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Amer Anthro Assoc Ethics Code/ A Complaint

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  • William George Irons
    January 31, 2001 To: Louise Lamphere (President of the AAA), Don Brenneis (President elect of the AAA), Carole Crumley (Secretary of the AAA), the members of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2001
      January 31, 2001

      To: Louise Lamphere (President of the AAA), Don Brenneis (President elect of the AAA), Carole Crumley (Secretary of the AAA), the members of the AAA Executive Board (Timothy Earle, Kathleen Gibson, Katherine Verdery, Alessandro Duranti, Faye Harrison, Shirley Fiske, Melissa Checker, Goeffrey White, Wendy Ashmore, Richard Handler, Patricia Zavella, Anne Ferguson), Robert Sussman, AA Editor, members of the Special Ad Hoc Task Force established on November 15, 2000 (James Peacock, Janet Chernela, Linda Green, Ellen Gruenbaum, Philip Walder, Joe Watkins, and Linda Whiteford)

      From: William Irons

      Dear Colleagues:

      I am writing as a long-time member of the American Anthropological Association to state that I believe that two other members of our Association have violated the AAA ethics code in a flagrant and reckless manner.  I am referring to the behavior of Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel who have conducted a long-term ad hominem attack on Napoleon Chagnon.  The latest episode in their long attack on Chagnon consist of their supporting, in various ways, the recent book by Patrick Tierney entitled Darkness in El Dorado.  Both the acknowledgements in Tierney's book and public statements by Tierney himself make it clear that Turner and Sponsel read early drafts of the book and encouraged Tierney to go forward with it.  There is also a strong possibility that they served as consultants to W. W. Norton for this book, and played a role in the "rigorous fact checking" by The New Yorker leading up to the New Yorker's publication of an excerpt of Tierney's book.  The book contains numerous false and highly misleading statements that are damaging in many ways to Chagnon, Neel, Asch, Roche, and other researchers, as well as to the anthropological profession, and to people in developing countries. 
               Turner and Sponsel's vetting of earlier drafts of Teirney's book without checking the truthfulness of the numerous false allegations of wrongdoing violates the following paragraphs in the AAA code of ethics:

      "C. Responsibility to the Public

      1. Anthropological researchers should make the results of their research appropriately available to sponsors, students, decision makers, and other nonanthropologists.  In so doing, the must be truthful: they are not only responsible for the factual content of their statements but also must consider carefully the social and political implications of the information the 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 basis 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 the work or colleagues."

      B. 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.

      I am aware of the complaint sent by John Tooby on Nov. 11 to Louise Lamphere, President, American Anthropological  Association, Don Brenneis, President -elect, American  Anthropological Association, Joe E. Watkins, Chair, Committee on Ethics,  Barbara Johnston, Chair, Committee for Human Rights, Joanne Rappaport, President, Society for Latin American Anthropology.  I endorse everything that John Tooby says in that complaint, and I am sending this separate message only to emphasize a few points not covered fully in John Tooby's complaint.  These points are as follows.

      1. The Turner and Sponsel email message of August 31, 2000 to officers of the AAA was not a private communication merely repeating for purposes of information allegations made by Tierney. 

      I believe this email message violates the requirement that anthropologists be truthful, be properly contextualized, and be responsibly utilized.  It also violates the requirement they make clear the empirical bases of their reports.  After that email message was widely circulated around the world, Turner and Sponsel have stated that they meant the message to go only to the officers of the AAA to whom it was addressed.  Turner also stated publicly in November 17 at the open-microphone session on Tierney's book that he has not made any accusations and rather that he was serving only as a messenger reporting the accusations of others.  This statement is not consistent with the August 31 email message.  They state in that message that they both have seen galley copies of Patrick Tierney's book and then go on later in the message to say that:

