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An Examination of Scientific and
Cultural Controversy Through an Ethical Lens
A Case Study of Mediated Discourse about Kennewick Man
Cynthia-Lou Coleman, PhD
Portland State University
Erin V. Dysart
Portland State University
Submitted 1 April 2004
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Science Communication Interest Group
Please address comments to:
Department of Communication
Portland State University
PO Box 751
Portland, Oregon 97207-0751
Email: [log in to unmask]
An Examination of Scientific and
Cultural Controversy Through an Ethical Lens
A Case Study of Mediated Discourse about Kennewick Man
The authors propose a reconceptualization of the technical
rationality-cultural rationality framework in risk communication theory by
incorporating the philosophical anthropology approach to ethics into the
model. Borrowing from the work of Clifford Christians, the authors offer a
framework for criticism that encompasses rationality, pluralism and ethical
considerations. The authors argue that merging the numerous overlapping
constructs of philosophical anthropology (Christians, 1997; Christians &
Traber, 1997; Wilkins & Christians, 2001), technical progress (Habermas,
1970), positivist coverage (Priest, 1995), technical rationality (Plough &
Krimsky, 1987), cultural rationality (Coleman, 1995), and news framing
(Scheufele, 1999), will result in a richer theoretical understanding of
news coverage of scientific controversies. The manuscript offers as an
exemplar the case study of news coverage surrounding discovery and
repatriation of Kennewick Man, where rationalist and cultural values unfold
with scant attendance to ethical considerations.
Running head: Scientific and cultural controversy
An Examination of Scientific and
Cultural Controversy Through an Ethical Lens
A Case Study of Mediated Discourse about Kennewick Man
Science enjoys a celebrated status in American society. Harkening back to
Enlightenment ideals, science and its technological progeny are lauded as
the path to human deliverance: Problems of the physical world may be
surmounted for the benefit of human kind through the systematic application
For evidence that science reigns supreme, one need look no further than the
news media. Literature on news coverage of science and risk communication
in particular indicates that scientific and technological topics are most
often presented as progressive, necessary, inherently beneficial and
correct (see, for example, Nelkin, 1987). Though topics considered in that
literature vary—from genetically modified foods (Priest, 1995) to coverage
of nuclear power (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989)—they share one important
characteristic: Each case centers on technology and its societal effects
(primarily benefits). However, we will attempt to speak beyond technology,
arguing that Habermas' (1970) definition of technology is too loose for our
context: "scientifically rationalized control of objectified processes" (p.
57). We prefer to think of the overarching construct as "scientific
rationality," which provides the critical underpinning of our study of
societal values and media coverage.
Coverage of scientific controversies offers a lens to witness the
construction of arguments that pit scientific rationality against what
Plough and Krimsky refer to as "cultural rationality." However, we argue
that the two pillars under study—scientific rationality and cultural
rationality—are misnomers. Science is certainly culturally bound, and
culture is not without empirical dimensions. In other words, both pillars
embrace rationality, science and culture. The division, however, is
amplified by journalists who cleave science from culture, often framed as
rationality versus intuition, and facts versus faith. Yet journalists and
others treat science as though it were devoid of values, while often
approaching cultural views as though they were devoid of reason. Such
frames permeate coverage and recall the Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft bonds
proposed by Tonnies (1887/1998). The Gemeinschaft rubric of the denizen
encompasses kinship and communitarian values that spring from traditional
"ways of knowing," while the Gemeinschaft frame favors the progressive
tenets of science. In coverage of conflicts that bring forth the
Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft divide, the progressive view overshadows the
traditional, and journalistic norms not only mirror the divide, they
elevate science to the highest status.
Many scholars have argued that the "nature" of news coverage compels
writers to construct such conflicts in Manichean terms, and that such
routine reporting severely limits pluralistic coverage—the journalistic
ideal articulated in the Hutchins Commission Report (Andersen, 1997;
Coleman, 1995; Commission on Freedom of the Press, 1947; Reese, 1990). The
nature of coverage is frequently operationalized as structural, functional
or economic critique of media.
Clifford Christians and his colleagues have argued that an ethical lens
provides a more salient epistemological method for critiquing coverage.
