Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Cosmiverse.com, September 25, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://www.cosmiverse.com/science092502.html

Amazon Geneticist 'Killed Hundreds'

Staff Writer

As published recently by BBC News Environment correspondent Alex Kirby, a US geneticist who died earlier this year is now being accused of deliberately infecting thousands of Yanomami Indians with measles which killed literally hundreds of them.

James Neel, the geneticist, worked in the Yanomami homeland in Brazil and Venezuela in the mid-1960s.

A book which is due to be published on Oct. 1 says that Neel - as an experiment to test the effects of natural selection on primitive societies - vaccinated the Yanomami.

The book - "Darkness in El Dorado" written by Patrick Tierney - also states that his work was funded by the US Atomic Energy Commission, which wanted to research the consequences for communities of the mass deaths caused by a nuclear war.

According to the London Guardian newspaper, Professor Terry Turner of Cornell University, who has read the proofs, has told the American Anthropological Association that the book reveals a "nightmarish story - a real anthropological heart of darkness".

As quoted in the BBC News article: The AAA is saying that it is "extremely concerned about these allegations. The AAA has been acutely aware of the harm suffered by the Yanomami at the hands of gold miners and timber interests, who have brought disease and pollution.

"Until there is a full and impartial review and discussion of the issues raised in the book, it would be unfair to express a judgment about the specific allegations against individuals that are contained in it."

The AAA is planning an open forum during its annual meeting for its members to discuss the book.

Tierney's book says that Neel used a "virulent measles vaccine to spark off an epidemic which killed at least hundreds and probably thousands of the Yanomami."

It also says that he ordered his fellow researchers to refuse aid to those who were either sick or dying. All the while insisting that they [the researchers] were present only to "observe and record what was happening."

In Turner's letter to the AAA, he says that the vaccine used by Neel was called Edmonson B and produced symptoms that were virtually indistinguishable from those of measles.

Neel did so without alerting the Venezuelan Government to his vaccination campaign - something he was legally required to do.

Turner is also quoted as saying there is evidence that the vaccine either caused or, at the least, greatly exacerbated the epidemic. Turner went on to say that Neel believed that "primitive" societies - like the Yanomami - were genetically isolated. This isolation, Neel believed, enabled males possessing dominant "leadership" genes to breed more often, leading in theory to a continual upgrading of the society's genetic stock.

Neel also believed that in modern societies "superior leadership genes would be swamped by mass genetic mediocrity."

According to BBC News, apart from wanting to test his own theories on the unwitting Yanomami, Neel was also closely involved with the Atomic Energy Commission.

His work for the Commission was that of researching the effects radiation on humans. And he also led the team that investigated the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs on survivors and their children.

Turner reported that Neel's group had apparently been involved in US experiments which included injecting people with plutonium without their knowledge.

He [Turner] believes that "Tierney's book will put the entire discipline of anthropology on trial."

Neel is now deceased, however, many of his associates from the experiment are still alive.

At present, it is thought that there are about 21,000 Yanomami in the Amazon rainforests who face grave threats to their survival. And on top of that, say BBC News, malaria - spread by mosquitoes which breed in stagnant pools left by mining operations - is now estimated to be killing about 13% of the Yanomami every year.

This story was adapted from an article released by BBC News.