Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: The Mercury News, November 9, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://www0.mercurycenter.com/breaking/docs/013066.htm

National Academy of Sciences disputes book alleging misconduct


AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- One of the nation's most prestigious scientific bodies on Thursday disputed claims that reckless experiments by one of its members killed hundreds of South American Indians.

The claims are contained in the book ``Darkness in El Dorado,'' published this month by W.W. Norton & Co. The author, anthropologist and journalist Patrick Tierney, charges that U.S. scientists inoculated thousands of Yanomami Indians in 1968 with a dangerous measles vaccine that sparked a deadly epidemic.

In a statement Thursday, the National Academy of Sciences said the book contains multiple factual errors and misstatements.

``Although 'Darkness in El Dorado' gives the appearance of being well-researched, in many instances the author's conclusions are either contradicted or not supported by the references he cites,'' the academy said.

Last month, an Associated Press article reached a similar conclusion and cited several epidemiologists who said that the vaccine given to the Yanomami by University of Michigan geneticist James Neel and his colleagues was proven safe and could not have transmitted measles.

Neel, who died in February, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1963. ``Darkness in El Dorado'' disparages him as a controversial figure ``whose eugenic views made him a pariah outside his own specialty.''

In reality, Neel was a highly respected scientist and well-loved by his colleagues, said Ken Fulton, executive director of membership for the academy.

``It seemed only right to defend him when he couldn't defend himself,'' Fulton said.

The academy's statement also disputes Tierney's characterization of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, an organization that studied the long-term health of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors. The commission was not a part of the Atomic Energy Commission, as Tierney's book charges, but an arm of the National Academy of Sciences sometimes at odds with the government's nuclear agency.