Some General Comments Before Discussing the Results and Posting a New Survey, by Dennis C. Dirkmaat

Now that we are fast approaching another AAFS meeting, and it has been 9 months since the ‘beginning’ of somewhat serious discussion of a change of name for the Physical Anthropology Section, I would like to provide a review of the discussion in Atlanta and the ensuing on-line discussion within this blog, in anticipation of the next stages in the process: (1) Reviewing the comments of the Section members posted in this blog; and (2) conducting a survey with name proposals based on those comments and the survey carried on in 2011.

As suggested by many blog posts, at this point it will probably be helpful to review our presentation at the 2012 meeting in Atlanta:

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Before reviewing the input offered by the blog posts, the discussion at Atlanta following this presentation, and the survey conducted in 2011, I would like to stress again a few key points:

1) The primary reason for changing the name is to reflect more accurately the true diversity of roles and activities performed by the forensic anthropologist. The nominal clarification of these roles and professional capabilities is primarily for consumption by forensic pathologists, coroners and medical examiners (although some anthropologists may also benefit from it).

2) I think it is time to bring forensic archaeology firmly into the fold of forensic anthropology as reflected by current thinking, practice and published definitions. In my view, there is definitely no need to create a separate and distinct forensic archaeology section within the Academy. (Toto, we are not in Great Britain anymore)

3) The vote would relate only to changing the name from Physical Anthropology. It does not change membership requirements, board-certification, or other match-point topics. Those issues and considerations come later.

4)  I am also convinced that a name change would not result in cultural anthropologist or linguists flooding the meetings or attempting to become members. If an occasional cultural anthropologist has something relevant to say in our section meeting, then let’s listen.

Please, keep these things in mind, and follow this link to read our comments on the input received from the survey, this blog and the discussion in Atlanta. A link to take a new survey to choose between different names can be found at the end of those comments. Thanks!

Dennis C. Dirkmaat


Should We Change the Name of the AAFS Physical Anthropology Section?


A symposium at the recent meeting of the Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) in Atlanta, Georgia (February 2012) discussed the convenience and possibility of changing the name of the Academy’s Physical Anthropology Section.

The key argument for proposing this change was that the moniker Physical Anthropology does not appropriately describe the significant role played by other anthropology sub-disciplines (in particular, forensic archaeology) in forensic anthropology as practiced today, and thus does not adequately convey to other anthropologists, forensic specialists, law enforcement, and the coroner/Medical Examiner communities what forensic anthropologists can offer and accomplish in medico-legal contexts.

The proposal was supported by the results of an online questionnaire describing the current practice and views of an ample cross-section of forensic anthropology practitioners and AAFS Physical Anthropology Section members regarding both the field and the specific name-change question. Both the questionnaire and the general discussion during the symposium demonstrated a widespread and strong support for the proposal among the Section members, calling for a name change.

Since that meeting numerous Section members have contacted us to express further support, valuable ideas and sensible concerns about the name-change proposal. With this forum we would like to further the discussion, allowing all members of the section to air their support or concerns regarding a name change. Our goal is to listen to as many voices as possible, gathering new ideas and seeking a broad consensus before presenting a motion to vote for a new name in the next Academy meetings.

We would like to conduct the discussion in two stages: The first stage will simply focus on discussing whether a name change is in order and will result in a second email questionnaire that will ask for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. In case this first stage renders an affirmative answer, the second stage of the discussion will be devoted to discussing and determining the top 2-4 choices for the new name.

Before we proceed with the discussion in the forum, let’s conduct a straw vote with a simple question: Should the name be changed, YES or NO? (official members of the Physical Anthropology Section of the Academy only, please). Please Leave a Comment with your input regarding this question.

Thanks for your help!

Dennis Dirkmaat and Luis Cabo, Mercyhurst University