Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0009&L=anthro-l&F=&S=&P=16756


Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2000 05:21:26 -0400

Reply-To: jmprince@worldnet.att.net

Sender: Anthro-L <Anthro-l@listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu

From: "J.M. Prince" <jmprince@WORLDNET.ATT.NET

Subject: How to sell books to the gullible, On J.V. Neel

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How marvelous that someone has figured out that the best way to sell one of those antique thick academic books (about anthropology no less), is to create and manufacture a 'scandal' of some sort about a subject area most would be fairly ignorant about. It also helps to gin up the outrage and to CC everyone holding a title you can come across in a directory of the applicable associations and universities and call for an imediate and thorough investigation of some ill-defined crime or alleged wrongdoing. The original post is filled with innuendo, half baked assumptions and just outright falsehoods that lack any real credibility. The original hyperbolic post is obviously meant to be some sort of sad publicity stunt that smears one of the fathers of anthropological genetics in order to get some traction on some sensational story.

My thanks to Tom Kavanagh for forwarding the response by Jeff Long of the NIH. The work on the Atomic bomb victims that J.V. Neel did for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) is not secret and has been available and published in open sources for years. It represents some of the finest scientific work documenting the medical effects of disaster on a population that exists. There was nothing much sinister in this effort, and it was invaluable in providing medical responses to the citizens who were victims of the atomic bombings.

On the more general question that might be asked, even in the *absence* of specific proof of manifest and intentional harm resulting from the Yanomamo research conducted by Dr. Neel: Can human subjects be harmed by the scientific investigators who research problems of clinical trials of drugs, new medical procedures and other legitimate field research? Sure, you betcha! Have the standards for such 'human subjects' research dramatically changed since the 1950's-1960's? Right again, they have. The US government is currently (finally) paying compensation for some of the more squirrely AEC clinical radiation 'projects' and experiments on human subjects that went on up until the 1970's. (There is no proof provided that J.V. Neel ever participated in any of these.) The Clinton Energy Dept. and Congress have previously set up some administration to recognize and compensate thousands of 'atomic veterans' who were exposed to atomic blasts in the 1950's. Prior to 1992 this problem was simply ignored. There are today constant ethical battles in clinical trials over the real meaning of 'informed consent' in most of the medical research facilities in this country, and perhaps elsewhere as well. Gene therapy in this country was halted recently after the death of a clinical trial participant revealed dangerously lax standards and controls in many of the labs carrying out this important and vital work. So research subjects being directly or indirectly harmed, imperiled or killed by researchers is not the sole province of anthropologists. It's a moral and operational hazard of much of the scientific enterprise. We can and do rationalize this as the unfortunate result of our quest for the advancement of scientific knowledge, and history shows us that for much of the time the greater good might be served by such research. This does not to legitimize incompetence, cruelty, or the often unnecessary suffering of partially knowing subjects. We can and should strive to do better.

Finally, we can only hope that our descendants will be so willing to excoriate us in the same good humored but misbegotten manner some 35-40 years hence for our lack of insight into the problems and concerns faced by our future colleagues, but just for the sake of selling a sensationalist expose mind you. (Me, I'm betting on it continuing to be an honored way of getting ahead in the business).

That's my 2 cents worth. Cheers, J.M. Prince, Ga.