Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

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The Yanomami and the Ethics of Anthropological Practice

Terence Turner

Cornell University

Controversy over the mistreatment of the Yanomami, an indigenous people of Venezuela and northern Brazil, by scientific researchers and anthropologists had smoldered for over a decade before it burst into flame a year ago last autumn with the publication of Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado (Tierney 2001b). The controversy over the issues raised in the book, and more broadly over what has been done to the Yanomami, confronts the discipline of anthropology, as represented by its professional society, the American Anthropological Association, and several universities and learned societies with which some of the principals in the case were connected, with ethically fraught issues which hold portentous implications for their reputations and credibility with their members and the general public.

The initial response of several of the academic and scientific bodies involved at first combined classic defense mechanisms such as denial, killing the messenger, and circling the wagons (as seen for instance in the attempt to discredit Tierney because he is a mere journalist and not a scientifically qualified academic professional). As evidence of unethical behavior accumulates, vindicating many though not all of Tierney’s allegations, such efforts have become increasingly untenable. The University of Michigan, for example, has replaced the earlier public statement by its Provost, which repudiated all of Tierney’s allegations against its ex-faculty members, James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon, and made a series of unfounded allegations against myself and Leslie Sponsel for having written a memo bringing Tierney’s grave charges to the attention of the AAA, with a new statement that retracts the allegations against me and Sponsel and recognizes the need for a thorough investigation and discussion of Tierney’s allegations (University of Michigan Web site 2001).

The controversy is shaping up as a landmark case with far reaching implications for the future of the discipline. It is compelling the American Anthropological Association and other kindred learned societies to reaffirm and redefine the ethical responsibilities of researchers and research-sponsoring agencies to human research subjects; to clarify the responsibility of professional associations for applying their codes of professional ethics to individual members who violate them; to emphasize the responsibility of researchers to make adequate public response to misuses by politicians and journalists of scientific data relating to their research damaging to human subjects; to stress the need to prioritize the social and medical welfare of human subjects above the ends of research when the two come into conflict; and to recognize the importance and inescapability of that most fundamental and difficult of ethical responsibilities (for institutions no less than individuals): to tell the truth about what has been done and take a stand on its ethical implications.

The actual publication ofTierney’s book in November 2000 was preceded by an unusual series of events, beginning with the circulation of numerous pre-publication galleys of the book by the publisher, W.W. Norton. Two anthropologists, Leslie Sponsel and myself, who had been sent copies of the galleys by Norton, had been sufficiently alarmed by the gravity of Tierney’s allegations that they sought to warn the President and other officers of the American Anthropological Association to prepare for the public scandal they foresaw that the book would arouse. They did this by sending what they intended as a confidential memo to the President and President-elect of the Association. When a party still unknown leaked the memo on email, a media sensation of global proportions was unleashed. This was exactly what Turner and Sponsel had sought to forestall, or at least constrain to some extent, by having the AAA launch competent investigations of the allegations before they were picked up by the media. Further stoking the media furor, Tierney published an article in The New Yorker, entitled "The Fierce Anthropologist", recounting many of the book’s allegations against Chagnon and other investigators, including James Neel, the human geneticist (Tierney 2001a). Defenders of Neel and Chagnon, mostly of Neo-Darwinian persuasions like sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, quickly organized a massive email campaign to discredit Tierney and the two authors of the memo (Mann 2000b).

It quickly appeared that Tierney had made serious errors in his account of the contribution of an expedition led by James Neel and funded by the Atomic Energy Commission to the outbreak of a measles epidemic among the Venezuelan Yanomami in 1968. Tierney had seemed to suggest, in the galley version of his text, that Neel and the expedition might have caused the epidemic by using an inappropriate vaccine, and more chillingly, that this might have been done deliberately, as part of an experiment designed to test the capacity of the Yanomami to generate antibodies at the same levels as long-exposed populations, despite their previous lack of contact with the disease. The defenders of Neel and Chagnon elicited testimony from medical experts who denied that it would have been possible for the vaccine in question to have given rise to communicable cases of measles, and thus to have set off the epidemic. Norton held the book back from publication for almost three months to allow Tierney to modify his text to cut out the most questionable allegations. They also ceased to circulate the galleys of the book. This left Turner’s and Sponsel’s memo to the leaders of the AAA, which sought to describe Tierney’s allegations as they appeared in the galleys, as the only accessible source for his most sensational, and scientifically vulnerable, suggestions about Neel’s and his colleagues’ responsibility for starting or exacerbating the epidemic. As the major errors of Tierney’s account of the epidemic became generally acknowledged, however, it also appeared that many of his other allegations, most of his lengthy account of Chagnon’s activities and even including some aspects of his account of the 1968 epidemic, remained valid--or at least unrefuted by his critics. The voluminous outpourings of Tierney’s critics, meanwhile, remained almost completely preoccupied with defending Neel and Chagnon from Tierney’s charges. They paid virtually no attention to the effects of the scientists’ actions on the Yanomami.

Tierney’s book and the controversy to which it has given rise have raised a series of ethical issues, some stemming from Tierney’s writings and some from the conduct of those involved in the controversy. A salient feature of the outpouring of e-mail messages and postings on the web relating to the controversy over the past year is that very few of them have paid serious attention to the condition of the Yanomami themselves or their views, and most have tended to ignore ethical issues altogether. Instead, most have been exclusively concerned to defend James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon against Patrick Tierney's allegations. The most common basis for dismissing the criticisms has been the charge that Tierney, and other critics of Neel and Chagnon, are primarily motivated by some combination of hostility to "science" and unwillingness to face the hard truths about the Yanomami and other primitive people revealed by Chagnon’s "scientific" approach. The implicit sub-text seems to be that if the critical allegations against Neel and Chagnon can be refuted on scientific grounds, then the ethical questions raised by Tierney and other critics about the effects of their actions on the Yanomami can be made to go away.

This rhetorical use of"science" by the leading partisans of Neel and Chagnon is epitomized by their attempt to use Tierney’s errors in the chapter on the measles epidemic concerning such scientific matters as whether the vaccine used by the expedition could itself have caused the ensuing measles epidemic to discredit his entire book, despite the fact that by far the greater part of it deals with entirely different matters. The main issues raised by Tierney’s critical accounts of the 1968 AEC expedition and Chagnon’s statements and actions, however, concern the ethics of research practice and the ethical responsibilities of researchers to their subjects. They imply no attack on science as such. Science is not a substitute for ethics, scientific findings do not obviate ethical issues, and scientists, particularly those who work with human subjects, have ethical responsibilities apart from the validity or otherwise of their findings.

Any discussion ofTierney’s work ought to begin by giving Tierney credit for raising important ethical issues, and doing so more effectively than the academic commentators on the same issues (including myself), who have been calling attention to many of the same misdeeds for years with no appreciable effect. In this connection, the words of the report of the Brazilian medical team of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro organized by Bruce Albert on Tierney's account of the epidemic, otherwise highly critical of Tierney, are apropos:

The positive aspect of the polemic raised by Chapter 5 of Tierney's book, despite its serious documentary and conceptual failures and its lack of demonstrative rigor, is in the fact that it has made possible a more profound discussion reflecting upon the ethics of research among indigenous populations and minorities in general, not only in biomedical research, but also in other spheres, such as anthropological research,which, in the case under discussion, was strictly associated with biomedical research. (Lobo et al. 2001: Section 7, Subsection"Ethics of research on indigenous peoples: past and present")

The ethical issues in this controversy, however, have not been confined to the actions of Neel, Chagnon and others toward the Yanomami. The conduct of the controversy itself has raised important ethical issues of its own. One was posed by the leaking of Sponsel and my confidential memo by a party or parties unknown. This was a legal breach of copyright as well as a breach of trust. The consequent sensationalized exploitation of the contents of the memo in the media led to a number of distorted and untruthful reports, which Sponsel and I have sought to correct at every opportunity in lectures, letters to the editor, postings on the web, columns and articles in print media, and telemedia interviews.

The outpouring of e-mails in defense of Neel and Chagnon (much of it orchestrated, according to Charles Mann of Science magazine, by a small number of partisans at sites like the impromptu "war room" at the University of California at Santa Barbara: Mann 2000b) has not stopped at correcting Tierney’s errors, but has produced a rich crop of tendentious prevarications and untruthful assertions that raise ethical problems all their own. Some of the loudest defenders of Neel and Chagnon have attempted to discredit the book as a whole by extrapolating from its flawed treatment of the epidemic, while avoiding discussion of the many parts of the book for which there is abundant evidence in the public record and the testimony of other anthropologists, missionaries and Yanomami (Mann 2000a; 2000b). William Irons, one of Chagnon’s principal defenders and a leading advocate of sociobiiological "science," has told his colleagues and fellow scientists with unselfconscious irony that they should not read the book at all, but rely instead on the truncated and tendentious account of its errors on the University of Santa Barbara web page (talk in Forum on issues raised by Tierney, Annual Meetings of the AAA, San Francisco, 2000). Some of the criticisms of Tierney’s book, in sum, have been directed as much at distracting attention from the truth of many of its allegations as at exposing its errors. Sponsel and I have also been untruthfully attacked for several fictitious sins, such as plotting with Tierney to coauthor the book and conspiring to leak our own memo onto the net.

New research and the new face of the Yanomami controversy

While the campaign to discredit Tierney’s allegations, and prevent people from reading that which could not be discredited, raged on the internet, the character of the controversy was quietly being transformed by important new research. Most anthropological activists who had worked with the Yanomami were critical of both sides of the debate and eschewed participating in the e-mail barrage. Some of us felt that what was most needed was fresh research that would produce a more reliable data base and lay the foundation for a sounder critical perspective, independent of both Tierney and the tendentious polemics of his sociobiological assailants. Our efforts have born fruit in the period following the AAA Meetings of November 2000.

Among the more significantresults of these efforts are a comprehensive annotated index of Neel’s papers in the archive of the American Philosophical Society that was immediately made available on the web sites of the University of Michigan and the Hume site at the University of Connecticut (Stevens and Turner 2001); an analysis of the 1968 Orinoco measles epidemic and the role of the AEC expedition by a team of Brazilian medical experts organized by Bruce Albert (Lobo et al. 2001C; Albert 2001c); a comprehensive bibliography and history of Yanomami studies by Leslie Sponsel (Sponsel 2001); and new interviews with Yanomami informants by Leda Martins and Bruce Albert (Martins 2001). New data and critical insights produced by this research are discussed in the "round table" publication edited by Robert Borofsky, containing contributions by myself, Kim Hill, Bruce Albert, Raymond Hames, Leda Martins, and John Peters, by posted on the web site of Public Anthropology and to be published in book form by the same publisher (Borofsky 2001). Much new information and critical analysis has also been presented in the lecture series, "Science, ethics, power: Controversy over the production of knowledge and indigenous peoples", organized by the University of Michigan’s Joint Program in Anthropology and History. Parts of talks presented in this series are published in Michigan’s Journal of the International Institute [see Ferguson 2001 in vol. 8:3 (1,22-3;) and vol. 8:4, forthcoming as of this writing].

The effect of the new research has been to shift the focus of the controversy away from Tierney’s book and its allegations to a more direct concern with three major issues: firstly , the actions and motives of Neel and the 1968 Orinoco expedition as revealed in Neel’s own journal and correspondence and the critical review of the evidence on the 1968 measles epidemic by the Brazilian medical team. These two new bodies of data complement each other in their main implications and raise two fundamental ethical issues--the expedition’s relative priority of research over medical responsibilities, and the lack of informed consent; secondly , the actions, public statements and research methods of Napoleon Chagnon in his work both during and since the 1968 expedition; and thirdly , the vicissitudes and sufferings of the Yanomami as affected by Neel, Chagnon and other researchers, down to and including their present situation in both Brazil and Venezuela. This leads directly to the practical questions of what has actually happened to the Yanomami, what rightful claims for redress they may have, and what we can do to help them now.

In the second part of this paper, I present a topically organized review of some of this new research and the conclusions to which it leads. Then, in Part III, I review Tierney’s numerous allegations against Chagnon, and the different ethical issues they pose. In a brief concluding section (Part IV) I consider some practical implications for how anthropologists and others can be of assistance to the contemporary Yanomami.


The new research referred to in the introduction has transformed the controversy in two ways: firstly by producing a new data base (actually several new data bases) independent of Tierney’s book; and secondly, by shifting the focus of attention from Tierney’s text to what can now be more directly known about the interaction of investigators, principally James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon, with the Yanomami. I now want to present an overview of the main findings of some of this new research, concentrating on the study of Neel’s papers that I and my research assistant, John Stevens, carried out in early 2001, and bringing out its convergences with the main points of the report of the Brazilian medical experts organized by Albert.

Stevens and I visited the Archive of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in December 2000 to examine the collection of James Neel’s papers deposited there. The papers proved to be a rich source of data on many of the controversial issues surrounding the 1968 AEC Orinoco Expedition and other aspects of Neel's research and ideas. We found, however, that the lack of a catalogue was a major obstacle to using the papers. They were not only chronologically unordered but were only roughly categorized by subjects and correspondents. We therefore resolved to create a comprehensive annotated catalogue of the papers bearing on James Neel’s research on the Yanomami. We would have needed to compile something of the sort to expedite our own research, but given the importance of the papers and the probability that other scholars would want to use them for research relating to the controversy, we decided to produce a publicly accessible index that could serve as a time-saving research tool for other scholars and also to act as a rough guide to the content of the documents for anyone interested in forming a general idea of their contents.

We began by making a master list of the papers in the order that we found them, categorizing them only as COR (for "correspondence") or DOC (for "document"). All letters and documents were numbered consecutively according to their order on this list. We then produced a chronologically ordered list (although it was impossible to place the numerous undated documents in serial order in this list). We had found Neel’s field journal (missing its first 35 pages, but beginning on p. 36 a month before his departure for Venezuela), and produced a day-by-day summary of its entries, listed consecutively by page number and date (the journal was denominated as DOC 1). This outline of the journal forms the third section of our index. As a final, fourth section, we did a topical cross-index of selected letters, documents and journal entries. In March 2001, I posted the completed index on the web site of the Program in Anthropology and History in the University of Michigan web page, and the Hume web site on the University of Connecticut web page. I also notified the AAA El Dorado Commission of the existence of the index and gave them these web addresses. Copies of the index were also forwarded to the Venezuelan Investigative Commission and to Brazil, to be made available to any further Brazilian investigations (Stevens and Turner 2001a).

The full index is much too long to reproduce in its entirety in this paper. Here I provide an annotated topical outline of a selected sub-set of the more important papers and documents, loosely based on the topical index comprising Part IV of our original annotated index. The topical designations and selection are my own, not Neel’s. General topics are denominated in capitals and enumerated by Roman numerals. Topical titles are followed by a brief summary and analysis of the content of the papers listed under that title, followed by references to the relevant source documents, denotated by the same system of designations used in the master index explained above. All correspondence is listed consecutively in chronological order following the designation "COR"; all documents are similarly listed consecutively following the initials "DOC". Individual letters or documents are indicated by a number set off by semi-colons. The field journal is designated DOC 1. Citations from the field journal are designated DOC 1 followed by a colon, the page number and the date of the entry, as in "DOC 1:50-51,16 Jan;" These coded references index entries in the full annotated index, which have more detailed information about content, and in some cases include short quoted passages. The annotated index, of course, is essentially intended as a guide to the original documents in the APS Archive, not as a self-sufficient summary of the documents. The sketchy captions are intended only as general indications of content, not as full digests or abstracts.


All references unless otherwise specified are to Stevens and Turner 2001a.


A number of the documents and items of correspondence deal with various aspects of Neel’s long-standing interest in research on disease as a "natural stresser", and as such one of the selective agents responsible for genetic micro-variation. The measles epidemic of 1968 gave Neel an opportunity to observe a paradigmatic case of epidemic disease exerting stress, and therefore presumably selective pressure, on a "virgin soil" population. He interpreted what he observed as confirming his theoretical hypothesis of the uniformity of genetic capacity for resistance to disease across all human populations regardless of racial differences. In his journal, he writes that he has "now seen with my own eyes" that "the spectrum of reaction to disease (or vaccine) was no different in Indian than in non-Indian...This bears on...how infectious disease functions as a selective agent." Neel’s assertions of the uniformity of "racial" resistances were however criticized by Francis Black, an immunologist who had worked with indigenous Amazonian populations (COR 149).

References: DOC 1: 37-38, 8-9 Jan; 104,20 Feb. DOC 44; 47; 48; 91.

COR 2; 7; 20 [linked to DOC 8]; COR 29; 132; 134; 138; 139; 140; 141.


In the 1967 field season, Neel or his colleagues took blood specimens which upon analysis revealed an absence of measles antibodies, except for a few cases at the mission station of Ocamo, the point of the most frequent interethnic contacts on the Orinoco. This made Neel aware that the Yanomami, especially those at other settlements than Ocamo, were highly vulnerable to measles and therefore could be said, from a medical standpoint, to stand in urgent need of vaccination. The historian Susan Lindee suggests that this knowledge supplied the motive that led Neel to undertake the vaccination campaign carried out by the 1968 AEC Orinoco expedition, and that the motive was purely humanitarian. Lindee does not, however, take account of the relevant historical context of Neel’s long-standing research interest in the formation of antibodies to newly introduced diseases in isolated populations (U.S. Atomic Energy Commission 1951). She does not question the reason for Neel’s initial blood testing in 1966-7 that revealed the Yanomamis’ lack of measles antibodies. She assumes, without regard to context, that Neel’s motives, like those of the vaccinations that followed, were purely humanitarian, and apparently on this basis seems to exclude the possibility that he might have had a research purpose for the vaccinations. This does not follow logically and is historically inaccurate (Stevens and Turner 2001b).

Neel’s papers show that he envisioned vaccination campaigns for TB, whooping-cough, smallpox, chicken pox, German measles and mumps in addition to measles. A letter to Dr. Robert Hingson of Case Western Reserve dated 15 September 1967 requests help (donations of vaccine) for immunization campaigns against all of these diseases except mumps (COR 29). This was over two months before he learned of the actual outbreak of the measles epidemic among the Yanomami of Brazil. Plans for these other vaccination campaigns appear to have been dropped following the 1968 disaster and an abortive scheme floated by Neel in 1970-71 to vaccinate Yanomami with a trivalent vaccine for measles, German measles and mumps manufactured by Dow Chemical. It was Dow that turned down this project, after a careful review, in 1971. The reasons given by the Dow experts, as relayed to Neel by Dow’s director of Biological Clinical Research, Dr. J.E. Jackson, are interesting.Jackson, wrote to Neel that

I began to be haunted by the suspicion that, with regard to non-transmissablity of the rubella component, safety data accumulated in the U.S. Population might not be fully applicable to the Yanomamo population. The cultural and epidemiological differences are obviously very great and some of the differences could enhance the risk of fetal infection with the rubella vaccine virus. (COR 4)

Jackson also wrote that he doubted that Neel’s expedition could be relied upon to do follow-up blood testing to check on resistance levels (titres) at the desired interval of 8-10 weeks after vaccination, or to have medical workers remain with vaccine recipients to provide care for vaccine reactions for the recommended periods of up to 14 days for measles and 21 days for German measles (DOC1:52, 17 Jan; 54, 17 Jan; DOC 2;13; 42; 95. COR 1; 2; 3; 4; ). Neel apparently did not argue with Jackson, at least in writing, on any of these points, and dropped the project. The Dow experts’ criticisms of this scheme and the experience of the 1968 measles campaign may explain why Neel and his colleagues did not attempt any of the other vaccination programs Neel had envisioned. The critical reservations of Dow’s experts are also relevant to the 1968 Orinoco expedition. Their fears about the possibility that the rubella vaccine might produce infectious cases of the disease, despite U.S. experience to the contrary, show that knowledgeable experts considered it possible that at least that vaccine might be capable of generating communicable cases, at least in the special case of fetal infections, as Tierney hypothesized for the Edmonston B vaccine.


Correspondence with various scientists at the CDC reveals that Neel’s trip there shortly before leaving for Venezuela was for purposes of discussing aspects of disease research, but not for consulting on the properties of the Edmonston B vaccine, as Lindee and others have asserted (Lindee 2001a; 2001b; cf. Stevens and Turner 2001b; COR 26; 28; 124; 126; 131).


None of Neel’s correspondence, including letters soliciting donations of vaccine, betrays the slightest interest in or concern about the specific properties of the Edmonston B vaccine. That is negative evidence, but the impression left by this correspondence is that Neel took the Edmonston B vaccine because it was what he could get free from the manufacturer, not because he was specifically interested in its reactive properties for experimental purposes, as Tierney suggests. He does make it clear that he did get it free. In his letter to Layrisse dated December 11, 1967, he tells Layrisse that he knows where he can get 2,000 doses of vaccine free. This may have been the result of a direct negotiation with the manufacturer or of help he had requested in September from the Brother’s Brother Foundation.

References: DOC 1:39, 9 Jan; 71, 28 Jan. COR 5; 6; 11; 40; 48; 181.


Numerous letters and documents show that Neel began planning the itinerary of the expedition as early as February 1967 (COR 67: 2 February, to Layrisse), and a plan close to the one the expedition actually followed was settled upon by mid-November 1967, before Neel received news of the measles epidemic coming from Brazil. Neel made minor changes to the planned itinerary in the field, but none of these appear to have been motivated by medical considerations. The evidence of Neel’s own journal thus contradicts the Brazilian report’s suggestion that "the path of the expedition was determined by the needs of urgent medical assistance". The journal also reveals that Neel at one point contemplated lengthening the expedition’s time in the field, but only for research purposes, not to make possible more medical care, as the following journal entry makes clear:

Can’t contact, locate Patanowatedi. Consider altering itinerary. I am at this point sufficiently pessimistic that already beginning to wonder how I can possibly prolong my stay. Would be most unfortunate to feel I had to leave just when we begin to have Indians in all directions. (DOC 1:83, 7 Feb).

References: DOC 1:43-44, 12-13 Jan ; 48, 14 Jan; 83-84, 7 Feb; 95, 16-17 Feb; 99, 17 Feb. COR 37; 53; 54; 56; 65; 67; 70; 77; 78; 96.


Neel’s correspondence show shows that he first learned of the outbreak of measles in Brazil and its movement down the Orinoco towards the Venezuelan Yanomami villages on 28 Nov ‘67 in a letter from Robert Shaylor, a missionary with the New Tribes Mission (COR 39). Two weeks later (11 Dec. ‘67), Neel requested a Venezuelan colleague (Layrisse) to arrange Venezuelan government permission for him to vaccinate, citing the Brazilian epidemic (COR 5).

Neel’s journal entry for 20 Jan (his last night in Caracas before going into the field) reports that he was informed at a party by the head of the Venezuelan Indian Agency that measles had erupted in the upper and middle Ventuari (the next major river system to the west of the Orinoco). This, coupled with Neel’s information that the epidemic had started in the Brazilian Serra Parima to the east of the Orinoco, and was at that moment working its way down the Orinoco towards his planned research area, should have told him that measles was rapidly becoming established in the whole area, if indeed it had not already become so. There was plainly no time to lose if medically effective preventive measures, such as vaccinations and quarantines, were to be taken. Nevertheless, Neel did not alter his research schedule or his plan for the movements of the expedition, or attempt to take any special measures against the epidemic until a month later, when he got the first news of the outbreaks of measles at Ocamo and Mavaca (17 and 18 February, respectively). Even thereafter he did not significantly modify his schedule in order to vaccinate all remaining groups in his area as quickly as possible.

