Oops. I’d been thinking for several days that it seemed odd that the results of the referendum on rescinding the report of the El Dorado Task Force had not come out. I kept checking the AAA website — where, to my knowledge, they don’t appear in any obvious way — and finally decided to google search “yanomami referendum”.
Well, this is probably not news to many of you, but
“Members of the American Anthropological Association, weighing in on a dispute that has divided their discipline, voted 846 to 338 to rescind a controversial 2002 report on allegations of research misconduct by scholars studying the Yanomami people.”
I do belong to the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America but feelings about this have been so sore that there seems to be a collective decision not to discuss the issue at all on the listserv, thus I didn’t get the results from any flurry of discussion over there.
This outcome, while not surprising, is pretty saddening. First, doesn’t the AAA have something like 11,000 members? What a tiny turnout. And it’s not at all heartening that the association president herself — even now that the voting is over — refuses to say how she voted on it. Of course it’s her perfect right to keep her vote private, and I can imagine an argument for her not publicly stating her position before the vote. But why maintain silence even now?
I fear that the outcome recapitulates a contemporary disciplinary tendency: an incredible willingness to stake positions at an exalted, empyrean level and an utter refusal to say anything at all on small, messy, immediate issues except to ignore and/or dismiss them. For the record, I voted absolutely against the movement to rescind the report. The whole obfuscatory process that culminated in the effort to rescind reminded me of certain trends in U.S. public life — say, the discrediting of that 60 Minutes report about Bush’s national guard service on the basis of challenging the particular authenticity of certain documents rather than the substance of the report itself — and made me want to puke.
The only thing that makes me feel slightly cheered-up is the thought that with referendums like this one, a highly mobilized base can hijack the outcome. I hope this is what happened: that most people got what Rex has called “Yanomami fatigue”, stopped paying attention, and just sort of felt nonplussed by the time they got the ballot question (which was posed, in classic tricky-referendum form, as a double negative). Still, this vote is now a part of our disciplinary history, to our grave collective discredit.