You are on page 1of 3

One of the top priorities for any Anthropological study is that it is

soundly ethical. If ethical lines are blurred, the credibility of the information
gained is immediately lost. The U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services is tasked with developing ethical guidelines. This is a necessary
precaution that eliminates the possibility of an unethical study being linked
to academic or federal institutions by financial means. Regulation outside the
bounds of ethics is restrictive and oppressive. Anthropologists know how to
practice anthropology. We must trust them in their discipline and have
meaningful discourse over contradictions or questionable methods.
Cultural Anthropology is a holistic discipline that has the potential to
improve the way in which we perceive our world. The objective is not to
change a culture or group of people in any way, but rather to study them and
gather information. By relaying observations and findings, anthropologists
give an accurate picture of what is happening. Only when a broader scope is
acquired can one propose plausible solutions that benefit the group being
studied as well as the group that is represented by the anthropologist. The
outstanding examples of anthropologists include Boas, Mead, and Farmer.
These anthropologists objectively studied cultures, groups, and institutions
with minimal regulation. They understand that they were not meant to effect
change, but rather to gather information by immersing themselves in a
culture or foreign institution.
Ethics concerning anthropology revolve around harming another
human being. Asking questions or attempting to learn a culture does not fall

into this category. Anthropologists are not perfect people and can make
mistakes or offend people, but this is part of the nature of field work. If
Anthropologists are not permitted to make minor mistakes the information
they retrieve cannot be of great value. Studies such as the American
Guatemalan prison study represent pre-meditated intent to do harm to an
individual rather than converse in a humane manner. As long as a proposed
study does not include intent to harm people without their consent it should
not be denied on ethical grounds.
Anthropological studies that aim to be recognized and accepted by the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must stay within the ethical
bounds that have been put in place. As the course of history has stressed the
necessity of ethical restrictions, it has also emphasized the harmful effects of
social over-regulation. Modern day Anthropologists seek to expose insights
into a plethora of social and cultural occurrences. Funding is required to
proceed in many of these studies. IRB’s are responsible for assessing the
potential quality of a study. In order to obtain a green light, requirements
must be met. This presents a dilemma in that a study can be dismantled by a
board of bureaucrats who may interpret rules differently than an
anthropologist. This is an unnecessary hurtle that treats anthropology like a
scientific experiment rather than a holistic study of a culture or subdivision
thereof.
The current guidelines set forth by IRB’s are reasonable only under
specific circumstances. Requirements four and five deal specifically with

informed consent and the need for proper documentation. There is a great
liability that lies on the third party sponsoring a study. If there is no risk for
physical harm then informed consent should not be required. One study
relied on anonymous answers to a particular question. An IRB required
written consent to answering a supposedly anonymous question. This is a
complete failure on behalf of a board meant to improve anthropological
studies. This is not improving, but rather killing the study. An IRB is a notable
idea, but in practice it simply is a hindrance to the potential of anthropology.
Many perverse studies such as the Syphilis prisoner experiments in
Guatemala or the Canadian Aboriginal starvation study are not true
examples of the nature of pure anthropology. These are warped pseudoscientific experiments that involve interfering with a culture. Ethics were
essentially non-existent in these experiments.
Ethical guidelines are necessary to insure safety and well-being.
Further restrictions simply interfere with research. Anthropology is such a
broad area of study that rules often have unintended consequences that
drown out the truth found in field work. No IRB is needed to dictate whether
a study should be approved outside of ethical boundaries. As more
restrictions are placed on research, fewer solutions will be unearthed due to
anthropological fieldwork.