January 21, 2006
AAA: sections & publications
This is Dan Segal, posting as a guest here on John Norvell's blog. This is a response to the discussion of section finances and AAA publishing on Savage Minds:
I will try to briefly convey my understanding of the finances of AAA journals and AAA sections with journals, based on my experiences as a former editor of a Section journal (Cultural Anthropology), a past Section president (of SCA), and as the current convener of the AAA Section Assembly.
First, let me note that one thing that makes it difficult to assess the financial well-being of journals per se is that such Sections have at least two primary sources of income: (i) institutional subscriptions to their journal and (ii) membership dues. Without question, the income from institutional subscriptions is journal-derived. The difficulty is that income from membership dues to some extent results because scholars want to receive the journal (since the journal is a benefit of Section membership); even if the journal is not the sole reason, someone joins a Section, it is part of why members are willing to pay higher membership dues, for instance. Yet there is no way to know what proportion of income from Section dues should be treated as “journal-derived.” Economists typically try to model such things, but anthropologists should know better. What the AAA does, in its book-keeping, is count income from Section dues as external to the finances of each Section journal. Given this, it often appears as if Section journals are running at a deficit, but this is because they depend on funds that are from Section dues that are not counted as “journal income.” That is nothing more than an accounting artifact. It is not a real deficit. The real issue is when a Section runs at a deficit, particularly if it does so for several years.
In terms of increased costs, it is the case that electronic publishing of current and back issues of Section journals in AnthroSource has involved significant one-time costs (though these are lower than they would have been had the AAA not had support from Mellon). However, the expectation is that as AnthroSource revenues increase in the next few years, these one-time costs will be “paid back” by the new income from AnthroSource. Thus, the primary problem produced by the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource is one of financing a transition. This has been a problem for a small number of Sections.
However, in terms of recurring or operating costs, my understanding is that the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource has not involved a significant increase in expenses for journals. What must be clarified, however, is that before the time of AnthroSource, the AAA itself produced the Section journals, and Sections were then charged by the AAA for this work. But at the same time as the advent of AnthroSource, journal production was also outsourced to UC Press. This outsourcing is coincident with but distinct from AnthroSource, and it involved a change in accounting procedures, but not, as best I can tell, any material increase in costs to Sections for producing their journals. Indeed, the argument for outsourcing was that the costs of producing journals were increasing, particularly when production was done on a relatively small scale (as was the case within the AAA); and furthermore, that the most likely route to controlling cost increases was through the economies of scale that could be attained through outsourcing AAA journals to a bigger operation (e.g., a major university press). When all is said and done, of course, it is very hard to compare the actual rate of increases in production costs that have occurred since the outsourcing of the journals with the hypothetical rate of increases in production costs that would have been incurred, had the AAA continued to produce its journals internally. Nonetheless, I do not think there is evidence that the outsourcing to UC Press has backfired and produced higher costs than we would have otherwise had, and I myself lean toward the view that outsourcing to UC Press has been more beneficial, financially, than not having done so. Moreover, one of the hoped for benefits of outsourcing was better marketing to institutions, as well as cost control through economies of scale. Here too, I lean in favor of the argument for having outsourced, in terms of finances at least.
So far, what I have said should be taken to convey that neither the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource nor the coincident but distinct outsourcing to UC Press have been a source of significant financial difficulty to Sections or Section journals.
But there is in my view another dimension to or aspect of AnthroSource, which has been much less recognized and which is potentially a very serious threat to the financial stability of the Sections and indeed to the AAA as a whole.
In addition to outsourcing to UC Press, and in addition to electronic publishing, a third aspect of the recent transition was the decision to market the journals in AnthroSource as a bundle, rather than market electronic access to each journal on an “a la carte” basis. The key fact here is that all AAA members now get electronic access to all Section journals in AnthroSource, without paying dues to all those Sections. Recall moreover that a major component of Section income is Section dues, which to some unknown extent is motivated by the benefit of receiving a subscription to a Section’s journal. Surely it is plausible that if AAA members get AnthroSource, and thus electronic access to all of the journals, that some AAA members will henceforth be less likely to join Sections that they joined in the past or would have joined without the bundling of journals in AnthroSource. So the real threat to Section finances is not the cost of electronic publishing in my view, but the loss of Section dues income because of the bundling of journals in AnthroSource.