That is, Christians has long asserted that incorporation of ethical
guidelines in reporting would enrich and expand readers' and viewers'
understanding of the breadth of contemporary social issues. Rather than
using the standard ethical measures (such as a utilitarian approach),
Christians imagines a more fundamental premise borrowed from philosophical
anthropology: that of basing analyses (and ultimately, journalistic
coverage) in the very humanness of being. Christians and Traber (1997)
noted, "the only legitimate option is an ethics that is culturally
inclusive rather than biased toward Western hegemony" (p. 5). Such
inclusiveness must be grounded ontologically in cultural and democratic
pluralism, they contend.
In this spirit we present an exploratory case study offered as one avenue
for examining values underlying coverage of scientific rationality and
cultural rationality. We will view coverage through the lens borrowed from
communication of scientific risks, arguing that the rationality model can
be aligned with philosophical anthropology, pluralism and ethics.
We first present the theoretical underpinnings of scientific rationality
and news coverage, including a discussion of framing. We then provide the
background of the Kennewick story, and show, through the case study, how
coverage has resulted in a division of rationalities. We conclude with the
viewing of the case through an ethical lens using Christians' approaches.
Coverage of science in the news
Consistent with science's celebrated status in American culture, news media
often afford preferential treatment to scientific descriptions or
explanations of any given issue. Critics have argued that structural
constraints, such as deadlines and reliance on official sources, result in
privileging of some views over others. This preferential treatment is
conferred through common journalistic practices such as framing and
reliance on official sources. Indeed, media professionals commonly adhere
to routines in order to efficiently deal with the fast-paced professional
and economic pressures of journalism (i.e., filling a newspaper each day
with timely and compelling information such that other media outlets in the
market do not gain favor) (see, for example, Bennett, 1980; Dunwoody, 1980;
Reese, Gandy & Grant, 2000; Tuchman, 1981). These "media
routines…contribute to the pattern in which scientists, regardless of the
weight of evidence on their side, are presented as equally deserving
experts" (Stocking, 1999; p. 33). Such is the norm of journalistic
objectivity: One interpretation, outlook, possibility, or solution must be
balanced by another (Gans, 1979). Thus dichotomized coverage that focuses
on difference or controversy is common, particularly when policy matters
are to be decided or when a court case—which necessarily involves two
opposing interests—is the central themes of coverage (Coleman, 1996; Nisbet
& Lewenstein, 2002;).
Generalized framing. When a journalist selects "a central organizing idea
or story line [to provide] meaning to an unfolding strip of events," he or
she engages in framing (Gamson & Modigiliani, 1987). Although objectivity
is an extolled journalistic virtue, framing often results in the subtle
favoring of one perspective over another (Scheufele, 1999) and the
unconscious presentation of 'enduring values' (Gans, 1979). Given that "in
industrialized societies science enjoys pride of place as perhaps the most
'legitimate' or rational approach to understanding the world" it follows
that scientific perspectives are favored in American journalism (Lievrouw,
1990; p. 1).
In addition, framing legitimizes certain views by allowing their proponents
to set the parameters within which an issue will be discussed. Thus sources
play a primary role in shaping coverage. This is particularly significant
in coverage of science in light of the "tendency among a significant number
of journalists to limit themselves to single sources in reporting science
stories…Even in cases where controversy would seem to demand multiple
sources, a sizeable portion of journalists may use very few" (Stocking,
1999; p. 26). Also, when selecting from a range of sources, scientists are
especially attractive for several closely related reasons. First,
journalists typically prefer sources in positions of authority because of
their perceived trustworthiness (Gans, 1979). This favors scientists who
are automatically deemed experts (McGinn, 1979). Second, journalists
lack the time and/or the specialized knowledge required to interpret
scientific matters critically and therefore must defer to expert analysis
(Dornan, 1990). Third, scientists are revered as neutral purveyors of the
truth and therefore suit the journalistic norm of objectivity (Logan, 2001;
Finally, scientific perspectives may enjoy preferential treatment because
they are inherently attractive to journalists. There are a number of
similarities between the disciplines of science and journalism that are
likely to influence coverage on some level. As Reese (1990) summarized:
Both science and journalism are empirical information–gathering activities
that have developed learnable routines for their practitioners. Both
scientists and journalists are presumed to be dispassionate observers of
the world, guided primarily by their observations…. Both science and
journalism are guided by a positivist faith in empiricism, the belief that
the external world can be successfully understood (p. 423).