      "Medical experts, when informed that Neel and his group used the vaccine in question [Edmonston B] on the Yanomami, typically refuse to believe it at first, then say that it is incredible that they could have done it, and are at a loss to explain why they would have chosen such an inappropriate and dangerous vaccine. There is no record that Neel sought any medical advice before applying the vaccine. He never informed the appropriate organs of the Venezuelan government that his group was planning to carry out a vaccination campaign, as he was legally required to do. Neither he nor any other member of the expedition, including Chagnon and the other anthropologists, has ever explained why that vaccine was used, despite the evidence that it actually caused or at a minimum greatly exacerbated the fatal epidemic."
      In saying this, they are not just reporting accusations stated by Tierney.  They are stating, on the basis of their own examination of the galleys, (1) that Tierney's evidence has convinced medical experts that the Edmonston B vaccine is dangerous and was inappropriate (false), (2) that Neel did not seek medical advice before applying the vaccine (false), (3) that he never informed the appropriate branches of the Venezuelan government (false), (4) that he refuse medical aid to the sick and forbade his coworkers to render aid (false), (5) that he was motivated by a strange and ususal eugenic theory (false), and (6) that there is evidence that the vaccine "at a minimum greatly exacerbated the fatal epidemic" (also false--there is no such evidence only unsupported allegations, plus evidence to the contrary).  The following web sites contain evidence showing the above statements to be false: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/darkness/html, http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/eldorado/ and http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/chagnon.html.  Susan Lindee's presentation on Nov. 16 at the AAA meeting in San Francisco also made it clear that these statements are false.  Also the fact that Neel's research was funded by the Atomic Energy Commission is a red herring and is good example of failure to "contextualize" information.  Tooby's earlier complaint (attached to this message for convenience) makes clear the potentially harmful consequences of these false statements in the developing world.  What I wish to emphasize here is that even if the message to the AAA is to be considered a confidential message to six individuals, it nevertheless violates the AAA ethics code.  This message was not part of a private conversation between private individuals.  It was addressed to the highest officers of the AAA urging them to prepare the AAA to respond to an "impending scandal."  The last part of their message says:

      "As another reader of the galleys put it, This [sic] book should shake anthropology to its very foundations. It should cause the ield [sic] to understand how the corrupt and depraved protagonists could have spread their poison for so long while they were accorded great respect throughout the Western World and generations of undergraduates received their lies as the introductory substance of anthropology. This should never be allowed to happen again.
      We venture to predict that this reaction is fairly representative of the response that will follow the publication of Tierney's book and the New Yorker excerpt. Coming as they will less than two months before the San Francisco meetings, these publication events virtually guarantee that the Yanomami scandal will be at its height at the Meetings. This should give an optimal opportunity for the Association to mobilize the membership and the institutional structure to deal with it. The writers, both emeritus members of the Committee for Human Rights, have arranged with Barbara Johnston, the present chair of the CfHR, that the open Forum put on by the Committee this year be devoted to the Yanomami case. This seemed the best way to provide a venue for a public airing of the scandal, given that the program is of course already closed. With Johnston's consent, we have invited Patrick Tierney to come to the Meetings and be present at the Forum. He has accepted. He has also agreed to have a copy of the book ms sent to Johnston, for the use of the CfHR. We have also tentatively agreed with Barbara that the CfHR should draft a press release, which the President (either or both of you) could (if you and the Executive Board approve) circulate to the media. There are obviously human rights aspects of this case that make the CfHR appropriate, but the Ethics Committee, the Society for Latin American Anthropology, and the Association for Latina and Latino Anthropology should also be notified and involved, separately or jointly. These obviously do not exhaust the possibilities--- a lot of thought and planning remains to be done. Our point is simply that the time to start is now."
      The claim that their email message of August 31 was meant to be confidential and that they were not themselves making any accusation only reporting those made by Tierney in not consistent with the above wording.  They state as a matter of fact that great crimes (reminiscent of Josef Mengele) have been committed and that the AAA should mobilize to respond.  They have invited Tierney to come to the November meeting and organized with the cooperation of the current chair of the CfHR an open forum to discuss Tierney's allegations.  This is not consistent with the claim that they meant for their communication to be confidential. They meant to initiate a mobilization of the AAA to publicly examine these accusations and they assured the officers of the AAA that there was convincing evidence in Tierney's book to back up the allegations they repeated.  Turner and Sponsel (as Tooby notes) did not check the accuracy of the allegations they claimed were supported by convincing evidence and they urge a public response by the AAA.  They also took initial steps to arrange such a public response by inviting Tierney and organizing an open forum with the current chair of the CfHR.  This action is not compatible with an obligation to be "... responsible for the factual content of their statements ..." and to "... carefully consider the social and political implications of the information they disseminate."  The information they sent to officers of the AAA was false!  They assured that officers that anthropologists and the public would find Tierney's evidence convincing and that the AAA needed to respond.  They bear responsibility for lending credibility to Tierney's false accusations.  Also, if there is to be any investigation, the inquiry needs to look into Turner and Sponsel's probable role in persuading W. W. Norton and The New Yorker to publish Teirney's false and reckless accusations.  One consequence of this false information is that the Venezuelan government has excluded all scientists from the Yanomamo area of Venezuela.  As Magdalena Hurtado made clear in her presentation at the AAA meeting on Nov. 16, this exclusion of scientists will not enhance the well-being of the Yanomamo.  This false information has also done a lot to besmirch the reputation of anthropology as a profession.  This is a further violation of the AAA Ethics Code. 
               I wish also to urge you all to consider the monstrousness of Tierney's most outrageous charge.  The truth is that Neel saved thousands of Yanomamo lives in 1968.  Chagnon was a necessary part of the vaccination program by Neel because of his knowledge of the Yanomamo language and culture.  Tierney, with aid from Turner, Sponsel, the Salesian missionaries, and Joe Dawson's independent mission, now has a large number of people believing that Neel kill thousands of people.  Does the AAA wish to aid in rewarding people who perform humanitarian acts with this kind of character assassination?  What the AAA does with this case will set a precedent.  If Turner and Sponsel are not reprimanded or discredited in any way, what reason is there to think they will not expand their activities and assassinate the character of other anthropologists.  What is there to prevent other areas of the world from being closed to scientific research, and to prevent the spread of other myths about the dangers of health care workers in rural and developing areas. 