Now, AAA rules do require that each AAA member join one Section, so what is threatened by the bundling of journals in AnthroSource (note, not by the electronic AnthroSource per se, but by the bundling aspect of AnthroSource) is membership in second and third and fourth Sections. The AAA has statistics which show how many Sections AAA members belong to on average (and the degrees of overlap in or correlation in membership between Sections), and these stats do indicate that many Sections will have problems if AAA members exhibit a decreased propensity to join more than one Section.
Finally, two further aspects of this are worth noting.
First, if a Section loses members and thus dues revenues, because their journal(s) are now bundled in AnthroSource, then that Section will thereafter not have sufficient funds to produce its journal, and if the journal declines or even ceases to publish, then the value of AnthroSource will also decrease—and AAA will be less successful in marketing AnthroSource. Thus, AAA as a whole has a vital interest in insuring that the emerging revenue stream from AnthroSource be distributed in a manner that supports Sections that publish journals that are in AnthroSource. But there is a genuinely tough politics in just how this should be done. Here’s why:
The costs of electronic publishing of a standardized page of a journal is the same for all Sections, and this would argue for a flat revenue distribution scheme: each journal would get revenue proportionate to the number of standardized pages it publishes. But on the other hand, journals with higher citation rates and so on are adding more value to AnthroSource than journals with lower citation rates and so on—specifically in terms of driving institutional subscriptions to AnthroSource. So from this perspective, there is an argument that revenues should be distributed by a formula that is weighted for “value added to AnthroSource.” Thus, there is a nontrivial difference in the material interests of different Sections, and the AAA and its Sections need to deal with that difference through an open and deliberative process.
Second, the current structure insulates and treats uniquely better one AAA journal, above all others. All AAA members receive AA and AA gets revenues from AAA dues. AA is not published by a Section that has to get people to join AFTER paying the AAA dues. And yet, now that AnthroSource, with its bundle of journals, is a benefit of AAA membership, part of the very value of AAA membership is electronic access to Section journals—and in that sense, the Sections are contributing in a major way to the value of AAA membership, and thus driving AAA income, even though the Sections and their journals (unlike AA) do not get any income from AAA membership dues. Thus, in a nontrivial sense, the Sections that produce journals are to some extent subsidizing AA, at the expense of support for their own journals. (To be fair about this, it is important to note that the Sections do get services from AAA that are probably not fully charged to the Sections, but this was true before the transition to AnthroSource, with its bundling of journals, so the point remains that with the advent of the “bundling” of journals, the Sections are newly contributing to the worth of AAA membership, and to the support of AA, and not getting comparable new revenues from AAA membership dues.)
For me, two points unfold from this second observation. First, the Section journals are disadvantaged by the AAA relative to the AA. And I myself do not see why the AAA as an organization should operate to treat AA (and the distinctive flavor of “general” anthropology it offers) as more important than the Section journals (with their equally distinctive flavors of anthropologies). Second, the future of the Sections may require some revenue sharing from AAA dues, as well as revenue sharing from AnthroSource income.
In conclusion, AnthroSource, because of its bundling of electronic access to journals, does pose a significant unknown problem to the finances of Sections that produce journals. Solving that problem involves a difficult political choice about the principles that will be used for distributing AnthroSource income and possible AAA membership dues derived income. A second difficult political decision is whether the AAA should continue to privilege AA, and in effect use revenues fueled by Section journals to subsidize AA.
May 7, 2005
[posted May 6, 2005 on the Public Anthropology referendum forum, reproduced here with a few typos fixed.]
