Complete Draft Principles Released by Ethics Task Force

3 thoughts on “Complete Draft Principles Released by Ethics Task Force”

  1. Overall this is a very impressive revision reflecting a lot of serious thoughtful work and should be greatly appreciated by the membership.

    I applaud B1 – including an ethics statement as part of every research proposal. [I included such a statement in my 1974 NSF dissertation grant proposal without anyone suggesting this to me. I have not seen it done very often by others, although I encourage my students to do so].

    B4 – states that the anthropologist should not deceive the people they are studying regarding this and that. But is it ethical to deceive them about anything?

    B5 – shouldn’t the findings be disseminated to the host community as well? I may have missed it, but it seems that findings should be shared with everyone else except the host community.

    C3 – Is advocacy never an ethical imperative, as for example, when one witnesses human rights violations or receives reliable information about them occurring in the community hosting the research or that hosted research previously? It is shocking how some anthropologists have mined communities for data, sometimes for years, to facilitate their careerism without giving much if anything of substance back in turn professionally.

    In addition to specific comment, I have some questions and ideas the Task Force might consider in their final efforts:

    I assume that this revision is in response to two recent serious ethical controversies, Darkness in El Dorado and HTS. Would these revisions make any difference in the original causes of these controversies and the ways that the AAA leadership and membership handled them when they developed?

    What means might be pursued to better inform the membership about the new code and gain better adherence? Perhaps the general theme of a future annual convention of the AAA might be professional ethics and interested session organizers invited to address the new code in particular as it applies to specific cases, problems, and issues.

    Is there no way that a new ethics code can be enforced? Otherwise, what percentage of the membership pays any attention? Perhaps the COE could contact textbook authors and encourage them to reprint the entire code in their textbook if not include an entire chapter on ethics.

    The top leadership of the AAA deleted the Final Report of the Task Force on Darkness in El Dorado from the official website, ostensibly to avoid threatened legal action by a non-member of the AAA. Thereby, the top leadership of the AAA deprived the membership of ready access to the Report which was ostensibly done for the membership with membership funds. Is this ethical? Do there need to be ethical guidelines in the new code for AAA leaders including the Executive Director and others who are not anthropologists? (Would it have been more responsible to invite a membership vote on such a serious initiative?)

  2. I want to commend the Task Force on its efforts. Having been in a similar position during the 1980s I can emphasize with the challenge you have been and will face going forward.

    My initial response and primary concern is that while the principles expounded here are an improvement over the 1970 Code and its offspring (1984, 1999, 2009, and the February 2011) they still miss the point. Since the AAA will not enforce the code and the COPE has essential state as much, I wonder if we need a “Code.” The topic headers make for a good start at a set of principles — stating what anthropology and the AAA stand for.

    In my experience, as an applied/practitioner, the value of a code of ethics is one of protection — protections against clients who would ask me to use my skills in an unethical way to further their objective; protection against colleagues competing against me by using unethical, inappropriate, or unprofessional practices; protection for the client and the public against the lack of a standard, reliable and valid way of knowing what is “anthropology” and who is qualified to practice as an anthropologist.

    For more than a half century, the anthropological profession — as represented by the AAA — has seen ethics as being all about ME (the individual) — What can I do? What must I do? What can I get away with? This ego-centric attitude (or should I say “anthropocentric”) fails to recognize that the AAA is a social institution which exists in a real world of human beings and social institutions who could care less about our personal fears, doubts, and biases. To the degree that they care, they want to be assured that there is some institution that will stand behind its members and guarantees the ethical quality of product it purports to represent .They are looking to the institution for quality control guidelines to reduce their risk of employing an unqualified member.

    This is what a Code implies. It is a place to go to find the guarantee and to have that guarantee honored. It implies that the subject, the student, the colleague, the sponsor, and the client have recourse in the event of malpractice through the institution. Otherwise, the court system becomes the default.

    If we drop the idea of a Code and simple follow the lead of the SfAA that these will only be principles we expect members to follow, then we would be more honest in our presentation to the members and the public. The Principles can be stated in a 10 Commandment format without details and qualifications. Since the AAA is not going to enforce them, there is little need to go into detail — that only invites more detail and a theological debate that goes nowhere. As principles, they are goals to aspire to and enforcement is done through rewarding outstanding examples of upholding the principles, rather than the time consuming and costly due process of punishment..

    The AAA is NOT a professional society. Since the 1984 reorganization, it has become a consortium of clubs and voluntary associations. Unlike such professional association as the Bar Association, Medical Society, or American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, membership is voluntary and not required to practice the discipline in any of its manifestations (basic research, teaching, or practice) nor in any of the venues where anthropologists sell their service and making a living.

    I feel that the Task Force should broaden the scope of its effort to consider the basic question — who and what is, or to be, served by an AAA code of ethics?

    Again, i want to commend the Task Force for it work. It is trying, challenging, and thankless job

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