An American scholar. A Mexican village. The U.S. military. What could go wrong?
On most maps, Tiltepec doesn’t look like much. A Zapotec village of several hundred indigenous people, Tiltepec clings to the steep slopes of the Sierra Juárez, a formidable range in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its people have lived there for generations in relative isolation under the shadow of Cerro Negro, where once their ancestors forced conquistadors off a cliff to the Rio Vera below. The valley teems with ancient earthen terraces, platforms, and sacred caves. Yet find Tiltepec on government maps and all you’ll see is bare topography and a name. Viewed on Google Earth, it’s even less — a few patches of white rectangles drowned in forest. For most of the world, Tiltepec might as well not exist.
This Chronicled of Higher Education story is a painful demonstration of the consequences of failing to disclose a source of funding of your research and to manage the conflicts of interest. When the parties a the US military intelligence and a First People village, it is not hard to see why the situation went so badly wrong.
In 2006, Herlihy and his team of American and Mexican researchers arrived in Oaxaca under the aegis of the American Geographical Society, an organization, now much reduced, that once rivaled the National Geographic Society in influence. The AGS had pinned its revival, which it saw going hand in hand with the revival of geography as an academic discipline, in large part on the success of Herlihy’s expedition.