Some comments on the blog and survey results

These are the main conclusions that we extracted from the comments on this blog and during the Atlanta discussion, combined with the results of the 2011 survey. You can click the images to see a larger version, and the links to access supplementary materials, such as the letter from Dr. Snow. A link to access the new survey can be found at the bottom of the post.

Insight from the Blog and 2011 Survey

We received 31 comments in the blog, with only three out of 23 persons (less than 10%) preferring to keep the name of the Section “as-is”. This appears as an important change compared to the 59% in favor of a name change in the survey carried out among section members (n=165) last year.

Results from the 2011 survey (n=165)

This change may be related to the discussion session carried out during the Atlanta 2012 AAFS Meeting, in which many of the concerns and misunderstandings presented to advise against a name change were explained and clarified.

Results from the 2011 survey

In particular, the letter by Dr. Clyde Snow served to clarify and eliminate the key historical and professional-profile concerns originally expressed by many Section members. The meeting also served to clarify that the name-change would not affect acceptance policies and member profiles, but rather is addressing the need for a more appropriate description and public representation of the scope and activities related to current forensic anthropology practice.

Potential Biases

However, the small blog sample and the medium selected to pose this initial question may also play a role in explaining the apparent increase in support for a name-change proposal. In particular, unlike the 2011 survey, the blog format requires a more active participation (writing your opinions, rather than just choosing specific options in a questionnaire). This probably explains the much smaller participation, with only 23 individuals posting their opinions in the blog. It is likely that only those section members more involved and concerned with a name change participated in the blog, which may result in a bias toward the less conservative position.

It is for this reason that it would be very important to receive as many answers as possible in the new survey proposed below. Please, forward the link to that survey ( and try to involve as many Section members as possible.

Name Proposals

In most cases, support for a name change was conditioned to the appropriateness of the new name selected, with the suggestion of repeating the poll specifying definite name alternatives, rather than with the generic question of whether we should change the name of the Section.

A variety of names were suggested in this blogAnthropology; Anthropology and Archaeology; Physical Anthropology and Archaeology; Biological Anthropology and Archaeology; Skeletal Anthropology; Applied Anthropology; Anthropology of Justice.

These proposals broadly match the general preferences expressed in the 2011 survey.

Names proposed in the 2011 survey

Forensic Anthropology

As in the 2011 survey, the opinions expressed in the present blog favored the name Forensic Anthropology, although the validity of including the term “forensic” was strongly questioned, based on AAFS rules or, more likely, tradition (as pointed out by Dr. Belcher during this discussion, the limitation does not seem to be included in the Academy bylaws). A valid point against the inclusion of the word “Forensic” is that the name would refer to a section in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and thus any Section within AAFS is already understood as “forensic” in nature and definition.

Just Anthropology

If these arguments hold, they would leave Anthropology as the equivalent and most popular alternative.

Additional arguments to support the Anthropology name are that: (1) it would be more inclusive, embracing all disciplines involved in forensic anthropology. It is important to note here that acceptance within the Section would still be based on essentially the same criteria currently in use, and treated in a per-case basis; thus, linguists or cultural anthropologists with no expertise in forensic anthropology could still not demand acceptance simply based on holding a degree in Anthropology); (2) The Journal of Forensic Sciences already refers to its section just as “Anthropology”; and (3) a majority of section members actually hold a degree in Anthropology, rather than specifically in Physical or Biological Anthropology.

Degrees hold by the participants in the 2011 survey

Include Archaeology in the name

Both the 2011 survey and the 2012 meeting discussion, as well as the opinions expressed in this blog, also confirm the key role attributed to forensic archaeology by the vast majority of the Section members, as a vital constituent and necessary skill set in modern forensic anthropological practice. This led to the common presentation of a third set of options, including Archaeology in the Section’s name.

Results from the 2011 survey

In its simplest form the proposal would be just adding the term to the current Section name, resulting in Physical Anthropology and Archaeology.

It went more or less like this.

Following the logic that any AAFS section is implicitly assumed to be “Forensic,” the name above could be simplified by removing the word “Physical,” the new potential name becoming Anthropology and Archaeology (now understood as encompassing both Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Archaeology).

Biological Anthropology

A fourth important trend is the substitution of the term Physical by the term Biological, resulting in different variations containing Biological Anthropology. We understand this proposal as aiming to stress the entrenchment of Forensic Anthropology within the biological sciences, thus emphasizing a clear separation from social disciplines like cultural anthropology and linguistics. This aspect may be worth additional explanations from its proponents.

Results from the 2011 survey


In sum, we interpret both the opinions expressed in this blog, as well as those expressed by a larger sample of Section members in the 2011 survey, as posing four basic questions:

1. Maintain the current name or not?

2. If the name is to be changed, can we use the term Forensic Anthropology?

3. If the name above is not feasible, should we adopt a more general and inclusive term (Anthropology), or opt for a more specific one, listing more precisely the main disciplines currently included in forensic anthropology practice (e.g. Anthropology and ArchaeologyPhysical Anthropology and Archaeology)?

4. Should we substitute the terms Anthropology or Physical Anthropology by Biological Anthropology?

We tried to encapsulate these options, and their different variations, in the new survey, which you can take by clicking this link.


1 thought on “Some comments on the blog and survey results”

  1. Ginny Listi said:

    It is interesting to me that, while there’s this movement to be more inclusive of the other anthropological subdisciplines in our meetings, our “best practice” discussions are moving in a direction to exclude from practicing those who do not have terminal degrees or board certification. Apples and oranges? Perhaps. But still interesting.

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