Target:
Professors and students of anthropology
Region:
GLOBAL

On Feb 22, 2013, Marshall Sahlins submitted his resignation to the National Academy of Sciences. For his statement, and an interview with him, see the following:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/26/the-destruction-of-conscience-in-national-academy-of-sciences/

Another online petition in support of Sahlins is available here, and we encourage you to sign it as well if appropriate:

https://www.change.org/petitions/national-academy-of-sciences-change-policies-that-have-led-to-the-resignation-of-marshall-sahlins


To the National Academy of Sciences:

As professors and students of anthropology, we are writing to support Marshall Sahlins’ resignation from the NAS.

Both his stated reasons are poignant, but we especially wish to support his protest over the election of Napoleon Chagnon. This resignation is not a matter of petty theoretical conflict. Sahlins has been a key participant in many anthropological controversies, and he would not resign from the NAS over mere disagreement. At stake is the NAS’s position on the status of our discipline.

Chagnon and his supporters portray him as courageously revealing inconvenient truths in the face of politically motivated detractors who want to censor his findings in order to support their activist programs. If this were the case, he would indeed deserve honors, however uncomfortable his discoveries might be. However, truth has not been the main product of Chagnon’s research. Notwithstanding the negative effects his work has had on Yanomami people, it fails to meet essential scholarly standards. In widely distributed statements, he asserts that no “serious” anthropologists disagree with him. In fact, the great majority of respected experts on the Yanomami dispute his three central claims: 1) that the Yanomami are an overwhelmingly violent people; 2) that Yanomami men who have killed have twice as many wives and three times as many children as Yanomami men who have not killed; and 3) that the Yanomami live in a condition representative of our Paleolithic past.

In his early career Chagnon responded productively to criticism, but for many years he has simply denied and distorted the work of anthropologists who find fault in his scholarship. Science is not made of proclamations, but of meticulous research and open-minded dialogue. Chagnon does not excel at these tasks—surely not enough to deserve a national honor.

As members of the next generation of anthropologists, we are deeply invested in a future rich in respectful collaboration and honest, mutual critique. Thankfully, though Sahlins has resigned from the NAS, he continues to be an excellent role model for scholars who remain committed to the rigorous, inclusive, and cumulative nature of responsible scientific practice.

We regret that the NAS has lost Sahlins, a superb representative of our discipline. We urge the Academy to exercise greater care in its next round of elections.

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