Science Framing. As this interplay between science and journalism suggests,
there are several well-developed frames for news coverage of scientific
matters. In examining media coverage of recombinant DNA, Altimore (1982)
described a scientific or technical frame as: "comprising statements that
restrict the discussion to scientific matters such as the immediate safety
of research…or statements concerned with projected societal benefits
accruing from the research" (p. 26). Invoking this frame dictates that
publics are mere onlookers and that scientists are the qualified possessors
of certain knowledge. Plough and Krimsky (1982) invoked Habermas,
explaining that risk communication, which overwhelmingly concerns
technology, may "exacerbate antagonisms between the technosphere [the
culture of experts] and the demosphere [popular culture]" (p. 7). Indeed,
when news articles are cast within a frame of scientific rationality, there
is little regard for social context: detached, scientific views are valued.
Mirroring the positivist frame in this manner, a premium is placed on the
"objective, measurable, [and] verifiable" (Priest, 1995). Thus, the range
of discourse is limited and such subjective concerns as questions of ethics
are delegitimized: they fall outside the rational decision-making frame.
Non-science framing. In scientific controversies, frames that challenge
scientific rationality take numerous forms, from religious frames to the
political. The heading of cultural rationality, however, is the most
encompassing of the non-science frames, where science's "Other" reflects
ideology considered subjective, primitive or moral. (This author—leave
blank for blind review) (1995) suggested that the cultural and scientific
rationality rift is an invented dualism mirrored in coverage. She argued
that both encompass their own rationality. A grave mistake is made in
assuming that science is without value, and that culture is without
These two ways of knowing are not truly oppositional, despite claims in
media content to the contrary. By reframing the argument using Wilkins and
Christians (2001) vision of philosophical anthropology, differences
dissolve into a discourse of humanness. By admitting the value-laden
attributes of scientific rationality, we begin to chip away at the
assumptions that science and journalism are morally neutral. Such an
approach demands pluralism in coverage, which eschews privileging in favor
of equity of coverage (Christians, Fackler, Rotzoll & McKee, 2001;
Andersen, 1997). Pluralism, McQuail (1987) noted, offers a "complex of
groups and interests, none of them predominant all the time" (p. 85).
Central to democratic pluralism in the political dimension is that the
diversity of interest groups that participate in a sharing of resources
protects against the tyranny of the majority (Held, 1987). Such pluralistic
thinking, although a driving force behind journalistic values outlined in
the Hutchins Commission Report, appears instead to have transmogrified into
an oppositional dualism in contemporary news coverage.
The dualism is seen clearly in scientific controversies, and we offer the
case of Kennewick Man as an exemplar. Following is background surrounding
The Case of Kennewick Man
On July 28, 1996, two friends stumbled upon a human skull while wading in
the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. Local authorities recovered
380 bones at the site to nearly complete a set of human remains. The
skeleton was initially thought to be that of a European settler from the
American colonial period. However, the resemblance of an arrowhead imbedded
in one hip to those used in the area thousands of years ago prompted
further testing. Radiocarbon dating of a bone fragment revealed that the
skeleton, tagged Kennewick Man, was in fact over 9,000 years old, making it
one of the oldest ever found in North America.
Kennewick Man's age, location, and features sparked immediate interest
among scientists, in part because the bones are believed to be inconsistent
with widely accepted models of ancient human migration. Traditional models
hold that during the last Ice Age (about 12,000 years ago), the first North
Americans arrived in what is now Alaska on foot, having traversed from
Siberia over land now covered by the Bering Strait. Today's Native
Americans, some attest, have mongoloid features that reflect this North
Asian heritage. However, Kennewick Man's remains are more reflective of
Polynesian or South Asian origins. This supports emerging anthropological
theories that suggest North America was simultaneously populated by several
groups, at least one arriving by boat (Custred, 2000). Furthermore, such
theories raise significant political issues about race and the "first
nation" status under which Native Americans are granted special legal
rights in the United States (Tsosie, 2003).
