Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Native News, September, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://w3.arizona.edu/~narc/n8tvnews/september.html

Book attacks scientists who studied isolated Brazilian Indians in 1968 New York Times Sept. 29, 2000 NEW YORK

A book about anthropologists working with isolated Indians in Amazonia has touched off a raging storm in the profession, reviving scholarly animosities, endangering personal reputations and, some of the parties say, threatening to undermine confidence in legitimate practices of anthropology. In the book, Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, Patrick Tierney, a journalist, presents evidence showing that in 1968 anthropologists, supported by the former Atomic Energy Commission, inoculated several communities of the Yanomami Indians with a measles vaccine. He suggests that this experiment possibly contributed to the epidemic of the disease that broke out. "Hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people died in a population of little more than 20,000, the author reported. This is the most inflammatory of several cases described by Tierney as examples of careless and perhaps unethical behavior by anthropologists and filmmakers who visited and studied the Yanomami. Living in the Amazon basin of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil and having virtually no contact with the outside world until the 1950s, the Yanomami have become to social scientists models of what primitive Stone Age cultures must have been like. Some anthropologists who have read the book or a summary of the allegations joined the attack, urging the American Anthropological Association or some other scientific body to undertake a thorough investigation of the "imminent scandal." They expressed concern that the allegations would make it more difficult to gain permission to conduct field work in many countries and win the trust of subjects of their studies. Others who are familiar with some of book's contents insisted that the allegations were either unfounded or exaggerated. The leader of the project was Dr. James V. Neel, a specialist in human genetics at the University of Michigan, who died in February. Dr. Napoleon A. Chagnon, now an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a junior member of the expedition denied the allegations, calling them part of a "long vendetta against me" by some of the critics.