April 13, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Anthropologists Abuse Students on the Job

A shocking percentage of male anthropologists sexually abuse their female students, a new report says.

Science Insider broke the story: “Survey Finds Sexual Harassment in Anthropology.”  Previously afraid to speak up out of fear for their careers, women responded to an anonymous survey that shows sexual abuse, up to and including rape, is rampant by their superiors:

Fieldwork is a rite of passage for anthropologists. It gives the initiate firsthand knowledge of a culture, along with a feeling of camaraderie with colleagues, often in remote and rugged locations. But for women there is also a dark side—a risk of sexual harassment and rape, according to a survey of fieldwork experiences released today. Anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, who authored the study, found a disturbingly high incidence of physical sexual harassment among respondents: More than 20% of female bioanthropologists who took part said that they had experienced “ physical sexual harassment or unwanted sexual contact.” Most of these victims are female, and most of the perpetrators were colleagues of superior professional status, sometimes the victim’s own fieldwork mentor.

Clancy was stimulated to look into abuse when a traumatized colleague of hers shared her story of having been raped by her mentor but was told to keep quiet for the sake of her career.  Clancy provided a place where students could tell their “horror stories” anonymously.  Wanting more rigorous data, she launched an online survey and was shocked: over 20% of 98 women, and 1 of 23 men, reported sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact.  The incidents primarily involved fellow field workers, rarely members of the cultures being studied.  Two thirds of the women reported unwelcome sexual remarks.

The president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists expressed shock and dismay:

The president of AAPA, Lorena Madrigal, provided Science with an official statement in reaction to the survey results. “I am shocked, angry, disillusioned, and sad about the events these women recount. … I just thought this did not happen anymore, and I am still in shock to hear that it does.

Clancy has expanded her online survey (available here) to other disciplines that involve field work.  PhysOrg said 19% of respondents had been sexually assaulted; some of them volunteered the information they had been raped.  Clancy was outraged that the NSF and NIH provide more safety protocols for lab procedures than they do for the lives and reputations of field workers.

Do you see why science requires morality?  Imagine senior anthropologists, leading their postdocs to study cultures in distant lands, ostensibly to mentor them into the “science” of anthropology, only to abuse them and pressure them to keep quiet.  We’ve heard a lot about abuse by Catholic priests and high school teachers.  Maybe abuse by scientists will be the next scandal.

Science, like any other human activity, is mediated by fallen souls.  Don’t expect scientists to be untainted, especially those who arrogate themselves to speak with authority on complex human behavior (6/10/2012)   Group junkets away from scrutiny are a perfect setup for moral turpitude to manifest itself.  The NSF throws money at anthropology projects, assuming the scientists will behave themselves.  Maybe they should fund a study on the sociology of anthropology, its moral practices and taboos.  But what are they going to say?  Judge rape as wrong?  What distinguishes the sexual practices of anthropologists from those of native tribes?   If the behavior evolved, it’s what evolution produced, neither right or wrong. What’s the difference between the antics of a paleoanthropologist in a South African cave with a postdoc, and the sexual promiscuity of the presumed ape-people whose bones he speculates about?

The moment the NSF or NIH ascribes moral outrage to sexual abuse on the job, they leave their materialist worldview and point to moral absolutes.   Those who presume to speak with unbiased authority of science cannot extricate themselves from the human race.  Scientist, analyze thyself.




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