Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Dr. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban
Rhode Island College

e-mail address:  CFluehr@ric.edu
04/16/2002

As one who has raised concerns and written about ethics in anthropology and the history of ethical discourse within the AAA and elsewhere, I would like to comment briefly and send by attachment to anyone who is interested a paper on the subject that I have written for the revised second edition of Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology . This paper entitled "Research Ethics Then and Now: The Controversy over Darkness in El Dorado" discusses the centrality of ethics in this matter. The apparent lack of informed consent is problematical, not only in the initial research when consciousness about obtaining such consent from participants was low, but also in subsequent research continuing into the 1990s. The open use of deception in research-- documented and described in the first edition of "The Yanomami: The Fierce People" and reprinted in the subsequent editions up to the present time-- is likewise a violation of virtually every ethical statement and code since the Nuremburg trials. To put this forward as acceptable anthropological practice in the field is not only archaic (referencing a moment in ethnographic time), but it is damaging to the profession now. There is an underlying paternalism in both the lack of informed consent and the use of deception that needs to be addressed.

The other concerns that I raise in the article include the collection of biological samples then and their ownership and control now. It appears that this is one area where there can be some remedy to any harm that might have been a result of this research among the Yanomami. The possible repatriation of these biological samples might be considered, or the transfer of total or partial ownership to the indigenous peoples of the cell lines or other scientific use or commodificaiton that might have been generated from these samples is appropriate.

The representation of the Yanomami in this classic work of ethnography is a subject that should be treated critically in undergraduate and graduate courses that deal not only with ethics but with the general history of the field. Ultimately, bad ethics makes for questionable anthropological research.