Minerva in a letter to Washington, and urged the Pentagon to coordinate with the National Science Foundation and other agencies that have extensive experience in peer-review and are familiar with the ethical standards and concerns of our discipline. The Pentagon was apparently listening. Pentagon officials signed an agreement with NSF last week enabling the two agencies to collaborate on approving Minerva-funded social science research. Still, there are concerns within the discipline that research will only be used when it supports the Pentagon’s agenda. AAA will continue to follow Minerva closely and will issue updates on this blog.

If you feel strongly about the program, please feel free to comment below.

AAA Backs Global AIDS Legislation

AAA addressed a letter to Senate majority leader Harry Reid, requesting that he urge his fellow Senators to reject any amendments to the Global AIDS Bill that would decrease funds for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The bill was expected to pass the Senate floor prior to the G-8 Summit, but several Republicans stopped the bill in its tracks. These Senators are retaining their holds on the bill because of concerns over its $50 billion dollar price tag and its family-planning and prevention programs.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

UPenn to Digitize its Collection

Reuter’s reported that the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will be digitizing the approximately 1 million artifacts in its collection and uploading them to the internet. This initiative will open up the collection, 95 percent of which is in storage, to scholars, researchers, and the general public. Perhaps the most famous pieces at PENN are those from an excavation of the royal tombs of Ur in southern Iraq that were part of the Sumerian civilization of approximately 2500 BC. The project will take about 3 years to complete, but it should be well worth the wait.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pulse of the Planet #2

Joan P. Mencher published an article, “The Human Right to Eat,” in CounterPunch this week. Mencher details the impact that political and economic policies in India have on agriculture. Food has become divorced from an idea of sustenance and nutrition, and engrained in profit-making endeavors that come at the expense of people’s health.

Mencher is the second panelist from the "Pulse of the Planet" session at AAA's 2008 annual meeting to turning her conference paper into an op-ed column for CounterPunch, an online news magazine that has agreed to publish papers from the “Pulse of the Planet” session. Panelists’ papers will be published between May and the middle of November. The articles aim to reshape public debate during the presidential race and draw attention to critical issues in human rights and environmental policy.

The first article, "Dam Legacies, Damned Futures," by Barabara Rose Johnston can be found here.