The "All Orinoco Plan" he formulated in the two hours after he learned that the epidemic had actually arrived at Ocamo and Mavaca (between 2 and 4 AM on the night of February 17-18) called for vaccinating at five villages. Two of these had already been vaccinated or were in the process of being, one was about to be attended to by a missionary whom Neel had already supplied with vaccine and dispatched to the village before he got the news of the outbreak at Ocamo, and two others turned out to have been abandoned by their inhabitants fleeing the epidemic. The one minor deviation from the expedition’s planned itinerary the plan involved was to send its main medical doctor , Willard Centerwall, to vaccinate one of the five villages. Centerwall, however, found that the villagers had fled the epidemic and returned empty-handed the following day. The "All Orinoco Plan", in sum, was a hasty stop-gap measure concocted on the spur of the moment, and was a dead letter virtually from the time of its conception.

The five villages targeted for vaccination under the "All Orinoco Plan" were selected because they were the main ports of entry and exit for the Yanomami area of the middle Orinoco (the plan also called for quarantining and vaccinating travellers). If a ring or barrier was to be erected around the Yanomami area, these were the logical places to do it. The basic problem with this approach at the time Neel conceived it was that the measles was already both inside and outside the area. It had come into the area from the Upper Orinoco to the south and the Brazilian Serra Parima to the east, and was already over into the Ventuari, the adjacent major river system to the west and northwest. There were thus already outbreaks or cases of measles on the southern, eastern, northwestern and western flanks of the middle Orinoco area, so there was little point to trying to confine it within the area bounded by the five ports of entry. On the other hand, it was too late to try to keep it out of the area by vaccinating and quarantining the ports of entry, as it had already broken out inside it. The time to have instituted such a plan would have been when Neel first arrived in the region a month earlier. At that time such a plan might have had some hope of success in keeping the measles out of the immediate area of the middle Orinoco villages. That Neel waited his whole first month in the field without formulating any plan to deal with the rapidly approaching epidemic suggests the low priority medical measures against measles held for him.

References: DOC 1: 60, 19 Jan; 98-99, 17 Feb; 103, 19 Feb; 105, 20 Feb. DOC 18; 19; 60; 71. COR 5; 6; 14; 15; 22; 38; 39; 41; 46.


Letters from missionaries and colleagues informing Neel that the epidemic continued to rage out of control after the departure of the expedition show that the expedition’s medical work did not, as he claimed, "avert a real tragedy". It did not, in other words, prevent the epidemic of measles from decimating several villages in which the expedition made films and collected biological specimens, and it did not prevent the epidemic from reading. It did succeed in immunizing several villages where it arrived in time to vaccinate before the 72-hour grace period after exposure to the disease virus had run out. With these significant exceptions, the epidemic was "a real tragedy" for the Yanomami.

References: DOC 17. COR 17; 42; 43; 45; 62.


This correspondence is significant for three main reasons. Firstly, Neel wrote to Roche on 4/4/68 asking him for confirmation that he (Roche) had diagnosed a Brazilian boy with measles at Ocamo shortly before the outbreak of measles among the Indians there. This would have been tantamount to identifying this boy as the carrier responsible for bringing the epidemic to the Yanomami of the Orinoco. Roche, however, replies on 23/4 that he could make no specific diagnosis of measles, although the boy had severe broncho- pneumonia and a very high fever for a week (this letter was unaccountably omitted from the Stevens-Turner annotated index, and is therefore listed in the references as uncatalogued). Tierney claimed that Roche told him the same thing when he interviewed him many years later, but critics claimed that Roche was by then too far gone with Alzheimer’s to be a reliable source. The existence of this letter written in April 1968, however, proves the accuracy of Roche’s memory at the time Tierney interviewed him, as well as the accuracy of Tierney’s account of the interview. The point was important to Neel, as it has been to his partisans in the recent debate, because if the Brazilian boy had been able to be identified as the vector of the epidemic, it would have removed the possibility that the expedition itself might have been the vector, as Tierney suggested. Neel was apparently worried about this possibility.

The second item of interest in this correspondence is the telegram from Roche to Neel (DOC 5) informing Neel that the donation of vaccine that Neel proposed to ship to Venezuela was "acceptable to our government" . This telegram became the center of a mini-controversy. Susan Lindee, the historian, found this document while going through Neel’s papers at the APS, and claimed that it proved that Neel had received permission from the Venezuelan government for the AEC expedition to carry out the vaccination campaign in February-March. Unfortunately she failed to notice that the telegram is dated April 19, and refers to a future shipment of vaccine by Neel following his return to the U.S. After the outbreak of the epidemic in February and March. The telegram is clearly a response to a telegram from Neel to Roche, of which only the draft survives in the papers, dated April 15, requesting confirmation from Roche that a shipment of vaccine to him would be acceptable to the Venezuelan government (DOC 6). The date aside, this was in no way a request for permission for Neel and his expedition to (re)enter Venezuela and apply the vaccinations themselves. In the ensuing controversy with Tierney, Lindee recognized her error. Despite the continuing absence of direct evidence of Venezuelan government permission for the AEC expedition, she nevertheless made a convincing case that Neel must have received such permission based on indirect evidence, such as that Neel’s large shipments of vaccine were allowed to be cleared through Venezuelan customs (Lindee 2001b). Lindee’s conclusion has been indirectly reinforced by the discovery of official authorizations for some of Neel’s Brazilian visits from Presidents of FUNAI (Albert 2001a).

The third document of special interest in this set is Roche’s letter to Neel written May 6 confirming the arrival of the shipment of vaccine(COR 181). Roche informs Neel that the Venezuelans will not use the Edmonston B vaccine shipped by Neel for vaccinating Indians, because "studies" had shown that one-third strength doses of the milder Schwarz vaccine were as effective in conferring immunity and produced much less problematic reactions. The "studies" on the Schwarz to which Roche refers may well have involved Dr. Helen Casey and others associated with the CDC during the preceding year. These studies must in any case have been known to Neel, or at least have been made known to him when he visited Casey and others at the CDC a couple of months before leaving for Venezuela. These data raise questions about Neel’s use of the Edmonston B vaccine despite the reservations and alternatives that were persuasive to Roche and the Venezuelans. It may be that Neel simply did not care enough about the more severe reactions to Edmonston B (especially as administered in full doses) to forego the free donations of the vaccine he had received from a manufacturer. There is not enough evidence to decide the point either way, but documents such as Roche’s letter suggest that Tierney’s questions about Neel’s use of the vaccine are not entirely out of line.

References: DOC 5; 6; 7. COR 16; 50; 181; COR [uncatalogued]13 April 1968.



Records of vaccinations by various medical personnel and missionaries at a number of different villages are scattered through Neel’s papers and the field journal. Taken together they comprise a complete and detailed record of the vaccinations carried out by the expedition. These records show that gamma globulin was administered along with all vaccinations carried out by Neel and his team with the exception of some vaccinations done by Chagnon and Roche at Ocamo. The two Brazilian mission stations of Auaris and Surucucu, to which Neel, for unexplained reasons, sent vaccine with no accompanying gamma globulin, were the only places where entire communities were vaccinated without gamma globulin. Reactions to the vaccine in these two places were extremely severe (COR 182) . The documents provide no answer to the question of why gamma globulin was not supplied to the missionaries along with the Edmonston vaccine, and why Roche was not told that he should use it when he vaccinated at Ocamo. There is no evidence that this was part of an "experiment". It may simply have been a result of the relative indifference and low priority that seems to have attended other dealings with the vaccine. The records also show that with the exception of Ocamo, the entire population of every Yanomami community where the expedition vaccinated was vaccinated at the same time. This shows that the "half village" vaccination procedure recommended by Centerwall in his "protocol" memo to the Brazilian Evangelical Missionaries described in the following section was not followed once the epidemic arrived in the villages where the expedition was working.

References: DOC 1:56,17 Jan; 62, 22 Jan; 63, 23 Jan; 72, 29 Jan; 110-111, 25 Feb. DOC 14; 50; 51; 52; 53; 54; 55; 56; 57; 64; 65; 66.



On 9 Jan ‘68, W. Centerwall sent a memo to missionaries at Yanomami villages in Brazil to whom Neel was sending 1,000 doses of anti-measles vaccine, giving instructions on the use of the vaccine. This memo is the closest thing to a general protocol for the vaccinations that has come to light: it is unclear if Neel himself ever wrote such a protocol. It would have been in keeping with the division of labor among the expedition personnel, in which Centerwall did the main medical work, for Neel to delegate the preparation of the protocol to him. This document therefore probably represents the protocol intended to guide the expedition’s own vaccination practice, most of which were actually done by Centerwall. That the policies Centerwall recommends in the memo were also intended to be followed by the expedition itself is implied by a letter Centerwall wrote to Black the day after he drafted the protocol for the missionaries (cited below: COR 15).

As will be noted, the memo recommends vaccinating only half of the people of a community, because the reactions to the Edmonston B vaccine are likely to be so strong that those inoculated will be prostrated, and the others should therefore be left unvaccinated in order to care for them. Despite this clear indication that the expedition was fully aware of the probability of intense reactions to Edmonston B, no gamma globulin (which cuts the fever levels of reactions in half) was shipped to the missionaries along with the vaccine. I quote here the full text of Centerwall’s memo:

To Whom It May Concern:

In brief, it should be realized that the Edmonston strain of vaccine though immunologically effective is known to cause significantly high fevers and reactions in some persons. This is perhaps even more likely among measles-free peoples. The concomitant use of gamma globulin would help modify the reactions but in the absence of gamma globulin, measles vaccination is still considered very much worth the risks providing certain precautions are taken, i.e.:

(1) avoid vaccinating infants especially under 1 year of age, TB patients, acutely ill people, and persons who are old and/or infirm.

(2) vaccinate only half of the able-bodied village population at one time so the unvaccinated individuals will be able to care for the needs of the vaccinated ones.

(3) vaccinate populations which can be observed during the resting period (8-12 days post vaccination) so that any high fevers can be treated with aspirin and fluids and any bacterial complications treated with antibiotics or sulfa drugs...

(4) alert the people being vaccinated that they may feel a bit ill from the vaccination but not as badly as the disease from which they are being protected.

(9 January 1968 COR 179 Willard R. Centerwall)

Centerwall repeated his programmatic exposition of this "half-village rule" in a letter to Francis Black on 10 January. In this letter he stated that the half-village procedure was worth following even if the vaccinating team did not have time to wait for the first half’s reactions to subside so that the second half could be vaccinated (COR 6; COR 15).

Based on Centerwall’s protocol and letter to Black, and the lack of any subsequent statement to the contrary, I wrote In my rejoinder to Clifford Geertz in the New York Review of Books that the expedition had followed the half-village policy during the epidemic (Turner 2001:69) I discovered upon making a thorough review of the vaccination records among Neel’s papers that this was an error. The expedition appears to have made only one abortive attempt to follow the "half village" procedure at Ocamo, before the epidemic had broken out there (even this is not certain, but it is a plausible interpretation of why Chagnon was sent ahead to Ocamo with only half the number of measles vaccine doses needed to inoculate the total population of the village). In every instance after the measles arrived at Ocamo and Mavaca, the villages in which they had worked or were then working, the expedition’s medical personnel simply vaccinated everyone they could get hold of at the same time. The reason for the change is presumably the obvious problem that leaving one half of a community unimmunized for 8-12 days to wait for the other half to recover would have meant exposing the unimmunized people to contagion. In this respect, then, Neel and Centerwall did change one important aspect of the expedition’s schedule and medical program in response to the epidemic.

At the very least, the "half-village" policy betrays a lack of anthropological imagination. Given the indistinguishablility of some reactions to the vaccine from actual cases of wild measles (a frequent enough problem for members of the expedition, but doubtless in any case a distinction without a difference for the Yanomami) the response of healthy Yanomami to the sight of Yanomami with measles (or what Neel calls "measly" vaccine reactions) was normally not to stick around to care for the diseased persons but to flee the village that had become a site of contagion. Neel records several instances when whole villages fled, either from the threat of vaccinations or the disease itself--from the Yanomami point of view they came to much the same thing.(DOC 1:76,1 Feb; 103, 19 Feb) Once away in the forest, of course, the fugitives were also cut off from medication, especially antibiotics against pneumonia. Those who fled with pneumonia, or who got pneumonia from the reactions or measles itself within days after leaving the village, stood a poor chance of surviving without medical care. How many died in this way is unknown, but no doubt enough to justify Tierney’s remark that the medical disaster on the Orinoco in 1968 was not simply a "measles epidemic" but a complex social and medical disaster comprised of measles, vaccine reactions, pneumonia and social panic.

Centerwall’s"protocol" with its "half-village policy" is further evidence that medical personnel of the expedition were fully aware of the probable strength of Yanomami reactions to Edmonston B, and were nevertheless prepared to go ahead with its use, even without gamma globulin, on the grounds, clearly stated by Centerwall, that the medical benefits outweighed the inconvenience of the reactions. It is true, as many contributors to the debate over Tierney’s statements about the Edmonston vaccine have insisted, that the vaccine was considered a "state of the art" vaccine at the time, and not medically "counter-indicated" for use on any group. On the other hand, studies of the effects of the Edmonston B vaccine on indigenous groups in North America had turned up extremely strong reactions, leading to warnings that "the risk of severe febrile response was an impediment to the use of Edmonston B " among such groups (Brody et al. 1964:339-42; cited in Mann 2000a). It is evident that knowledgeable expedition personnel expected that it was likely to give the Yanomami a very rough time. As the Brazilian medical report notes, it is therefore a fair question why Neel’s team nevertheless opted to use the vaccine when less problematically reactive alternatives were available. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the most probable answer is the simplest, if not the most medically sensitive: in the words of Francis Black, Neel probably chose Edmonston B in spite of its drawbacks "because he could get it for free" (Mann 2000a:416).

There are scattered references in Neel’s field journal to the Yanomamis’ reactions to the vaccine. Neel notes the intensity of the reactions at Ocamo, where Roche vaccinated without using gamma globulin (he was unaccountably not advised that it was to be used together with the Edmonston B vaccine). (DOC 1:81, 6 Feb) Neel notes "Reactions to Edmonston vaccine" as the first point in a five-point outline of the "measles story" (DOC 1:105, 20 Feb). A little later on he emphasizes the variability of Yanomami reactions to the vaccine, "with a mean perhaps not far from the "Caucasian mean". (DOC 1:113, 25 Feb) This seems puzzlingly at variance with the reports of extraordinarily intense reactions at Ocamo, Auaris and Surucucu, where the vaccine was applied without gamma globulin cover. Neel does mention "highly febrile" reactions to the vaccinations at another village (DOC 1:115, 28 Feb).

Centerwall’s protocol does appear to settle the question of the reason for the policy of vaccinating only half of a community at a time. This seems to have been followed only at Ocamo, the one Yanomami community where expedition personnel arrived well before the outbreak of measles. Tierney and others have suggested that the "half village" policy might have been an experimental tactic, designed to divide the population into a "control group" and a group receiving the experimental treatment. Centerwall’s document shows that it was conceived instead as a medical safety measure. From the vaccination records among the papers, it appears at any rate to have been followed by the expedition itself only at Ocamo, its first point of arrival in Yanomami country, and was otherwise attempted only by the missionaries at the Brazilian Yanomami villages of Auaris and Surucucu to whom Neel sent vaccine, following Centerwall’s instructions. The missionaries at Surucucu, who were not given gamma globulin to mitigate the force of the reactions to the vaccine, were so appalled by the reactions of the first group of villagers they vaccinated that they gave up the attempt to follow the half-village policy as recommended in the Centerwall protocol. They realized that after having seen the reactions of those who had been vaccinated, the other half of the villagers would never allow themselves to be vaccinated with the same vaccine. They therefore used Schwarz vaccine for the unvaccinated half of the village (COR 182) .



Neel expresses his impatience with the vaccinations as an interference with the research work of the expedition in several passages of his journal, such as the following:

The measles vaccination--a gesture of altruism and conscience--is more of a headache than bargained for--I would either put this into the hands of the missionaries or place it at the very last. Also, anxious to avoid distracting W.C. [Centerwall--TT] who is pursuing so many things.

(DOC 1:79, 5 Feb)

Ironically, it was the outbreak of the real measles epidemic that transformed the vaccination campaign from a combination research operation and humanitarian medical effort into a pure "gesture of altruism and conscience" for Neel, since the onset of wild measles rendered the vaccinations superfluous as a stimulus for antibody formation. This redundancy of the vaccinations from the research point of view may have been at least partly responsible for Neel’s growing exasperation with the burden they imposed on the research work of the expedition. This attitude was expressed in the cutting remarks Neel addressed to Timothy Asch for filming Centerwall treating a sick Yanomami, quoted by Tierney from the sound track of Asch’s video tape of the incident. (Tierney 2000:95). Neel even considered the possibility of cutting out vaccinations altogether from the final stage of the expedition’s work, as is shown by the following passage of the journal, where he sets out his order of priorities in detail:

Plan order of priorities for work in next phase, at Patanowatedi. Concentrate in first 3-4 days on Physical Examinations, anthropometrics, dentals, bloods. Next, do same to Ashedowa-tedi, to be invited to come to Patanowatedi for the purpose. Also at Patanowa-tedi we will make our principal collection of biologicals...thus I will get stools and soils while Bill [Centerwall--TT] does P.E.s for 3-4 days; then get blood, saliva and urine...then inoculate if at all .

(DOC 1:80, 5 Feb) [my emphasis: TT]

These journal entries plainly show that once the expedition arrived in the field, Neel was taken aback by the time and effort required by the vaccinations, and rapidly came to perceive them as a threat to the primary business of the expedition: the collection of biological specimens. The intensity of his surprise and frustration over the amount of time the vaccinations and other medical work were taking appears to bear out the observations of the Brazilian medical team about Neel’s failure to plan adequately to deal with the epidemic. Journal entries such as those just quoted show that under the pressure of his ambitious program of specimen-collecting, which would have been virtually impossible to complete in the limited period of time available even without the additional medical needs of dealing with the epidemic, Neel seriously considered jettisoning the "altruism and conscience" of the vaccination campaign and abandoning the vaccinations altogether. In the end, to his credit, he did not. These passages starkly reveal where Neel’s real priorities lay, and help explain his relative lack of concern for, and resentment of, medical work and precautions. By the same token, they underline the moral significance of his ultimate refusal to discontinue the vaccinations and to carry on, despite his reluctance, with the vital medical support the expedition was providing.

Neel’s unpreparedness for the expenditure of time and energy required by the vaccinations, and his resentment of them as disruptive impositions on the expedition’s research program, is difficult to understand given that he had initially planned to include them as an integral part of the expedition’s research. The answer to the apparent discrepancy must lie partly in the difference between the time required by vaccinations in the absence of actual disease and the additional pressures of vaccinations carried out in the face of a real epidemic, added to the supplementary requirements of medical care in such a situation. The abandonment of the "half-village" policy after only one apparent trial at Ocamo, before the measles had actually broken out there, is evidence that this difference was sufficient to cause the expedition to revise its plans for the vaccination campaign. After the outbreak of wild measles, of course, the vaccinations became far more urgently an "altruistic" measure of "conscience" than they had been as merely another research item with incidental health benefits, at the same time that their research value was eliminated by their redundancy in relation to the effects of the wild measles.


Neel recounts in repeated entries in his journal how he contracted a severe upper respiratory infection (URI) in Caracas just before going in to the field. He nevertheless went in on schedule with the rest of the expedition, and continued to vaccinate and associate with the Yanomami while the infection persisted and worsened throughout most of the time in the field. As Francis Black has noted, the side effects of the Edmonston B vaccine are exacerbated if the patient has a cold (personal communication cited in Mann 2000a:417). Some of Neel’s journal entries about his URI are particularly striking as they occur in juxtaposition with references to the growing frequency of respiratory disease, including grippe and bronchopneumonia, among the Yanomami, and the danger that it will interact with and reinforce the effects of the measles. For example, Neel refers to a current epidemic of grippe, and notes that there is now much more such disease than in earlier years, with 5 deaths at Mavaca. (Doc 1:94, 15 Feb) He worries that the current epidemic of grippe could interact deleteriously with the measles (DOC 1:99, 17 Feb). At Mavaca, he notes "another Indian ill with pneumonia, presumably in the wake of the flu outbreak here of about a month ago"(DOC 1:103, 18 Feb).

Neel’s failure to observe elementary medical precautions for avoiding infectious contacts with the Yanomami, especially in the case of a respiratory infection that he knew would be likely to exacerbate the reactions to the vaccine he was administering, reinforce the already existing epidemic of respiratory illness, and thus potentially interact with and further exacerbate the measles epidemic itself, is puzzling in a medical doctor. It may reflect a similar attitude to that which Neel seems to have taken toward the Edmonston B vaccine--that although the reactions and complications might be severe, the net benefit to the Indians would still offset the increment of suffering it would be likely to cause in a number of cases. This robust disregard for ordinary precautions against aggravating the Yanomamis’ deteriorating health situation seems of a piece with the relatively low priority Neel allotted to medical concerns in other respects, as compared with the importance of the research in which the expedition was engaged.

References: DOC 1: 58, 18 Jan; 60, 20 Jan; 87, 9 Feb; 92, 12 Feb; 94, 15 Feb.



Finally, we come to the documentary evidence that Neel was seeking a material diagnostic index of superior genetic capacity (which he called the "Index of Innate Ability" or IIA) among the Yanomami and other Amazonian Indians. Neel theorized that this increment of genetic superiority was the basis of leadership or dominance in these simple societies, or "headmanship" as he called it, and was therefore directly correlated with superior reproductive success, because he believed headmen in primitive societies like the Yanomami tend to have more wives than other men. This he thought has the result that men of superior genes tend to reproduce those genes more than less genetically endowed men, and thus raise the level of the gene pool. He hoped to find evidence for this item of eugenic faith among the Yanomami and other Amazonian societies like the Shavante and Kayapo, in the form of a correlation between head measurements, headmanship, and reproductive success. Perhaps needless to say, nothing came of this. (DOC 1:39, 10 Jan. COR I47, 148, 174,175,176 )

The correspondence between Neel and his colleagues, notably Salzano, on this point reinforces the evidence from his publications that he regarded the political and reproductive arrangements of the Yanomami, considered as a paradigmatic example of pre-agricultural (or incipient agricultural) human society, as superior to those of modern mass societies from a eugenic standpoint (COR 147,148,174,175,176; Turner 2000).

Despite many categorical denials that Neel held eugenic beliefs by Neel supporters in the early email reactions to the Sponsel-Turner memo and Tierney’s book, including statements by the University of Michigan and the National Academy of Sciences, the evidence that he did, and that they played a fundamental role in his ideas about "primitive society" and human evolution, is undeniable and explicit in Neel’s own writings. One should clearly distinguish between eugenics as a social and political movement in the U.S. and some European countries and theoretical beliefs about the role of eugenic tendencies in primitive society and evolution. There is no question that Neel played a progressive and influential role in opposing eugenicist ideas and causes in the first sense in the form of schemes for compulsory abortion, selective immigration, etc.. There is, on the other hand, equally little question that eugenic and genetic reductionist ideas in the second sense dominated Neel’s thinking about the evolution of human society and the nature of contemporary primitive peoples like the Yanomami. He is quite explicit about this in his writings on the eugenic advantages of Yanomami social organization, which in his view provided optimal conditions for males with superior genetic endowment to rise to leadership and thereby to attain superior rates of reproductive success [Neel 1980: 277-94; 1994:301-316 (see especially 301-304)].