      2. The AAA Ethics Code states the following: "The American Anthropological Association (AAA) does not adjudicate claims for unethical behavior."  This may in fact be a wise policy.  However, it is completely inconsistent with the current examination of the charges in Darkness in El Dorado, and the possibility of a future "in-depth investigation."  To quote the Michigan report (http://www.umich.edu/~urel/darkness/html): "On November 15, 1994, more than 50 anthropologists endorsed a letter to the Ethics Committee of the American Anthropological Association, complaining that Chagnon had been the victim of 'an initially anonymous and later personal smear campaign.'  On May 23, 1995, the Ethics Committee declined to take action, citing disagreements over exactly what their role should be.  As a result the defamation continues to this day."  I assume the statement that the AAA does not adjudicate claims of unethical behavior translates the Ethics Committee's decision of May 23, 1995 into policy.  Given this, how does the AAA justify its recent decision by the Executive Board to examine and possibly investigate in depth the charges in Teirney's book:

      "The executive board established an Ad Hoc Task Force chaired by James Peacock with the following members Janet Chernela, Linda Green, Ellen Gruenbaum, Philip Walker, Joe Watkins & Linda Whiteford.  This Task Force was given several charges examining charges in Darkness in El Dorado and in related documents and coming to a conclusion as to which issues, if any, can and should be investigated by the AAA. 

      "A.  Examine assertions and allegations contained in the book, Darkness in El Dorado, as well as others related to the controversy over this document,

      "C.  Consult other sources (documents and individuals) and coordinate with other organizations potentially pursuing investigations, including those in Venezuela and Brazil,

      "D.  Come to conclusion as to which specific issues, if any, (1)
      are deserving of an in-depth investigation by AAA, and (2) can
      realistically be investigated by the AAA,

      "E.  Suggest what kinds of evidence might be obtained or individuals
      interviewed on each issue,

      "G.  Recommend by whom such an investigation should be conducted ...."

      The current statement on the AAA web site says the Association is examining the allegations in Tierney's book.  How can the association justify examining Tierney's allegations, but not those endorsed by 50 plus anthropologists on November 15, 1994?  (I assume the 1994 complaint was not only not adjudicated by not examined.  No report on an examination ever appeared that I am aware of.  Are not the distinctions among an examination, an investigation, and an adjudication a matter of splitting a hair.) 
      During the two panels devoted to Tierney's accusation at the last AAA meeting, numerous people stated that our primary concern should be the well being of the Yanomamo.  I would endorse this claim, but ask how does assassinating the character of people who have helped the Yanomamo alleviate their suffering?  How does closing the area to scientists help the Yanomamo?  Further, if this is a central concern, why has the AAA never investigated Chagnon's complaint about Salesian policies toward the Yanomamo, which he published in his monograph, Yanomamo, in 1993 and backed up with solid (in my opinion) data?  Tierney claims to have spent 15 months investigating the Yanomamo.  He knows no Yanomamo and worked through biased interpreters.  (Kim Hill in the UCSB report states that he has seem missionaries couching Yanomamo to say negative things about Chagnon.)  He has no professional training in anthropology.  The reports on the web make it abundantly clear that Tierney's evidence is often blatantly misleading and false.  Chagnon has worked for 80 months among the Yanomamo, speaks Yanomamo, and is a professional anthropologist.  It may be hard to sort out the numerous charges and counter-charges concerning both Tierney and Chagnon.  But other things equal I would think the presumption would be that Chagnon has a more accurate view of the Yanomamo.  However, a still more fundamental question is why would the AAA decide to ignore Chagnon's complaints about missionaries' treatment of the Yanomamo, but investigate Tierney's charges against Chagnon?  Why would the AAA do this if their main concern were the welfare of the Yanomamo?  Why would the apparently decide that Chagnon's allegation about the missionaries have no credibility, but Tierney's allegations about Chagnon do have credibility?