The “whereas” clauses of this referendum purport to represent an impressive concern for due process, fairness, and objectivity on the part of the referendum's authors, the same points laid out in the December 2004 American Anthropologist “Ethics Forum” article. Anyone who follows the words and deeds of these Chagnon supporters and their allies from the 2000 AAA meeting onward will recognize this as a lot of legalistic huff and puff, merely the latest act in an all-out effort to muddy and obfuscate and confuse the relatively straight-forward facts and judgments eventually established by the Task Force. This campaign includes, of course, William Irons' attempted censure of Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel at the 2002 AAA business meeting for their alleged ethical breaches in overstating the merits of the Darkness in El Dorado accusations. The depths of hypocrisy reached here are astounding since the principal argument in support of the current referendum is that the AAA lacks the power to discipline members for ethical violations, and Irons has written at length in these forums about this.
I support the AAA stricture against “adjudicat[ing] claims for unethical behavior,” given the shameful way the organization has applied such adjudication in the past (Boas, Freeman, Iron's attempt) and — agreeing here with the Chagnon camp in a small way — the impossibility and undesirability of mounting a fully judicial process of review and sanction. Adjudication, however, implies more than making judgments. I can't imagine how meaningful discussion of anthropological ethics can occur if real, specific acts cannot be held up to our agreed-upon ethical principles and “judged.”
It is no doubt true that the El Dorado controversy has posed challenges for the AAA that it is not well-prepared to face, and that various steps and missteps by key leaders have allowed charges of bias on both sides to appear plausible (the very first AAA El Dorado forum, in 2000 I think, when Patrick Tierney bravely faced a panel of almost totally hostile experts arrayed against him in front of television cameras comes to mind). Future ethics committees have hard times ahead of them. But let's be clear: rescinding the Task Force report is not a constructive or even good-faith step in that direction.
I also join those who worry that, whether it passes or not, the referendum itself and its substantial support indicate that not only do we not, in fact, talk to each other much across the sub-fields of anthropology, but that we increasingly cannot find the minimal common ethical and epistemological ground necessary to do so.
On a non-partisan note, I would also like to point out here that several candidates for the top AAA leadership positions have responded to a query of mine for their thoughts on the Yanomami/El Dorado issue, and, with their permission, have posted their unedited replies on my weblog without editorial comment.
April 25, 2005
AAA election "campaigning"
So, ten days have passed since my email to the AAA candidates. After a promising start, it turns out that not many returned my message. Of the sixteen candidates up for these eight top positions, I have heard from five plus one private email not for publication here. In no category have I heard from both candidates, and there are three categories with either no comment or "no comment" from both candidates.
This is disappointing. Does it mean that folks don't have opinions on the issue? That they didn't feel the need to respond to a random email from someone they didn't know who said he was going to put their answers on his blog, which they also didn't know about? Is two weeks too short a time to forumulate an answer or respond to emails? Maybe they really don't want the job anyway? Hmm.
A larger question is whether members really want politics in the organization, whether I do, in fact. I'm pretty sure I do. Not being much of a historian of the organization, I don't know how often there have ever been periods with politics. I do know that the organization has had to deal with weighty and controversial topics over the years and that politics have emerged around those. But ever electoral politics? Who to ask, who to ask...? I'll find a gray-head sage around the halls somewhere. Or maybe call Fred Gleach. Any insights out there?
I appreciate the effort taken by those who have written me, publicly or privately. At the moment, I have not yet sent in my ballot and I don't think I will vote for anyone who hasn't responded. I may be doing the Brazilian protest thing and voting "em branco" -- abstaining -- in a lot of categories. Maybe I'll write in the ghost of Boas. Dunno. AAA: can't live with it, can't put it out of its misery.
Note (added 5/1/05): Setha Low has sent me comments, meaning that both candidates for President-Elect have now responded. See her response below:
April 14, 2005
AAA Candidates Respond
I just sat down with the annual AAA ballot and read through the blurbs for candidates for all those positions. These blurbs read like every other remote board I have to vote for all the time (alumni trustee, REI board, TIAA-CREF, and blah blah blah). Then I thought about all the issues various AAA Executive Boards and Presidents have had to make decisions on and how much impact these decisions had on me, on colleagues, on various groups of people around the world. Now, I find organizational politics as tedious as anybody, but it does seem shocking that these elections occur in such rhetorical isolation from current issues, at least in my circles, anyway. (The long cycle between a vote and the time a President-Elect actually becomes President sure doesn't help!) I never hear corridor talk about whom to vote for and so forth, so if there's real politics going on around these candidates, I have no idea where. There are no debates or questionaires or any such tools for assessing candidates. Unless we know these people personally, what do members do, look at a publication list and decide who would be a good board member on that basis? Make sweeping generalizations about how certain academic interests would translate into elements of governance? It's a real mystery to me.