Against the evidence ofNeel’s own writings on the subject, it is difficult to understand Lindee’s dismissive remarks about Neel’s eugenic ideas being merely a matter of "semantics" (Lindee 2000a, repeated by Geertz 2001), or her insistence on dealing with suggestions that Neel held eugenic ideas in the second sense by denying that he was a eugenicist in the first sense, or conceding (as in her spoken remarks in the Forum devoted to the controversy at the AAA Meetings in Nov. 2000) that to the extent that he did hold eugenic beliefs they were concerned mainly with dealing with certain genetically inherited diseases, avoiding the question of his eugenic ideas about Yanomami headmanship. The implication of what Lindee has said on the subject is that Neel held no eugenic ideas relevant to the controversy over his work on the Yanomami. This is both mistaken and misleading. Eugenic ideas, coupled with a strong form of genetic reductionism, played a dominant role in Neel’s (and following Neel, Chagnon’s) views of Yanomami social organization, and have had continuing repercussions in Chagnon’s theoretical claims about the superior reproductive success of "killers" (Chagnon 1988; to be considered below).

Neel explicitly identifies himself, in articles and in his autobiography, as having "eugenic" ideas and values. He uses the term for what he takes to be the selective advantages of the structure of primitive society, imagined to be more or less universally built around the institution of headmanship on the Yanomami model, which supposedly makes it easier for genetically superior males to rise to leadership. Neel thought of "primitive society" both as a level of social development corresponding to contemporary hunting-and-foraging or incipient horticultural societies like the Yanomami, and also as an earlier stage in the evolution of the human species before the beginnings of horticulture, when he imagined that the species as a whole lived as contemporary hunter-foragers do. The idea that such contemporary human societies represent accurate models of prior stages of human evolution is thus explicitly part of Neel’s genetic reductionist/eugenic conception of "primitive society". Neel also explicitly claimed that at the prior evolutionary stage in question, human social organization shared its key institutional structures with other higher primates (dominance hierarchies headed by Alpha males with multiple female breeding partners, who give rise to what some primatologists refer to as "lineages" of descendants). "Lineages" in this sense in turn serve as the primary organizational units of primate breeding groups, at least in terms of the primatological theory employed by Neel.

Neel claimed that"headmanship", which he conceived to be the human form of Alpha male-hood, is a virtually universal institution of "primitive society". Its properties, as he identified them in his important programmatic article, "On being headman" Neel 1980) include intelligence, leadership ability, hunting prowess, and the ability to use measured amounts of violence when necessary, all of which Neel conceived to be components of a genetically coded quality he called "innate ability". This he defined as "a quantitative trait certainly related to intelligence, based on the additive effects of alleles at many loci". Neel thought of all humans as possessing this innate ability in varying degrees. Women, in principle, might also possess it in amounts above the genetic average, but Neel had difficulty conceiving of any way that this might make any relevant difference in their social roles. Neel called the specific amount of genetically based innate ability possessed by an individual the "Index of innate ability". Men with the most innate ability, he claimed, tended to rise to the top of the heap and become headmen. To become a headman is worth while for a man, Neel thought, because a perquisite of the job is more wives, and thus an increased rate of reproductive success. As headmen are therefore in a position to reproduce their superior genes--their greater Index of Innate Ability--at a higher rate than other men, the effect of the institution, Neel believed, was a tendency to upgrade the average genetic quality of the population, or in other words its average "index of innate ability" (a tendency which was, however, offset by various other factors).

This understanding of "primitive social structure" as a direct expression of genetics is the basis of Neel’s explicit claim for the selective advantage, and thus the eugenic effect, of Yanomami-style society. He maintained that this form of society was the common form of social organization in hunting-and-foraging and simple horticultural societies, and thus in effect constitutes the natural social form of the human species. Note that not only headmanship as a central social institution, but the structure of society as a whole is in this view directly determined by genetics. Neel represents the social organization of the small deme (endogamous breeding population) as a hierarchy of males, with differing numbers of wives according to their rank. Their rank in turn is determined by their respective proportions of genetic Innate Ability. The differing amounts of genetic "innate ability" in turn determine men’s relative degree of reproductive success (objectively indexed by their differing numbers of wives or reproductive partners). The more numerous groupings of wives attached to the more dominant men give rise to correspondingly larger sibling- and half-sibling groups, which become "lineages" with continuity across generations. The differing size of the lineages, together with the relative dominance of their headmen, in turn determines the political order of the community. Social structure is thus defined as a dependent variable of the unequal proportions of the right genetic stuff possessed by male competitors for leadership and reproductive advantage (i.e., access to and control over women).

Neel recognized that there was no known trait or feature that could serve as an objective index of the index of innate ability. There was, in other words, no scientific evidence for it at all. He wrote that his failure to discover material evidence for the existence of the "IIA" was the greatest disappointment of his career. This in no way diminished his belief that such an index must exist. He had hoped to discover some diagnostic trait that would permit discrimination of relative degrees of IIA among the Amazonian peoples--the Shavante, Kayapo and Yanomami--with whom he and his colleagues worked. His bizarre quest to identify distinctive head measurements of headmen that might turn out to be correlated with different degrees of "reproductive success" was an instance of his quest for the elusive grail of an objective biological correlative of innate ability.

Intellectually archaic and unscientific as it seems, Neel’s pursuit of cephalic indices of superiority was consistent with his fundamental conviction that the determinants of social order are (at least in the natural human state represented by hunter-forager populations) biological rather than social or cultural, and therefore must have a material biological form. This reductionist belief was for Neel an article of faith, an ideological conviction impervious to the total absence of scientific evidence. It was equally impervious to critical objections by Neel’s colleagues that his notions about headmanship and polygamy as universal institutions in primitive societies found no confirmation in the comparative ethnographic record, and that contrary to his antiquated evolutionistic assumptions, contemporary hunter-foragers, let alone horticulturists like the Yanomami, cannot be assumed to be like paleolithic human societies. Neel’s ideas on the subject were immune to such empirically based objections because they were not grounded in any empirical evidence, but rather on the ideological conviction that "science", conceived as bio-genetic understanding of individuals, breeding populations, and species, conceived in abstraction from social, cultural and historical factors, is the sufficient and proper basis of understanding the essential properties of human nature and human society. All this is not just an inconsequential matter of "semantics". It is rather the paradigmatic form of the ideology of scientism that underlies contemporary Neo-Darwinist thinking, of which sociobiology is only one expression. As the faith that animates the most vociferous of the partisans of Neel and Chagnon in the current controversy, it deserves to be recognized for what it is by anyone who wishes to understand what all the fuss has been about.

Neel’s ideas and attitudes--what I have called his ideological faith--in turn shaped Chagnon’s approach to Yanomami social organization, most fully in the later, sociobiological phase of Chagnon’s theorizing. What Neel wanted from Chagnon was pedigrees: accurate records of breeding relationships, which could be used to calculate degrees of genetic relatedness. Genealogies, the cultural representations of kinship relations that are constructed in the social process of appropriating the biological relations of reproduction and filiation, that are the bread and butter of most anthropological investigations of kinship organization, were from Neel’s point of view of no interest or value in themselves, other than as relatively unreliable and inaccurate indications of the biological connections comprising the underlying pedigree. Chagnon’s job was to strip away the cultural veneer of genealogy and get down to the bio-genetic bedrock of pedigree, conceived as the real determinant infrastructure of social organization, where genetic relationships could be seen directly to constitute social relationships.

In Neel’s perspective, which Chagnon adopted as the template for his own approach in the field, this had the result that anthropological field work became recast as a contest that pitted the anthropologist against the culture. Culture and social customs, like not uttering the names of dead relatives, needed to be learned, but only to the extent necessary to enable the anthropological investigator to use them to get beyond them to the real stuff, the patterns of bio-genetic relatedness resulting from male competition for females. Culture, in sum, assumed the practical significance of an obstacle to be gotten around as rapidly as possible and by any means that proved effective, regardless of how and to what degree such means might violate cultural standards. Resulting disturbances of the lives and social relationships of the people who shared that culture and subscribed to its forms of social intercourse were of no theoretical consequence, and seems to have given little cause for ethical concern.

Tierney astutely observes that Chagnon’s major theoretical formulation about the higher rates of marriage and reproduction attained by dominant Yanomami men (defined as such, on the basis of what turned out to be ethnographically inaccurate claims, as men who had killed, and thus demonstrated superior "fierceness"), was actually prefigured by Neel’s writings on Yanomami headmanship (Tierney 2000:159). What this really means is that for Chagnon, Yanomami "fierceness" was not to be explained as a distinctive "cultural" trait of the Yanomami, or as a pattern of action arising from the specific sociological dynamics of Yanomami society. As the essential quality of competitive dominance leading to superior reproductive success, "fierceness", as embodied by the socially recognized status of unokai , was rather to be understood as a direct manifestation of the genetically programmed Ur-forms of Alpha male aggressiveness and dominance, which the Yanomami, by virtue of their supposed primitivity, had preserved in a relatively unadulterated form from the evolutionary past of the species. " Unokai "-hood thus appeared, in the context of Neel’s and Chagnon’s sociobiological perspective, as the theoretical grail that had eluded Neel, with his futile measurements of headmen’s heads: an objective index of superior "innate ability" leading to social dominance and polygamy, if not always headmanship. "Fierceness", and Chagnon’s associated claims about the meaning of unokai and the greater number of wives and offspring of "killers", thus assumed the central importance of an epiphany of the basic article of bio-genetic reductionist faith. Only this can explain why, after overwhelming criticism by Yanomami ethnographers and historians has demolished the supposed factual basis of each of these claims, the devotees of sociobiological ideology and its offshoots continue to defend them as "scientific" formulations grounded in empirical data, albeit with a few minor problems (e.g. Hill 2001). Anthropological critics, meanwhile, have criticized Chagnon’s overemphasis on male aggressiveness as the dominant trait of Yanomami social organization on ethnographic and theoretical as well as ethical grounds: feminist scholars have played a leading role in this critique (Tiffany and Adams 1994; Sponsel 1998)



The investigation of the medical aspects and circumstances of the 1968 measles epidemic by the Brazilian team of medical experts organized by Bruce Albert, and Stevens’ and my research on Neel’s papers at the American Philosophical Society archive, have now established an independent basis for assessing the conduct of Neel and the AEC Orinoco Expedition. Taken together, they afford an alternative analytical perspective to that of Tierney on the one hand and the web postings of the partisans of Neel and Chagnon, including the National Academy of Sciences, the University of Michigan and University of California at Santa Barbara web pages, on the other. The latter, while making some valid points in correction of some of the errors of Tierney’s account, have generally failed to go beyond their concern with rebutting Tierney’s accusations and killing the messengers, Sponsel and me included, to produce a viable account of what really happened to the Yanomami. This is partly because they have relied almost exclusively on Neel’s and Chagnon’s published writings rather than do any original research, partly because they have been unwilling to entertain the possibility that some criticisms of those they have been at pains to defend might in fact have merit, and above all because getting at the full story of what happened to the Yanomami has not been an important concern for them. While Stevens’ and my research on Neel’s papers and the Brazilian team’s study of the available data on the 1968 epidemic converge in clearing Neel’s reputation of the more sensational allegations, they nevertheless raise other ethical questions about Neel’s and the expedition’s conduct. These focus around the prioritization of research over medical needs and the issue of informed consent (understood in its broadest sense to include mis informed consent and prevarication in withholding information about the intended retention of specimens).

The papers make clear, firstly, that Neel originally planned the expedition for the purpose of collecting blood samples and other biological data (specimens of urine, skin, stools and saliva, anthropometric measurements, and dental impressions), and secondly, that the vaccinations were originally conceived as part of this research program. Their purpose was to contribute to his research into the factors responsible for the rise of genetic polymorphism within and among indigenous communities. This research purpose remained his top priority throughout the expedition. He was interested in epidemic diseases, specifically including measles, for the same reason, because as "natural stressers" they exercised important selective pressures. By observing the levels of antibodies generated by a "virgin soil" population like the Yanomami in reaction to such diseases, "modelled" by live virus vaccinations, Neel hoped to be able to test the theory that Amerindians and other isolated populations are as capable, in terms of genetic endowment, of producing antibodies as Caucasian and other long-exposed populations. The vaccinations, in short, were originally planned primarily as a research tool for eliciting the production of antibodies. This does not preclude that Neel also thought of them as serving a humanitarian medical purpose: he clearly did.

Neel’s use of vaccines to study the capacity of isolated groups to generate resistance to disease (as measured by rates of production of leukocytes or white blood cells) long antedates his Yanomami research. In the studies of the effects of long term radiation from the A- and H-bomb tests in the Marshall Islands, with which Neel was associated, the use of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine as a "lymphocytic stimulating substance" to "challenge" and thus test for "lymphopoetic capacity" was discussed by the medical investigators. Among papers recently declassified and released by the Department of Energy is a letter from Dr. Robert Conard, the head of the Navy Medical Team with the Marshall Islands Project, which mentions the use of pertussis vaccine for this purpose, and also cites Neel in another connection (Conard 1957).

It can thus be established that in his work in the Marshall Islands at least ten years earlier, Neel had been associated with research on levels of disease resistance that employed vaccinations to stimulate the production of antibodies as a way of measuring genetic capacity for resistance (Conard 1957). Neel’s correspondence also reveals that he was interested in reconstructing the "pre-contact disease picture of the American Indian" (e.g. COR 67: 6 March 1967). He was especially interested in determining the Yanomamis’ levels of antibodies for various diseases because of their extreme isolation from Western contact, which made them a potential model for the "pre-contact disease picture" of Amerindians more generally. His discovery, through his analysis of the blood specimens taken on the 1966-67 joint AEC-IVIC expedition, that the Yanomami were a "virgin soil" population for measles, made them, in the context of his research interests, an ideal base-line group for research on the capacity of such virginal groups to generate resistance (antibodies, or leukocytes) on the same order as the populations long exposed to periodically recurring epidemics of the same disease.

The historical context of Neel’s blood sampling in 1967 in his own previous research and that of his colleagues in the AEC and the Marshall Islands Project thus points to a research purpose both for the initial sampling for antibodies and the vaccinations which followed in 1968 (Stevens and Turner 2001b; cf. Lindee 2001a; 2001b; 2001c; 2001d). Of course Neel also recognized that the Yanomamis’ lack of antibodies made them vulnerable to a measles epidemic and that they therefore stood in urgent need of immunization. This constituted a strong humanitarian reason to vaccinate the Yanomami against measles. This medical motive, however, far from excluding or conflicting with Neel’s research interest, was obviously convergent with it. Vaccinating the Yanomami would protect them from the disease and serendipitously serve Neel’s research purposes by allowing him to study the levels of antibodies the Yanomami would produce in reaction to the vaccinations, which could be treated as "modelling" the antibody levels that would be stimulated by a real epidemic.

When Neel received the first reports of the outbreak of the epidemic in Brazil, and quickly thereafter of its advance into Venezuela, he responded promptly by shipping 1,000 units of vaccine (without accompanying gamma globulin) to the missionaries with the threatened Brazilian Yanomami villages, but made no other changes in his plans or preparations. He knew from reports from the missionaries, and also from a conversation with the head of the Venezuelan Indian Agency on the night before his departure for the field, that the epidemic was moving down the Orinoco and had also reached the Ventuari, so he had every reason to believe that time was running out before it would reach the villages he was heading for.

From a medical point of view, the prudent move would have been to try to vaccinate all the villages the expedition could reach immediately upon arriving in the area, leaving the blood and stool sampling until later. Neel, however, made no such alterations in his planned itinerary. He did not take up the implied offer of Venezuelan help from the chief of the national Indian agency with whom he had spoken at a party in Caracas the night before the expedition left for the field, presumably because he was worried that bringing in a group of alien personnel would interfere with his research objectives.

The program of research that Neel had planned for the expedition was almost impossibly demanding, with no spare time for extra medical work. As he wrote in his journal, "This one [i.e, expedition--TT] is almost two times as complicated as the last, and about ten times as complicated as that first trip into the Shavante in 1962. If we are successful--even 70%--maybe even 80%--[I] will think we have earned a bonus, low pressure trip of some type." (DOC 1:41,11 Jan) The itinerary left little room for dealing with a measles epidemic in a virgin soil population "on the side", as it were. Neel’s energy and interest was fully invested in this planned research itinerary. He resisted modifying it to give more than the minimal necessary attention to medical work during the epidemic. Shortage of time rendered it impossible for the expedition to fulfill its full schedule of research tasks and simultaneously to devote more time and personnel to medical care for measles victims and those suffering from vaccine reactions. The entry from Neel’s journal I quoted above about the need, in planning for the last part of the trip, to set firm priorities for the various research tasks, starting with the collection of blood samples, and only after completing them "then inoculate--if at all" should be understood in this context (DOC 1: 80,5 Feb. quoted above).

Against the background of Neel’s hard-driving research schedule, medically pertinent issues associated with the vaccinations, such as the type of vaccine to be used, how large a dose needed to be given, and how to deal with the expectable complications (especially pneumonia) of reactions to the vaccine, seem to have held relatively little importance for him, not only before but even during the epidemic, as entries in Neel’s field journal and correspondence show. Planning for specific measures to deal with an actual wild measles epidemic, such as the one the expedition actually encountered in the field, plays no role in the written record of his planning of the expedition, even after he learned of the outbreak of measles among the Yanomami of Brazil. This relatively low priority that Neel attached to medical work, and even the research value of the vaccinations by comparison with the other kinds of data he planned to collect, appears to have affected Neel’s (and hence the expedition’s) planning and conduct both before and during the epidemic.

Enough has perhaps been said to give force to the comment of the Brazilian medical team that

Given that J. Neel already knew about the risk of an epidemic during his preparations for the trip...some additional precautions could have been taken or foreseen in his working plan, which would have reduced the difficulties encountered in the field. Among these, training of vaccinators, information about potential complications and treatments, supplies of medicines and antibiotics, planning and timing of the itinerary of villages to be visited, etc... (Lobo et al. 2001: Section 5.B.3., "Concerning lack of treatment and selective vaccination")

Or as they say a few pages later,

Since Neel was aware of the speed with which the disease spread and the difficulties encountered in this type of fieldwork, the only question is whether, given his prior knowledge of the epidemic in Brazil, better planning and training of the teams of vaccinators could have reduced the impact of the epidemic. (Lobo et al. 2001: Section 7, "The cause of the epidemic and its deadliness" )

The Brazilian team, after rejecting Tierney’s suggestions that the expedition might have caused or spread the epidemic by its use of the Edmonston B vaccine, or that Neel had actually sought to produce the heavy vaccine reactions as part of an experiment, presents a plausible alternative theory of the origin and spread of the epidemic. Starting from the proposition that the epidemic originated in Brazil rather than the Orinoco (for which they advance very persuasive arguments), they hypothesize that it reached a number of the Orinoco villages a few days before the expedition arrived and began vaccinating. Given that vaccinations applied three or more days after exposure are ineffective in preventing the outbreak of the disease, this meant that in many cases the expedition’s vaccinations came too late to do any good.

This scenario also explains why measles appeared to break out in reaction to the vaccinations, as the witnesses cited by Tierney testified. Rather than the measles breaking out as an effect of the vaccine, the Brazilian team suggests, it was the ineffectiveness of the vaccinations, owing to their lateness, that allowed the measles to break out within the period of incubation of reactions to the vaccine (six to eight days). In the Brazilians’ view, in short, it was above all the failure of the expedition to move fast enough to get to many of the villages before they became exposed (or at least within the three day grace period after exposure, during which vaccinations could still be effective) that was responsible for the failure of many of the vaccinations to prevent the onset of the disease or to stop the epidemic. As they say,

...if measles reached the region before the team arrived, the planning and organization of their movements—regardless of whether they gave priority to either medical care or research—probably had a greater impact on the failure of the vaccination (since immunization took place later than 3 days after infection) and the lack of control over mortality (due to the ill-preparedness of the team for dealing with the serious complications of measles, mainly pneumonia), than on the spread of the epidemic. (Lobo et al. 2001: Post Scriptum, point 2)

Revising the "planning and organization of their movements"--i.e., the research itinerary that called for spending enough time in each village to collect enough samples to approach the target of 1,000 blood specimens--to permit the most rapid possible vaccination of all the villages within the expedition’s reach would however have meant giving the vaccinations top priority at the expense of the tightly planned research program, in effect abandoning the target sample sizes for blood and other specimens and settling for less significant research results. As a number of entries in his field journal make clear, Neel never entertained this possibility for the most important types of specimens, above all blood, but pressed on for collecting the maximum possible amount of blood samples, while sacrificing collection of some other types of data (e.g., anthropometry, skin, dental impressions) to allow more time for vaccinations and medical care.

The evidence in Neel’s papers for the low priority he allotted to medical work and the higher priority that he gave to his research agenda thus both complements and reinforces the findings of the Brazilian team, and helps to clarify the motives and causes behind the slowness of the expedition’s vaccinations and the failure to take additional measures to strengthen its ability to deal with the epidemic. It also confirms and greatly reinforces the Brazilians’ inference that the vaccinations originally had a research purpose, and as such had been conceived as an adjunct to the collection of biological specimens, rather than primarily or exclusively as immunization against a real outbreak of the disease. The Brazilians independently deduced Neel’s research interest in vaccinations from his correspondence with Dow Chemical (discussed above) about the abortive scheme to test a trivalent vaccine on the Yanomami, which they had somehow had got hold of, although they lacked access to the rest of Neel’s papers. (COR 1,2,3,4: DOC 13).

The Brazilian report’s reconstruction of the chain of contacts along which the epidemic probably moved from Brazil into Venezuela, and the disastrous timing of the arrival of the vectors just before the expedition began to vaccinate, provides an elegant theoretical model that explains the relation of the outbreak of measles to the vaccinations which had been the basis of Tierney’s inferences about the vaccine causing the disease. In the words of the report,

A possible conclusion of this epidemiological chain would be that rather than causing the epidemic, the Neel team’s vaccinations were ineffective in preventing the deaths observed in some villages. In other words, the villages visited 72 hours or more after contact with the measles virus could not acquire the protection offered, which explains the disastrous impact of the disease. In this case, the eruption of measles symptoms shortly following vaccination, which so impressed several observers cited by P. Tierney, would be explained by the outbreak of wild measles rather than by an exacerbated reaction to the vaccine. (Lobo et al. 2001: Section 6)

When measles broke out within a few days of the arrival of the expedition and closely following the vaccinations, Neel and the other members of the expedition were surprised and bewildered. Under enormous pressure and without any clear understanding of what was happening, Neel tried to do the impossible: attend to the urgent medical needs of the Yanomami while continuing to carry out the most important parts of his research program. He cut out some of the less important research tasks to make more time to attend to medical needs while keeping to his previously planned itinerary. He and his medical personnel made great efforts wherever they were to vaccinate and care for those suffering from the reactions to the vaccinations and the measles itself, as long as their schedule permitted them to stay in a community. They used up all their vaccine, vaccinated virtually everyone in all the communities through which they passed, and doubtlessly saved many people. If they had been willing to make more serious changes in their planned itinerary so as to vaccinate more villages upon their first arrival, or had devoted more attention to planning and preparing to deal with the epidemic when it should arrive, they could certainly have saved more, and perhaps stopped the spread of the epidemic, at least in their region.

