Public Policy/Advocacy

Vote on Changes to the AAA Code of Ethics, deadline February 15

Dear AAA Member:

You are being asked to vote on adoption of changes [pdf] to the AAA Code of Ethics. These changes come forward to you as a result of a year-long process wherein a number of stakeholders, including the Committee on Ethics (CoE), NAPA, CoPAPIA, NCA, the Executive Board (EB) and others provided significant input. We write to provide background information about the proposed changes, and to provide perspective on next steps.

At the Business Meeting conducted during the 2007 Annual Meeting, a resolution introduced by Terry Turner was passed by the membership.[1] This resolution directed the EB to restore sections 1.g, 2.a, 3.a and 6 of the 1971 version of the code of ethics. A related motion was introduced by John Kelly,[2] directing the EB to report to the membership if a decision was not made to restore, in total, the language proposed in the Turner motion. Both motions appear below.

The EB requested that the AAA Committee on Ethics draft, pursuant to the Kelly motion, a revised version of the ethics code that incorporated the principles of the Turner motion. The Committee on Ethics, supplemented with six invited guests, submitted a “Report to the AAA Executive Board on the Revision of the AAA Ethics Code” on June 16, 2008. This report contained majority and minority opinions about the changes in the code of ethics needed to comply with the Turner Motion.

The CoE report offered several reasons for rejecting incorporation of the Turner motion into the Code of ethics, namely:

“The majority of the working group express[es] concern that the 1971 language does not allow exceptions that both the working group and the framers of the resolution have acknowledged as valid, such as confidentiality regarding the location of archaeological resources or threatened populations of plants and animals.  Further, they feel that if the purpose of the resolution is to prohibit anthropologists from abusing the trust placed in them by the people with whom they work and whom they study, then the language needs to be clarified to unambiguously allow confidentiality or restricted distribution of results in those cases where such restrictions are based on an anthropologist's primary ethical obligations to the people, species, and materials they study and to the people with whom they work.”

An ad hoc subcommittee of the AAA Executive Board was constituted to consider the Committee on Ethics report, and prepared this document for consideration of the entire EB. This subcommittee consisted of T. J. Ferguson, Monica Heller, Tom Leatherman, Gwendolyn Mikell, and Deborah Nichols.

The AAA EB subcommittee, among its findings, agreed with the Committee on Ethics that the 1971 ethics language could not be reinserted verbatim into the AAA Code of Ethics, as proposed by Turner for the reasons outlined above. Furthermore the subcommittee also found that certain elements of the 1971 language fail to recognize valid but crosscutting ethical obligations and agreed that a new section of the ethics code be drafted regarding dissemination of research findings.

In sum, the AAA EB subcommittee recommended six changes to the Code of Ethics, and it is these changes we will be asking you to vote on shortly.

As a part of next steps, the EB has passed a motion to establish a Task Force to revise the entire Code of Ethics over a two year period to be completed by November 2010. Shortly, you will be asked for your direct input in updating and revising the entire Code of Ethics. For more information on this effort, please see

We, the Executive Board, are committed to establishing the most responsible code of ethics for our discipline, and we ask that you join us in this effort by registering your vote and committing yourself to participation in this process.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association


[1] While the resolution was passed by the membership, the action was considered “advisory” to the Executive Board because the resolution was not submitted at least 30 days prior to the start of the Business Meeting, as required by AAA bylaws.

[2] This resolution was considered advisory as well.