As initial information about Kennewick Man was released, the federal
government, operating through the Army Corps of Engineers, which had
jurisdiction over the discovery site, immediately seized the remains in
order to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation
Act (NAGPRA). This law was passed by Congress and signed by President
George H. W. Bush in 1990 in an attempt to rectify the history of unequal
treatment of Native and non-Native graves and property (McKeown & Hutt,
2002; Thomas, 2000). The NAGPRA legislation provides that Native American
"cultural items" (i.e., human remains, funerary objects and sacred relics)
that are held by any agency receiving federal funding or that are found on
federal land and to which a federally recognized Indian tribe or Native
Hawaiian organization can establish direct lineage or "cultural
affiliation" must be returned to the tribe upon request. Such
affiliation may be established by presenting "a preponderance of evidence
based upon geographical, kinship, biological, archeological,
anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, oral traditional, historical or
other relevant information or expert opinion" (Miller, 1997). The law does
not prescribe methods for weighing conflicting evidence.
Under NAGPRA, authorities must notify local tribes when remains are
discovered on federal lands. Shortly after tribes near the Kennewick,
Washington, site were contacted in August 1996, a coalition of the Nez
Perce, Umatilla, Colville, Wanapum and Yakama tribes claimed Kennewick Man
as their ancestor and requested his bones be returned for burial without
further study. Noting that the remains were found near the tribes'
aboriginal lands, the Army Corps of Engineers granted the request and
announced plans to turn Kennewick Man over to the coalition. In the face of
repatriation, which would most likely render the rare skeleton permanently
unavailable for scientific examination, a consortium of eight scientists
filed suit against the federal government claiming, among other things,
that restricting their access to Kennewick Man effectively impinged on
their First Amendment rights.
In June 1997, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks of the Federal District
Court in Portland, Oregon, halted the lawsuit and instructed the Army Corps
of Engineers to review its initial repatriation decision. The U.S.
Department of the Interior (DOI), to whom the Corps deferred judgment, was
then tasked with re-ascertaining any cultural affiliation between Kennewick
Man and the modern tribes. Over the next three years, the DOI would
discover that establishing affiliation in this case was particularly
problematic, not only because of the skeleton's age, but because the bones
were not found with any funerary objects or in a marked burial site that
might provide additional evidence. Tests for DNA were conducted,
contrary to the Indians' wishes, but proved inconclusive. The DOI also
contracted experts to conduct extensive interviews with tribal members
about their histories and possible links with Kennewick Man.
In September 2000, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt pronounced that
geographic evidence and oral histories of the claimant tribes sufficiently
demonstrated their cultural affiliation with Kennewick Man. Thus, he
reported to the court, Kennewick Man should be repatriated without further
examination. Judge Jelderks, however, rejected Babbitt's findings, and
chided the government for mishandling the case. He ruled that the
scientists' lawsuit against the government, halted in 1997, may proceed.
After two years of arguments, Jelderks ruled in August, 2002, in favor of
the scientists and ordered the government to make Kennewick Man available
for study. Two months later in October, the judge said that the tribes may
intervene in the case and file their own appeal (they were not legally
involved in the case until this point). A few days later the Nez Perce,
Umatilla, Yakama and Colville tribes filed a joint suit in the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals to block the scientists from conducting studies on
Kennewick Man. The court suspended any testing of the bones pending a
ruling is made on the appeal.
Appeal proceedings began in September 2003, and in February, 2004, the 9th
US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the tribes and the US government
failed to show a link with Kennewick man, this allowing the scientists to
examine the bones.
How Discourse Took Shape
Our case study was conducted in an exploratory and descriptive fashion,
following both inductive and deductive methods using a generalized and
inclusive case study method suggested by Yin (2003). Thus, parameters for
data inclusion were applied liberally with the aim of discerning the tenor
of the mediated discourse surrounding Kennewick Man. Our objective was to
understand news coverage of the scientific-cultural controversy. Therefore,
no a priori limits were set on the type of channel investigated. Our
sources for news were the following databases: Newspaper Source, Lexis
Nexis, Academic Search File, MasterFILE Premier, and ERIC. The databases
typically include news wire services, newspapers, popular magazines, and
academic, Native American, and science-oriented publications. Using a
timeframe of July 28, 1996, through June 30, 2003, we used "kennewick" and
"kennewick man" as search terms. Some print and radio broadcasts were
received, although most were print artifacts. Some 120 articles were found,
and legal sources such as law reviews were consulted.