Neel, to his credit, persisted with the vaccinations for humanitarian reasons after the actual outbreak of the epidemic obviated their research usefulness for producing antibodies, but he chafed against the time and effort that they took away from the collection of biological specimens, which remained his top priority. The lower priority of the vaccinations was reflected in Neel’s refusal to modify the expedition’s methodical schedule of specimen collecting to permit expedition personnel to vaccinate the Yanomami villages as quickly as possible. Some communities thus appear to have become exposed to measles long enough before the expedition arrived to render the vaccinations ineffective. The result, as the Brazilian medical report states, was that the spread of the epidemic was not prevented and "mortality was not controlled". As the Brazilian report puts it,

...the ill-preparedness of the team for dealing with the serious complications of measles, mainly pneumonia [contributed to] the lack of control over mortality (Lobo et al. 2001: Section 7).

As the selections presented above have revealed, Neel wrote several times in his journal of how great a burden the vaccinating and other medical work had become, because it was taking too much of the expedition personnel’s time away from their research tasks. In planning for the last part of the trip, he wrote of the need to set firm priorities for the various research tasks, starting with the collection of blood samples, and only after completing all the rest of these higher-priority duties "then inoculate--if at all". From these and other entries in his field journal, it is clear that Neel felt an overriding responsibility to fulfill the scientific goals of the expedition, including the granting agency (the AEC) and the laboratories at IVIC and the CDC in Atlanta that had agreed to process his specimens. That he did fulfill the expedition’s main goals of specimen collecting the under the terrible and chaotic conditions of the epidemic attests to his effective leadership, but also his unwillingness to sacrifice more of his research program to the special needs of helping the Yanomami get through the epidemic by moving faster at the outset to complete the immunizations before the epidemic would arrive.

It is important to clarify one incident that seems at first glance to be inconsistent with the interpretation I have been presenting. Neel‘s first act upon finally arriving at the village of Patanowateri was to vaccinate everyone he could get his hands on, although, as he noted in his journal, he "hated to do it". This was in direct contradiction to his own ruthless-sounding list of research priorities for Patanowateri written 16 days earlier (Feb. 5, in DOC 1:80, quoted above), in which he called for leaving vaccinations until last, or perhaps skipping them altogether. The reason for his 180 degree reversal of priorities is revealing of the conflicts between Neel’s research priorities and his humanitarian values. Before heading for Patanowateri, Neel had written in his journal that "in a surge of conscience" he had decided to leave four Patanowateri guides behind in Mavaca because of their exposure to measles there. Instead, he declared his intention to take guides from Patanal. When he got to Patanal, however, he found that the population had fled in fear of the epidemic. Unable to locate Patanowateri without guides, Neel ultimately compromised with his conscience and sent Chagnon back to pick up two of the exposed guides from Mavaca (DOC 1: 105-6, 20 Feb). In other words, when he finally did arrive at Patanowateri, he knew that two of the Yanomami guides from Patanowateri who had been staying at Mavaca had arrived together with the expedition, where they had been exposed to the measles. He remarks that they now "might as well take [the trade goods] since measles carriers are with the Pats anyhow" (DOC 1: 106, 20 Feb). Having overcome his "surge of conscience" by bringing the exposed guides after all, he tried to make up for it by vaccinating everyone in the village immediately upon arriving (everyone, that is, but infants and very old or very sick people, considered too weak to withstand the reaction to the vaccine, but for the same reason also especially vulnerable to measles...)

This is not the portrait drawn by Tierney of an amoral experimenter indifferently putting at risk the lives of his subjects, but it is certainly that of a man capable of compromising what he himself recognized as ethical standards ("conscience") for the sake of his research where necessary. The real drama of Neel and the 1968 epidemic that emerges from Neel’s papers is that of a tragic collision between the institutional requirements of large-scale scientific research projects --"Big Science"--as implemented by a conscientious and hard-driving scientific bureaucrat, and the medical needs of research subjects, who in this case happened to be an isolated indigenous people defenseless against an alien epidemic that threatened their survival. Neel agonized but held firm to what he saw as the responsibilities of "leadership": his responsibilities as leader of the expedition. These were, first and foremost, the obligation to fulfill its scientific mission, foregoing a more rapid, and therefore more effective response to the medical needs of stopping the spread of the epidemic.

Sitting in a motor launch on the Orinoco toward the end of the expedition, debating whether to risk going into the village of Patanowateri and becoming trapped there if measles were to break out and incapacitate their carriers, Neel wrote the following entry in his journal:

The leadership role under these difficult conditions is complicated by the fact that I am incompetent in the two key languages, and do not claim to know the Indians as well as Nap nor the jungle as well as Chas. However, certain basic principles do come out at times like this...we have such a lab setup behind us--something not all the crew recognizes--that we must get specimens.(DOC 1:106, Feb 20)

The passage makes clear that Neel felt driven not merely by personal commitment to his research goals but by his "recognition" (which he felt was not shared by all of his colleagues) that the whole massive research apparatus that he had set up, with the arrangements for cooperation with the labs at the CDC and IVIC, and of course the big grant from the AEC, constituted an institutional imperative, a "basic principle" that it was the essence of his "leadership" role to uphold. It was this institutional complex, as he tells himself, that imposed the overriding priority to "get specimens".

For Tierney, the epidemic wasexacerbated, or perhaps even caused, by James Neel as an individual scientist, through his decision to use a risky "dinosaur vaccine", irresponsibly employed as a research tool. Tierney’s account tends to put the burden of explaining what happened onto Neel’s as an individual rogue scientist engaged in an amoral human experiment. Tierney does attempt to bring in Neel’s institutional association with the AEC as relevant background, but its specific relevance is never conclusively explained. Many of Neel’s defenders, on the other hand, have rushed to repudiate the criticisms of Neel and his junior colleague, Napoleon Chagnon, by Tierney and others, including Sponsel and myself, as attacks on "science", by "moralists" or "activists" supposedly hostile to science, logic and empirical data, despite the fact that neither Tierney’s criticisms of Neel nor any of the serious critics of Chagnon have framed their critiques in such terms.

Stevens’ and my research on Neel’s papers, together with the Brazilian medical team’s conclusions, suggest that both the sociobiological defenders of "science" as a morally neutral system of abstract principles and Tierney’s account which implicitly casts Neel as an amoral rogue scientist miss the real story of what happened on the Orinoco in February-March 1968. The basic problem with both sides is that neither grasps the fundamental reality that "science" on the scale of the AEC Orinoco expedition, is not merely an ideal system of abstract truths nor an activity of isolated, autonomous individuals, but a complex social activity, shaped by the collective institutions and socio-political conditions that make scientific research possible. Their actions as individuals are influenced, as they conduct their research, by the historical, institutional and economic forces on which they and their research depend. This is all the more true when the scientific project in question is a collective effort, requiring large amounts of money and resources, for which they must depend on a network of government agencies, universities, and laboratories. The planning and conduct of the 1968 AEC Orinoco expedition is a case in point. The relative priority Neel attached to the fulfillment of what he deemed to be the essential parts of his research program-- a study of the Yanomami as a biological population--over the medical needs of the Yanomami as a people and a social community was to a large extent a function of the institutional requirements, pressures and expectations of government-funded Big Science, which was the social framework within which he was obliged to work. As Neel wrote, it was the infrastructure of laboratories that had been set up to process their field collections that meant that " we must have specimens" . Neel saw himself as the bearer and enforcer of these impersonal institutional imperatives, even as he also recognized his humanitarian medical obligation to help the Yanomami.

Neel’s field journal shows that he tried within the limits of his institutional commitments to fulfill the latter, but was prevented by the former from doing so to the extent needed. He wrote in his journal that the priority of the collection of specimens was necessitated by the network of laboratories he had organized to analyze the specimens. The institutional and economic requirements of scientific research, in other words, together with the research goals of the collective effort, took relative precedence over (although they did not exclude) humanitarian medical concerns, with fateful results for the Yanomami. These results can be understood as the outcome of a tragic conflict between two altruistic commitments: the medical commitment to give help to fellow human beings in immediate and desperate need, and the impersonal commitment to scientific research that Neel doubtless hoped would in the long run benefit humanity at large. At the same time, one can disagree on ethical grounds that the long range benefits to science and humanity as a whole from a big research project like the AEC Expedition could justify the expedition’s failure to render more effective assistance to the people with whom it was carrying out its research, while they stood in imminent short range danger of a medical catastrophe on the order of a virgin soil measles epidemic. The way Neel and his colleagues split the difference between these commitments was an ethically fraught choice. It is not one that could be made in the same way by a contemporary anthropological researcher. The language of the American Anthropological Association’s Code of Ethics is unambiguous on this point:

Anthropological researchers have primary ethical obligations to the people, species and materials they study and to the people with whom they work. These obligations can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge, and can lead to decisions not to undertake or to discontinue a research project when the primary obligation conflicts with other responsibilities, such as those owed to sponsors or clients. (Clause III.A.1.)

The institutional priorities that guided the AEC Expedition’s actions led, if the Brazilian interpretation of the available data is correct, to death and social disintegration for many Yanomami, even while the expedition managed to save others. To criticize Neel and other members of the expedition for the ethical implications and consequences of their priorities in the epidemic, however, is neither to attack their personal morality nor to question the value or propriety of scientific studies of human populations on either the biological or the social level. It is rather to refocus the ethical debate by calling attention to the ethical implications of the fact that "science" is not only a system of ideas but also a complex of social relations, institutions, and processes, as well as ideological commitments, which exert their own pressures on the choices and acts of individual scientists and can lead to grave ethical conflicts. As in the case of the AEC Orinoco expedition, these pressures may make it impossible fully to satisfy the scientific goals and interests of a research project, the social and political-economic requirements of scientific institutions such as University departments, laboratories and granting agencies, and the ethical and humanitarian values of aiding human subjects in emergencies, especially when all this must be accomplished within a limited period of time with limited resources, as was the case with the AEC Orinoco expedition. In such situations, scientists doing research on human subjects have an overriding ethical responsibility to aid their human subjects.

Could recognition of the sui generis ethical problems posed by the social dynamics and institutional pressures of large-scale scientific research serve as a common ground on which the advocates of "science" (conceived purely in abstract terms as organized knowledge) and the advocates of the rights and welfare of human subjects and indigenous peoples, who have been on opposite sides in the Yanomami controversy, could come together? Both sides should be able to recognize that there is no argument among us about the value of science in the abstract; could we not agree in recognizing that it is the social aspect of science as a bureaucratic project that became the decisive issue in the 1968 Yanomami tragedy? Such a consensus might even be able to produce some positive suggestions; For example, It might well have helped, in the situation Neel and the AEC expedition faced in February 1968, if there had been an interdisciplinary research convention along the lines of the clause of the AAA Code of Ethics quoted above recognizing the ethical obligation of researchers to give first priority to medical assistance in collective medical emergencies such as epidemics, and enjoining granting agencies to consider favorably requests for funding extensions of field stays to compensate for time lost in emergency medical assistance.


In conclusion, we come to the issue of informed consent. It has become clear in the course of the recent round table discussions organized by Borofsky that there was no informed consent in the usual sense of the term in the work of the AEC Orinoco Expedition of 1968 (Borofsky 2001; especially Albert 2001a, 2001b; cf. Hill 2001). It seems to me, however, that there are two additional issues that arise in the context of the 1968 expedition and Chagnon’s later collecting of blood samples among the Yanomami that have not yet been explicitly recognized as having distinctive ethical implications. These are the issues of misinformed consent and prevarication, in the legal sense of the deliberate withholding of information bearing on a question. The case in point is the failure of the expedition’s members, or apparently in subsequent years of Chagnon, to inform the Yanomami that the blood and other biological specimens they were collecting were to be preserved indefinitely, beyond the lifetimes of their donors.

Firstly, concerning mis informed consent. It is not only ethically incumbent on researchers to inform human experimental subjects as accurately as possible of the research reasons for the experimental procedures they propose to carry out, but also not to mis represent the reasons for the procedure, and the nature of the procedure itself, so as to secure consent. In the case in question, it appears that the spokesperson or persons of the AEC expedition led the Yanomami to believe that the collection of biological specimens either was itself a medical measure or would be of medical benefit to the Yanomami. According to Raymond Hames in his second round paper in the Yanomami Round Table (Borofsky 2001, Hames 2001), Chagnon told him that during the year before the arrival of the AEC expedition in 1968, he repeatedly told Yanomami that the collection of biological specimens would benefit them medically. Tierney also records Chagnon as claiming that the sampling was for the medical benefit of the Yanomami. This claim was plainly intended to secure their assent to the taking of blood and other biological samples, as well as the support of missionaries for this effort(Tierney 2000b: 37,44). These claims were all of course untrue. Tierney also records the consternation of missionaries who had known Chagnon upon learning that the sampling was done for research purposes, whereas Chagnon had "always sounded so interested in helping the Yanomami" (Tierney 2000b:45). In contrast, as Tierney says, the Department of Energy "did not pretend that [the sampling] benefitted the Yanomami in any way." (Tierney 2000b:43)

The second of the more specific issues that must be raised is that of prevarication : the omission of an important piece of information about the planned uses of the specimens. Because of the well-known Yanomami cultural norm that dictates the total destruction and ingestion of the remains of the dead by their surviving kin, the information that the blood and other specimens would be stored indefinitely for future research purposes, potentially outlasting the lives of the donors, rather than being disposed of immediately as they would have been if they had been merely part of emergency medical procedures, would probably have led the Yanomami to be unwilling to permit the taking of biological specimens. The failure to reveal the intended use of the specimens, which can only have been deliberate, has emerged as a hot-button issue among contemporary Yanomami, who are considering demands for the return or destruction of the specimens or some form of compensation, or both (Martins 2001).



I. Personal background of my comments in Part III

I am not a Yanomami specialist, and have never done field work with the Yanomami. I think that I should therefore give some idea of my credentials to discuss the issues and allegations about the Yanomami and those who have worked among them raised by Tierney.

My work as head of the AAA Special Commission to Investigate the Situation of the Brazilian Yanomami in 1990-91 was the original reason for my involvement in Yanomami affairs. Together with subsequent work with NGOs and anthropologists engaged in the struggle to support and defend the Yanomami, it remains the basis of my appraisal of much of Tierney’s account of Chagnon’s activities among the Yanomami, including his attacks on Yanomami-support NGOs and Yanomami leaders. I was appointed to head the Special AAA Commission on the Brazilian Yanomami by the then President of the AAA, Annette Weiner, on the basis of my work as an activist with Brazilian indigenous groups and indigenous support NGOs and my personal acquaintance, based on long-standing cooperation, with many actors and groups involved in the Yanomami struggle. My mission was to report back to the President and Executive Board of the Association on what if any action the Association should take on behalf of the Yanomami of Brazil. (cite report) The context of this unusual appointment was the desperate, and at the time apparently losing battle to save the huge Yanomami Reserve. After a ten year struggle led by the Brazilian NGO, the CCPY (Committee to Create a Yanomami Park), the area had been studied, surveyed and tentatively demarcated by an official Brazilian governmental team, only to be invaded by 40,000 illegal gold miners in 1988.

The gold miners brought an epidemic of malaria as well as profound social disruption, political disempowerment and pauperization. An international outcry in which Survival International played a leading role brought pressure on the Brazilian government to expel the miners. After another couple of years, however, several thousand miners reinvaded. The malaria and other effects of the invasion reasserted themselves. Meanwhile the spokesmen of the miners and the political and financial interests that supported them waged a campaign in the media to have the government-approved project for the Reserve rejected. Instead, these politicians, journalists, military leaders and spokesmen for the miners’ syndicate called for the promulgation of around twenty small enclaves containing existing Yanomami communities, a tiny fraction of the originally planned reserve, leaving the rest of the area open to mining. The few Brazilian NGOs and activists, with their handful of foreign supporters (mostly anthropologists politically committed to indigenous rights), were struggling to put up what opposition they could to this broadly based political and ideological offensive and simultaneously trying to organize and raise funds for medical help against the catastrophic epidemic of malaria and other diseases introduced by the miners. The medical situation was made more desperate by the failure of the government to provide effective support up to the time I went to Roraima for the Commission in 1991 (Turner 1991a).

A further problem for supporters of the Yanomami, as well as for the Yanomami themselves, was the relative lack of effective Yanomami leadership. There were very few Yanomami able to speak Portuguese, deal with Brazilian officials and NGOs, organize resistance to the miners, and otherwise exercise genuine political leadership among their own people. An outstanding exception was Davi Kopenawa, a young Yanomami man who had learned Portuguese at a mission school and emerged as a spokesman for Yanomami rights and cultural values in the Brazilian and world media. With close support from the CCPY and other NGOs he organized a medical program with clinics and travelling teams of doctors and paramedics in the region around his village of Demini. When I arrived in Boa Vista to visit the CCPY project headquarters and the Italian Consolata Mission who were running another health project in Catrimani, I found Davi in town, staying at the CCPY house and visiting with the many Yanomami patients in the Indian hospital (Casa do Indio) run by FUNAI, the Brazilian Indian Agency. With Davi as translator, I talked with many of these patients, who told me of conditions in their home villages. All in all I spent a week and a half talking and going around Boa Vista with Davi. I got to like and respect him as a person (these feelings have been reinforced by other meetings with Davi at conferences in international settings). He clearly commanded the confidence and respect of the many Yanomami from different communities at the Casa do Indio and elsewhere whom I met and talked with in his company. I found that he had a good understanding of Brazilian politics and governmental processes, and an equally well developed understanding of the ideas and politics of NGOs and their members.

At the same time Davi was obviously strongly rooted in his own culture. As I talked with him I discovered that his main categories and models for understanding the inter-ethnic situation in Yanomami country, including the activities of the miners and the role of metal goods, airplanes, medicines and other aspects of Western technology, were drawn from Yanomami cosmology and shamanism. I taped and transcribed some of our conversations, which were in Portuguese with Yanomami bits that were later translated by Bruce Albert, whom, like Davi, I had also appointed a member of the AAA Yanomami Commission). I later published the text of these conversations in the Cultural Survival Quarterly , and a shorter excerpt in the AAA Newsletter accompanying the text of the report of the Special Commission. (Turner 1991a;1991b) The title of the interview text, suggested by Davi, is "I fight because I am alive". This text remains one of the most powerful and informative Yanomami statements to come out of either the Brazilian or Venezuelan sides of the Yanomami struggle.

My investigation of the situation created by the multiple Yanomami crises of 1988 to 1991 for the AAA involved me in new or renewed contacts with Brazilian NGO workers, indigenous rights activists, medical doctors and health workers from governmental and private agencies, personnel of FUNAI, missionaries, progressive journalists, lawyers, politicians, and anthropologists (including officers of the Brazilian Anthropological Association, ABA). These encounters and consultations, together with further contacts and collaborations on subsequent visits to Brazil, comprise the basis of my published responses to Chagnon’s unfounded calumnies against NGOs, Missions and the Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa at the time of the gold miners’ invasions and the campaign to dissolve the Yanomami Reserve from 1988 to 1991, his untruthful statements on the responsibility of the Salesians and the Yanomami themselves for the massacre at Haximu in December 1993, and his renewed diatribes against Davi Kopenawa at the 1994 AAA Meetings and on more recent occasions. They are also the basis of my evaluation of Tierney’s account of the same events in his book, which I find substantially correct.

II. Reading Tierney

It is time to call the bluff of those who have tried to dismiss Tierney’s book by extrapolating from the flaws of his chapter on the epidemic to discredit the book as a whole. The authors of the Santa Barbara and University of Michigan web pages have claimed that the entire book, including the chapters that do not deal with Neel or the epidemic, is a mass of errors or worse (in the case of Santa Barbara) a deliberate fraud. They have had almost a year since the publication of the revised text of the book in November 2000 to substantiate their claims, , and they have thus far failed to do so. Many of the supposed errors they have identified are relatively trivial, or if corrected would still not change the principal issues at stake. Some chapters remain completely untouched. They appear to have done virtually no primary research on documentary, ethnographic or expert medical sources beyond their consultations on the Edmonston B vaccine and some other aspects of the chapter on the epidemic. They have avoided dealing with the fact that most of the major claims and allegations in the book apart from the chapter on the epidemic appear to be well attested in the writings and statements of other anthropologists, journalists, NGO workers, government functionaries, medical workers, missionaries, and government records.

The great majority of contemporary researchers who have worked with the Yanomami , or who have studied the effects of Chagnon’s representations of the Yanomami in both Brazil and Venezuela, have critically challenged many of Chagnon’s ethnographic and theoretical claims, his methods and actions in the field, and a number of his statements in popular media. They include Bruce Albert (1988, 1989, 1990), Shelton Davis (1977), Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1979), Brian Ferguson (1995,2001), Jacques Lizot (1994), Leda Martins (2001a,2001b), Linda Rabben (1998), Alcida Ramos (1987), Mark Ritchie (1996:139-154), Judith Shapiro (1976), and Leslie Sponsel (1998, 2001). Sponsel lists many other names of critical scholars in his memo, "Criticisms and controversies surrounding Chagnon" (Sponsel 2001). Tierney draws heavily on writings and comments by almost all of these scholars, as well as ex-students of Chagnon like Kenneth Good (1991), Raymond Hames and Jesus Cardozo, and ex-collaborators like Timothy Asch. That Good and Cardozo parted company with Chagnon because of personal and intellectual disagreements, like other ex-Chagnon associates including Tim Asch and James Neel, does not necessarily invalidate what they have to say, any more than the steadfast loyalty of another ex-student of Chagnon’s, Raymond Hames, necessarily invalidates his supportive statements on behalf of his former teacher.

If the ethical and professional issues raised by Tierney’s book are to receive adequate and responsible critical discussion, it is clearly essential that people read the rest of the book carefully and identify those allegations that they consider to be both serious and well founded, or, in the contrary case, spurious and unfounded. This should at least make possible a productive dialogue on specific issues between critics who consider that many of Tierney’s allegations have substance, despite some errors and misjudgments, and sociobiological partisans who have asserted that the book as a whole is either erroneous or fraudulent. Such examples of unsubstantiated rhetorical overkill may be recognized as expressions of a common strategy, the aim of which is to prevent people from reading the book, especially those parts of it that the authors of these statements are aware that they cannot easily refute (or they would no doubt already have done so).

There is thus a need for a more open and comprehensive investigation of Tierney’s text and the events to which it refers. This final part of my paper is offered as a contribution to such a fresh critical reading of Tierney.

I shall focus primarily on ethical issues, although there are obviously points at which ethical questions cannot be separated from issues of fact and theoretical interpretation. It seems to me that the best way to proceed is to identify and summarize in a concise manner the main allegations of ethically questionable conduct from the parts of Tierney’s text that have thus far remained outside the purview of most critical discussion, which has so far focused predominantly on Neel and the epidemic. This means that I shall be dealing primarily with the parts of Tierney’s text that treat the actions, writings and public statements of Napoleon Chagnon, although others--Charles Brewer, Jacques Lizot, Helena Valero and a BBC film crew, for example--get a chapter apiece. Given the lack of space and their peripheral relevance to the debate over the book as it has developed in the U.S., Brazil and Venezuela over the past year, I will have to pass over Tierney’s discussions of these figures, although I generally endorse what he has to say about them.

Although I will obviously not be able to deal with all the detail of the remaining chapters of Tierney’s exposition, one contribution that a necessarily abbreviated survey like this can make is to try to distinguish the important general themes and issues from the level of specific details: in other words, to sort out the forest from the trees. Most critics of the book have not attempted to do this, preferring instead to focus on individual points of fact or error, thus avoiding engagement with the general issues raised by the book. This tendency is related to the fact that while the errors of Tierney’s account of the epidemic and the 1968 AEC expedition are by now generally recognized, there has been no corresponding effort to recognize the major claims and analyses that appear to be correct, let alone evaluate their ethical implications. An honest appraisal of the book will recognize that it is a mixed bag, but that a lot of what it has to say, even in parts of the chapter on the epidemic, is well founded and important.

