Ok, I think I will jump into Michael’s stream. I have a problem with the reductionism of geneticists, evolutionary psychologists, socio-biology, etc., too. And I’m also annoyed when such types go beyond their data, and start making generalizations that would be better addressed with the nuanced data ethnographer-types generate. Notably such data often cannot be “seen” from the spread sheets and certainly not from the bench of a genetics lab. I have written the editors of PLoS Biology (2005) and BMC Genetics (2013) respectively about such problems with respect to the Mla Bri of Thailand, a group which a long-time colleague and friend knows well. My comments were received well by both editors, and are now attached to the articles here, and here. Note: I’m also vain enough to put these two comments on my c.v., and if I were up for tenure, would be sure to highlight them!
My point is that Anthropology instead of always playing defense on the blogs, is probably better served by doing what they do best, i.e. interrogate and synthesize complex data about human groups. There are outlets for your insights; contact editors in the big-time science journals particularly if someone working from a lab bench is making over-generalizations about a group you know well. I think anthropologists will sometimes be pleasantly surprised, as I was. And particularly, don’t be shy about treading on others’ “territory;” your four-field background means that you bridge gaps in ways other cannot (or when they try, they miss the nuance). Anthropology should not be so shy about treading on others’ territory—after all the biologists (and many others) are not so shy about treading on anthropology’s territory.
In other words, call the socio-biologists, evolutionary psychologists and others on the over-generalizations, reductionism, and (need I say it) methodological positivism when necessary. It is what you do best, don’t be shy (but also get a thick skin!).
BTW, this post is in part my response to Razib Khan’s analysis of Southeast Asian migration data from the lab bench. Unlike the critiques I posted above, he clearly states the fact that he is working from a lab bench, genes and culture are not the same thing, and that there are problems with how the Thai and Cambodian data were collected. Good for him on this one.
I still wish though that Razib would acknowledge that just maybe the world indeed better off with cultural anthropology, than without.
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.