So, I fired off an email to all the candidates for President-Elect, Executive Board, and Nominations Committee. Within minutes, responses starting popping into my inbox. I told them I would post the responses on my blog unless they asked me not to. I posed questions about the El Dorado/Yanomami issue, partly because I have strong opinions on the matter myself and partly because I thought that, as the most controversial issue to hit us in recent years, it would give a good glimpse into leadership qualities. Here are the questions. Their responses will be added to the extended entry section as they come in.
- How would you characterize the way the Executive Boards and Presidents have handled the evolving challenge of the Yanomami/"El Dorado" issues?
- What would you have done differently, if anything?
- What principles will guide your decisions on similar issues in the future?
Click "continue reading," here, to see the answers:
Dear John Norvell,
I appreciate your desire to get more information about those running for AAA office. In terms of process, my feeling is that the AAA should emphasize transparency in its operations. That is much easier to say than to do, of course, but one of my primary goals of running for office is to increase the active participation of membership in the operation of our Association. Many issues like the Annual Meeting and the Yanomami will have sharply differing solutions proposed from the membership, but decisions must be made in ways that respect and arbitrate openly the differences.
The Executive Board, President, and staff ideally should always work to from the broadest possible consensus. Like most members of the AAA, I hold my views strongly and I want others to do the same. As an organization we should work as hard as possible to find the middle ground. The best solution usually comes from compromise among well meaning people of whom the Association is made.
Hope this is helpful. Best, Tim Earle
April 29, 2005
Dear John Norvell,
I want to thank you for providing an opportunity to share my thoughts on the
challenges of the Yanomami/El Dorado issue, and my principles with regard to
ethical and procedural decisions in the future. Your query prompted a review
of the two volumes of the El Dorado Task Force Papers and related Code of
Ethics papers posted on the AAA web site, as well as visiting other relevant
In order to answer your questions, I must first point out my belief that the
current conflict about how to address a journalistic attack on our
discipline and resolve the damage both of the attack and the actual events,
is in part a consequence of the lack of consensus on the meaning and purpose
of the Code of Ethics passed in 1998. Reading over the history of the
Committee on Ethics (Hill 1980) and the Final Report of the Commission to
Review the AAA Statement on Ethics submitted to the AAA Executive Board in
1995, it is clear that we are still struggling with our desire to maintain
an individual researcher's autonomy with regard to one's field and research
practices versus a disciplinary concern with ethical standards and
appropriate behavior. Based on the findings of the Commission to Review the
AAA Statement of Ethics, our current Code of Ethics was written " to foster
discussion and education" and developed as a tool for "maintaining an
ethical framework for all anthropological work." It specifically states that
the AAA does not adjudicate claims of unethical behavior. This decision was
made along the lines outlined by Wendy Trevathan in this blog, that is, that
the Committee on Ethics does not have the expertise and time, much less the
legal know-how, to adjudicate claims or accusations of unethical behavior.