      If the AAA were to decide to do "an in-depth investigation" now, it will be very hard to escape the charge of a bias against Chagnon.  Why investigate charges against Chagnon, but not the charges against Chagnon's detractors made in 1994?  Also if the AAA does investigate in depth at this juncture, the Association will not just look biased, but will clearly be biased, if it does not also follow up the complaints against Turner and Sponsel.  Investigating the behavior of missionaries would be more difficult, but it the primary concern is the welfare of the Yanomamo, this also should be investigated.

      3. I could also mention evidence that other accusations are false: the accusation, that Chagnon fudged his data, that Chagnon's gifts of trade goods cause wars, etc.  For the sake of brevity I will simply point out that the Michigan and UCSB web sites contain investigations of these accusation that an in-depth investigation by the AAA could not ignore.  Tierney has answered some of these charges on the following site http://darknessineldorado.com/ and www.anth.uconn.edu/gradstudents/dhume/Dark/statements.  Another very relevant site is Headland's site, which contains information on the 1968 measles epidemic.

      4. The AAA web site earlier stated "This book [Darkness in El Dorado] presents their own views, conclusions and opinions of its author.  It is extremely important, however, that other individuals featured in the book be afforded the opportunity to express their own views on its contents.  Until there is a full and impartial review and discussion of the issues raised in the book, it would be unfair to express a judgment about the specific allegations against individuals that are contained in it.  I spoke recently to Professor Chagnon and no one has yet contacted him as part of the current "examination" of the allegations in Tierney's book.  An in-depth investigation would have to do this. 
               Professor Chagnon has been a close friend of mine since 1961.  Because of our close association with him, I have felt free to ask him directly about various of Teirney's allegations. 

      I respectfully submit these concerns for your consideration and apologize for the lateness of their arrival,

      William Irons
      Professor of Anthropology
      Northwestern University


      Here is the earlier complaint by John Tooby

      To:       Louise Lamphere, President, American Anthropological  Association
      Don Brenneis, President -elect, American  Anthropological Association
      Joe E. Watkins, Chair, Committee on Ethics
      Barbara Johnston, Chair, Committee for Human Rights
      cc:       Executive Board, American Anthropological Association
      Joanne Rappaport, President, Society for Latin American Anthropology
      Ruben G. Mendoza, President, Association of Latina and Latino Anthropology

      From:    John Tooby, Professor of Anthropology,  University of California, Santa Barbara

      re:      Ethics complaint concerning unprofessional conduct of Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel

      Madam President, Mr. President-elect, Chairs:

      It is important for scholars to be able to speak and publish freely, and to address misconduct where they believe it exists without fear of retaliation for either the content of their ideas or sincere discoveries they have made about the misconduct of others.  But the American Anthropological Association, to the extent that it is a professional and moral community that sets standards for its members or investigates misconduct, needs to do so in a way that is impartial, and beyond abuse either by scholars motivated by animus or nonprofessionals who have priorities other than the welfare of the people that anthropologists study.

      Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel, in their letter to you and in communications to the public, have alleged ethics violations of the most extreme kind and in the strongest terms against Napoleon Chagnon and others.  They compare their long-time academic adversaries to Josef Mengele and express their desire that the rest of the field adopt their view of “how the corrupt and depraved protagonists could have spread their poison for so long.”

      However, investigations into their allegations have instead made it clear that Turner and Sponsel have themselves engaged in severe violations of the AAA Code of Ethics  violations that, among many other foreseeable kinds of damage, place at risk the lives of thousands (at least) of the world’s poorest and most desperate.  Consequently, as an anthropologist, and as a member of the AAA, with this letter I am filing a complaint against Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel. 

      As a concerned anthropologist on the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and as president of another scholarly organization, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, I have been investigating the charges raised in the Turner-Sponsel letter, Patrick Tierney’s article in The New Yorker, and both the review and published version of the book, Darkness in El Dorado.  This investigation has gone on for over two months, and has been conducted in collaboration with many scholars.  Like many other academics and journalists, initially I believed that such extreme accusations must be based on some sincere discovery of wrong-doing.

