News for Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jonathan Marks Wins 2009 J. I. Staley Prize

What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee by Jonathan MarksWhat It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee by Jonathan MarksWinner of the 2009 J. I. Staley Prize.

The winner of the 2009 J. I. Staley Prize is What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes by Jonathan Marks (University of California Press, 2002). Marks, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, was recommended for the prize by a distinguished panel of anthropologists, who reviewed a total of 39 nominated books. The J. I. Staley Prize is awarded annually by the School for Advanced Research to a living author in recognition of a book that not only exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology, but also goes beyond the discipline’s traditional frontiers.

In What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee, Marks uses the “molecular factoid” that we share 98 percent of our genetic material with chimps as a springboard to survey and critique with razor-sharp humor a range of hot-button issues in molecular anthropology, from the role of science in society to racism, animal rights, and cloning. “This is where genetics and anthropology converge,” Marks writes, “the gray zone of molecular anthropology, which forces us not just to look at the genetic data but to question both the cultural assumptions we bring to those data and their relevance for thinking about the modern world and interpreting our place within it.”

American Scientist calls Marks’s widely acclaimed book “a trenchant assault on genetic reductionism and a spirited call for a more critical science, one better informed by the perspectives of anthropology and the humanities. What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee is a novel, intellectually provocative and wittily engaging treatment of a topic now a shibboleth of modern genetics. If it raises questions about scientists’ social responsibility for which there are no easy answers, so much the better. They are important questions, too frequently evaded elsewhere.”

Dr. Jonathan Marks in London 2007Dr. Jonathan Marks in London 2007Dr. Jonathan Marks in London 2007In their award citation, the J. I. Staley Review Panel states, “This splendid book blends wide-ranging scholarship with masterly narrative and wit. Writing as both advocate for and critic of science, Marks dares to question the authority of genetic studies of humans and our nearest primate relations. He takes bold stands on critical topics: the influence of foundations on research directions, folk ideas about kinship and heredity, human and animal rights, the concept of race in the history of anthropology, and the need for ethical sensitivity. In so doing, Marks advocates for more sharply focused science and urges greater attention to a balance between scientists’ research and their subjects’ values. Affirming the basic principles behind the scientific method, he chastises scientists who over-interpret their findings. This work, which is being read across anthropological disciplines, engages with issues directly relevant to the future of humanity.”

Jonathan Marks will be presented the 2009 J. I. Staley Prize, with its cash prize of $10,000, at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in December.

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