And Code of Ethics itself was not much help when President Louise Lamphere
faced the barrage of claims and counter-claims of the Yanomami/El Dorado
incident. Nor did she have any guidelines as to how to proceed in the face
of public demands for an accounting of the veracity of the claims and the
threat to the discipline, fieldwork practices, and anthropologists currently
in the Amazon region. Therefore, although one can find fault with the
details of the procedure (a Task Force could have been put in place earlier
or had a different composition) I think that her response to create an
advisory Task Force of specialists to evaluate the nature of the accusations
and explore possible remedies was necessary since the Committee on Ethics
could not take on the task. I also find it difficult to second guess
colleagues who were trying to do their best in a controversial and
emotionally fraught situation. And, of course, I agree that the process
needs to be more transparent. Transparency was part of the issue with the
annual meeting decision-making last year-we clearly need better channels of
communication between individual members, sections, and the leadership, as
well as an on-line system for quickly evaluating complex situations and
But that brings me to what I would do differently. I think that to improve
on the handling of ethical accusations and attacks both on the discipline
and on individuals within it, we need to address the ambivalence written
into our Code of Ethics. How can we clarify the complex events and
situations that face us if we can not adjudicate-or at least have a
procedure for evaluating-ethical conflicts and problematic cases? I
understand that it would be difficult to develop a procedure to do so. Other
disciplines and professions are pressured to enforce their codes of ethics
by the external constraints attendant upon their licensing privileges. We do
not have licensing, but we apply anthropology and should be accountable for
our behavior in the field and at home. I do not think in a global world that
we can continue to take the stance that ethics is only for educational
purposes and to provide a set of guidelines. If we continue, we could lose
the respect and trust of the people we work with as well as our credibility
as researchers who want to participate in public policy decisions that
affect the communities in which we work and live.
The answer to your question, then, is that I would like to return to the AAA
membership and initiate a broad-ranging discussion about ethical behavior
and the role of a code of ethics in anthropological research and practice.
There are two possible approaches-each having positive and negative aspects.
We could continue as we are currently constituted, which would protect the
desire for individual anthropologists to determine autonomously their own
ethical standards and actions. But each time there is a controversy like the
one faced by President Lamphere, we would have to develop procedures de
novo, and there is likely to be the same complaints of a lack of due process
and criticisms of the procedure. On the other hand, if we agree that we want
a Code of Ethics that is enforceable, and put in place a process that would
evaluate ethical claims, then we would have a clear idea of how to proceed;
but it would require a great deal of work to establish a generally accepted
set of mechanisms for fair adjudication. I would work to facilitate reaching
a consensus that represents the considered opinion of the membership either
way, but my preference would be to have an empowered Committee on Ethics to
guide me so that I would be better able to defend the discipline in the
Executive Board, Biological Seat
I was on the AAA Ethics Committee in 1990-1993 when it was still serving as an adjudication body. I distinctly remember one "case" in which 5-6 boxes of materials were sent to each member to review, most of which seemed to consist of "he said-she said" types of information, newspaper articles, letters, and other accusations flying back and forth. Trying to render a fair and just decision in the face of this mountain of material was impossible and I think we decided not to accept it for review. At that time discussions began about the role of the Ethics Committee with a strong argument that, given the growth of the field and our own specializations, given that we are not attorneys, and given that there was no "due process" for the accusers and accused, the adjudication function of the committee was no longer appropriate. I don't recall the details of all that led up to the change in function of the Ethics Committee, but I felt that having it serve as advisory rather than investigatory was a positive outcome. With this history in mind, I was surprised to see the AAA get back in the business of adjudication in the Yanomami case, no matter the merits of the situation or the nature of the accusations. Certainly comment from some level of AAA seemed appropriate, but investigations seemed to no longer be part of AAA mandate at that time. Thus, I do believe the process was flawed and would vote in favor of the motion. But, I am also fully aware that this referendum and the votes are not really about acceptance or rejection of the report but about acceptance or rejection of the findings. No matter how much it is emphasized, most members who cast their votes on the referendum are thinking about it this way, and I have no doubt that people reading this here or on your blog will come away thinking "Wenda Trevathan thinks what happened with the Yanomami was acceptable."
I have no idea how I would have handled the El Dorado situation had I been on the board at the time, but I hope that I and other members of AAA have learned some valuable lessons from this. If I were a member of the executive board and were presented with a similar situation/set of accusations in the future I'm pretty sure that I would not seek investigation or adjudication, although I would endorse discussion, sessions at AAA meetings, AN columns, etc., as a way of educating our peers and students about ethical issues we all face. I am concerned, however, about the precedent that the ED Task Force sets for the organization. I'm predicting that the referendum will not pass (for the reasons cited above - i.e., that most will vote as a judgment rather than a procedural issue), and wonder if we have now moved back into the situation in which we bring judgment against members based on the PPR. Based on my experience on the
Ethics Committee many years ago, this is not a good direction for us to be going in.
