- ... From: Tim Kuchta [mailto:tmkuchta@YAHOO.COM] Sent: Friday, December 07, 2001 2:37 PM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Darkness inMessage 1 of 1 , Dec 8, 2001View Source
FW: [ANTHRO-L] Darkness in El Dorado "flawed", but "served Anthropology well"
From: Tim Kuchta [mailto:tmkuchta@...]
Sent: Friday, December 07, 2001 2:37 PM
Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Darkness in El Dorado "flawed", but "served
Although Flawed, Book on Yanomami Research 'Served
Anthropology Well,' Report Concludes
By D.W. MILLER
ONE THUMB UP: Anthropologists don't have to like what
Patrick Tierney says about their colleagues, but they
should be glad he says it.
That seems to be the conclusion of the American
Anthropological Association's inquiry on Mr. Tierney's
Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists
Devastated the Amazon (W.W. Norton, 2000), which
sharply criticizes researchers' treatment of an
indigenous people. In a preliminary report released
over the Thanksgiving weekend, the association's El
Dorado Task Force wrote that the book has "served
anthropology well" for inspiring "reflection and
stocktaking about anthropology, ... especially
reflection about our relationships with those among
whom we study." But the panel also concluded that some
of the book's most sensational allegations do not hold
up under scrutiny.
Mr. Tierney, an investigative journalist, caused an
uproar last year when he wrote that certain American
researchers had worsened the suffering of the
Yanomami, a tribe inhabiting rain forests of Venezuela
and Brazil. Most notably, he suggested that the late
James V. Neel, a geneticist at the University of
Michigan at Ann Arbor, may have exacerbated the
effects of a deadly measles epidemic in 1968 by
distributing Edmonston B, a vaccine with severe side
effects. And Mr. Tierney wrote that Napoleon A.
Chagnon, an anthropologist now retired from the
University of California at Santa Barbara, had also
contributed to the decimation of the Yanomami by
fomenting intertribal violence and collaborating in
oppression by outsiders.
After months of debate between defenders and critics
of Mr. Neel, Mr. Chagnon, and other accused scholars,
the association decided to appoint the panel to
investigate at least some of the allegations. In its
report (available online at
http://www.aaanet.org/edtfpr.htm), the panel found
that "the allegations in the book are by no means
trivial, that much evidence is presented in the book
in support of the allegations, and that they must be
taken seriously." Among the findings:
* Contrary to Mr. Tierney's allegations, Mr. Neel did
not act unreasonably in choosing the Edmonston B
vaccine, did not distribute vaccines selectively or
withhold treatment as part of some research
experiment, and did not place his scientific goals
above the humanitarian needs of the Yanomami.
* Although the profession's standards for obtaining
informed consent from indigenous people under study
have tightened since the 1960s, Mr. Neel's treatment
of them reflected the scholarly norms of the time.
* Mr. Chagnon may have acted unethically in soliciting
information about the Yanomami's personal names, in
violation of their cultural taboos, but Mr. Tierney's
major criticisms of his conduct are unfounded. The
panel concluded that Mr. Tierney had misleadingly
quoted from Mr. Chagnon's own work to make his
transgressions appear worse than they were. "Tierney
seizes on these mistakes as Chagnon's standard
practice when in fact they were not," the
investigators found. "It is our sense that many of the
mistakes Chagnon made around names were honest and
unintended and that he learned from these errors."
* Mr. Tierney was right to fault Mr. Chagnon for
helping members of one Yanomami tribe raid the village
of another. "But one could imagine other
circumstances where involvement in hostilities is
unavoidable," the report states.
* Mr. Chagnon's decision to publicly challenge the
"authenticity" of a prominent Yanomami spokesman
during the 1980s and '90s was "unanthropological" and
"could not fail to have undermined" Yanomami political
Neither Mr. Tierney nor Mr. Chagnon could be reached
for comment about the report. Mr. Tierney has said in
the past that he may have made some minor errors but
that he had always intended his book to provoke a
reassessment of scholars' treatment of indigenous
people. Mr. Chagnon has said little in public, but he
has assisted efforts by his former department to rebut
the book, point by point.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The association's board was
scheduled to receive the findings last week, at its
annual business meeting. But the panel considers its
work preliminary because it is still waiting for
information from authorities and scholars in South
America that will shed light on some of Mr. Tierney's
other claims. For example, Mr. Tierney accuses Mr.
Chagnon of having contributed to the oppression of the
Yanomami in the '90s by working with unscrupulous
Venezuelan politicians and businessmen to control
natural resources on land reserved for the tribe. Mr.
Tierney also faults Mr. Chagnon for allowing outsiders
to use his characterization of the Yanomami as
extremely violent to justify incursions.
The report notes that the association has been
criticized in the past for failing to enforce its code
of ethics. Complaints about researchers' behavior in
the Amazon were aired years ago, especially by
scholars in Venezuela and Brazil. But the panel
reports that the association can do little beyond
publishing information and urging more soul searching.
"We are just not a certifying body," says Jane C.
Hill, a professor of anthropology at the University of
Arizona and the panel's chairwoman. "We're not the bar
association or the medical association. What we try to
do is provide a very open forum for exchange."
"We're really not interested in going out and bashing
people and saying, 'Ooh, you did a wrong thing, this
is very bad,''' she adds. "Our interest is, what can
anthropologists learn from this stuff? What could a
student learn reading about this? How can we advance
anthropology so that we're more use and less trouble
to indigenous groups?"
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