      However, within two hours of receipt of the Turner-Sponsel letter, just by consulting sources sitting in my office, I stumbled across strong evidence that Patrick Tierney had engaged in extensive falsification.  It then took me only a day to discover that the most central and sensational allegation circulated by Turner and Sponsel  that an epidemic had been started through a “virulent vaccine”  was almost certainly false.  In fact, it is almost impossible to check, even casually, into any significant allegation in Tierney’s book or New Yorker article without noticing very large discrepancies between Tierney’s statements, and the true content of the sources he cites as the basis for his statements.  Easily available sources, including the ones Tierney cites, show that the important allegations (and indeed, every allegation that I have been able to investigate so far) to be baseless.  We are compiling our findings at http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/eldorado/, together with our sources, so that others may verify these results for themselves. 

      The circulation of these false charges has many consequences, from obscuring the true causes of suffering and oppression among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, to the reckless and casual destruction of the reputations of fellow scholars, to the irremediable injection into the global internet and media system of pernicious myths about the secret agendas and deadly practices of anthropologists and other scientists.

      However, I would like to focus on the single most serious form of damage likely to result from Turner’s and Sponsel’s actions.

      Outside of genocide and perhaps politically caused famine, infectious disease remains the most significant cause of early death and ongoing suffering in developing countries.  The ability to obtain cooperation and consent for public health measures and eradication programs in such areas depends on maintaining an accurate perception of the safety and benefits of these measures, based on the best evidence available.  Indeed, widespread public acceptance of immunization programs in developing countries is difficult to achieve, easy to disrupt, and literally a matter of life or death.  According to WHO, measles vaccination by itself is estimated to save millions of lives per year around the world. 

      Among other things, Turner and Sponsel broadcast the claim  easily discovered to be false and baseless  that a measles vaccination program “started” or “exacerbated” a measles epidemic, killing hundreds or thousands, and that “the epidemic was in all probability deliberately caused as an experiment designed to produce scientific support for Neel's eugenic theory.”  

      As anthropologists, we know from numerous examples in the past the self-destructive hysteria that can arise from unfounded claims that sinister groups and individuals were the cause of epidemics  from Jews to Gypsies to witches and foreigners.  Already, a durable and dangerous myth in Central America is that infants and children are regularly kidnapped by U.S. citizens for their body parts.  It would be a tragedy of the first order if those who were the best hope for preventing disease  medical practitioners  became popularly identified as the source of disease.   It would also not be good for the profession (or for knowledge) if anthropologists became popularly identified as sources of epidemics.  Once such myths start, they can persist over many years, compounding the damage.

      The claim that vaccination programs have caused or could cause epidemics (or widespread death from adverse reactions) is likely to impede what the poor in tropical countries need most: effective efforts to reduce or eradicate parasitic and infectious diseases.  This is far from hypothetical.  To take just one example, a claim made last year that a polio vaccination program conducted several decades ago was the source of AIDS has already interfered with vaccination efforts going on now in East Africa.  While measles programs that save millions may experience the greatest impact, there is no reason to think that the negative effects of such sensational claims will be limited to the measles eradication program, but could easily tar other immunization programs as well.  It could also spill over onto other public health measures and research programs funded or administered even in part by medical organizations and personnel from developed nations  again, programs on which the health and survival of millions depend.  Even relatively enlightened politicians can be pulled into marginal medical theories with large scale public health effects, as witnessed by South African President Thabo Mbeki's recent repudiation of consensus views of the causes of and treatments for AIDS.  And there is a whole spectrum of far less responsible and less well-intentioned journalists and demagogues looking for issues to exploit.

      Given the potential for fatalities, the only ethical justification for circulating such accusations would be compelling evidence that they were true.

      How did Turner and Sponsel respond upon encountering these allegations against their professional adversaries?  Anyone not totally unscrupulous would first want to investigate to discover whether they were true.  If true, the matter would have been urgent, since the remarkable discovery that live virus vaccines can cause epidemics (or even widespread fatalities through adverse reactions) would have widespread public health implications.  Authorities such as the CDC would need to be informed as soon as possible, so that they could protect vulnerable populations and otherwise explore the many medical implications of this major discovery.    If these accusations were false, Turner and Sponsel for would need inform Norton (who they were reviewing the book for), The New Yorker, and other journalists, to prevent deadly medical misinformation from being spread or believed, even if it helped to protect the reputation of their academic opponents.