Science vs. Indians. The articles revealed four major players in the
controversy: the coalition of tribes who claim Kennewick Man as their
ancestor; the federal government which seized Kennewick Man and planned to
give his remains to the tribes; the consortium of scientists who sued the
federal government for access to Kennewick Man; and the federal district
court that was left to determine the fate of Kennewick Man. As the title of
one Christian Science Monitor article suggested, there is a clear element
of "Science vs. Indian tradition in the 'Kennewick Man' case"
(Knickerbocker, 2001). While some writers drafted stories of friction
between groups of people—"Scientists and Indians battle for the bones of
Kennewick Man" (Geranios, 1997)—others followed the Monitor's lead and
characterized the case as "a symbol of the conflict between science and
religion" (Esser, 2001). A poignant example arose from The Economist.
"There is…a cultural conflict between Western science and traditional
religious beliefs" ("The Invisible Man," 1996).
In this and other instances, science is placed in the superior position
of either acknowledging or 'disproving' what the Natives believe. From the
scientific perspective, Indians' oral history, which undergirds ontology,
is discounted as a rationale for repatriation of the bones. Oral history
seems antithetical to the empiricist's desire to test and measure. Indians
are portrayed as simple, perhaps stubborn people who do not want to deal
with being proven wrong by the 'truth' of Western science. Yet the Indian
tribes consider the Kennewick skeleton as "significant" to their
traditional teachings. A Northwest religious leader, Armand Minthorn, told
a 60 Minutes reporter: "Our older people tell us that when a body goes into
the ground, that's where it's to remain until the end of time. It's been
removed. It's violating everything we know…we regard human remains as
sacred. Period" (Profile, 2002). Many have argued that oral history alone
should be sufficient evidence to sway courts and publics of the inviolate
legitimacy of Native concerns. And, indeed. Some interpreted NAGPRA as
supporting oral histories as evidentiary. Minthorn told 60 Minutes that his
beliefs are grounded in Indian reality, which is no less legitimate than
"We know what happened 10,000 years ago. I know what happened 10,000 years
ago at home along the Columbia River, because my teachings from my older
people tell me how life was 10,000 years ago. And the scientists cannot
accept the fact that just because it's not written down in a book, it's not
fact. It's fact to me, because I live it every day" (Profile, 2002).
That ancestral bones are inextricable from place holds little currency
against the scientific arguments brought to bear in the legal battles and
in subsequent news accounts. Indian concerns were positioned in opposition
to the scientific viewpoint, with the result that Native claims were vague
and mystical. In contrast, the scientific arguments in news coverage
asserted a rational-positivism intimately tied to progress. Science was
framed in news accounts as "legitimate scientific research" with the
additional currency of political justice on the side of scientists who
"have a right" to ask questions about the past (Smith, 2002). While the
bones were characterized as having "immense value to scientists" the value
to the tribes was given little credence.
For example, the term "significance" is used to refer to the scientific
perspective but is rarely used in framing Indian accounts. For the
scientists, Kennewick Man is "terribly significant" (Profile, 2002), of
"immense scientific importance" and among the "world's most significant
fossils" (Henderson & McAllister, 2003). Repatriating the bones would "harm
science," resulting in "significant injury to…scientists" (Judge rejects,
2003), "loss to science" (Henderson & McAllister), "irreparable damage to
science" (Randerson, Ananthaswamy & Young, 2003), and would create the
"ultimate denial of his [Kennewick Man's] place in history" (Profile,
2002). The court ruling in August 2002 to allow scientists access to the
bones was deemed "a win for all science" by one of the plaintiffs, an
anthropology professor (Smith, 2002).
Spiritual and religious concerns are pitted against scientific
rationality in such news coverage, with the positivist perspective elevated
to a higher status. When interviewing Minthorn, reporter Leslie Stahl asked
if his "religion specifically tells you that you were the first people
here." When Minthorn answered yes, Stahl's reply was, "So anything that
challenges that, challenges your religion." Thus, Stahl concluded, "Science
doesn't matter to them" (Profile, 2002). Yet, science matters to the
reporter, who said, "We wanted to know why the Corps [Army Corps of
Engineers] kept siding with the Indians instead of the scientists." Thus,
Stahl established the news frame as the Indians in opposition to science.
