Rebuttal of Decade-Old Accusations Against Researchers Roils Anthropology Meeting Anew

Historians in the News

The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association opened here on Wednesday, and its official theme is "The End/s of Anthropology." But people here might suspect that one thing will never end: the controversy surrounding Darkness in El Dorado, a 2000 book that accused two prominent scholars of misdeeds in their work with an indigenous community in South America.

Debate over the book consumed the anthropologists' meeting in 2000. Nine years later, the passions still have not cooled. During a panel session on Wednesday evening, a Northwestern University scholar presented new evidence of distortions in the book, and she charged that the anthropological association had badly mishandled the entire affair...

... The book at the center of the controversy, Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon (W.W. Norton), was written by Patrick Tierney, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer. Mr. Tierney's targets were Napoleon A. Chagnon, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the late James V. Neel, a geneticist who taught at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Mr. Neel died in 2000, several months before the book appeared.

In Mr. Tierney's account, Mr. Chagnon and Mr. Neel committed a wide range of sins during three decades of work with the Yanomami, an indigenous people who live in a region of the Amazon straddling the Brazil-Venezuela border.

Among other things, Mr. Tierney asserted that Mr. Neel had worsened a measles epidemic in 1968; that the two scholars had failed to obtain full informed consent when collecting blood samples from the community; that Mr. Chagnon had tacitly encouraged violent conflicts among the Yanomami; and that Mr. Chagnon had collaborated with an unscrupulous gold miner in an effort to create a research reserve in Venezuela...

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