      Given the grave public health implications whether the allegations were true or false, any responsible anthropologist would urgently want to find out the truth of the matter.  Driven by these two possibilities, it had taken me only a day to discover from the CDC and other sources that the central claims were false  just by picking up the phone and consulting sources on the web.

      But Turner and Sponsel had had far longer than this to investigate to see whether the charges were true  months, or perhaps even years.  They could have done so when they read over parts of the manuscript for Tierney (if not before), when they read over the manuscript for the publisher, as they wrote rave reviews for the publisher and for Amazon, as they drafted and circulated their extensive indictment to the AAA, and as they talked to the Guardian and others.  Only after they caused a media storm, circulated these accusations around the world, damaged the reputation of immunization programs (and academic adversaries), and were confronted by strong public refutations did one of them even bother to do what both could have done at any time previously  consult someone knowledgeable about the effects of vaccines.  So far as I know, even now neither Turner nor Sponsel have called for the retraction of The New Yorker article or the withdrawal of the book, and their names and endorsements are still being used to promote the book.  In considering their lack of interest in the truth of their accusations, and the rest of their pattern of conduct, it seems relevant to note that they have been long-standing and fierce academic adversaries of Chagnon.  It also seems relevant to note in this context that it is nearly impossible to read over the book (as Turner and Sponsel have done) without noticing major inconsistencies between different parts of the text.  It is also difficult to believe that anyone with the slightest anthropological or scholarly competence would fail to stumble over what can only be described as the blatant misuse of sources. 

      Whatever Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel might have done decades ago in distant places, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Turner and Sponsel were willing to jeopardize lives in the developing world in order to settle academic scores here in the U.S.

      If there were ever an object lesson about the dangers of believing that moralizing is more ethical than  or a replacement for  a prior commitment to discovering the truth, this is it. 

      The AAA Code of Ethics says that anthropologists “must be truthful; they are not only responsible for the factual content of their statements but also 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.”

      “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."  

      “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)”  which presumably would also include caring to investigate the truth of potentially deadly claims before actively disseminating them.  Turner and Sponsel are also heavily thanked in the acknowledgements, and reports suggest that at least one of the two met repeatedly with Tierney as he developed the book. 

      The AAA has discussed potential investigations into the accusations against Napoleon Chagnon, saying that “If members want to pursue an organizational remedy associated with charges of unethical conduct by an individual, the Executive Board would have to decide how to proceed;" and, "AAA has a Committee for Human Rights authorized to investigate matters of human rights abuse. Were the committee to decide to investigate such charges, they could do so. The results of such investigation, and any recommendations for formal action by the Association would have to be considered and authorized by the Executive Board."

      I do not know if the Executive Board or the Committee for Human Rights is, in fact, going to investigate Napoleon Chagnon, but any investigation should surely also include an evaluation of whether the related actions of Turner and Sponsel have violated the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association.

      As a secondary matter, to tell whether Chagnon violated any widely accepted norms of professional conduct in his field work among the Yanomamo, it will be necessary to have control cases, to see if Chagnon’s conduct was different from others.  Since both Turner and Sponsel worked among indigenous South American populations, they seem like appropriate candidates to serve as points of comparison in such an ethics investigation.  Did they supply more or less medical assistance than Chagnon?  Did they participate in any immunization programs or other public health measures at their study sites?  Did they also compensate informants and the communities in which they worked?  Have they quantitatively investigated sources of mortality in their areas, worked to identify sources of disease, and focused research attention on the health problems of their study populations?  Did they also take photographs?  Did they expose their study populations to infectious diseases by working among them?  Are there any complaints against them from members of the communities in which they worked?

      Such investigations seem like a very unpromising direction for the anthropological community, but if they are to be made, it is only fair that all parties be investigated equally and comparatively.

      It is a sad comment on the deterioration of anthropology as a field that differences in intellectual position and worldview have become self-righteously moralized.  It is even worse that the practice of making witchcraft accusations against intellectual opponents has progressed so far.  But whatever the consequences for us as a community, it is utterly unacceptable to allow this process to endanger the lives of innocent people outside of anthropology.

      John Tooby
      Department of Anthropology
      University of California, Santa Barbara
      Santa Barbara, California

      To: Louise Lamphere, President, American Anthropological Association

      Don Brenneis, President -elect, American Anthropological Association

      Cc. Barbara Johnston, Chair, Committee for Human Rights (
      Joe E. Watkins, Chair, Committee on Ethics (
      Joanne Rappaport, President, Society for Latin American Anthropology

      William George Irons
      Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.  USA
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