Tierney candidly informs the reader that he writes as a journalist committed to advocacy rather than academic objectivity. This in itself is neither improper nor inappropriate. His concern for the ethical, physical, and social aspects of Yanomami suffering gives his writing a great advantage over the majority of the contributions to the recent feeding frenzy on the web, namely a focus on the Yanomami as an essential part of the picture, rather than an exclusive concern for the defense of the ideas and practices of American researchers or the virtues of "science". Tierney’s focus on the Yanomami gives his accounts of the activities of those who have studied them a critical depth and perspective that is important to the kind of truth his analysis achieves. The ethical aspects of the interaction of scientific researchers and documentarists with the Yanomami can only be assessed from the standpoint of their effects on the people towards whom their actions were directed. In principle, then, an activist commitment to analyzing the impact of outsiders on the Yanomami should add additional depth and insight into the objective reality of their situation rather than distorting it. It seems to me that it often fulfills this function in Tierney’s writing.

Tierney does at some points leap to conclusions, or insinuations, unsupported by his evidence. Some critics have seen this as the down side of writing as an advocate or activist, but it is not an intrinsic feature or defect of activism--in fact it is as fatal to effective activism as to scientific objectivity. An activist commitment does not justify distorting or omitting relevant facts, or excuse tendentious rhetorical tactics, such as indirectly suggesting conclusions for which there is inadequate direct evidence, thus ducking responsibility for stating conclusions which the writer obviously intends the reader to draw. Some of the main problems with Tierney’s account of the measles epidemic in Chapter 5, especially in the galley version of the book, are of this kind. There are places where Tierney relies on rhetorical and stylistic tropes as substitutes for hard evidence. His contextual juxtaposition of different kinds of human experiments carried out by the AEC, and other aspects of AEC research on the effects of radioactivity on human beings in Chapters 4 and 18, for example, is essentially an exercise in metonymy. This trope is used in the final chapter to suggest some deeper and more systematic connection, for which there appears to be no specific evidence, between other kinds of unethical AEC experiments on humans and the research practices of the AEC Orinoco expedition. Certain of Tierney’s sources have claimed that he misquoted them and/or quoted them without permission in ways that support certain of his conclusions but misrepresent the original statements (e.g., Ritchie 2001)

I do not write, in short, as an uncritical partisan of Tierney. Sponsel and I were led, or misled, by some of the rhetorical devices I have mentioned to state what we took to be the essence of Tierney’s allegations as presented in the galleys of his book in our September 2000 memo to the Presidents of the AAA. We were surprised later when Tierney, responding to a critic who had (inaccurately) charged him with advancing a "genocide theory" in connection with Neel’s vaccination "experiment", claimed that he had never said anything of the sort but that Sponsel and I had invented that in our memo (Tierney 2000). We were amazed at this. We felt that we had characterized accurately enough what Tierney had implied, if not explicitly stated, had not in fact spoken of "genocide" in our message, and had invented no such "theory". I mention the episode here simply to attest to a personal experience with the occasional slipperiness of Tierney’s rhetoric.

All of these critical reservations notwithstanding, and with the exception of parts of his chapter on the measles epidemic, I nevertheless find the general outlines of Tierney’s account of the abuses meted out to the Yanomami by anthropologists, documentarists, journalists, politicians, miners and others to be essentially accurate. His specific critiques of the anthropological writings, films, conduct, and public statements of Chagnon and others are generally well founded and appropriately interpreted. Taken together, his errors of fact and interpretation are far less serious than the abuses of the Yanomami that he records and brings to our attention. I am confident that this will continue to be the verdict of other qualified and reasonably objective critics. Tierney deserves credit for the extraordinary commitment and personal sacrifice with which he has researched and brought together a series of grave abuses of Yanomami rights and well being, as well as professional ethics. After years of ineffective revelations and protests by academic critics such as myself, Tierney has single-handedly brought these abuses the attention they deserve, and thus made it impossible for academic associations like the AAA, as well as the wider public, to go on ignoring the ethical, scientific and human issues they pose.

The interdependence of ethical and empirical issues is unavoidable in dealing with Chagnon’s work, in which factual claims of Yanomami aggressiveness and the link between killing and reproductive success are adduced, explicitly or implicitly, as "scientific" evidence for the sorts of statements he has made in the media that have been decried on ethical grounds. The issue becomes even more complex when one confronts the criticisms of Chagnon’s data and analysis summarized and extended by Tierney. These criticisms, notably in Tierney’s Chapter 10 that deals with Chagnon’s 1988 article in Science , seriously imply the manipulation and withholding of data to support unsound but theoretically and ideologically desired conclusions. Some consideration of Tierney’s critical discussion of Chagnon’s major theoretical paper, the 1988 article in Science, will therefore be necessary.

I will organize my discussion under five general headings, designating general types of ethically problematic behavior, comprising representative instances from Tierney’s text that seem to me to be sufficiently well documented and analyzed, and/or attested from other sources, to be considered "well founded". I emphasize that all five of the general kinds of behavior I discuss, and most of the specific cases, were relatively well known among specialists before Tierney published his book. Most had already been subjects of criticism and controversy in Brazil and Venezuela. They cannot be dismissed, as some of Chagnon’s apologists have sought to do, simply as private inventions or "frauds" on the part of Tierney. They would all be around to confront the profession of anthropology with the same ethical issues even if Tierney had never written his book.

My pragmatic standard for judging an action, statement, or instance of inaction as "ethically problematic" is the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association. To assist readers in orienting themselves, I present a concise topical outline of the main types of ethically fraught actions described by Tierney that I deem to be well founded. At the head of this outline I list the six provisions of the AAA Code that I have found to be relevant to the acts in question. These are identified by their numerical designations in the text of the Code. These designations are included in the topical outline with each issue to which they apply. Each topic in the outline carries chapter and page references to places in Tierney’s text, and in some cases to other sources where it is mentioned. Following this, I provide fuller discussions of some of the topics and instances mentioned in the outline.



III. Research: Introduction. ...Anthropological researchers should be alert to the danger of compromising anthropological ethics as a condition to engage in research, yet also be alert to proper demands of good citizenship or host-guest relations.

III.A. Responsibility to people and animals with whom anthropological researchers work and whose lives and cultures they study

III.A.1. Anthropological researchers have primary ethical obligations to the people, species, and materials they study and to the people with whom they work. These obligations can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge, and can lead to decisions not to undertake of to discontinue a research project when the primary obligation conflicts with other responsibilities, such as those owed to sponsors or clients.

III.A.2. Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities...

III.A.4 . Anthropological researchers should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied, or otherwise identified as having interests which might be impacted by the research...

III.A.6. While anthropologists may gain personally from their work, they must not exploit individuals, groups, animals, or cultural or biological materials. They should recognize their debt to the societies in which they work and their obligation to reciprocate with people studied in appropriate ways.

III.B. Responsibility to scholarship and science

III.B.2. Anthropological researchers bear responsibility for the integrity and reputation of their discipline, of scholarship, and of science. Thus, anthropological researchers are subject to the general moral rules of scientific and scholarly conduct: they should not deceive or knowingly misrepresent (i.e., fabricate evidence, falsify, plagiarize), or attempt to prevent reporting of misconduct, or obstruct the scientific/scholarly research of others.

III.C. Responsibility to thepublic

III.1. Anthropological researchers should make the results of their research appropriately available to sponsors, students, decision makers, and other nonanthropologists. In so doing, they must be truthful; they are not only responsible for the factual content of their statements but also they must consider carefully the social and political implications of the information they disseminate. They must do everything in their power to insure that such information is well understood, properly contextualized, and responsibly utilized. They should make clear the empirical bases upon which their reports stand, be candid about their qualifications and philosophical or political biases, and recognize and make clear the limits of anthropological expertise. At the same time, they must be alert to possible harm their information may cause people with whom they work or colleagues.


Reference code: Roman numerals and Arabic numbers in parentheses refer respectively to chapters and pages in Darkness in El Dorado, except were clearly indicated otherwise

I.Statements, and silences and false claims by Chagnon damaging to the Yanomami (pertinent provisions of Code of Ethics: III.A.2., III.B.2., III. C.1., with specific relevance as indicated)

A. Statements and silences (failure to speak out against uses of statements about "fierceness" or violent aggressiveness as a dominant feature of Yanomami society damaging to the Yanomami) (xxi,8,13-14,160,164,232)

(pertinent provisions of Code of Ethics: III.A.2., III. C.1.)

B. Repeated and untruthful attacks on NGOs, anthropological activists , and Yanomami leaders

(1) Untruthful attacks on NGOs and anthropological

activists (xxii, xxiii, 9-11)

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: II.B.2.)

(2) A personal experience

(3) Yanomami leaders: Davi Kopenawa (xii, 11, 201, 227) (Chagnon 1997:252-4) ; Alfredo Aherowe (292-4)]

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.A.2.)

(4) Untruthful attacks on other anthropological critics (179, n.156)

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: II.B.2.)

C. Misrepresentation of ethnographic reality (non-correspondence of data and theoretical claims supportive of theses on "fierceness", violence and warfare: Tierney’s critique of Chagnon’s article "Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population. [ Science 239: 985-992(1988) ] (26, Ch X)

(pertinent provisions of Code of Ethics: III.A.2, III.B.2. )

D. False accusations against Missions and NGO’s of "killing"Yanomami or otherwise being responsible for raising their death rate

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.B.2.)

(1) Deceptive statistics on mission death rate

(Ch. X; Appendix, 317-326)

(2) The massacre atHaximu Ch. XII (195-214)

(3)"The guns of Mucajaí" ( 210-213)

(4) The Lechoza massacre. (238-240)

E. Misrepresentation of Yanomami reality in films:

"choreographedviolence", misrepresentation in films (Ch.XIV, 85-88,101-104,114-119, 216-217)

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.B.2. )

II. Field methods disruptive of Yanomami society

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.A.2.: Applies to all the following sub-headings)

(A) Elicitation of pedigrees in ways that exacerbate tensions among enemies, factions and communities (e.g., obtaining names of dead from enemies) (30, 32, 33; 42, 45-6-8; 185)

(B) resort to threatening methods by Chagnon to secure cooperation by informants (e.g.,brandishing and shooting off firearms, performances as "vulture-spirit" shaman, etc.)

(1) use of firearms to intimidate (pistol, shotgun) (31, 46, 89, 232, 283, 362, fn 21);

(2) shamanic vulture spirit children-killing performances (46-7, 89)

(C) Gift-giving on massive scale as cause of conflicts.

(Ch. III. 18-35). See also Ferguson 1995, Ch.s XIII, XIV

(1) wars between villages attached to sources of trade goods (anthropologists or independent Yanomami cooperative organization, SUYAO).

(a)"Chagnon’svillage" vs. "Lizot’s village" (141-143) ;

(b)"Chagnon’svillage" vs. "SUYAO village" (227)

(2) personal participation by Chagnon in raids (providing transportation to raiding parties) (33, 166)

III. Failure to get informed consent (and obtaining consent with misinformation) for research on human subjects

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.A.4): applies to both the following sub-headings)

(A) No informed consent for research practices, including vaccinations (failure to explain that there was a research motive for collecting specimens and vaccinations; failure to explain that the blood would be stored indefinitely, potentially outlasting the lives of the donors) (43-45)

(B) Mis informed consent: Yanomami and missionaries led to believe that taking blood was for medical help (44)


IV. The Siapa biosphere project in collaboration with Brewer-Carias and FUNDAFACI: Alliances with political and extractivist interests hostile to Yanomami control of land and resources; active collaboration in projects potentially harmful to Yanomamirights and interests

(pertinent provisions of Code of Ethics: Introduction excerpt; III.A.1.; III.A.2.; III.A.4. These provisions apply to the above and to all the following subheadings:)

(A) Brewer-Chagnon project for research reserve in the Siapa valley,intended to exclude "acculturated" and "mission" Yanomami, leaving 5/6 the Yanomami area and population contained in the previously projected biosphere reserve unprotected (Ch. XI, 181-194)

(B) Flights with unquarantined journalists and

political figures: illegality, medical risks, damage to

shelters and persons from helicopters (3-5, 282, 290-91,294)

(C) Misrepresentation ofSiapa "1st contact" to generate press support for Siapa preserve (187, 290)

V.Failure to reciprocate, return benefits to Yanomami: "Yanomami survival fund" apparently inactive (188-9)

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.A.6)


I.Statements and silences by Chagnon damaging to the Yanomami:

I.A. Statements about "Fierceness" or violent aggressiveness as a dominant feature of Yanomami society, and silences (failure to speak out against misuses of these statements damaging to the Yanomami)

Chagnon stood by virtually without demur during the drive to dismantle the Brazilian Yanomami reserve in 1988-92, while politicians, military leaders and journalists allied with mining interests employed his portrayal of the Yanomami as ferocious savages involved in chronic warfare over women, to justify the dismemberment of Yanomami territory. Their argument ran that Yanomami communities needed for their own safety to be isolated from one another by "corridors" of open land, which would incidentally be accessible to gold miners). Chagnon’s refusal to disown this use of his work in Brazilian media, where it might have had some effect, became understood by both sides in the struggle over the Yanomami reserve from 1988 to 1992 as a statement by omission in support of the miners and their political allies (Davis 1977;Martins 2001a, 2001b; cf. Hames 2001). This had a serious enough impact that the Brazilian Anthropological Association formally appealed to the American Anthropological Association in 1988 demanding that the U.S. Association investigate the ethics of its member’s tacit support of those who were exploiting his statements.(Carneiro da Cunha 1989) The American Association failed to take action, and this failure has come back to haunt it. At the AAA Meetings just held in San Francisco, the Brazilian Association sent a new message recalling its former appeal and the American Association’s failure to act, and renewing its challenge to the AAA to take a stand on the ethical status of Chagnon’s statements, silences, and activities towards the Brazilian Yanomami. (ABA public letter read at AAA Annual Meeting, Nov. 2000, San Francisco).

The issue, as the Brazilian Association’s new statement forcefully put it, is not simply that third parties exploited Chagnon’s statements and silences for their own purposes. Anthropological researchers, its statement acknowledges, have an obligation to speak the truth about their research findings, and cannot control the uses to which others may put their findings. They do, however, have an ethical responsibility to speak out against the misuse of their findings by third parties, especially when such misuse directly damages the people referred to and most especially when these people were the subjects of the anthropologist’s research.

The Brazilians’ problem with Chagnon is precisely that he did not speak out against the misuse of his statements by the miners and their political representatives in ways that damaged the vital interests of the Yanomami, in contexts where his silence would be (and was) interpreted as tacit support of these misuses. They also objected that while he maintained silence over the miners’ representatives’ misuse of his writings, he freely denounced NGOs and missionaries for spending the money they were ostensibly raising for the support of Indians on themselves (he never gave specific evidence to back up these charges), thus damaging their ability to raise funds for valuable projects.

I.B. Repeated and untruthful attacks on NGOs, anthropological activists , and Yanomami leaders

I.B.1. Attacks on NGOs, anthropological activists

In the Introduction to his book, Tierney recalls the effect of Chagnon’s statements on Yanomami activists in the years of the struggle to save the Reserve, and the Yanomami themselves, from invasions, disease and dismemberment:

For those of us who had seen the cataclysmic impact of the Amazon gold rush, it was both disheartening and extraordinary that Chagnon was savaging the very people who stood in the way of the Amazon tribes’ extinction. These were precisely the survival groups, missionaries, and "Marxist anthropologists" who had opted to help the Indians, instead of simply studying them. (Tierney 2000: Intro xxiii)

As a result, as Tierney reports,

In the eyes of most human rights workers, Chagnon became, as a French anthropologist put it, "an intellectual accomplice of the gold miners". (Tierney 2000: 11)

I was often in Brazil in the years from 1987--93, working in collaboration with two leading Brazilian indigenous-support NGOs. I was thus myself one of the human rights/ indigenous support workers against whom Chagnon’s generic attacks were directed. I can attest that those with whom I was collaborating did indeed share the opinion Tierney quotes. Tierney further reports, accurately, how Chagnon, in a series of published writings and extensive quotations in long interviews with conservative Brazilian journalists, accused the NGOs who were supporting the Yanomami in Brazil and Venezuela of being interested only in using the Yanomami cause as a fund-raising gimmick to feather their own nests. He accused them, untruthfully, with being primarily engaged in a chronic competition with one another for the exclusive right to represent (and raise money on behalf of) the Yanomami. From my personal experience of working with Brazilian NGOs like the CCPY (Committee for the Creation of a Yanomami Park, now the Commissão Pro Yanomami), the CTI (Centro de Trabalho Indigenista), CEDI (Centro Ecumenico de Documentação e Informação, as it then was, now ISA, Instituto Socio-Ambiental), and my acquaintance with both Catholic and Protestant Missionary organizations like the Consolata Mission (which runs a medical clinic for Yanomami at Catrimani in Roraima) and the Unevangelized Fields Mission (UFM), which is active in parts of the Yanomami area as well as among the Kayapo with whom I worked, I have no hesitation in saying that these allegations are false.

Tierney also accurately reports Chagnon’s shocking charge "that the very people who posed as defenders of the Indians were actually destroying them" (xxii). This was Chagnon’s allegation, which he repeated in the Times Literary Supplemen t and the New York Times , that the medical clinics and outreach programs instituted by missionaries and NGOs were not actually helping but rather "killing" the Indians ("killing by kindness", in his words: Chagnon 1993:11-12). Although primarily directed against the Salesians in Venezuela, this allegation was phrased so as implicitly to include missions and secular NGOs in Brazil. He further asserted that the Salesian missionaries, as well as unnamed Protestant missionaries at Mucajaí, were promoting warfare among Yanomami villages by giving or selling shotguns to the Indians on their mission stations (Chagnon 1993a,1993b). Yanomami leaders like Davi Kopenawa, he claimed, were not authentic leaders but "pawns" or "parrots", mindlessly repeating what their NGO and missionary manipulators told them to say.

At the time, the medical efforts of missions and secular NGOs alike were being overwhelmed by the enormity of the malaria epidemic brought on by the first big invasion of Yanomami territory by garimpeiros (placer gold miners) in 1987-88, the lack of effective governmental support, and the acute shortage of funds and personnel. The political opponents of the Yanomami reserve, who were closely allied with the miners, meanwhile seemed to be gaining the upper hand in the media. In this crisis, the main resource of both secular and religious activists struggling to help the Yanomami in their efforts to raise funds for medical assistance and to organize political support for Yanomami territorial and human rights was their moral reputation as idealistic, self-sacrificing activists dedicated to saving Yanomami lives. Chagnon’s charges were aimed directly at destroying the moral reputations of the missions and NGOs, thus undermining their ability to raise funds and public support. They also aimed at discrediting Davi Kopenawa and any other Yanomami leaders capable of being effective as intercultural mediators. They were reckless and irresponsible as well as untrue. As attempts to undermine the only effective sources of support the Yanomami had at the time, and thus damage the interests of the people with whom Chagnon was doing his anthropological research, they violated the AAA Code of Ethics (or "Rules of Professional Responsibility" as it was then called).

Others have debated whetherChagnon’s statements actually had real political effects (see the contributions to Borofsky 2001, especially Martins 2001a and 2001b; cf. Hames 2001. This is obviously an important issue, but I do not think that it is the decisive ethical question. For ethical purposes, intent takes priority over practical effect. The ethical question thus becomes, did Chagnon repeatedly make untruthful statements which he had every reason to believe would, if taken seriously (as they were clearly intended to be) damage the Yanomami by discrediting and undermining their struggle, and that of their supporters, to defend their reserve and acquire the necessary funds to pay for needed medical services? And did he intentionally refrain from speaking out against the uses that were made of his statements by political and media figures to discredit the Yanomami cause? By the standards of the current AAA Code of Ethics (clauses III.A.2 and III.B.2), which do not differ significantly from the provisions of the Rules of Professional Responsibility in force at the time of the events in question, Chagnon’s combination of statements and silences violated the accepted ethical standards of the profession.

I.B.2. A personal experience ofChagnon’s attacks on activists working in support of the Yanomami

On my trip in February 1991 to gather information for my report for the AAA Commission to investigate the situation of the Brazilian Yanomami, situation for the AAA, I spoke with numerous medical workers, missionaries, NGO workers, local officials of FUNAI and the Ministry of Health, and a number of Yanomami, including Davi Kopenawa, whom I met in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, the state in which most Brazilian Yanomami live. I identify most of these people in my report. In the text of the report, I summarize the gist of their accounts of the medical condition of the Yanomami communities in the area most heavily affected by the epidemic of falciparum malaria that had been brought by the garimpeiros (Turner 1991). A health worker from CCPY and a doctor who had been working for FUNAI, who had recently made tours of inspection in the heavily affected areas, told me that as a result of the combined effects of the epidemic and the chronic malnutrition that had resulted from the destruction of Yanomami gardens, there were no more young children or old people left in the most hard-hit villages, and the birth rate in those villages had fallen to zero. I duly passed on this information in my report, clearly indicating its source as interviews with Brazilian NGO and medical personnel, whom I named in the text. Chagnon attacked my report in the following words:

Intelligent people base their judgements on evidence. Only believers in conspiracy theories and a large number of cultural anthropologists from the Academic Left leap to conclusions that are not only not supported by the available scientific evidence but contradict and thoroughly refutes them [sic]. Many cultural anthropologists even despise the words "empirical evidence"...

Mr. Turner once reported, on the basis of a brief trip to the Brazilian Yanomamo area (I’m not sure he even visited any Yanomamo villages), that the harm done as a consequence of the garimpeiro (Brazilian gold miner) invasion of Yanomamo territory caused such a disaster that affected villages had no children under the age of ten years and the garimpeiros caused the birth rate to drop to zero...I’ve never been in a Yanomamo village in the 35 years that spans my research activities among them where there were no children under the age of ten...I’d like to believe and endorse his claims because I love the Yanomamo dearly...and his "data", if true, would be useful to intensify the alarm about threats to their well-being. But, I know that lying about it is not the correct way to do it...Because my own research focuses largely on demographic issues, I know it would take many years of fieldwork in dozens of villages to even come close to estimating the allegedly precise statistics that Turner dishonestly reported. He [Turner] is not a credible person, I have said this in print and to his face in the past when he has attacked me in ways totally beyond the bounds of academic propriety citing non-credible "facts". (Chagnon, letter to Margot Roosevelt, Time Magazine journalist, 22 Sep 2000, posted on the web page of the Society for Evolutionary Psychology and the Hume site of the University of Connecticut web page)

Chagnon never visited the Brazilian Yanomamo villages during the malaria epidemic, as my own medically qualified informants had just done. I myself had had neither time nor money for a field trip to Yanomami villages (I did the whole trip in three weeks, as I state in the report, and on an appropriation from the AAA of $1500.00, leaving me out of pocket by considerably more than that by the time it was all over). I clearly indicated in my report where I had been able to go: Brasilia, to talk with FUNAI and Health Ministry bureaucrats; São Paulo to meet with leaders and personnel of the principal NGOs involved with the Yanomamo; Manaus (to a ministry of Health meeting on a proposed Yanomami health program); and Boa Vista, Roraima, where I met with local officials, personnel of the Consolata Mission (who maintain an important health project based in the Yanomamo village of Catrimani), locally based NGO personnel, and a number of Yanomami, including Davi Kopenawa, who were then in the city.

