General Comment by Dr. Kenneth Good
New Jersey City University
When I heard that the AAA had set up a task force to investigate the accusations made by Patrick Tierney I was very pleased. It was my belief that this would be the only way to get to the bottom of all this. For those who have not read my book, Into the Heart , I point out that I lived over a twelve-year period with the Yanomami of the general area where Chagnon and Lizot worked. I am an ex field worker of Chagnon (not his student). I married a Yanomami, and we had three children. I left Chagnon’s project and finished my degree elsewhere for reasons which not being an issue of this Task Force I will not discuss here. I give a general account in my book mentioned above.
The focus of Tierney’s book was on the ethics of doing research among the Yanomami. I never worked with Chagnon in the field so can only comment on those accusations that I believe are true from the consistency of Tierney’s research and similar accounts I heard, at times from the same informants. Some of these comments will appear in separate sections of the Task Force. It has not been my interest to make a career of attacking Chagnon even though I disagree strongly with his initial depiction of the Yanomami as the fierce people, and his later sociobiological explanation of their interpersonal behavior, as has practically ever other person who has studied the Yanomami.
Despite my initial enthusiasm, I was greatly dismayed and disillusioned when I read the names of two of the task force members who were appointed supposedly as neutral investigators of the issues raised. Trudy Turner has a history of association with James Neel, and while she may have knowledge of the questions related to Neel, should not be on an independent committee to investigate charges against Neel.
However, what amazed me even more was to see that Raymond Hames was also on the committee, a late appointment by former AAA president Louise Lamphere. Hames was a fellow field worker with Eric Fredlund and me on Chagnon’s 1975 field project. Given the nature of his relationship to Chagnon, from student to dissertation committee, to repeated field trips on Chagnon’s grants, to recommendations for jobs, to publications, Hames had an ethical obligation to recuse himself for extreme conflict of interest. He co-authored a report in Science on Yanomami protein consumption using data from a non-Yanomami village. Tierney and others correctly point this out. There could be no greater ally of Chagnon than Ray Hames. It is a travesty to have put him on the committee to investigate charges against his mentor and close colleague. Had I been asked to serve on the task force I would have declined for conflict of interest. Hames had no problem with this, at least not so much as to prevent him from accepting the position. Now, after having been involved in numerous reports, several as principal investigator, he has resigned. He has requested that his name be removed from these reports. In fact, it has been removed from only one, Sexual Allegations. And what to do with the reports for which he had primary research responsibility and, I assume, authorship?
Overall, I believe Tierney has to be commended for the enormity of his investigation both in volume and duration. Even if he was overzealous on some points (this is still undecided and I will comment where appropriate in responses to individual sections) his work has brought to the fore so many issues which otherwise would not have been considered. I knew many of Tierney’s informants and have heard similar testimonies, some of which appear in the book. His book is replete with credible information that cannot be disregarded by any objective reader. Chagnon supporters have busied themselves in a concerted effort to find little holes in the evidence Tierney presents and his sometimes free-swinging style so that they can proclaim that this massive exposé with hundreds of informants and innumerable independent cross substantiations is totally false. I will exemplify this with two of the many instances.
In an article titled “Spin Doctoring the Yanomamö” the author Michael Shermer feels that Tierney has taken many points out of context and spin-doctored them to incriminate Chagnon. In one example he refers to Tierney’s description of his “raid” on me and Eric Fredlund on one of our first nights in the jungle. I described this in my book how Chagnon burst into my hut at night very drunk (he wondered why his ribs hurt the next morning after I had thrown him out of the hut and into a deep hole) and destroyed my irreplaceable mosquito net. Tierney quoted this passage but left off a following line by Jacques Lizot who had said to me to take it easy, it was just a joke. Tierney did this, according to Shermer, so he could falsely characterize it as a “raid” or “attack”. Shermer is playing here with semantics and intended meaning of words and informs his readers that it was just a “prank”. Neither I nor, I believe, Tierney ever meant that this was an angry, belligerent raid but rather an aggressive incursion designed to frighten and to “initiate” students who Chagnon over a long period of time had inculcated the dangers of living among the Yanomami. Call it what you will, I think the bursting into students hut in the night, drunk, destroying students essential equipment (mosquitoes nets are crucial in a malaria infested zone) and not even remembering much of it the next morning says enough in itself.
In this article Shermer, whether he realizes it or not, has presented a superb work of spin-doctoring. When he questioned Chagnon why I had such a different image of the Yanomami Chagnon replied, “Good spent much of his time trekking with the Yanomamö, going on hunting trips outside of the village. If a village contains, say 150 people in a complex web of relations, but you are spending most of your time with just a dozen or so away from the village, of course you are gong to make different observations.” He said this knowing full well that I had lived with the Yanomami for twelve years spending much of my time living in the shapono , married a Yanomami, and had three children with her. This can only be seen as the most blatant attempt to mislead the unsuspecting reader. Even though I called Shermer and explained how misleading that statement was (which he must have known having read my book) he printed it and without my follow-up comment. This, I believe, is spin-doctoring.
A second example that Tierney discusses is Chagnon’s “attack dogs”. William Irons, contacted former graduate students again in an attempt to show no impropriety by demonstrating that the dog that attacked a student dressed in protective gear at his house was not his but that of a person who trained dogs for, I believe, the Pittsburg police department and probably others. I believe he is the same person who acquired the law enforcement grade chemical mace that Chagnon supplied us as one means of defending ourselves against the Yanomami. I elaborate on that in my book. Does Chagnon have any responsibility for having his students at his house and having one submit to this attack? Is this another “half-truth” of Tierney? What is the sum total of all these “half-truths”?
One can be sure that, since Tierney is not an anthropologist that his efforts are not the product of professional jealousy or competitiveness. Also his work in Amazonia did not begin as an exposé of Neel and Chagnon. His interests focused on the impact of outside entities on the Yanomami, particularly gold miners, for which he had a book contract with a respected academic publisher. In the course of his fieldwork for that project the accelerated accumulation of accounts of the Chagnon/Neel work redirected him to his ultimate presentation.
Good, Kenneth, 1991, Into the Heart: One Man’s Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomami , Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Shermer, Michael, 2001, “Spin doctoring the Yanomamö” Skeptic Magazine , Volume 9, Number 1