The 1999 decision to conduct DNA testing on Kennewick Man highlights this
epistemological and legal conundrum. Judge Jelderks commented that any
establishment of cultural affiliation that did not include DNA evidence
would be suspicious; however, this testing is specifically what the tribes
objected to. That is, in order to win repatriation, the tribes would have
to permit the precise action that spurred the decision to file for
repatriation in the first place. From the Native perspective, DNA testing
was invasive, disrespectful and unnecessary: "We already know our history,"
explained one tribal spokesperson. "It is passed on to us through our
elders and our religious practices" (Geranios, 1997). However,
"anthropologists were nonplussed at the idea that an 'oral tradition'
purportedly dating back nine thousand years could, would, or should be
considered scientific—at least to the permanent exclusion of any other test
or evidence" (Cosh, 2002).
Accusations of political correctness were rampant in discourse about
Kennewick Man. The long history of discontent between Native Americans, the
United States federal government, and anthropologists and other scientists
has certainly garnered delicate treatment (by some) of current Indian
issues. While past grievances have left many with a feeling of obligation
toward Native Americans that is borne out of socially historical guilt to
make decisions based on that feeling is to behave in a politically correct
manner, or so the accusation goes (Thomas, 2000). The pejorative
connotation is that behaving in a politically correct manner comes at the
expense of some more appropriate behavior; as if one behaves in a
politically correct manner simply to appease some constituency while
disregarding what is normative.
An Economist article exemplified this notion by suggesting that "the
government's decision serves neither science nor the tribes. Indeed, it
seems primarily political—aimed at placating Native Americans and their
supporters rather than seriously grappling with the provenance of Kennewick
Man" ("Boneheaded," 2000). Writing in the libertarian magazine Reason,
Miller (1997) also alluded to political banter interrupting the scientific
process: "scientists' opponents would have the world believe that this is
simply another morality play between treaty-breaking whites and
reservation-bound Indians…Nothing could be further from the truth" (p. 53).
By suggesting that they alone are willing to strip away political
correctness and speak frankly about Kennewick Man, science advocates
bolstered their standing as dispassionate arbiters of truth and
concomitantly delegitimized the government's positions. Regarding DNA
testing, one scientist said he "fears government lawyers in the Kennewick
Man case would select one date out of several possible options to support
their case…disregarding the scientific complexity" ("Expert," 1999). In
other words, the lawyers would distort scientific data to suit their needs.
This scientist said of officials: "Their goal is to win an argument, my
goal is to find the truth by scientific experiments" ("Expert," 1999).
Discourse about Kennewick Man included accusations of political motives for
parties other than government officials. Coverage of the Kennewick Man case
suggested that at least three of its four major players—the government, the
tribes, and the scientists—had political motives. When government officials
were not acting out of historical obligation, as noted, they may be
attempting to maintain positive relations with tribes about land use and
fishing rights, or to avoid a "messy battle about how the first inhabitants
of North America arrived" (McCall, 2001). Indians were also cast as
concerned about the initial peopling of North America:
The driving force behind the 'repatriation' effort, however, is primarily
political, involving the most literate, the most assimilated, and the most
politically aware members (and would-be members) of the Indian population.
For them and the advancement of their interests, value lies not in knowing
what really happened in the past, but rather in an image of the past which
best serves their purposes. In short, the interests of such activists lie
not in science, but in defense of a political myth (Glynn, 2000).
In this and other instances, Native Americans are portrayed as having a
chip on their shoulders or acting more out of revenge or "politics." But,
as Armand Minthorn explained:
"What is at issue in this case is not just our desire to protect one
ancestor, but how this case will be applied to every other Native American
skeleton found in the United States…This case has made it painfully clear
that a small group of scientists, with the assistance of the Department of
the Interior, can abrogate that right…to protect our ancestors"
While scientific perspectives are infused with objectivity, they are
certainly not bereft of political motivation. For example, a scientist
involved in DNA testing of Kennewick Man suggested to the Associated Press
that while test results may not have much factual bearing, the testing
itself was important for political reasons: "It is a real long shot to try
to say anything meaningful on the cultural affiliation question (with a DNA
test).…On the other hand, they are doing science, so the scientific
position is winning time after time" ("Umatillas," 2000). Also, scientists
share the Native Americans' idea that the court case has greater
implications than simply determining if further testing will be conducted
on Kennewick Man. As a non-profit group of science advocates suggested in a
Christian Science Monitor article:
Resolution of this case will affect scientists' freedom to study other
skeletons, other sites, other traces of the past…if these scientists [in
the lawsuit] are successful, there will be a future for archeology and
physical anthropology in this country. If not, the future could be bleak
for a scientific understanding of the past (Knickerbocker, 2001).