I made clear that I had not been able to go to any Yanomami villages, and did not claim that the data on Yanomami health conditions that I reported were based on my own personal observations. There is thus no reason for Chagnon’s professed uncertainty about whether I had actually gone to Yanomamo villages. Neither I nor my Brazilian sources, missionaries and medical workers who were currently working with Yanomami, "alleged" that they had compiled "precise statistics", as Chagnon charges that I "dishonestly reported." Neither my sources nor I used the figure of children "under ten": the expression used was simply "young children"--Chagnon supplied the spuriously "precise statistic". Haggling over numbers is really beside the point. As is well known, the eldest and the youngest (infants, toddlers) are the most vulnerable to falciparum malaria and its respiratory complications. The medical workers and missionaries who were my informants for the report were just telling me what they had managed to see on their medical reconnaissances. They seemed reliable to me and were so regarded by NGO workers whom I knew personally.

Chagnon’s libelous farrago of false charges and personal abuse is representative of his statements about other activists, medical missionaries, "Left-Wing anthropologists" and NGO workers at the time of the epidemic and attempted break-up of the Yanomami reserve between 1988 and 1993. Anyone or any group who was doing effective work in support of the Yanomami was (and apparently still is) fair game.


I.B.3. Chagnon’s attacks on Yanomami leaders: (1) Davi Kopenawa

Chagnon has publicly charged on several occasions, beginning in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, that the Brazilian Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa was a mere "parrot" of NGOs, mouthing lines he was fed by the do-gooding organizations that supposedly kept him as a useful symbol for self-serving fund-raising campaigns (again, he never cited specific statements or texts). Davi Kopenawa was a major asset in these struggles, as virtually the only Yanomami leader capable of speaking out for Yanomami interests in the Brazilian and international political arenas, who at the same time commanded genuine support among the Yanomami of his own and other communities. Kopenawa was and remains the most important spokesman for the Brazilian Yanomami : he is a dynamic, effective, and independent person and leader. Chagnon’s gratuitous and untruthful attacks damaged (or were clearly intended to damage) him. Chagnon is still at it: A CNN TV crew that interviewed Chagnon in November 2000 was startled to hear him call Kopenawa "a cigar store Indian").

At the AAA Meetings held in Atlanta in 1994, Chagnon gave a talk in which he repeated his canard against Davi Kopenawa that he "did not write his own speeches" (i.e., that he was a mere "parrot" or puppet of human rights groups). I was in the audience. I felt I could not sit quietly by while a person I had come to know and respect was slandered, especially knowing as I did the whole set of false allegations against NGOs with which I had worked and knew well of which this accusation formed part. I therefore challenged Chagnon’s statement in the question period. Unbeknownst to me, the convener of the session, Frank Salomone, was taping the session. He later published a transcript of his recording of my remarks and Chagnon’s response. (Salamone 1997; also Monaghan 1994). I reproduce this transcription here.


I have two questions, the first about the problem of who speaks for the Yanomami, the Yanomami leadership, with particular emphasis on the case of Davi Kopinawa. Professor Chagnon has just said some kind words about Davi, [that] he’s obviously a nice guy and means well, and I think that’s true. He also said that he seems to have all his remarks scripted for him. What he says isn’t his own: it doesn’t come out of his own mouth or at least his own heart. It comes from Anglos, I suppose. This not true. I speak as someone who is listed as co-author of the longest printed text that Davi is down in. That’s a text printed in full in Cultural Survival [ Quarterly ]. It [is] an article which I suggest you all look at, if you’re interested, called "I fight because I am alive". Now this article, which was partly reprinted in the newsletter of this association, was dictated to me by Davi. I asked the questions, what I hoped were leading questions to get him to address points that were at issue between the Yanomami of Brazil and the government of Brazil about the whole problem of the reserve, which was then in question. Davi answered these questions at great length and in terms which I could never have invented. They are terms which are soaked with Yanomami concepts, Yanomami cosmology, Yanomami ideas of diseases, Yanomami ideas of cosmic order and disorder. These are not concepts which were supplied by me or by anyone else to Davi. But Davi has used this rhetoric on other occasions. He has also used the rhetoric of conservationist organizations. He is trying to represent his idea of the interest of his people in terms that we can understand, that will be real for us. He’s trying to manipulate our rhetoric [but, or hence]* which I think he sincerely believes are the ends of his people. He is not a mouthpiece for anybody. Now Professor Chagnon has recently said in print in the American Anthropological Association Newsletter that I have forfeited all credibility as an anthropologist because I have referred to Davi Kopenawa as a genuine Yanomami leader, whereas he is only a mouthpiece of NGOs. It’s not only a matter of this being false, it’s a matter of this undermining the most effective spokesman for Yanomami interests, although it’s quite correct to say that Davi is not a chief of all the Yanomami, he’s only a leader of one section of the Yanomami, but nevertheless he is the most effective spokesman for may of the general interests of the Yanomami to the outside world. He is someone who has made a political difference for the Yanomami, especially in Brazil. To undermine him in such an untruthful way, without knowing him and obviously without taking the trouble to analyze the texts of his speeches or publications, directly damages the interests of the Yanomami. And I submit that this is in apparent contradiction to the ethical dictates of this Association in which the Rules of Professional Responsibility hold above all that we as anthropologists should endeavor not to damage the interests of the people we work with. Their interests must come first, unless it’s a matter of declaring scientific truth, which is not the issue in this case.

*I clearly became linguistically challenged at this point. I meant to say something like "to express ideas which...]

Salamone: Napoleon, would you like to...

Chagnon: You’re goddamn rightI’d like to. [There was a pause here as Chagnon got up from his seat and approached the microphone--T.T.] I came here in a spirit of reconciliation with an interest in advocating the rights of the Yanomami and I’m going to ignore all of Professor Turner’s remarks, which I think are out of place in the spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish in this meeting today.

[End quoted passage] (Salamone 1996:15-16)

This encounter was my only face-to-face meeting with Chagnon since the mid-1970s. It therefore has to be the confrontation referred to in Chagnon’s statement quoted above about how he "told me to my face" that I am "not a credible person". Forty witnesses and a verbatim tape transcript, however, attest that the credibility gap is on Chagnon’s side. As the transcript makes clear, he never did actually manage to say anything directly "to my face" on this occasion, but only to inform the chair that he was going to ignore all of my remarks in the spirit of what "we" are trying to accomplish! I believe the questions I put to Chagnon on that occasion are as relevant today as they were at the time. Nor do I think it "totally beyond the bounds of academic propriety" to speak out as I did against violations of the AAA Code of Ethics by a practicing anthropologist.

I.B.3. Attacks on Yanomami leaders (2): Alfredo Aherowe

I have spoken of Chagnon’s repeated attempts to discredit Davi Kopenawa. Tierney reports another instance of an attack on spurious grounds by Chagnon on a Yanomami leader opposed to his activities, Alfredo Aherowe.

Chagnon charged Aherowe, the headman of the village of Mokarita-teri, with responsibility for an ax attack on him by the son of the headman of Dorita-teri. This attack occurred spontaneously during a bitter confrontation between his father andChagnon. Chagnon accused Aherowe of having incited the young man to kill him shortly before this meeting, thus in effect charging Aherowe with conspiracy to commit murder. According to Tierney, this charge is unfounded. Aherowe is widely respected in many villages of the Upper Orinoco, and was the elected a leader of SUYAO, the Yanomami cooperative association. He was opposed to Chagnon’s attempts to film in Yanomami villages and encouraged the headman and other members of the community where the near-fatal altercation took place to resist Chagnon’s attempts to film there. Aherowe told Tierney he had encouraged the headman to confront Chagnon to keep him and Brewer from entering his village to film (the Yanomami being convinced that this would bring back the epidemic disease that had followed previous filming episodes). There is, however, no evidence that he or anyone else instigated the attack by the headman’s son. SUYAO was initially formed with support from the Salesians but is now independent of them. Chagnon nevertheless called Aherowe a "representative of the Salesians", thus implicitly linking the Salesians to the attack on him. The biologist Eibl-Eibesfeldt said of these charges,

It is clear that Chagnon makes things up. Alfredo Aherowe is not a ‘Salesian representative’, whatever that may be...By 1991 he had already been elected representative of the SUYAO...a cooperative which does not belong to the mission, but to the Yanomami themselves. Chagnon should know that and not maintain otherwise. (quoted Tierney 2000b: 292-294)

I.B.4. Attacks on other Anthropological critics: Ferguson, Albert

Chagnon’s fanciful account of his face to face encounter with me is in keeping with his reports of encounters with other anthropological critics and their criticisms, for instance James Ferguson and Bruce Albert, whose critical opposition he attempted to put down to Albert’s supposed aversion to Darwinian theory as "repulsive" (not true, according to Albert, who in any case does not consider Chagnon a good Darwinian). I quote Ferguson’s account of Chagnon’s distorted report of Ferguson’s critical remarks about his work at a conference:

Chagnon claims that during a conference we both attended at the School of American Research in 1986, I made "a statement to the following effec t: ‘I don’t understand why ‘you sociobiologists’ keep bringing in reproduction. After all, if you have enough to eat, reproduction is more-or-less automatic’ " (Chagnon (1989b:567, Ferguson’s emphasis). An endnote [by Chagnon] (1989b:569) adds: "His comments were both tape-recorded and heard by the some dozen or so other participants in the symposium." Shortly thereafter we are told: "The assumption ‘when people have enough to eat, reproduction is more-or-less automatic’ is a serious defect in his approach" (1989b:567). As presented, that is a silly statement. I could not remember saying it, so I obtained the tapes of the discussions of our two papers in order to check. I found no such statement. What I did ask Chagnon to explain was what the calculation of inclusive fitness added to an understanding of behavior, compared to the material variables I stress, and that is the way the seminar chairperson describes this debate (Ferguson 1995: 407, n. 12; McCauley1990:2-6).

I.C. Ethnographic misrepresentation as an ethical issue

Tierney analyzes a number of Chagnon’s texts and statements that appear to involve possible manipulations of statistical data to support theoretical conclusions that would otherwise not follow, and the use of the same kinds of manipulations to implicate political enemies in causing the deaths of (or, in Chagnon’s blunter term, "killing") Yanomami. Cases of the first kind may be considered to constitute a grey area between incorrect statistical analysis and deliberate manipulation. There seems little doubt, however, about the ethics of the much graver charges in the second category.

Chagnon’s article, "Life Histories, Blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population," Science 1988

Chagnon’s article, "Life Histories, Blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population", published in Science in 1988, has been taken by his critics and sociobiological supporters alike as the quintessential formulation of his theoretical claim that violent competition (fierceness) among males is driven by competition for sexual access to females, and that success in this competition, as measured by killing other men, therefore leads to increased reproductive success. Sociobiologists seized upon the Yanomami, as represented by Chagnon, as living examples of the evolutionary past of the race: the most direct links between the human present and the supposed primate heritage of Alpha male-centered harems and dominance hierarchies. In the words of Wrangham and Peterson that Tierney quotes as the epigraph of his Chapter on the article and the controversy it unleashed, "Lethal raiding among the Yanomamo, it seems, gives the raiders genetic success."(Tierney 2000b:158). Tierney also quotes E.O. Wilson that Chagnon had found a "powerful, potentially selective" link between violence and reproductive competition." Tierney does not exaggerate when he writes of the sensational the article aroused in U.S. popular and scientific media, and the way it quickly became a "cornerstone in the edifice of sociobiology" (Tierney 2000b:159). Tierney correctly points out that this notoriety, and the central misconception on which it was based, was overtly cultivated by Chagnon in public statements such as his presidential address to the Human Behavior and Evolutionary Society:

I demonstrated that Yanomamo men in my 25 year study who had participated in the killing of other men had approximately three times as many children and more than two times as many wives as men their own ages who had not." (quoted Tierney 2000b:159)

As Tierney also correctly says, this statement is thoroughly false. (Tierney 2000b:159). He devotes the tenth chapter of his book, "To murder and multiply", to a critique of the paper’s empirical, statistical, and theoretical claims. He also reports, accurately enough, Chagnon’s dismissals of critics of the article, on ad hominem and ideological grounds, exemplified by the following, quoted from The last days of Eden (1992):

Most of the applied anthropologists working with the Yanomamo believe that only ‘politically correct’ data--data useful to their cause--should be collected and published, and that any other kind of data is ‘bad’. An example of what they consider ‘bad’ is much of what you have been reading here...I take the peculiar position that all facts about the Yanomamo are relevant to their future." (quoted Tierney 2000b:357, n.42. Italics original)

This insulting and counterfactual slur is representative of Chagnon’s attempts to evade criticisms of his work by attacking the characters and motives of his critics. It is also notable for its unselfconscious irony; the most devastating criticisms of the empirical and theoretical claims Chagnon makes in the paper have taken the form of demonstrations that he arrived at the distorted and misleading conclusions of his "Life Histories" article precisely by ignoring many facts relevant, not only to the Yanomamis’ future, but their present and past.

Tierney, relying partly on Lizot, somewhat more on Albert and most heavily on Ferguson, and contributing some findings of his own, provides a reasonably accurate summary of these criticisms. He reviews three fundamental criticisms of Chagnon’s statistical manipulation of his data. Firstly, Chagnon’s statistical comparison of the number of wives and children of "killers" (defined as "unokai", on the basis of their having undergone the ritual of purification for those who have participated in the killing of a person, unokaimou ) to those of non-killers has been criticized as skewed by his inclusion of a large number of young men between 20-25 and 25-30 as members of the statistically relevant population. Very few Yanomami men of this age had killed anyone and almost none had wives or children. The result was to inflate the relative advantage of the killers, almost all of whom were older men, some over 30 and most over 40. When killers were compared with men of their own age-bracket, "the reproductive success of killers was not nearly as impressive--ranging between 40 to 67 percent, a fraction of the 208 percent advantage that Chagnon had broadcast to the press" (Tierney 2000b:159). In other words, age was a factor that accounted for much of the variation, and Chagnon had not taken it properly into account.

Another variable Chagnon left out of account, according to critics like ferguson and Albert, was headman status (and the additional, partly overlapping status of shaman). In his 1988 paper, he simply classed all headmen as killers, " unokai ", but as Tierney says, that is a confusion of categories. Most Yanomami headmen have several wives, because of their status as headmen rather than their status as "killers" (" unokai" , in Chagnon’s translation). Headman status, like age, is thus another variable that must be recognized as accounting for a significant part of the contrast in number of wives and children between men in the killers category and non-killers. Yet another important variable, explicitly excluded by Chagnon in his text, was the death of fathers. For reasons he did not explain, Chagnon excluded the children of dead fathers from his initial analysis. This turns out to have been a strategic point for his whole argument about reproductive success. According to Chagnon and other Yanomami ethnographers, successful killers become themselves the main targets of vengeance raids, and are highly likely to be killed in the midst of their reproductive years. As Brian Ferguson had been the first to point out, if this likelihood of killers to have their reproductive careers cut short were taken into account, the supposed reproductive advantage of killers might actually disappear or become negative. As Ferguson put it,

Higher mortality associated with unokai status could easily offset a greater number of offspring for living unokai . Combine that with the unknown impact of the headman factor, and there is no basis at present to conclude that becoming unokai is associated with greater lifetime reproductive success. (Ferguson 1989:564)

As Tierney reports in his summary of Ferguson’s critique, Chagnon acknowledged that this was a serious issue. He proposed a modification of his original claim about the reproductive advantage of killers. Now he suggested that

Being excessively prone to lethal violence may not be an effective route to high reproductive success, but, statistically, men who engage in it with some moderation seem to do better reproductively than men who do not engage in it at all. (quoted Tierney 2000b:177-8)

As Tierney remarks,

Of course, this was markedly different from the way the study of Yanomami killers was being promoted to the press...But the difficulty was that the graphs of killers in Science showed that nineteen men, who committed an average of 9.4 murders each, were responsible for the majority (52 percent) of all killings. If such immoderate murder was not conducive to progeny, then most of the Yanomami killings were clearly counterproductive--from a sociobiological standpoint. (Tierney 2000b:178)

Nor was this the end of the difficulties. As Tierney reports, Albert criticized Chagnon’s use of the category " unokai " as an equivalent of "killer", and his failure to take into account the crucial differences between the Yanomami concept of killing and the Western concept of homicide. Albert explained that the term " unokai " refers merely to the state of ritual danger incurred by some contact with, or participation in, the killing of someone else. For the Yanomami, this implies no personal courage, nor does it entail prestige or personal attractiveness such as might contribute to marital or sexual success. The Yanomami regard anyone who has fired an arrow in the direction of an enemy in a fight, struck a non-lethal blow, or struck the already dead corpse, as having participated in the killing and thus to be in a state of unokai . Tierney reports that "most unokai events (209 of 385) were claimed by large groups of men--8.3 on the average--who performed the ritual purification together after twenty-seven different raids," and these 27 events produced the majority of killings in Chagnon’s study. (Tierney 2000b:162,356 n.37)

A dead enemy may thus have many"killers". Also, it seems that many of the "killings" (especially those regarded as individual acts of murder) recognized as such by the Yanomami are acts of sorcery, not physical combat. Many, if not most unokai are thus not "killers" at all in the biological sense relevant to sociobiology. Albert further explained that to gain renown as a valiant warrior, with the glamorous and attractive personal quality the Yanomami call waitheri, one must have killed not once but several times. To be waitheri, Albert allowed, might well be regarded by some potential wives, or fathers-in-law, as making a man a more attractive spouse (although the other qualities connoted by waitheri , like generosity and humor, might well have more to do with it). It is, however, precisely multiple killers in this range who are the preferred targets of revenge raids and thus the least likely to have extended reproductive careers. As Albert put it,

The hypothesis becomes even more difficult to handle: its universe, initially all "unokaied " men, has had to be reduced first to multi- unokaied/waitheri men and now to "moderately multi- unokaied/waitheri men. (Albert 1990:560)

Chagnon replied to Albert’s criticisms that (contrary to the impression given by the text of his Science article) he had not used the status of unokai to identify men who had killed for purposes of his study. Rather, he had identified both killers and killed in the course of carrying out his general demographic census. He had only used the term unokai when asking his informants whether the killers he had thus identified had undergone the unokaimou ceremony afterwards (for Yanomami a tautological question on the order of "is the Pope a Catholic?"). In questioning his informants about killers in the demographic survey, he said, he had specifically asked if a killing had been caused by sorcery (oka ) or by physical means. In a letter to the American Anthropology Newsletter , he further clarified that he had also asked about all unokai whether they were "true" or only "symbolic" unokai , meaning whether they had killed in a biological sense or through magical means. Both Albert and Lizot attacked his use of this distinction, denying that the Yanomami terms he used were actually employed by the Yanomami in that way. As Albert observed, furthermore, the fact that he asked this question seemed to imply that he did after all employ the unokai status to inquire about killers. (Albert 1990:559) Nor did Chagnon deal with Albert’s point about the implications for Chagnon’s analysis of the ethnographic fact that Yanomami count anyone who has merely struck a blow or fired a shot at an enemy (even one who was already dead) as a "killer" who therefore needs to go through the unokaimou ritual. How exactly did Chagnon, in the course of his demographic research, get his informants (as he claimed) to distinguish between what he regarded as "real" killers (homicides in the Western biological and sociobiological sense), and what they regarded as no less real killers by virtue of their having participated in some biologically vicarious, non-lethal sense in a killing, like shooting an arrow in the general direction of an enemy? The question becomes all the more important when the genealogical time depth of the inquiry is born in mind: Chagnon was questioning his informants about killings that had occurred over what Albert claimed was actually a span of three to five generations, as opposed to Chagnon’s claim of only 35 years (Tierney 2000b: 165-6). The essence of Albert’s critique was that Chagnon seemed to be projecting a Western concept of homicide as the basis of a putative Yanomami distinction between real and "symbolic" killing, a distinction alien to Yanomami culture, and then claiming that this culturally alien concept actually determined Yanomami cultural behavior (Albert 1990:559). In attempting to analyze the effects of "killing" on Yanomami behavior (such as rates of marriage and fertility), Albert argued, Yanomami notions of reality (which clearly include the "symbolic" status of shooting a dead enemy as an act of killing) should be the relevant considerations. As Tierney summed up:

At best, there was an uncertain relation between the Yanomami ritual category unokai and physical homicide, and Chagnon did not offer enough data to figure out what that relationship really was(Tierney 2000b: 163-4)

Some of the data he did offer, however, did not stand scrutiny. There were specific errors that further called in question his understanding of Yanomami categories like unokai . He wrote of how all the men on a raiding party that carried off a woman would repeatedly rape her. Yet this was false, as Tierney recorded, because any man who had participated in a killing, and thus incurred unokai pollution, was forbidden to have sexual intercourse before undergoing ritual purification (unokaimou ), without which death would ensue both for himself and the woman. Chagnon also claimed that a man who deflowered a virgin became unokai . As Tierney reported, this was flatly denied by Albert and Lizot. More damagingly, Tierney reported (apparently on the basis of his own research--he cites no other source) that Chagnon’s informants had conspired to give him false information "to rig the unokai data" by falsely reporting victims of killings in remote areas where Chagnon could or would not check on their accounts (Tierney 2000b:169). Perhaps the most unlikely bit of information Chagnon reported was the claim that a man called Moawa had single-handedly murdered 22 people by stabbing them with a sharp arrow point (Tierney 2000b:171). These and other instances compiled by Tierney rise questions about Chagnon’s critical judgement and the soundness of his data.

Tierney also raises a series of questions about manipulations of statistically strategic bits of data. Two young men in their twenties were listed in Chagnon’s 1997 Yanomamo Interactive CD on The Ax Fight as having four and five children respectively. This was far more than the other men in their age category, and these two men had been identified as violent participants in the ax fight shown in the CD. Tierney checked Chagnon’s original census and found that Mohesiwa was listed as born in 1938 and Ruwamowa in 1939, thus making them 33 and 32, respectively, rather than 24 and 27, as Chagnon now claimed, at the time of filming. Tierney "found no other mistakes in the census transfer. And if these were mistakes, they were statistically perfect ones" --as they seemed to show the greater reproductive success of violent men in contrast to their supposed age-mates in the under-30 categories.

There was also the case of the five young men Chagnon listed as killers in the under 25 age group, all of whom had wives. When challenged by Albert, however, Chagnon removed them to the 30-plus category, remarking that since the Yanomami do not count past three, the estimation of age is necessarily approximate(Tierney 2000b:176) Their removal substantially altered the statistical predominance of killers as husbands and fathers in their age category. In sum, as Tierney remarks, "Minute manipulations in each age category could easily skew all the results"--and apparently had done so in the cases in question.

Instances such as these appear to exemplify a disturbing tendency in Chagnon’s work, that Ferguson has characterized in the following terms:

Psychological Darwinists also create what might be called "phantom facts," claims about observable reality which are contradicted by actual research findings. The Yanomami and their warfare provide many clear examples of this...((Ferguson 2001:22)

Tierney also pointed out that although Chagnon had given the impression in his Science article that the three raids he described involved communities that were still living in a relatively traditional way, unaffected by the presence of missionaries and government agents that had led to the decline or suppression of warfare in other areas of Yanomami country, this was not the case. Chagnon had identified the villages in his article only by number, which Lizot had complained made them impossible to match up with any known (named) Yanomami communities. Tierney succeeded in identifying 9 of the 12 villages involved, showing that they were the same ones where he had done most of his field work. Chagnon identified them in a rejoinder to Albert published in 1990 as "the some dozen or so villages described in my 1974 book and in my 1988 article". (Chagnon 1990:49) Tierney succeeded in discovering the specific identities of 9 of these numbered villages, which were indeed among those Chagnon had more loosely indicated. The identification of specific villages was an important issue because it allowed Chagnon’s statistics in his article to be checked against his originally published census figures. When this was done, small but significant discrepancies appeared, which would not have been noticed if the identities of the villages had not been established. The differences in the figures had led Lizot to suggest that Chagnon might have made up the villages in his article: ironically, it was Tierney’s painstaking detective work that established their reality (Tierney 2000b:165) .

