God bless Neuroanthropology for tracing out the twists and turns of #AAAfail as it unfolded and now, apparently, is more or less ‘over’. In general I concur with Daniel’s analysis of what went wrong. The AAA’s ability to handle its internal processes — and what happens when they go public — reminds me of the fracas over global climate change skepticism (or at least my vague understandings of it): bloggers and other grassroots voices take up the issue, official and authoritative voices abstain from public debate as it is beneath them, the issue blows up, and they find themselves backpedaling and attempting to control a debate which others have already named and framed. What scientists learned from all this was that there is no substitute for early and extensive engagement with critics and involvement with all stages of debate. I think this is a lesson that the AAA should be learning from #AAAfail.
Of course, a time-honored method of dealing with crackpot claims is not dignifying them with a response, and I understand that the AAA wants to stay aloof from engagements that do nothing but drag it down and tarnish its reputation as the the most important professional association for our discipline. However, I think it is clear that its strategy of “do nothing until the New York Times runs a piece, then reveal that you had been right all along” has not been very effective. Honestly, for how many people is the take-away of #AAAfail “anthropology is a science”? This genie is out of the bottle, and to the extent it has any effect at all it will be to create vague memories of anthropology’s silliness for all who read the article.
It may be that the AAA lacks the ability to respond quickly or effectively to issues like this and so simply can’t be as active as it needs to be in public debate. Or it may be that it thinks it actually has been effective in this case. At any rate, the PR meltdown of #AAAfail doesn’t bode well for the organization. At this point I think the ‘scientific’ anthropologists should get a slate of candidates together for the election, disseminate it on the Internet, and see whether they can’t get a few people in. I suspect that turnout is so low that even a modicum of organization could result in significant gains. And heck at this point, even I’d vote for them.