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Sorting out the truth in state politics

Degree debate: Is anthropology considered a STEM field?

Gov. Rick Scott found himself at war with anthropologists when he told a radio talk show host this month that Florida doesn't need "a lot more anthropologists."

Instead, Scott said, the state needs more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields — shortened often as STEM.

Scott's pro-STEM, antianthropology-sounding statement produced loud opposition from anthropologists and liberal arts majors. It also resulted in a simple question from state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, to State University System chancellor Frank Brogan.

At a House committee meeting last week, Williams asked: "Is anthropology a STEM?"

Brogan responded, "It is."

So if anthropology is STEM, and Scott likes STEM, but Scott doesn't like anthropology …

The conclusion of that sentence starts with whether Brogan is right — that anthropology is a STEM field.

And that depends on whom you ask.

National Science Foundation — Yes. The National Science Foundation considers anthropology a STEM field, according to Mark Fiegener, a National Science Foundation project officer. Fiegener said that NSF considers anthropology to be part of the "S", or science, in STEM. "NSF considers anthropology to be a field of science — one of the social sciences, to be precise," Fiegener wrote in an e-mail. "Consequently, when we report STEM fields in our statistical reports, the data from or about anthropology departments or students are always counted in the broad 'science' category."

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement ­— No. Believe it or not, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement has a list of STEM programs because the federal government allows foreign students on student visas who graduate with STEM degrees to remain in the United States for additional time to receive work experience. ICE announced in May 2011 that it expanded the list of STEM degrees — but anthropology isn't included.

President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology — Kind of. The council issued a report discussing K-12 STEM education in September 2010. They specifically excluded anthropology as a STEM field for K-12 education, but they also said it was "appropriately considered STEM fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels."

Florida Board of Governors — No. The board, which oversees the State University System, has designated 103 STEM undergraduate and graduate degrees, but not anthropology. The board, working together with the state universities, reclassified the degrees in 2008.

Our ruling

At a subcommittee meeting a state legislator asked Brogan, "Is anthropology a STEM?" Brogan replied, "It is." The National Science Foundation agrees with him, but his own university system and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement don't. Brogan's response suggests that the answer is simple, but in reality it's anything but clear-cut and he should have explained that. We rate this claim Half True.

The statement

Says anthropology is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) field

Frank Brogan, on Wednesday in a meeting with state legislators

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Half true
Some groups say yes. Others say no. In many cases, it's more how the degree is applied than the degree itself. So we rate this statement Half True.

Degree debate: Is anthropology considered a STEM field? 10/23/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2011 9:56pm]

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