In summary, the coverage of Kennewick Man revealed a contestation over
values in the vein of scientists versus Indians. News coverage favored
empirical evidence and scientific opinion over all else, giving weight to
Habermas' (1970) contention that Marcuse correctly identified the political
dominion of scientific rationality (p. 82). As a result, coverage lacked an
ethical basis, and was largely devoid of pluralism. Science is truth.
Science is logic. And in quoting Levi (1959), Wilkins and
Christians (2001) noted that "in logic, there are no morals." Moreover, by
invoking a scientific frame and a political frame, coverage obfuscated the
central human element grounded in philosophical anthropology.
Conclusions and Implications
Although the issues surrounding repatriation have been framed in coverage
largely through a scientific lens, some argue the case of Kennewick Man is
not about scientific principles, but rather, "political, religious and
ethical issues" wrought by discovery of ancient remains Indian tribes claim
as their own (Meighan, 1993; p. 13).
We argue that by framing Native Americans in opposition to science,
readers and viewers behold a scene that reenacts the familiar conflicts of
colonial powers usurping Native rights. In the dramatic narration of such
conflicts, audiences know by heart the inevitable outcome: invader
interests are privileged over the denizen's, whether the subject of
contestation is land, education, language, religion or skeletal remains.
One of the scientists remarked in the lawsuit over Kennewick Man, "Can we
resurrect and make history right? I don't think so … I mean, hey, life goes
on" (Coll, 2001, p. 8). While life may indeed march on, American Indians
are far from a vanishing breed, and laws have been signed in order to
recognize and protect Native rights and sovereignty. Part of the bargain,
ceterus paribus, is the recognition of indigenous culture as having
intrinsic value, evidenced, in part, by passage of the NAGPRA legislation.
Indians, therefore, should not be expected to defend or justify their oral
traditions: they should be valorized in the bargain.
By emphasizing intrinsic human values, oral history therefore becomes a
valid indication of rationality. This view, espoused by Christians and
Traber (1997) and Wilkins and Christians (2001), calls for unconditional
acceptance of the Other as the only legitimate option for ethical
communication. Yet, claims to Kennewick Man in news coverage have taken the
form of science versus culture; progress versus recalcitrance; empirical
evidence versus oral history; and laws versus customs.
Real-life dramas that invoke scientific rationality and affect Native
tribes, such as mineral and oil exploration, radioactive dumps and age-old
skeletal remains, relegate Indians to a preserved past where their values
are considered quaint, outmoded and scientifically irrelevant. Indians
stand in the way of progress ((This author—leave blank for blind review)
(1997). Arising from such coverage is a critical disservice is to the
publics that consume such stories. The majority of citizens glean their
information about American Indians from mass media depictions: few know
first-hand the cultural rationality of Native nations. Rather, what is
known "to be Indian" is derived from a patchwork stitched of sentimentality
and invention, historically driven by depictions to rid the country of its
denizens: "As romantic poets abandoned the Noble Savage and the publication
milieu changed from gentlemanly publishing house to mass-market industry,
so did the American Indian's reputation decline, hastened down the path by
the brutal wars in the West" (Stedman, 1982, p. 79-80).
Within the courtroom, scientific 'facts' are favored over other forms of
proof, and experts, who tend to favor technical over human solutions, are
called to provide hard evidence (Schudson, 2003). Here again, that which
can be quantified and verified is supremely valued. Scientific evidence is
of such import in the courtroom that legal scholars and practitioners,
including Supreme Court Justices, have actively engaged in debates about
just what may be legitimately deemed scientific, thus substantiating that
to inappropriately label some evidence as scientific is to afford it undue
credence (certainly from jurors and possibly from judges) (Jasanoff, 2001).
