January 17, 2011

Peaking over the walls of knowledge

More reactions and thoughts about this post over at the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC). I have asked similar questions in the past--why hasn't anyone ever heard of anthropology? Why do people always ask if we study dinosaurs? Or rocks? Or ants? What's with the terrible lack of public knowledge about anthropology? Is it because anthropologists' work is completely irrelevant? Is it because the general public just doesn't GET IT? Is it because there is a lack of interest in what anthropologists do?

None of the above.

Greg Downey over at Neuroanthropology PLoS brings up a good point in his most recent post. He talks about the most recent issue of American Anthropologist, which has a "Vital Topics Forum" that explores the always fascinating subject of human nature. A timely theme, if you ask me. The issue features prominent anthropologists parsing their way through a notoriously difficult question. But, of course, 99.9% of the general public will have no clue about any of this. Why? As Downey explains:
Unfortunately, given the illiberal policies on publication access practiced by the American Anthropological Association, the forum is behind a subscription wall, so you cannot access it without going through an academic library (unless you’re an AAA member). I’m still grousing about the complete absence of open-access journals in our field, as I think any discussion of ‘public outreach’ given the way we’ve locked up our publications is a bit hypocritical.
Greg is definitely right. And I like his idea about creating an open access online journal. Why not? Anthropologist work on all kinds of pretty interesting subjects...but the vast majority of their work ends up in either subscription-based journals or monographs that aren't exactly geared toward larger audiences (they are usually written for students and other academics, for the most part. There are, of course, exceptions). I definitely do not think that anyone needs to do away with journals and specialized anthro books--but a push toward different forms of media wouldn't be a bad idea.

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