I am usually a silent fan of Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog; but a (now not so) recent post spurred me to blogging…*
The cause of the post was a retraction by Nature of a statement that the Taino are now ‘extinct’. Here’s the retraction:
This article originally stated that the Taíno were extinct, which is incorrect. Nature apologizes for the offence caused, and has corrected the text to better explain the research project described.
And here’s the corrected article, whose initial paragraph states
…Today, the genomes of most if not all descendents of Taínos now contain few of the unique markers that characterized their ancestors.
That seems to me to be both more factually correct, and to reflect the difference between genetic labels and cultural ones that goes to the heart of this post.
Pontikos finds that offensive, and calls it “timorous” that science will “acquiesce… to sensitivity in matters ethnic”. The rest of the post gives examples of labels which refer to groups, species, etc which are now uncontroversially “extinct”.
Scientific discourse is full of discourse that is alienating and offensive to indigenous peoples. One that comes to mind immediately is how biological anthropology tends to talk about ‘mating’ or ‘reproduction’ rather than ‘marriage’ in indigenous groups. Jack Ives (U Calgary) has shown that not considering the social dimension of marriage rules and choices has consequences for how those rules play out at a population level. That is, ignoring “marriage” in favour of “mating” leads to bad science, as well as being offensive.
One of the many good things about the internet is that it is making science publishing more accessible to the “subjects” of that research. Some scientists seem to be having a little trouble adjusting to this. Much is predicated on he assumption that ethnographic (and linguistic fieldwork) writing will most probably not be read by the subjects of that work. There are many barriers (both obvious ones and not so obvious ones) – language barriers, educational ones, access ones – even for people brought up as insiders to the system – think of the number of articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the difficulties of getting tenure-track jobs. Increase in access to science is only going to pay off in better research down the track, and if that means not phrasing the results in a way that is offensive to research participants, and that helps us keep in mind that without those research participants, we would know an awful lot less about the diversity of our world, the choice seems obvious.
*Caveat: I haven’t read the 95 comments+ on this post.