In the unusual eventuality that the referendum does pass, I would then be concerned about the implementation process outlined in item 3. As the vote on the referendum will probably be taken as judgment, so the requirement to "announce to the national and international media and distribute copies of this resolution and explain the reasons for rescission as outlined in this resolution" would be interpreted as meaning the AAA found nothing wrong with what happened in the Yanomami case. No matter what, I would try to be fair to the people involved, the AAA guidelines, and to how we are represented in the media - I guess that's my "campaign statement," glib and meaningless as it may be.
Executive Board, Linguistic Seat
I was not very involved in that particular process, but my general view is
that acadamic organizations like the AAA should in the first instance
provide a space for debate and discussion, in ways that are constructive
and respectful. We aren't set up to evaluate. Having said that, there may
well be issues that we want to consider taking a stand on; this is usually
difficult, because consensus is hard to come by, but what that says to me
is that we should be thinking about mechanisms for discussion and conflict
resolution that allow us to either take a stand, with the acceptance, if
not the active agreement, of dissenting minorities; or gracefully face the
impossibility of doing so without silencing those who do wish to take one.
best, Monica Heller
Nominations Committee, Biological Seat
Well said! IMHO, enough said.
Nominations Committee, Undesignated Seat #2
Recently I received an e-mail from you regarding the current AAA elections---an email which you had sent to all the candidates for President-elect, Executive Board and Nominations Committee positions of the AAA. I would like to respond to your e-mail as a candidate for the Nominations Committee.
In particular you raised questions about the way in which the recent AAA Presidents and Executive Boards have dealt with, and continue to deal with, the many issues surrounding the Darkness in El Dorado controversy. I would like to respond based on my experience in leadership positions within several AAA sections and as a former member and Chair of the AAA Committee on Ethics in the post-El Dorado period.
The ethical issues the AAA confronts have not only increased in number but also become more complicated over (at least) the past decade. The AAA whether it is the President, Executive Board or a committee must often respond speedily to issues before there is time to deliberate carefully. I think that the AAA needs to consider new mechanisms of response that both meet the needs of timeliness and of deliberation. In addition final task force or committee reports often seem to deal with the issues raised by a controversy in particularistic ways related to the case before them while neglecting to address underlying, more generalized but more important longer range issues. Frequently the response is coached in legalistic terms---perhaps understandable in a cultural milieu that often solves problems and addresses issues in terms of the language and process of its legal system. As with any organization that operates largely on the time and energy of those who volunteer, the AAA sometimes confronts issues that it is not really structured to resolve in terms of available resources. And while the AAA must pay attention to the reportage about anthropology and anthropologists, ethical issues should be regarded as much more important in and of themselves rather than as brief (at least in the public eye), crisis driven media events.
From the perspective of the Committee on Ethics, I know that via the AAA web site, the AA Newsletter and responses to individual inquiries, the COE seeks to educate anthropologists concerning ethical issues. Yet some anthropologists seem unaware that the AAA has changed the mission of the COE so that the Committee cannot adjudicate claims of ethical wrongdoing. If the AAA again wishes to try to adjudicate accusations of ethical violations (i.e. the El Dorado Task Force), then it should consider a permanent organizational structure assigned to this task and not an ad hoc one. Given the past history of such efforts to adjudicate, however, I think that would be a difficult step.
I think the AAA needs to develop mechanisms to allow ready responses to crisis that are backed by solid policy. I think the AAA needs to continue to enhance its discussion of ethical issues with a broader participation by the AAA membership. I think the AAA needs an expanded resource base and more engagement from its members.
One final point, you wrote in your e-mail to the AAA candidates “…it is surprising and dissatisfying to me that our elections are carried out on the basis of brief biographical blurbs in the annual ballot pamphlet.” I would like to note that each candidate in addition to the biographical statement also writes a platform statement that gives AAA voters some notion at least of the ideas that would guide our actions where we to be elected to AAA office.
Kathleen R. Martín
Florida International U