AABA Science Policy Committee: Broader impacts statement

Mission Statement: The Executive Committee of the AAP/BA appointed a Science Policy Committee early in 2017, in part in response to concerns about the future of science-based policy in areas such as government funding for research in biological anthropology, environmental and international policies that affect biological anthropology research areas and subjects, and human health and welfare issues that intersect with many areas of research in biological anthropology.  We know that biological anthropologists have the scientific expertise that is essential to many areas of science-based policy.  The purpose of this committee is to advance our representation and participation in the areas of science policy that most impact our membership and to which the expertise of our members can shape.

Biological Anthropology asks questions about human nature and diversity from evolutionary and comparative perspectives. Within that context biological anthropology has reinvented itself in the 21st Century around five overlapping pillars of global societal interest.

1. Human story: Biological anthropology is the primary discipline that investigates what makes us human. Studies in our discipline span origins of modern humans, migrations that shape contemporary human populations, genetic bases of human uniqueness, and diversity. The results of these studies have been of great public interest.

2. Global Health: Understanding the underlying factors for human variation helps us explain why certain diseases prevail in some geographic regions and not in others. Anthropologists have been at the forefront of tackling major epidemics, especially infectious diseases, in collaboration with public health professionals. Recently, the emerging exploration of ancient pathogens, led by biological anthropologists, has shed new light on how diseases co-evolve with our ancestors.

3. Ethics: Biological anthropology has led the sciences field in the deconstruction of racial categories as biological realities. Specifically, it introduced a nuanced and more accurate picture of the origins and patterning of human diversity. Our members are now applying rigorous scientific methods to cut through politically convoluted topics, such as ethnicity, migration, gender, and poverty, among others, providing an evidence-based framework of human diversity.  We are also actively engaged in developing and implementing ethical guidelines to inform essential policies for the handling of human remains and for working with local communities in our field studies of human communities and nonhuman primates

4. Environment and Conservation: Biological anthropologists work around the globe, trying to understand the ecologies that have shaped human evolution, as well as those of primates, our closest relatives. As such, we work in a vast range of environments, from deserts to rainforest, where the impacts of industrialization, farming, hunting, and global warming continue to threaten these environments and their inhabitants. Our members work hard to prevent extinction of our closest relatives – over 60% of all primates are threatened by extinction. We also work closely with indigenous communities to study their interaction with their environment, particularly their responses and adaptations to rapidly changing environments from the arctic to tropical rainforests while fostering dialogues between these communities, governments, and the broader scientific community.

5. Education: Biological anthropology is driven by scientific questions with regard to human uniqueness and diversity. As such, biological anthropologists utilize multiple state-of-the-art tools from genomics, medicine, forensic science, ecology, and evolutionary biology. In addition, we lead the scientific world in integration of these tools, especially with regards to application of genomic and medical approaches within a comparative human diversity context. Therefore, biological anthropology provides a rich methodological and theoretical framework for students for their future careers in a wide range of areas including in medicine, forensic science, ecology and conservation biology, and public health.