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  • Popplestone, Ann
    Tuesday, June 28, 2005 http://chronicle.com/daily/2005/06/2005062801n.htm Anthropologists Rescind Report That Examined Allegations of Misconduct by Researchers
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      Tuesday, June 28, 2005


      Anthropologists Rescind Report That Examined Allegations of Misconduct
      by Researchers in the Amazon

      By DAVID GLENN <mailto:david.glenn@...>

      The American Anthropological Association has voted to rescind its
      acceptance of a 2002 committee report that reviewed allegations that two
      prominent American anthropologists had committed serious misconduct in
      Brazil and Venezuela between 1967 and 1990.

      The reversal is the latest twist in a complex dispute that had been
      simmering for decades but exploded into prominence in 2000, with the
      publication of Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists
      Devastated the Amazon (W.W. Norton), by the freelance reporter Patrick
      Tierney (The Chronicle,
      <http://chronicle.com/weekly/v47/i05/05a01601.htm> September 29, 2000).

      In his book, Mr. Tierney charged that Napoleon A. Chagnon, who is now a
      professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California at
      Santa Barbara, and the late James V. Neel, a longtime professor of human
      genetics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, had badly
      mistreated an indigenous group, known as the Yanomami, in the upper

      Among other things, Mr. Tierney asserted that during a 1968 measles
      epidemic among the Yanomami, Mr. Neel's research was driven by
      scientific curiosity rather than sound medical practice and that dozens
      of indigenous people had needlessly died. (In prepublication galleys,
      Mr. Tierney even suggested that Mr. Neel had spread measles himself by
      administering a certain vaccine.)

      Mr. Tierney also charged that Mr. Chagnon had tacitly encouraged
      violence among the Yanomami and that he had staged violent scenes in
      several famous ethnographic films.

      Mr. Tierney's book received a huge amount of publicity, and leaders of
      the anthropology association felt a need to respond. In 2001 they
      appointed a small committee, known as the El Dorado Task Force, that was
      instructed to assess the issues raised by the controversy and to
      recommend ways to improve anthropologists' practices in the field.

      The task force was dogged by its own controversies. Critics complained
      that two of its members had prejudged the case by publicly criticizing
      Mr. Chagnon's conduct. Another member, Raymond Hames, a professor of
      anthropology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, resigned from the
      committee because he believed that his past professional association
      with Mr. Chagnon raised the appearance of a conflict of interest.

      The low point may have come in November 2001, when the anthropology
      association released a preliminary report by the committee. Two of its
      six members promptly objected, saying that the report contained material
      that they had neither read nor approved (The Chronicle,
      <http://chronicle.com/daily/2001/12/2001120303n.htm> December 3, 2001).
      At the association's annual meeting that month, several scholars
      complained that the report appeared to ignore certain serious
      allegations in Mr. Tierney's book.

      The committee's final report <http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm> was
      completed in May 2002 and released to the public two months later. Like
      other investigative bodies, the committee found that Mr. Tierney's most
      sensational allegation -- that Mr. Neel had acted negligently during the
      measles epidemic -- was false. The report found merit in several of Mr.
      Tierney's other charges, however. The committee encouraged the
      association to take steps to improve scholars' ethics in the field and
      the discipline's relationship with indigenous people (The Chronicle,
      <http://chronicle.com/daily/2002/07/2002070202n.htm> July 2, 2002).

      The final report came under immediate and heavy criticism from several
      scholars. Chief among them were Thomas A. Gregor, a professor of
      anthropology at Vanderbilt University, and Daniel R. Gross, a staff
      researcher at the World Bank. Mr. Gregor and Mr. Gross charged that the
      committee's report amounted to a formal inquiry into Mr. Chagnon's and
      Mr. Neel's behavior, and that, as such, it violated a 1998 resolution in
      which the association vowed that it would not adjudicate charges of
      misconduct against its members.

      The critics also said that the panel's composition was biased, that Mr.
      Chagnon had not been afforded due process, and that the association's
      Web site had propagated (in "comments" pages associated with the
      task-force report) a new stream of lurid and unsubstantiated allegations
      against Mr. Chagnon.

      Last fall, Mr. Gregor and Mr. Gross offered a resolution to rescind the
      association's acceptance of the report. The association's members voted
      on the resolution by mail in April and May, and the results were
      announced late last week. The resolution passed, 846 to 338.

      The resolution requires the association to widely publicize the decision
      to rescind the report, and to explain the reasons for doing so. It also
      affirms that "the association will follow its own policies prohibiting
      ethics adjudications."

      Reached by telephone in Uruguay on Monday, Mr. Gross said that he was
      very pleased by the vote. "The association wasn't equipped to carry out
      adjudications," he said. "It didn't have the machinery, it didn't have
      the procedures in place. In any of these cases where grave accusations
      are made against a colleague, we need to have fair procedures in place."

      Mr. Gross suggested that the institutional review boards at Mr.
      Chagnon's and Mr. Neel's universities were better placed to assess Mr.
      Tierney's allegations.

      Mr. Gross said that he would have no objection if the association
      continued to post the report on its Web site. He simply wanted it to be
      made clear, he said, that the report is "the opinion of a group of
      people, and not the association's official position."

      Jane H. Hill, a professor of anthropology and linguistics at the
      University of Arizona, who was the chair of the task force, said on
      Monday that she was very disappointed in the referendum's outcome. "We
      should have done more work to educate people about the meaning of this,"
      she said.

      Ms. Hill said that she could have accepted a narrower resolution that
      affirmed the association's prohibition on adjudicating ethical
      allegations against its members. But she believes that Mr. Gregor and
      Mr. Gross's resolution, which rescinds the task force report in its
      entirety, goes much too far. The committee's recommendations for ethical
      reforms in anthropological fieldwork have now been struck from the
      record, she said.

      "I think this sends an appalling message," she said. "I'm afraid that
      the resolution will be read in Latin America by our anthropological
      colleagues and by politically aware indigenous people as a direct slap
      at the kinds of agency that they're trying to achieve with international

      Another scholar said the saga had much to teach the field. "I hope we
      can move on now to really get a good sense of where ethics lie in the
      discipline, and how we can evaluate anthropologists fairly and
      honorably," said Robert Borofsky, a professor of anthropology at Hawaii
      Pacific University and the author of Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy
      and What We Can Learn From It (University of California Press, 2005).

      Mr. Borofsky, who was not a member of the El Dorado Task Force, said he
      agreed with Mr. Gross that the committee's due-process procedures were
      inadequate. But he strongly disputed the notion that the association
      should not adjudicate cases of alleged misconduct among its members. He
      said that he and a colleague would like to revisit some of the material
      in the report. "We would like to find exact data -- criteria that
      everyone can agree on -- that we can use for evaluating the accusations
      against Chagnon," he said, "and decide what might be a fair and
      honorable way of evaluating Chagnon's actions."

      "We need to have procedures in place before the next storm, before the
      next time the media hounds us with another crisis," Mr. Borofsky said.
      "We cannot take an ostrich-like view of ethics."

      Mr. Borofsky also said that he was startled by how few people voted in
      the referendum. The association has more than 10,000 members.


      Copyright <http://chronicle.com/help/copyright.htm> (c) 2005 by The
      Chronicle of Higher Education <http://chronicle.com/>

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