Flash Presentation - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Primary Theme: Science
Secondary Theme: Policy
In recent years, the validity of scientific results across many fields has received increasing scrutiny, leading some to argue in prominent journals that there is a “crisis” in replication and other aspects of scientific integrity. In some fields, especially psychology and medicine, recent large-scale attempts to replicate experimental findings have revealed that the reliability of widely-reported or prominent results is often questionable. The underlying causes of this replicability crisis have spurred considerable debate, with some critics pointing to dubious research practices while others argue that overstated or false empirical findings may be published with no overt malfeasance as part of an academic system that implicitly rewards scholars for conducting studies with small sample sizes, publishing results quickly, and only reporting their statistically “significant” results.
For scientific anthropologists, this crisis in the social and health sciences has provided motivation for reflection on the methods and practices that are commonly used in anthropological research. To this end, researchers have begun to examine the extent to which anthropology is affected by dynamics and incentives that discourage best practices of open and reproducible science. Ethnographic studies generally involve observation and surveys in real-world settings rather than the experimental lab work with undergraduates that has prompted the heaviest critiques, yet the assumption that the particularities of ethnographic research preclude questionable research practices needs to be examined. Moreover, some of the same concerns potentially undermine the reliability of anthropologists’ findings, such as the reliance on small sample sizes and a publication bias toward significant findings. To this end, advocates of open science are calling for anthropological scientists to reflect on the entire research process, from research design to data collection and management to decisions regarding publication and dissemination of data and analyses. These nascent studies and debates reveal that, as a discipline, anthropology may be poised for profound changes in both the imagination and practice of its scientific contributions.
This session engages questions of research design and practice while also considering the methodological changes that will enhance the overall robustness of anthropological studies in ways that speak to the maxim that scientific research should in principle be replicable. Participants demonstrate how scientific anthropology has resisted some trends in the social sciences and thus remained resilient to some of the problems of replication that have plagued other disciplines, in large part because of anthropology’s robust traditions of broadly cross-cultural research as well as firsthand fieldwork that is highly situated in and attendant to local contexts and concerns. Yet many session participants also contend that scientific anthropology must adapt to maintain its rigor and position as an ethical field of inquiry, focusing their discussion on the methodological and institutional changes that will be wise or necessary moving forward. Organized as a flash session, brief five-minute presentations by the presenters and discussants will precede a moderated discussion that further invites participants to imagine changes that will position anthropologists to better contribute their scientific insights to global challenges.