Chagnon claimed that there had been 153 war deaths among these villages over the past 35 years. This figure, as Tierney reports, was five times higher than the known war deaths for these villages as reported by Ferguson (Tierney 2000b:165, 358 n. 56). Albert challenged Chagnon’s statistics, suggesting the figures for deaths were actually extracted from a genealogical record covering up to five generations rather than 35 years, as well as his implicit claim that his area of study was representative of a "pristine and pan-Yanomami reality" (Albert 1989:637; cited in Tierney 2000b:165-6). Chagnon, in reply, denied that he had meant to imply that his data represented a generic Yanomami reality or that he had ever intended to belittle the importance of variation among Yanomami areas and sub-groups (Chagnon1990:51). He asserted that he had always been "very careful to specify the groups to which my reports refer". (Chagnon 1990:51) His identification of the groups in his Science study by numbers with no key to name or geographical location, however, certainly had the effect of unspecifying their identities, and his treatment of the categories of his analysis in generic Yanomami terms with no indication of regional variations indeed gave the impression that he was indeed describing generic features of normative Yanomami society and culture.

Once identified and connected by Tierney to their known historical contexts, the three raids described in abstract terms in the Science article assumed different meanings. Pinning down the actual identities and locations of the villages showed that they were actually situated in an area of heavy contact with Venezuelan society and missionary influence. No longer abstract instances of violent competition for reproductive success, in an indigenous world whose essential patterns of warfare had not yet been affected by alien presences such as missionaries or anthropologists, they now appeared as significantly affected by Chagnon’s own presence and activities. Chagnon himself, it transpired, had "filmed, transported, and coordinated" two of the three raiding parties over part of the distance to their targets (Tierney 2000b:166). Chagnon, Tierney recorded, had actually given three different explanations for the second raid in as many texts. Two years before the Science article, in which he presented this raid as an instance of the same sociobiological dynamics as the others, he had described it in a conference presentation as provoked by the aggressive acts of "Lizot’s village" (Tierney 2000b:142. Five years after the Science piece appeared, after he had fallen out with his previous allies, the Salesians, he blamed it on the Salesian missionaries of Mavaca (Chagnon 1992 ms. :"The guns of Mucajaí", cited Tierney 2000b: 358 n.59). The third raid was explained in the Science article as a revenge raid inspired by the organizer’s wife’s grief over the abduction of her sister by raiders. In his later "Guns of Mucajaí" paper, however, Chagnon explained the same raid as the result of missionaries having given a shotgun to the man who led the raid. (Tierney 2000:166, 358 n.61, n.63). As Tierney says about all three of these raids, contrary to the impression given by Chagnon in the Science article that they were simply representative instances of Yanomami "fierceness" and its sociobiological root motivations,

These three wars illustrated anew kind of violence, directed exclusively outward from western centers of power, where men with shotguns could attack remote villages...The vagueness and brevity of Chagnon’s three anecdotes in Science were essential parts of their anonymous appeal, like the villages with no locations. Stripped of their historical reality, devoid of context, the numbered villages and nameless war stories were elements in a struggle for reproduction; with their names added, these same deaths became weapons in a political struggle against Lizot, or missionaries. (Tierney 2000b:166-167)

The shifting explanations of the same data, closely correlated with shifts in Chagnon’s political rivalries and theoretical positions, exemplify a troubling pattern which Tierney identifies elsewhere in Chagnon’s writings. Tierney’s term for it is "rewriting": another example he gives is the three different accounts Chagnon has given of the "treacherous feast" given in February 1951 by the headman of Iwahikoroba-teri, in which from 11 to 15 men were killed. In the three accounts (1966, 1977, and 1997), not only the manner and pattern of the killings but the identity of the killers changes dramatically. Tierney suggests that these "rewritings’, together with the rewriting of the histories and genealogical relations of two other, allied communities, were driven by Chagnon’s need to make the massacre "match the sociobiological prediction that close kin must protect and avenge each other’s deaths."(Tierney 2000b:169) However this may be, the extensively altered data, for which Chagnon has given no explanation, now do fit this theoretical prescription.

Finally, there remains the fundamental problem of explaining whatever correlation might still be found to exist between killing and reproductive success. As Ferguson put the point,

A further difference between my position and Chagnon’s is that I do not accept the presumption expressed in his sociobiological writings that conflict over women is in itself evidence that male behavior is motivated by "reproductive striving."...[i.e.,] maximization of inclusive fitness.(Ferguson 1995:358)

Tierney, for some reason, fails to raise this fundamental question. It is one that Chagnon has yet to answer.

I.C. False accusations against Missions and NGO’s of "killing"

Yanomami or otherwise being responsible for raising their death rate

(1) Deceptive statistics on mission death rate (Tierney 2000b:Ch. X;205-7; Appendix, 317-326)

In an OpEd column in the New York Times of October 1993, Chagnon claimed that Yanomami were dying at missionary posts with medical facilities at four times the rate obtaining in "remote" villages. This was supposedly based on statistics Chagnon had collected and was the key data he cited in support of his shocking allegation that the Salesian missionaries were "killing the Yanomami with kindness". Tierney notes that this has become "one of the most frequently quoted statements in the Yanomami controversy," but shows that it is actually a misleading effect obtained by switching statistical data between categories of the study. He explains,

Chagnon divided the villages in three categories of mission contact: "remote", "intermediate", and "maximum". The villages with maximum [mission] contact had a thirty percent lower mortality rate than remote groups, while the "intermediate" villages suffered four times as many deaths as the missions. Chagnon’s data thus confirmed what all other researchers have found, but in the NYT Chagnon converted the "intermediate" villages into "missions", which they are not...There is no doubt that the debate about mission mortality has been based on misinformation" (Tierney 2000b:205-6)

(2) The massacre at Haximu Ch 12 (195-214)

Tierney accurately chronicles Chagnon’s attempt to spin the tragic episode of the massacre of twelve Yanomami from the village of Haximu by Brazilian gold miners in July 1993 into a series of spurious charges against the Yanomami from the village of Paapiu for being partly responsible for the massacre and the Salesian missionaries for trying to cover it up. The "cover up", in Chagnon’s version, chiefly consisted in a campaign by the missionaries to block his "investigation" of the massacre, in order to prevent him from discovering and disclosing their role in "killing the Yanomami by kindness" at their mission stations (see preceding section). This was tantamount to accusing the Salesians of being accessories after the fact to mass murder.

Chagnon claimed he had the right to investigate the murders as a member of a Venezuelan Presidential Commission on Yanomami affairs. With his ally Brewer-Carias, Chagnon had in fact been appointed to a commission to supervise the projected Yanomami Biosphere Reserve by the transitional President who succeeded Carlos Andres-Perez after the latter’s impeachment. This commission, however, lacked any specific investigative powers relevant to the massacre. An unprecedented national outcry, with massive street demonstrations and protests against Brewer’s and Chagnon’s appointments, specifically including their declared intention to conduct an investigation of the massacre, followed the announcement of these appointments. This historically unprecedented wave of opposition led the President to appoint a different commission specifically to investigate the massacre. The intent was clearly to remove Chagnon and Brewer from any connection with the Haximu investigation, and it was so understood by the Venezuelan media and public, although the President did not get around to formally dissolving the Brewer-Chagnon commission until later (see "El presidente Velásquez revocó designación de Charles Brewer Carias", El Universal, Martes 14 de Septiembre de 1993) Chagnon, accompanied by Brewer, nevertheless attempted to go to Haximu to "investigate", regardless of the fact that the new Presidential investigating commission was already en route to the spot, and they lacked the necessary authorization to go to the area, let alone to conduct an investigation. When they landed at the village airstrip, two miles from the massacre site, they were summarily ordered to leave by the judge who headed the legitimate investigative commission. She gave Brewer and Chagnon a choice: get out of Haximu immediately or face arrest. The air force pilot who had flown them to the spot sided with the judge. He flew Chagnon straight to Caracas, confiscated his notes and told him to get out of Venezuela within twenty-four hours. Chagnon did so.

Tierney gives an accurate summary of these events. He also accurately reports the extended series of false claims Chagnon made about it--blaming the Salesians for aborting his investigation to "cover up" the massacre and their supposed responsibility for it. Chagnon also managed to work in attacks on unnamed NGOs (Survival International was understood to be the main target), "left wing anthropologists", and politicians who had supported the Yanomamis’ right to demand that Chagnon not return to their territory. In sum, Chagnon exploited the Haximu tragedy to make a whole series of false charges against his enemies of the moment, and dramatize himself--again falsely--as the true champion of the Yanomami, struggling vainly to carry out an investigation of the massacre against the supposed "cover-up" by the Salesian "theocracy" and his other critics. He neglected to mention that a Brazilian team had already carried out a thorough investigation months before, and the authorized Venezuelan government investigation was in progress at the time.

Tierney’s account of this episode is based in part on a rejoinder to Chagnon’s untruthful claims that I published in the AAA Newsletter for May 1994, rebutting a number of his false assertions. I had been in Brazil while the Brazilian investigation was going on and was able to debrief its co-director, Bruce Albert, in Brasilia immediately after he finished his thorough and definitive report. I found it appalling, as I told Peter Monaghan, a journalist who wrote a story on the affair in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that Chagnon was "using aspects of the Yanomami tragedy to dramatize himself on the basis of patently false claims". Monaghan quoted this statement in his story, adding "[Turner] contends openly what many other Amazonian researchers say privately" (Monaghan 1994).

As Tierney reports, Chagnon included in his account false charges that a group of Yanomami from the distant village of Paapiu (Marashi-teri) had served as guides to the garimpeiros and thus become accessories or a co-perpetrators of the Haximu massacre. Albert protested this unfounded calumny in the strongest terms: "This is a true scandal!...I believe this is the worst piece of Chagnon’s manipulation: to give the impression that the Yanomami are partly responsible for the massacre."

(3)"The guns of Mucajaí" (Tierney 2000b:210-213)

Another of Chagnon’s attempts to implicate missionaries in fomenting Yanomami killings by distributing shotguns was his attack, in the fourth edition of his book, on the Protestant Missionaries of the Evangelical Mission of Amazonia, supposedly stationed at Mucajaí. Tierney shows that this account is a fictional pastiche, combining aspects of the geography, personnel and history of the distant, and long-abandoned, mission station of Surucucu with those of Mucajaí, and adding elements of fantasy and distorted and displaced versions of actual actions. Indians lugging a washing machine over the mountain by the mission station at Surucucu becomes a single Missionary carrying a refrigerator on his back over a non-existent mountain at Mucajaí. The refusal of missionaries at Surucucu to sell shotguns to the Indians, and their abandonment of the mission post there rather than be obliged to do so, becomes the provision of shotguns by the Mucajaí missionaries to the Yanomami, their guilt supposedly redoubled by their subsequent refusal to inquire if the guns they had provided had been those used in an attack on a "remote" village (Chagnon suggests that if they found out that the guns they had provided had been the ones used, they would have to confiscate them, which would have made the Yanomami forsake the mission. As Tierney reports, everyone with any knowledge of these events, including the missionaries in question and others familiar with the different posts and mission families Chagnon had conflated, denounces Chagnon’s account as fictional. This includes the anthropologist John Peters, who was a missionary at Mucajaí up to a couple of months before the events described by Chagnon allegedly took place. There is consensus on the vital point of the policy of the missionaries against giving guns to the Yanomami. As Tierney remarks,

I have done an archeological dig into this story because it is similar to many of Chagnon’s startling, anonymous tales, including his improbable version of the Haximu massacre--and because he has been promoting this Mucajaí myth to substantiate his version of the Haximu killings. In the case of "The Guns of Mucajaí," there is no wiggle room. "It is false, and it can be proven that it is false," said Milton Camargo, the head of the MEVA mission. "It is absurd" (Tierney 2000b:210-213).

(4) The Lechoza massacre. Tierney 2000b: Ch. 10: 238-9

Chagnon’s account of the 1992 massacre at Lechoza was published as part of his article in the Times Literary Supplement, "Killed by kindness". This was an attack on missionaries, NGOs, "left-wing anthropologists," and others engaged in supporting the Yanomami during the first garimpeiro invasions, the resulting malaria epidemic, and the campaign for the dissolution of the still unconfirmed Yanomami Reserve. Chagnon claimed the Lechoza massacre was an example of a series of attacks by "mission Yanomami", using shotguns supplied by the missionaries, upon "extremely remote" Yanomami communities with whom they had had no previous contact, let alone "quarrel". His account of the massacre thus served as potent documentation of his anti-missionary diatribe. The key factual claims on which he based his version of the episode, however, are false. Lechoza is located near Ocamo, which has a mission, an infirmary and a Venezuelan military post. It is thus not even moderately "remote" by Yanomami standards. The raid on Lechoza pitted a coalition led by Cesar Dimanawa, who had become Chagnon’s fiercest enemy, based on the mission village of Mavaca, against a force led by Chagnon’s ally, Alberto Karakawe, who had become a rival and enemy of Dimanawa (partly, Tierney suggests, as a result of his alliance with Chagnon). The two sides (or at least their leaders) thus had a standing "quarrel". The attacking force led by Dimanawa actually contained more unacculturated, unmissionized Yanomami than Lechoza, so this was not an attack by missionized Yanomami on an unmissionized and unacculturated community.

Chagnon closed his account of this incident in the TLS with the assurance, "The above information is based on scientific research". Actually, as Tierney shows, it was based on second-hand hearsay, in the form of two interviews recorded in Caracas by Charles Brewer with a single informant, none other than Alberto Karakawe, the pro-Chagnon leader of one of the opposing groups. Neither Chagnon nor Brewer had even visited the place or talked with other participants after the fight. Many details of Chagnon’s (Karakawe’s, via Brewer’s) account, including his identification of the killers, were disputed by other participants, including Dimanawa, when interviewed by Tierney.

These examples of Chagnon’s "scientific research" appear to fall into Ferguson’s category of "phantom facts" rather than "scientifically researched" data as the terms are commonly understood.

II. Field methods disruptive of Yanomami society (Tierney 2000b: Ch. 3)

Drawing heavily on the writings of Brian Ferguson and his own data, Tierney documents charges that Chagnon’s methods of obtaining the names of dead relatives, by exploiting enmities between factions and hostile communities, and above all by giving massive amounts of steel goods as presents, destabilized Yanomami communities and inter-communal relations, giving rise to conflicts, raids and wars. He also documents that Chagnon took a limited part in raids by transporting raiding parties in his motor launch. The issues here centrally involve the scale of operations and the time-pressure under which Chagnon was obliged to collect his pedigree data. Whether working for James Neel or on his own, his commitment to surveying the maximum possible numbers of villages in relatively minimal periods of time precluded normal anthropological methods of building rapport and finding culturally appropriate ways of obtaining culturally taboo information that have been used successfully by other anthropologists who have worked among the Yanomami. This forced him to resort to bullying and intimidation, including shooting off firearms and performing shamanic rituals of magical child-killing. It also led him to resort to bribery on a massive scale, using huge amounts of steel tools, pots, etc. These hoards of otherwise rare and highly valued items became foci of conflict between rival factions and villages, which on a number of documented occasions led to raids and wars in which people were killed.

As his work continued over the years, Chagnon, rather than modifying his modus operandi to diminish its destabilizing effects, continued to raise the ante, becoming a player in the regional system of conflicts and the struggle for dominance that were set off in part by quarrels over the wealth he brought with him (Tierney 2000b:18-35). There began to be wars between "Chagnon’s" village, containing Yanomami dependent on him for steel goods, and villages associated with other sources of goods, such as the anthropologist Lizot, and the independent Yanomami cooperative SUYAO. All of this, Tierney, Ferguson, Albert, and others have argued, represented a massive disruption of Yanomami social peace consequent upon Chagnon’s field methods. If so, it may be considered to constitute a violation of clause III.A.2 of the AAA Code of Ethics: "Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work...".

The sheer scale of Chagnon’s operations thus came to constitute a sui generis factor with ethical effects and implications not anticipated by the existing AAA Code of Ethics. Over a period of thirty years, according to anthropologist Brian Ferguson and others familiar with the political and historical aspects of his research, Chagnon has used methods to extract culturally sensitive data and biological specimens from Yanomami that have involved the violation of Yanomami cultural norms and caused dissension, and occasionally conflict, between communities and between factions of the same community. These conflicts, according to Ferguson, seconded by Tierney, have sometimes led to the breakup of communities and to inter-village raiding. Chagnon’s tactics reportedly included giving large amounts of steel tools, the most esteemed presents, to certain villages or factions, thus inevitably destabilizing relations with non-recipients groups. The also included, by his own account, deliberately lying to a village or faction that he had obtained the taboo names of their dead relatives from another village or faction, thus arousing anger and resentment that he could exploit to get the village or faction in question to give up the names of the deceased ancestors of the other group. After Chagnon got his data and departed, the villagers were left with bitter resentments that could aggravate existing tensions and provoke open conflicts. Chagnon seems also to have employed bullying and intimidation, brandishing weapons and shooting off firearms to make the Yanomami (who are usually the opposite of "fierce" in relations with non-Yanomami such as Venezuelans and Euro-North Americans) willing to give him information, if only to get rid of him.

The effectiveness of these tactics owed much to Chagnon’s dramatic exploitation of the great discrepancy between his resources of wealth and power and those of the Yanomami as leverage to extract information, without regard to the ways this disrupted the social relations, stability and political peace of the communities of the people among whom he worked. The main authority for these allegations are the writings and public statements of Chagnon himself. One does not need to be a "left wing academic" or an "anti-science culturologist" to agree that these tactics raise questions of research ethics.

E. Misrepresentation of Yanomami reality in films: "choreographed violence" (Tierney 2000b:Ch.XIV, 85-88,101-104,114-119, 216-217)

(pertinent provision of Code of Ethics: III.B.2. )

I will not attempt a discussion of the knotty subject of Chagnon’s and Asch’s films here. The subject has already been much discussed in the journals, most authoritatively so by Tim Asch himself (Asch 1991). As a friend of Tim’s since Harvard graduate school days in the 1960s, I can testify that Tim spoke of his concern that the films he was making with Chagnon seriously misrepresented Yanomami culture and social life. This ultimately led him to make the extraordinary gesture near the end of his life of apologizing to the Yanomami for the films and declaring to them that he would destroy them if he could. The Tierney references cited above are valid as far as I can tell and together with Asch’s article should be sufficient for purposes of this discussion.

III. Failure to get informed consent; obtaining consent with misinformation) (Tierney 2000b:37, 43-45)

Tierney has relatively little to say about the issue of informed consent, but he does record that at the time of the 1968 AEC expedition, Chagnon claimed to the Yanomami that the taking of biological specimens was for their medical benefit. This claim was plainly intended to secure their assent to the taking of blood and other biological samples. It was also plainly untrue. (Tierney 2000b:37,44) Tierney records the consternation of missionaries who had known Chagnon upon learning that the sampling was done for research purposes, whereas Chagnon had "always sounded so interested in helping the Yanomami." (Tierney 2000b:45). In contrast to Chagnon, as Tierney says, the Department of Energy "did not pretend that [the sampling] benefitted the Yanomami in any way." (Tierney 2000:43) I have discussed the broader issues of informed consent in the context of my discussion of the Neel papers in Part II, and will therefore not repeat that discussion here.


IV. The Siapa biosphere project (Chagnon in collaboration with Brewer-Carias and FUNDAFACI): the Brewer-Chagnon project for a personal research reserve in the Siapa valley, with FUNDAFACI support. (Tierney 2000b:Ch. XI, 181-194)

The ethical nadir ofChagnon’s efforts to regain research access to the Yanomami area despite steadily mounting opposition from the Yanomami themselves and the repeated refusal of the Venezuelan authorities to grant him permission to return to Yanomami territory was the abortive scheme to establish a new Yanomami preserve in the Siapa Valley. This project implicated Chagnon in an alliance with political and extractivist interests hostile to Yanomami control of land and resources, represented by Brewer-Carias. It involved active collaboration in a project potentially harmful to Yanomami land and political rights. It involved medically irresponsible exposure of the isolated Yanomami communities of the area to large numbers of unquarantined foreign and domestic visitors. Whether by accident or design, it excluded virtually all "acculturated" and "mission" Yanomami, leaving almost 5/6 the Yanomami population contained in the previously projected Yanomami biosphere reserve without state protection. Not accidentally, it would also have left a large deposit of Cassiterite said to be coveted by Brewer-Carias outside the redrawn boundaries of the reserve.

The heart of the scheme was to be the establishment of a new reserve area under the personal control of Chagnon and Charles Brewer-Carias. The project was under the patronage of Cecilia Matos, Director of the National Foundation for Social Assistance To Indigenous and Peasant Families (FUNDAFACI), and mistress of the then President of Venezuela, Carlos Andres Perez. As part of this scheme, Matos authorized and funded out of FUNDAFACI numerous medically irresponsible forays by Chagnon and Brewer Carias into the most remote and little-contacted area of Yanomami territory, the Siapa valley, in Venezuelan Air Force helicopters. Air Force transports were also extensively used to ferry in supplies for a large permanent depot intended to become the headquarters camp of the new reserve. These flights, which constituted an illegal use of military equipment and personnel under Venezuelan law, sometimes resulted in the destruction of Yanomami communal shelters, as the helicopters hovered over them to allow passengers to take close-up photographs, meanwhile blowing thatch and roof poles down on top of the inhabitants. At times the helicopters even landed in the central patio of the communal dwellings. In addition to damaging the shelters, these areal visitations sometimes caused serious injuries to the inhabitants. The villagers were meanwhile put at risk of contagion from the medically unscreened passengers. The latter mostly comprised media personnel, foreign journalists and influential Venezuelans whose support Chagnon and Brewer were seeking for the creation of their new "biosphere reserve". They were attracted to go on the flights by false stories put out by Chagnon that the villages they would be visiting had never before been contacted by outsiders. These deceptive "first contact" stories were duly relayed in the national and world media, which gave a false impression of Chagnon’s and Brewer’s project as well as the condition and needs of the Yanomami of the region. The medical effects of the frequent visitations by unscreened outsiders were not long in manifesting themselves. According to Tierney, the incidence of deaths from non-indigenous diseases sharply increased around the sites visited by the FUNDAFACI flights (Tierney 2000b:206-7; 322-5).

