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Advancing public understanding is fine goal to add to a mission statement. I have as yet heard no arguments against inclusion, and mostly favourable impressions. However, it is not a suitable sole or even main goal for either a discipline or for a professional association, and that is the crux of the situation. This was, in fact, the subject of the resolution passed by the Society for Anthropological Sciences, not to reinsert the word science, but to come up with a statement that promoted the interests of the association and its members, as well as greater public understanding. Reinsertion of 'science' in the statement together with 'humanities', 'literature' and 'art' might be one way of doing this for some of the membership, but is not the only way. However, whatever is stated needs to have shape and meaning. 'Knowledge discipline' just doesn't cut it - I don't understand it - why should the public. There is no need to advance knowledge to increase public understanding - there is more than enough knowledge from anthropology that the public does not understand to last a century or more. Indeed, there is nothing in the mission statement about advancing knowledge at all, using any of the unstated alternative methods to science. Advancing public understanding is simply not ambitious enough to be a principle goal, nor does it require any form of anthropology or anthropologists, although anthropologists might be able to participate in this process, whatever it might be. And substituting 'public understanding' for 'solving human problems' is not an equitable exchange. Likewise taking an unsound argument by Smith based on a rather tenuous conception of what science is, and juxtaposing this against anthropologists being unliked, as if it is the scientific ones who are unliked rather than the unethical ones, does not advance the argument. I do not think that the AAA committee that made these changes had any real intent to act against the interests of those in the Association that value science. But when it is nearly impossible to figure out what the revised statement is for, it does act against not only their interests, but the interests of all anthropologists, and the public.
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Feb 23, 2010