Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: New York Times, November 10, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/science/AP-Scientist-Defended.html

Scientists Dispute Book's Facts


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 raised similar issues and cited several epidemiologists who said 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.

Reached in Venezuela, Tierney disagreed vehemently with the National Academy of Sciences statement.

``I feel it's a gross misrepresentation of what I say in my book,'' Tierney said. ``There is an element of mystery about the 1968 expedition and the measles epidemic that will never be resolved.''

The academy also disputed 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 says, but an arm of the National Academy of Sciences sometimes at odds with the federal nuclear agency.