By extension, evidence that is not scientific may be largely disregarded.
For example, when Judge Jelderks' conclusion that "no evidence shows either
a 'cultural affiliation' or a 'shared group identity' of Kennewick Man with
any modern Native American group" was presented, previous pronouncements by
federal agencies of sufficient oral historical and geographic evidence for
repatriation were discounted (Bower, 2002).
Narrowing the discourse even further to political considerations had a
significant impact on coverage of the Kennewick Man case by setting
parameters around stories that ignored other critical arguments. The
primary legal question to date has been whether or not the claimant tribes
have sufficiently demonstrated cultural affiliation. However, this range of
discourse obscures an important question: Why is it important for
scientists to study Kennewick Man? Although specific practices may vary,
the value of burial rituals and respecting ancestors is almost universally
accepted; indeed, this need has been federally recognized and enshrined in
law for Native American tribes, Inuit and Native Hawaiians in NAGPRA.
However, when faced with a decision over cultural heritage and scientific
progress, it seems the superiority of science is even more deeply embedded
in Western culture (i.e., institutions such as the courts) as evidenced by
the following: the scientists who seek to override the tribes' legal
protection are not asked to justify the need to study Kennewick Man. In a
strictly judicial sense, it does not matter.
The valuation is Science for Science's Sake.
Perhaps the most significant finding emerging from this case study is that
scientific pursuits are tacitly presented in mediated discourse as
progressive. An implicit acceptance that there is something to be gained by
studying Kennewick Man runs throughout the discourse in this case. For
example, Washington Senator Slade Gorton's comments in 1997 echo ethical
rationalism by suggesting an absolute: "It is in the public interest that
information providing greater insight into American prehistory should be
collected, preserved, and disseminated for the benefit of the country as a
whole" (Miller, 1997). Exactly how this is a benefit to the country is
never explained. And, as many scholars who have studied news coverage have
attested, some sources may venture forth unchallenged, and it is taken as a
given that increasing the body of knowledge surrounding prehistory is
accorded a high value. Thus an increase in scientific data is unquestioned
Finally, when we view the controversy through an ethical lens, we find that
frames employed by journalists set up the debate as a battle between
scientists and Indians. We suggest that such news frames channel
stereotypes of cowboy-and-Indian skirmishes of the past, thus confusing
contemporary arguments, such as repatriation, with vestigial visions of a
conquered people. Pluralism is lost and ethics forgotten. We agree with
Christians and his colleagues, who argue that pluralistic coverage would
better address such scientific controversies by aligning values in both
scientific rationality and cultural rationality domains.
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 The majority of respondents (American adults) in an October 2003
Harris Interactive poll regarded scientists as very prestigious. Given that
"professions with high prestige are those which are widely seen to do great
work which benefits society and the people they serve," it is significant
that scientists were ranked as the most prestigious professionals—more so
than doctors, teachers, military officials, lawyers, members of Congress,
and journalists among others (Taylor, 2003).
 According to Section 3001 of NAGPRA, cultural affiliation "means that
there is a relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably
traced historically or prehistorically between a present day Indian tribe
or Native Hawaiian organization and an identifiable earlier group"
 The Asatru Folk Assembly, a small pagan group that worships Old Norse
gods and goddesses, also sued for the rights to study Kennewick Man
claiming that he is their Viking ancestor (Ashton, 1998); however, this
plaintiff pulled out of the trial before judgment citing a lack of funding
or belief in a favorable outcome.
 Indeed, the discovery site was the source of another controversy
(e.g., "Corps proceeds," 1998). The Army Corps of Engineers determined that
covering the site with tons of gravel was necessary to prevent
environmental repercussions. This action was fought in court and, when
executed, was met with accusations of favoring Native Americans.
 Not all articles that met these search criteria were included in the
study. For example, 67 of the 120 news article were attributed to the
Associated Press, and hence, we found multiple articles of the same or very
similar titles running on subsequent days or in different newspapers. In
the interest of brevity, one article was selected from similar clusters.
Also, several book reviews that emerged about books on related matters were
 It should be noted that these comments were made three years before
Kennewick Man was unearthed. However, their salience with respect to this
current case is striking.