One of the key aspects of the political debates surrounding Kennewick Man invokes Indian authenticity, particularly in light that some (not all) anthropologists judged the 9,400-year-old skeleton as Caucasoid, a term that quickly transformed in media coverage as “Caucasian.”
I was invited to speak to a class this week on my research about science and Native American ways-of-knowing, a wonderful opportunity to crystallize my thinking and writing about the intersections of scientific rationalities.
I argue that we come to believe that science is devoid of valorizations: that science is value-free. Bruno Latour wrote that, “One camp deems the sciences are accurate only when they have been purged of any contamination by subjectivity, politics or passion.”
My contention is that science is never devoid of subjectivity, politics or passion, and I’m an avid scientist. But I’m a social scientist who believes that subjectivity, politics and passion—indeed cultural histories and ways-of-knowing—ground scientific thinking and judgments. Indeed, cultural epistemologies breathe life into scientific rationality.
That gives us an opportunity to celebrate the opportunity to examine science against the backdrop of cultural ties.
Students ask me whether science always “wins.” Good question, since the news coverage surrounding Kennewick Man claimed the court victory (to study the bones rather than return them to tribes) was “a win for all science.”
But scientists have worked successfully with Indian tribes to study ancestral remains in a respectful way, returning the remains when their studies are complete. But these stories don’t make headlines because they unfold beyond the scope of the reportorial lens.