Colour sign at the freedom march saying
Colour sign at the freedom march saying "black trans lives matter", supporting Juneteenth day
Humanize From Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

The American Anthropological Association Is Shamefully Anti-Scientific

Originally published at National Review

Here we go again: A supposedly scientific organization crushes the scientific method in the cause of radical ideology.

Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. Anthropologists apply knowledge gleaned from other sciences in pursuing this end. From the American Anthropological Association website:

In the community of anthropologists in the United States, these four fields—human biology, archaeology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics—are understood to be the pillars on which the whole discipline rests. Any individual anthropologist will probably specialize in one or two of these areas but have general familiarity with them all.

The American Anthropological Association — the premier domestic professional association in that field — left out what has apparently become the most important element of all: woke ideology. How else explain its board’s cancelation of a planned presentation in its upcoming annual meeting arguing that sex and gender are binary?

Predictably, the transphobia charge justified censorship. From its statement, “No Place for Transphobia in Anthropology” (my emphasis):

The AAA and CASCA [Canadian Anthropology Society] boards reached a decision to remove the session “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” from the AAA/CASCA 2023 conference program. This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, in order to ensure the safety and dignity of all of our members, as well as the scientific integrity of the program.

Wait a minute. How is that discussion possibly beyond the scope of an important anthropology conference? After all, the point is to learn about what makes us human, and certainly a binary understanding of sex–at the very least–is a biological factor of human existence, that is to say, it remains a legitimate scientific hypothesis, that itself, was once a generally accepted perspective.

And how would anyone’s “dignity” or “safety” be threatened by open discussion and debate?

That doesn’t matter! Ideology trumps science!

The first ethical principle in AAA’s Principles of Professional Responsibility is to “Do no harm.” The session was rejected because it relied on assumptions that run contrary to the settled science in our discipline, framed in ways that do harm to vulnerable members of our community. It commits one of the cardinal sins of scholarship—it assumes the truth of the proposition that it sets out to prove, namely, that sex and gender are simplistically binary, and that this is a fact with meaningful implications for the discipline.

The very concept of “settled science” is anti-scientific. Moreover, the true “cardinal sin” against the scientific method is to censor heterodox research and stifle dissenting voices. The advance of science depends on a vigorous intradisciplinary exchange of views, challenges to “settled” orthodoxies, and the freedom to explore uncomfortable hypotheses. Imposing an ideological straight jacket is the absolute antithesis of true science.

Even if the binary-promoting panelists are wrong, the scientific approach is to rebut the presenters, not censor them. The same would be true of a panel that questioned the binary at a time when that view dominated the field. Indeed, one assumes openness to debate actually allowed the current gender ideologues to assume control of anthropological discourse.

But the AAA and CASCA leadership aren’t really committed to objective anthropology anymore:

Transgender and gender diverse identities have long existed, and we are committed to upholding the value and dignity of transgender people. We believe that a more just future is possible—one where gender diversity is welcomed and supported rather than marginalized and policed.

Open discussions in science don’t undermine anyone’s intrinsic human dignity nor “police” diversity and respect.

The canceling of this discussion demonstrates that the AAA and CASCA have abdicated their proper roles as leaders of free and open anthropological inquiry and yielded to the contemporary authoritarianism of gender ideology. Shame on the cowardly officers that made this decision. They have betrayed science generally and anthropology specifically.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.