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Comment by Terence Turner, Cornell University



Response to Comments by William Irons, Michael Fischer, James Boster, Thomas Gregor, Irven DeVore, Lawrence Sugiyama, et al.


The partisans of Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel have evidently become alarmed by the appearance on the Task Force website of a large number of well researched critiques of Chagnon and Neel’s actions and writings.  Their followers seem to think that something must be done to shift the focus of discussion.  Rather than confront the criticisms with new research or reasoned rebuttals of their own, they have gone back to attacking the memo Les Sponsel and I sent to the leaders of the AAA in late August 2000 warning them of the impending scandal that would be caused by the publication of Tierney’s book.  When new information came to light, we publicly acknowledged mistakes and expressed regrets for the effects of the unauthorized circulation of our memo. In the intervening year and a half, both Sponsel and I have answered the main criticisms of this memo and gone on to produce new research in a wide variety of publications, web postings, and public lectures on the subject, which have qualified, reformulated, and extended our ideas and analysis of the actions of Neel, Chagnon, and others among the Yanomami. Below is a partial bibliography of these works, which we have submitted in good faith to the members of the AAA El Dorado Task Force in response to their public request for relevant materials.  We invite Bill Irons et al. to engage us honestly on the content of these new contributions rather than attack us personally.  


Our original memo is by now ancient history. Both Sponsel and I still think it was largely an accurate account of the substance and implications of Tierney’s text in the pre-publication form in which we had seen it. We both think that it was the right thing to do to write the memo and would do the same again, with suitable changes in the light of our present knowledge.    The voluminous new research and critical analyses of the Yanomami case by other respected scholars, scientists, and physicians (for instance, the report by the Brazilian team of medical experts, Bruce Albert’s articles on Neel and Chagnon’s practices of (mis)informed consent, Barbara Johnston’s investigation of Neel’s secret research on radiation victims, Lêda Martins’s analysis of the impact of Chagnon’s ideas in Brazil, chemist Terry Collin’s assessment of Neel and Roche’s breaches of medical ethics, interviews with Yanomami representatives by Janet Chernela and Fernando Coronil, and conferences on the controversy at the University of Michigan and Cornell University) have moved our collective knowledge about the issues far beyond the point we were at in 2000, when Sponsel and I wrote our early warning of the storm to come.  


Unfortunately, the new salvo of denunciations displays the same distinctive characteristics as previous barrages from the same ideological quarter: a propensity for <I> ad hominem</I> defamation rather than reasoned discussion of issues; a tendency to attack in packs (to the point of sharing the same phrases and epithets); and a propensity to exemplify in their own postures and rhetoric the vices they rhetorically lay at the feet of their targets.  This time, the group theme seems to be “bearing false witness,” of which they do enough themselves to make the author of the Ninth Commandment wonder if it was all worthwhile. I interpret these futile charges as a collective act of desperation, which bears true witness to the bankruptcy of the defense of Chagnon and Neel against findings of serious ethical misconduct.





Sponsel, Leslie. 2000a. “Comment.” (September 25).    http://www.tamu.edu/anthropology/Sponsel.html


Sponsel, Leslie. 2000b. “Letter to the AAA Leadership and To Whom It May Concern.” (October 25). http://www.anth.uconn.edu/gradstudents/dhume/darkness_in_el_dorado/documents/0492.htm


Sponsel, Leslie. 2001a. “Reply to Clifford Geertz’s Review of <I> Darkness in El Dorado</I>. ”  http://www.anth.uconn.edu/gradstudents/dhume/darkness_in_el_dorado/documents/0321.htm


Sponsel, Leslie. 2001b. “On Reflections on <I> Darkness in El Dorado</I>. ” <I> Current Anthropology</I> 42(2):265-276.    http://www.anth.uconn.edu/gradstudents/dhume/darkness_in_el_dorado/documents/0491.htm


Sponsel, Leslie. 2002a. “Commentary on ‘Introduction’ to the El Dorado Task Force Preliminary Report.” Comment submitted to the AAA El Dorado Task Force (March 12). http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm


Sponsel, Leslie. 2002b. “Commentary on Working Paper 2.7, ‘Warriors of the Amazon.’” Comment submitted to the AAA El Dorado Task Force (April 12). http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm


Sponsel, Leslie. 2002c. “Commentary on Working Paper 2.6, Allegations of Inappropriate Sexual Relationships.” Comment submitted to the AAA El Dorado Task Force (April 17). http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm


Sponsel, Leslie. 2002d. “General Comment.” Comment submitted to the AAA El Dorado Task Force (April 19). http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm


Stevens, John and Terence Turner. 2001. "Annotated Index of Materials from the James V. Neel Papers in the Archive of the American Philosophical Society." (February).  http://www.umich.edu/~idpah/SEP/sep_tn.html


Turner, Terence. 2000a. “Heart of Darkness.” Book review of <I>Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon,</I> by Patrick Tierney. <I>The Bookpress</I> 10 (7) (October).  http://www.thebookery.com/boo_bpress.taf?issueID=25&_UserReference=90D25C8389C406993CC3939C


Turner, Terence.   2000b.   “The Turner-Sponsel Memo.” (November 13). http://www.umich.edu/~idpah/SEP/sep_ts.html


Turner, Terence. 2000c. “Human Science, Pseudo-Science, and Anthropological Ethics in the Yanomami Controversy,” Parts I and II. <I>The Bookpress</I> 10 (9) (December).    http://www.thebookery.com/boo_bpress.taf?issueID=27&_UserReference=90D25C8389C406993CC3939C


Turner, Terence. 2001a. “Eugenic Ideas in James Neel’s Conception of ‘Primitive Society.” Paper presented at the University of Michigan Colloquium, "Science—Ethics—Power: Controversy Over the Production of Knowledge and Indigenous Peoples."  http://www.umich.edu/~idpah/SEP/sep_te.html


Turner, Terence. 2001b. “Ethical Issues Arising From Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorago and the Ensuing Controversy.” Roundtable Forum on Patrick Tierney’s <I>Darkness in El Dorado</I>, Round One . <I> Public Anthropology</I> , ed. Robert Borofsky. http://www.publicanthropology.org/Journals/Engaging-Ideas/RT(YANO)/Turner1.htm


Turner, Terence. 2001c. Anthropological Responsibilities, Scientific Ethics, and the Ideology of "Science": What Do We Owe the Yanomami?” Roundtable Forum on Patrick Tierney’s <I>Darkness in El Dorado</I>, Round Two . <I> Public Anthropology</I> , ed. Robert Borofsky. http://www.publicanthropology.org/Journals/Engaging-Ideas/RT(YANO)/Turner2.htm


Turner, Terence. 2001d. “New Light on the Darkness: New Evidence and

New Readings in the Tierney/Neel/Chagnon Controversy.” Roundtable Forum on Patrick Tierney’s <I>Darkness in El Dorado</I>, Round Three . <I> Public Anthropology</I> , ed. Robert Borofsky. http://www.publicanthropology.org/Journals/Engaging-Ideas/RT(YANO)/Turner3.htm


Turner, Terence. 2001e. “The Yanomami and the Ethics of Anthropological Practice.” Occasional Paper of the Center for Latin American Studies Program. Ithaca: Cornell University.



Turner, Terence. 2002a. “Turner On Turner* on Turner, Point by Point by Point,” Parts 1 and 2. Comments submitted to the AAA El Dorado Task Force (March 21). http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm


Turner, Terence. 2002b. “Commentary on Working Paper 2.1, ‘The Measles Epidemic of 1968.’” Comment submitted to the AAA El Dorado Task Force (April 19). http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/index.htm