Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Source URL: http://slate.msn.com/code/thefray/thefray.asp?m=148465


Subject: Neel and the Venezuelan Government

From: Susan Lindee

Date: 31 Oct 2000 06:21

The New Yorker response to John Tooby's article perpetuates a mistaken claim that appeared earlier in Tierney's essay. I remain convinced that Neel had permission from the Venezuelan government for the vaccination program in the Upper Orinoco in 1968. My reasons for believing this are as follows:

1. Neel requested government permission, in a letter dated December 11, 1967.

2. Neel needed government approval to get the vaccines through customs.

3. Neel was working with a prominent Venezuelan physician, Marcel Roche, and in collaboration with a prominent Venezuelan scientific organization. Roche was in the field with Neel and carried out some of the vaccinations.

4. Neel had government permission later, as evidenced by a telegram sent to him in April 1968, when he had arranged for additional donations of vaccines to be sent to Venezuela, where the epidemic was still underway.

I have not been able to find a letter from the Venezuelan public health authorities dated December 1967 granting permission for the vaccine program, but I have a fairly compelling set of circumstances suggesting that the program was approved. The statement that the New Yorker identified as "erroneous" was my claim in an early email that the April 1968 telegram provided proof of permission--obviously the timing was wrong. But I remain convinced that Neel had permission, based on the archival record.

I must add that I have no particular stake in Neel's reputation. I am a historian who wrote a book about his work in Japan. He disliked my book rather intensely. If I had any evidence that he had behaved in an inhumane or irresponsible manner in Venezuela I would not hesitate to say so. But there is no reason to believe so. There are certainly serious questions raised by the scientific exploitation of the Yanomami. It is unnecessary to make anything up, which is what I think Tierney has done, as a result of having checked many of his footnotes. I find a remarkable pattern of dishonesty in his work and dishonesty serves no one's best interests.

Susan Lindee