According to Brewer’s and Chagnon’s plan for the Siapa biosphere reserve, Chagnon would have guaranteed research access to the area, with authority to pass on all applications for research in the area. The Yanomami themselves would have had no voice in approving or denying such access. Brewer, meanwhile, under the cover of Chagnon’s and his own scientific activities as a "naturalist," would have had free reign to indulge his penchant for illegal mining operations on indigenous land. The project was thus designed to fulfill Chagnon’s and Brewer’s personal interests, but at great cost to the interests of the Yanomami. Not surprisingly, there is no record that any Yanomami were consulted in planning the project, or that any ever approved it. On the contrary, as Tierney reports, many opposed it. Tierney quotes one of Chagnon’s Siapa guides:

Shaki [Chagnon] wanted to command all of the Yanomami of the Upper Orinoco. Shaki Napoleon built a camp in order to become the chief of all the Yanomami...We, the Yanomami, got together to defend our territory. We rejected all that plan."(Tierney 2000b:294)

Tierney adds that according to the same man,

...one of the many reasons the Orinoco villages banded together against Chagnon was that the anthropologist planned to control all the government funds destined for the Yanomami." (Tierney 2000b:294)

Large as it appeared (about the size of Connecticut), the biosphere area would have excluded more than 3/4 of the area and virtually 5/6 of the population of the already proposed Yanomami reserve, and "afforded neither them nor their lands any protection." (Tierney 2000b:188). It would have been, in a word, a catastrophe for most Yanomami. As Tierney reports, most Venezuelan anthropologists and Catholic missionaries saw the drastically reduced "biosphere" as "a coup against Yanomami territory." (Tierney 2000b:188) The Yanomami who would have been excluded comprised virtually all of the missionized, acculturated, and increasingly politically conscious Yanomami. These qualities made them less anthropologically interesting to Chagnon than the more isolated and amenable Siapans. Salomone reports that Chagnon "has stated that the Yanomami who speak Spanish are not really authentic Yanomami. That is a charge to which the Yanomami object rather vehemently." (Salomone 1997:22)

The biosphere project was fortunately forestalled by political events, impelled in part by a wave of opposition to Brewer and Chagnon, that included mass demonstrations in which indigenous people and Venezuelan citizens marched together to protest their appointments to the newly formed Yanomami Commission. The Venezuelan air force pilots coopted to act as chauffeurs for Chagnon’s and Brewer’s PR operation for this personal research empire became so outraged by what they were being forced to do that they defied Matos’ and Brewer’s demands that they continue to fly into the Siapa. Soon thereafter the officers involved took part in an attempted a coup d’etat against President Peres and his mistress. This failed, but led soon afterward to a more powerful coup led by current President Chavez, that involved many of the same officers. This coup also failed, but made Chavez a popular hero. Soon afterward, Carlos Andres Perez was impeached and imprisoned, and Cecilia Matos, who fled the country, was tried and convicted in absentia on counts of corruption and criminal misuse of her government funds and powers, including the misuse of military equipment and personnel for her junkets with Brewer and Chagnon. As of this writing she is a fugitive under sentence to a Venezuelan women’s prison. Brewer narrowly escaped a similar fate. He was investigated for illegal mining activities by a parliamentary commission but was never indicted (to this date no one has ever been brought to trial in Venezuela for illegal mining on indigenous lands). Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in the next election, on an anti-corruption ticket. Popular revulsion against FUNDAFACI’s role in the Siapa scheme and the actions of Brewer and Chagnon played a role in the popular ground swell of support for Chavez.

Taken altogether, the violations of anthropological ethics and Venezuelan legality involved in the actions and plans of the principals in this sordid affair, and the sheer scale of the areas, numbers of indigenous people, illegal military involvement and financial resources involved, justify Sponsel’s and my reference to it in our original memo to the Presidents of the AAA as an instance of "corruption and sheer criminality unparalleled in the history of anthropology".

V. Failure to reciprocate or provide help to the Yanomami (apart from the distribution of presents during field research).

As Tierney reports, there seems to be no material evidence that Chagnon has ever done anything to help the Yanomami of either Venezuela or Brazil beyond distributing presents at the time of field work. He did establish a Foundation, the Yanomami Survival Fund, ostensibly dedicated to good works on behalf of the Yanomami, but it never seems to have done anything other than provide a potential tax shelter for Chagnon’s book royalties (Tierney 2000b:188-189; the speculation about its function as a tax shelter is my own, not Tierney’s: TT). In 1993 Fiona Watson of Survival International exposed its failure to take any action on behalf of the Yanomami in the Venezuelan Press (Watson 1993). This brought threats of legal action and demands for an apology from Chagnon . No apology was offered by Survival. Chagnon did not take the threatened legal action, and apparently dropped his fund-raising appeals on behalf of the supposed organizations. In 1998, Rabben confirmed that the fund remained inactive until that time (Rabben 1998:138, n.7). As Albert remarks, "given his [Chagnon’s] skills in media promotion, we would probably know about it" if it had actually done anything (Albert 2000b). Rabben, in a personal communication, has provided me with an update on the status of this "Fund" as of August 20, 2001. According to the final [990] return of the Yanomami Survival Fund for the 1998 tax year, filed on the National Foundation Center's web site (as required by law), the directors of the Fund (listed as Napoleon Chagnon and his wife) decided in that year to "wind up and dissolve" the corporation with no assets to dispose of. On one form, Chagnon states that as president of the YSF, he devoted 0 hours to it during 1998. Oddly, the final document, dated December 31, 1998, formally closing down the YSF, is left unsigned by Chagnon and his wife, the only two trustees, leaving open the possibility that Chagnon might claim at some future point that the fund still exists. No further 990 forms are on file for the YSF, however, and the lack of any recent forms normally indicates that the organization in question has gone out of existence.

All this leaves the question of whether Chagnon has complied with the ethical obligation of researchers to "recognize their debt to the societies in which they work and their obligation to reciprocate with the people studied in appropriate ways." (AAA Code III.A.6) As Kim Hill has written, "This is an issue that Chagnon himself should address...and explain what types of assistance he provided" (Hill 2001). It seems we are in general agreement that it is appropriate for Tierney to have raised this issue.



The five groups of allegations I have summarized here from Tierney’s account are sufficiently well founded to merit consideration by the El Dorado Task Force of the AAA, which has been set up to investigate Tierney’s allegations. Instances of all five types were already known to Leslie Sponsel and myself when we were sent advance galleys of the book by Norton for our comments. We felt it was our obligation under provision III.B.2 of the Code of Ethics, which states that anthropologists "bear responsibility for the integrity and reputation of their discipline, of scholarship, and of science" to bring the book and its horrific allegations to the attention of the officers of the professional association so that they could launch appropriate investigations of its content. This we did by sending what we intended as a confidential memo to the Presidents (acting and elected) of the Association, with copy to the Chair of the Committee for Human Rights (later, at the President’s request, we added the Chairs of the Ethics Committee, the Association for Latin American Anthropology and the Association for Chicano and Chicana Anthropology).

Our object in calling for such investigation(s) was not merely to ascertain the truth (or otherwise)of the allegations, but to urge the Association to take responsibility for confronting egregious violations of its own code of ethics. We both felt strongly that the Association’s failure to do precisely this in response to the complaint of the Brazilian Anthropological Association in 1988 was a lapse that must not be repeated. For the AAA to drop the ball a second time over some of the same issues, we both felt, would make a joke of its claim to have a serious commitment to its Code of Ethics. We attempted to communicate the urgency of appropriate action on the issue in our memo. The measures we recommended included public statements by the President, investigation of Tierney’s allegations by appropriate standing or ad hoc bodies of the Association, and the provision of a public forum at the Association’s annual meeting in which the allegations could be aired and debated in a responsible manner by all concerned members. We wanted to forestall as much as possible a sensationalistic media circus like that which followed the unauthorized leaking of our memo. That is why we addressed our memo to leaders of the Association by name, and to no one else, assuming that this would be sufficient to guarantee its confidentiality. We are gratified that the Association has followed our recommendations in all essential respects. President Lamphere’s statement to the press was instrumental in assuring the public that the AAA was indeed taking Tierney’s allegations seriously. The public forums at the November 2000 annual meeting provided venues for information and discussion by the membership. Finally, the investigation in progress as I write this by a special task force of the Association is the best way of publicly and authoritatively correcting any false allegations against individuals, as well as bringing to light the truth of what has actually happened to the Yanomami. We trust that it will lead to the Association taking a stand on the ethical issues raised by the book and the actions it recounts.

Our memo was written as a summary of Tierney’s allegations, some of which were in the form of indirect implications, with the reader left to draw the conclusion the author refrained from stating directly. We found many of Tierney’s allegations plausible because they were already common knowledge among those familiar with Yanomami affairs, and in some cases had participated personally in the events in question. We had not, however, previously known of Tierney’s allegations about the 1968 epidemic, including his insinuation of the possible role of the vaccine used by the expedition in causing or exacerbating the epidemic, or the suggestion that it might have been experimentally used to start the epidemic. On these points, some reviewers have argued that

Tierney has been attacked for a charge he never actually makes. Widely distributed e-mail messages that purported to summarize Darkness in El Dorado before the book was published...suggest that the vaccine originally "caused" the epidemic, or even that this was done with intention. Tierney’s prose reeks of innuendo, but he never accuses Neel of intentionally causing the epidemic, and the sensationalized summaries caused his book to be labelled preemptively as a "fraud" and a "hoax". (Sea n.d.)

Tierney himself has suggested that Sponsel and my memo is to blame for the impression that he ever suggested that Neel might have deliberately precipitated, or risked precipitating the epidemic. In reply to a critique by J. Tooby, he writes, on the web page of W.W.Norton, that

Tooby conflates an August e-mail by Leslie Sponsel and Terence Turner about the book with the book itself. In this way, the letter’s speculation about Neel’s intentions to deliberately create a measles epidemic by vaccinating with the Edmonston B strain becomes "Tierney’s genocide thesis"(Tierney 2000a).

Let us be clear from the outset that we never used the term "genocide" in our memo, nor have we said or implied in the memo or in any other context that "genocide" was at issue. As for the vaccine causing or exacerbating the epidemic, however, a reading of Tierney’s original galley text, on which our memo was based, reveals that among the "reeking innuendos" are quotations and phrasings that suggest precisely what Sea and Tierney deny, correctly enough, that Tierney says in the published text of the book. The most provocative of these passages are clearly intended to suggest that the vaccinations with Edmonston B might well have caused the epidemic and that this might well have been part of a "deliberate attempt to create an epidemic" for experimental purposes. The passages in question were either excised or changed in the published text, presumably in response to the outcry raised by the circulation of our memo and its summary of the allegations in the galley version.

Consider, for example, this quotation from medical historian John Earle:

"The question is, was it an accident or was it deliberate? I wouldn’t rule out a deliberate attempt to create an epidemic. After all, Indians in this country were used for medical experiments...down there in the jungle, who was to know?" (Earle, quoted in Tierney 2000b galley:80).

In its context in the galley text, this statement works to suggest that the interpretation it articulates is a plausible construction of what actually happened

on the Orinoco in 1968. Another statement quoted in the galleys but excised from the published version was by Carlos Botto, a medical doctor who was head of the Venezuelan Amazon Center for the Investigation and Control of Tropical Disease, who surmised that

If they started vaccinating without gamma globulin, and then changed their protocol fifteen days later and began applying gamma globulin with the vaccine, that means that something happened during those fifteen days--that measles broke out (Botto, quoted in Tierney 2000b galley :61)

In its context, this quotation implies that the vaccinations without gamma globulin that the expedition performed, or had others perform, at the beginning of the expedition’s stay in the field might have caused the measles outbreak, and also that this may have been part of an initial, broader experimental plan to gather data on measles vaccine administered both with and without gamma globulin (Tierney 2000b galley:61). Tierney excised both of these quoted passages from the published text, after our memo summarizing their implications had drawn critical fire.

To paraphrase Dave Barry, we were not making this up.

Other textual changes from the galley to the published text reinforce the effect of these deletions. For example, the sentence in the galleys, "But this was as foreign to Neel as trying to help the sick Yanomami" (Tierney 2000b galley:76) became, in the published text, "Everyone looked to Neel to deny Rousseau’s interpretation, but this was as foreign to Neel as aborting his research because of the epidemic". (Tierney 2000b:76). It was sentences like the one replaced in this change that led us to say, mistakenly, in our memo that Neel opposed treatment of sick Yanomami (I corrected this misstatement in my reply to Geertz in the New York Review of Books (Turner 2001e).

We were of course deeply chagrined to discover that Tierney’s allegations (explicit or implied) about the possible effects of the vaccine, as we had understood them and attempted to summarize them in our memo, were not well founded. Immediately upon learning from statements by Dr. Samuel Katz and other medical experts that Tierney’s suggestion that the vaccine employed by the AEC expedition could have caused the measles epidemic was impossible or at least extremely implausible, I sought the advice of independent medical experts, who confirmed Katz’s opinion. I promptly informed Katz of this result . The letter in which did so was immediately posted, without my permission, on the web page of the society for Evolutionary Psychology, under a caption which misleadingly presented it as my repudiation of Tierney’s book tout court (Turner 2000a). A second letter I sent to that web page correcting this bit of spin and stating that I still found many of Tierney’s allegations to be well founded was never posted.

I have publicly stated my regrets that the unauthorized circulation of the memo led to the dissemination of false allegations hurtful to James Neel’s reputation, before the investigation we had called for could be carried out, and the allegations corrected, by competent panels created by the Association. I have further emphasized, in a lecture delivered at the University of Michigan, my regret for the suffering this must have caused Neel’s family and friends (Turner 2001a). I must emphasize, however, that these corrections and statements of regret are not "apologies". Sponsel and I are not responsible for the public circulation of the memo in which we described Tierney’s allegations, nor for the errors some of those allegations turned out to contain. We repeated Tierney’s allegations as we interpreted them from our reading of the galleys, but did not make them on our own behalf or vouch for their veracity ourselves. In a few instances our paraphrases of Tierney’s points may have been inaccurate, but they were not intentionally so, and given the relatively indirect, suggestive and imprecise expressions employed by Tierney in the galley text I feel that the fault was not entirely ours (as Tierney’s strategic deletions of some of them from the published text appear to confirm). Our memo was written as a confidential private communication to a few named persons, to warn them, as leaders of the AAA, to prepare to investigate and otherwise deal with the grave allegations in Tierney’s book. Whoever leaked this sensitive private memo without our authorization into public circulation on email bears the moral responsibility, and owes the apology, for whatever harm their action may have done.

Despite the errors in the chapter on the epidemic, the large majority of the allegations in Tierney’s book, such as those summarized in the preceding section, have not been refuted; on the contrary, there are good reasons to believe that most of them are valid and raise genuine ethical issues. Sponsel and I, and others such as John Stevens, Bruce Albert and the Brazilian team of medical experts, have done what we could to contribute to the investigation of the most problematic of the allegations, with results summarized in this paper.

Sponsel and I have meanwhile found ourselves the objects of false accusations and character assassination by those who have sought to protect Neel and Chagnon against all of Tierney’s allegations by killing the messengers rather than dealing with the substance of the allegations (except for the few based on scientific misinterpretations in the chapter on the epidemic). It has been alleged that there is "evidence" (the specific nature of which is never specified) that we knew of the allegations about Neel causing the epidemic before we read the galleys of the book, and that our statement in our memo that we had just learned of them from reading the galleys text and were dashing off our memo accordingly is fraudulent. There is no such "evidence," for this claim is untrue. We have been accused of conspiring with Tierney to write the memo to help publicize his allegations, and of ourselves conspiring to have it publicly circulated. It has been said that our criticisms of Chagnon are merely the expressions of a personal "vendetta", rather than issues of intellectual or ethical principle, despite the fact that we have both spelled out our principled criticisms in print and in public forums over nearly ten years.

None of these allegations are true. Unlike Tierney’s erroneous statements, these false allegations have been fabricated by anthropologists who are nominally bound by the AAA Code of Ethics, which says, in the same clause (III.B.2) from which I have quoted above, that anthropologists "should not deceive or knowingly misrepresent (i.e., fabricate evidence, falsify, plagiarize...)". None of the authors of these statements has publicly corrected him/herself or expressed regret for the groundless attacks on our reputation, as we have done in the case of Neel, even though we had not made the statements in question on our own account, but only attempted to summarize them in a confidential memo.

In this context, I repeat my acknowledgement of the salutary gesture of the University of Michigan in June 2001 in revising the public statement of its Provost, which had been posted on its web page, to eliminate the false charges against us that it had previously contained (University of Michigan 2001). It is time for the National Academy of Sciences and the authors of the Santa Barbara web page to follow suit.

What we have seen in this ugly affair is that the habit of fabricating "phantom facts", in Ferguson’s phrase, is difficult to control: a slippery slope leads from inventions of "scientific" data about the reproductive success of Yanomami "killers" to libelling missionaries as accessories to killing (as in Chagnon’s charges against the Salesians and other missionaries) to falsely representing the statements of collegial critics such as Ferguson and myself, to the fabricated charges against Sponsel and myself by Chagnon and his partisans. I suggest that this is also an appropriate subject for investigation by the El Dorado Task Force.


I believe that we as anthropologists owe it to the Yanomami, and to ourselves, to speak the truth publicly about what has been done to the Yanomami. In this sense, the role of the Association and its Task Force may be compared to that of truth commissions in places like South Africa or Guatemala: not to punish individuals, but to make principled public statements about what has been done, by whom, and in what ways the actions and statements in question may have violated the collective ethical standards of the profession.

In Brazil, the forces of the military and the mining lobby, in alliance with right-wing politicians at both state and national levels, are reopening the campaign to break up the Yanomami reserve, which has been in abeyance for the ten years since President Collor proclaimed the reserve in 1991. The Pro-Yanomami Commission has circulated a press release citing a recent statement by the Brazilian Minister of Defense, Geraldo Quintão, on March 22 of this year calling for the revocation of the demarcation of the reserve, which he called "an error’ and a "horrible example" for the country (Pro-Yanomami Commission 2001). Quintão’s statement was followed up in late March of this year by the creation of a Parliamentary Investigating Commission the mission of which is to find ways of cutting down the areas of indigenous reserves. It is expected that the Yanomami reserve will be among its first targets. The Yanomami reserve was only saved in 1991 by international pressure, in which the AAA and its Commission on the Situation of the Brazilian Yanomami played an important part (Turner 1991a). It may be time for the AAA to plan for another effort to help defend the integrity of the Yanomami territory (and other indigenous territories) of Brazil against dissolution by the state. In any such effort, the AAA should make a special effort to cooperate with the Brazilian Anthropological Association (ABA). A little genuine cooperation with our sister organization would not come amiss after the failure of communication over Chagnon’s damaging statements in 1988-9.

In Venezuela, the medical situation of the Yanomami is disastrous. One potentially positive by-product of the current controversy is that it has focused the attention of the Venezuelan government and its official bodies, such as the congressional committee on indigenous affairs, and of course the special commission that has been set up to investigate Tierney’s charges, on the contemporary needs of the Yanomami. Among these, medical needs are uppermost. Here is an area where the AAA could offer collaboration and support in a variety of ways, in consultation with the Venezuelan government and the Yanomami themselves.

The Yanomami in both Venezuela and Brazil are presently discussing what form of compensation they might demand for the extraction of biological samples, above all, blood, without informed consent (and with misinformed consent). The AAA should try to be of help as a mediator in this situation. A decision by the El Dorado Task Force that Yanomami rights were violated by the way these samples have been collected, both in 1968 and since, would be an important step. Bruce Albert’s suggestion that an independent bioethics commission should be created to consider this matter is excellent. The AAA should support the creation of such a commission in every way possible.(Albert 2001b).

Finally, the AAA might consider modifying or adding to its Code of Ethics to apply more effectively to situations such as those that have been generated by Chagnon’s field work. Nothing in the AAA Code of Ethics anticipates the effects of scale that became such an important factor in the disruptions of Yanomami society that followed upon Chagnon’s distributions of huge amounts of steel goods: the wars between whole communities associated with him and others, like Lizot and the Yanomami cooperative society, SUYAO; or the attempt to take control of a whole region, as in Chagnon’s and Brewer’s Siapa project. There were also the massive, time-compressed pedigree surveys, requiring high pressure methods to get at culturally delicate information like the names of dead relatives as quickly as possible. Methods that may be unpleasant but only mildly troublesome at the level of an individual informant or single village survey may become more disruptive when cumulatively repeated on a large scale under intense time pressure in a region of 50 communities over a period of many years, in association with other intrusive field operations like filming. An anthropologist operating on that scale, with the massive resources required for projects of such scope, inevitably becomes a power figure in the regional political scene, in effect a neo-colonial presence. He may, if he is not careful, employ the superior economic and political resources to which he has access to suborn compliance by the local population in ways that engender dependence, disempowerment, social turbulence and resentment. In such situations, I suggest, respect for the local people indicates the need for special care when adopting methods designed as short cut substitutes for traditional ethnographic approaches based on rapport, to ensure empowered consent and meaningful participation by the indigenous people in political and economic decision making relating to the anthropologist’s activities. I would additionally suggest that since projects on this scale must inevitably involve not only accelerated contact with the national and global economies, but also internal social change, the anthropologist should attempt to involve actors not included in the traditional village level political structures, such as women and young men.

With these considerations of effects of scale, we return to the issue of the impact of the social and political-economic dynamics of Big Science on human subjects, which I noted in the concluding discussion of the ethical problems of Neel’s conduct of the 1968 AEC Expedition in Part II. Some of the ethical problems of Chagnon’s work discussed in Part III exemplify similar issues of the ethical effects of scale. This is an area of ethical concerns that the AAA should engage constructively, in terms that preserve the values of science to which the discipline, as a human science, is committed, along with the humanistic values implicit in its commitment to the peoples and cultures with whom anthropologists work. Anthropology as a discipline and as a profession can learn valuable lessons from analyzing what went wrong in Neel’s and Chagnon’s work, and why. I have suggested that a common thread connecting the ethical problems of both researchers is that concern with large-scale data collection under high time pressure, exacerbated in some cases by the institutional pressures of big scientific research projects, led both to make inadequate allowance for ethical and cultural standards, and in some cases, the social and physical well-being of the individual persons and communities comprising their subject populations. For anthropology, the lesson is that the pursuit of large amounts of quantitative data in abstraction from the cultural and social forms of life of the local people may become an end in itself that leads researchers to lose sight of or ignore the social standards and needs of the people they study. Such data, no matter how scientifically valuable, must never be pursued to the point of disruption of local social relations and cultural standards, or allowed to take priority over the well being of persons and communities.


For expert medical opinion and advice on aspects of the 1968 epidemic in the Orinoco, I am grateful to Dr. Peter Aaby of the Projeto Bandim of Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, and Dr. Christine Hugh-Jones, of Cambridge, U.K. I am also indebted to Dr. Barbara Johnston for references to documents from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Marshall Islands Project dating from the 1950s relating to James Neel’s research interest in epidemic diseases as "natural stressers" and the experimental use of vaccines to "challenge" the production of leukocytes. Dominic Boyer, Dimitra Doukas, Jane Fajans and Linda Rabben read various drafts and made many valuable suggestions. The final text owes much to their collegial efforts, but responsibility for any errors that remain is wholly my own.



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2001d "New light on the darkness", in Robert Borofsky, ed., Yanomami Roundtable Forum . At site: Public Anthropology: Engaging ideas {HYPERLINK <http://www. publicanthropology.org }

2000e Rejoinder to Clifford Geertz. New York Review of Books XLVIII:7.69

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SANTA BARBARA WEB SITE: {HYPERLINK: <http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/ faculty/Chagnon/allegations>}


"May 29, 2001, update of position statement by Nancy Cantor, Provost, regarding "Darkness in Eldorado" {HYPERLINK: <www.umich.edu/~urel/darkneupd.html> Access date 08/20/01};

cf. Provost’s previous position statement {HYPERLINK: www.umich.edu/~urel/darkness.html> Access date 08/20/01}


1951 Declassified AEC Document no. 4005304: Minutes of the Advisory Committee for Biology and Medicine, Monthly Status of Progress Reports for February 1951


1993 Interview in El Diario de Caracas , 23 October.