Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Science, 00368075, 1/16/2004, Vol. 303, Issue 5656
Source URL: none

Yanomami Redux

Section: Random Samples

In a new twist on the long-running Yanomami wars, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) intends to sharpen its ethics code. Last month its members overwhelmingly approved a resolution that the association "recognizes the harmfulness of false accusations regarding vaccine safety" that could damage public health efforts among indigenous people.

By a vote of 1526 to 134, members also repudiated a widely publicized charge that the late geneticist James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had used a vaccine that led to a lethal 1968 measles epidemic among the Yanomami Indians in Brazil. The charges were contained in a 2000 book, Darkness in El Dorado, in which journalist Patrick Tierney hinted that the vaccination program might have been part of a eugenics experiment (Science, 29 September 2000, p. 2251; 19 January 2001, p. 416). The book convulsed American anthropology for months and continues to be controversial despite an AAA task force that in 2001 exonerated the scientists.

The resolution, in addition to strongly rejecting the Tierney accusations, directs the AAA ethics committee to look into "the responsibilities of anthropologists with respect to these issues." Says Northwestern University anthropologist William Irons, a Chagnon supporter: "The ethics of spreading false allegations of genocide against other scientists — you never find that spelled out in the ethics code."

Edited by Constance Holden