I did not have a chance to write about the Anthropology fracas that erupted several weeks ago, and I probably won’t for a while. But Jamie Jones did.
When I met him Jamie was a grad student in the Anthro department at the small eastern college I got my PhD at. He and I taught together and got along quite well, and we were both co-authors on what turned out the be in the top 20 as measured by citation frequency of papers ever published over the last century (or whatever) in the flagship journal of anthropology, which makes both of us pretty hot. Indeed, we are steeped in Ivy League authority so what we say is important.
So, I’ll tell you one Jamie story then turn the discussion over to him.
The faculty and one student, Jamie, were assembled in the Faculty Meeting Room for the usual interrogation. Jamie was explaining to the faculty what he wanted to do his PhD research on. As I recall he had been working on one project but as if often the case, he had to put that aside for one reason or another. His new proposal involved doing something with Orangutans in relation to Life History Evolution, and the way it looked it would take him a couple of years to get all the data from these slow-reproducing slow-growing elusive forest creatures.
You all know Marc Hauser, from my blog and from the news. He was on the Anthro faculty at the time, and he had this comment on Jamie’s proposal, which he interjected with great enthusiasm:
“Jamie, why don’t you just do the same exact research, test the same exact hypothesis, but use rodents! You can get a dozen generations of rat or mice data with large samples and really kick ass. Orangutans will take you forever. You should drop the primate and use rodents instead!”
Jamie paused for a moment and it was obvious to me that he was very carefully considering what to say in response. If he let Marc’s comment pass, or gain any traction, he would end up studying mice. Marc, at that time, had a lot of influence on the rest of the faculty. In fact, most of them sitting there nodding already. If, on the other hand, he openly disagreed with Marc, there might be a fight. The best option might be to make a short but cogent argument against Marc’s suggestion and hope for the best.
So he paused a little more and then said in a firm but quiet voice, with just a little bit of nervous vibrato (calculated I assume to add humility):
“I want to do this with orangs … because I’m a Primatologist.”
Anyway, here’s Jamie:
Anthropology: A Bittersweet Love Story
For me, anthropology is the science charged with explaining the origin and maintenance of human diversity in all its forms. To achieve this end, anthropology must be unapologetically grand in its scope. How can we explain human diversity without documenting its full extent, through both time and space, and across cultures? This is the thing that drew me to anthropology, the thing that really made me…