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Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: International Genetic Epidemiology Society (IGES)
Source URL: http://hydra.usc.edu/iges/NeelResolution.html

IGES Resolution Concerning Recent Allegations Against James V. Neel

The following resolution was passed unanimously by the International Genetic Epidemiology Society (IGES) Board of Directors; by the IGES Committee on Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues; and by all members of the society present at the business meeting of the Society’s Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX, October 28, 2000.

During recent weeks, there have been several articles and voluminous activity over the Internet about alleged misconduct of scientists headed by James V. Neel [Mann, 2000], an eminent human geneticist who died earlier this year. The Guardian Weekly carried the most sensational headline, “U.S. Scientist Brought Death to the Amazon” [Brown, 2000]. If true, such allegations would constitute grievous breaches of human rights and professional ethics. Although these accusations come from a book by the freelance journalist Patrick Tierney, to be published in mid-November [Tierney, 2000a], there is preliminary testimony in an article by the same journalist in The New Yorker [Tierney, 2000b]. An in-depth review and assessment of the allegations must await publication of the book.

The rights of research subjects are paramount in research dealing with human subjects, but scientists also have the right not to be the subjects of reckless or unsupported accusations. Dr. Neel was one of the most eminent human geneticists of his generation, an early President of the American Society of Human Genetics, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the first President of the IGES, and the exemplar we commemorate with the IGES James V. Neel Young Investigator Award. Allegations that attribute unethical actions to distinguished scholars in their field require a fair and proper review by scientists and ethicists. The IGES considers this issue very important because of the crucial role of the rights of human research subjects. With respect to the allegations made public thus far in The New Yorker article [Tierney, 2000b], there is sufficient evidence [Neel et al., 1970; Neel, 1994; Crenson, 2000; Ridley, 2000; Zalewski, 2000; web sites, 2000] to substantially refute these charges. The IGES Board of Directors fully intends to continue the review process through its Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues Committee.


Brown P. 2000 Sep 28-Oct 4. U.S. scientist brought death to the Amazon: geneticist accused of letting thousands die in rainforest to test “fascistic” theory of innate leadership. Guardian Weekly:3.

Crenson M. 2000. Associated Press, New York, Oct. 14-15 (AP Photos NY336-338 of Oct. 12). http://www.cnn.com/2000/books/news/10/17/us.genocidal.scientist.ap/

Mann CC. 2000. Misconduct alleged in Yanomano studies. Science 289:2251-3.

Neel JV. 1994. Physician to the gene pool: genetic lessons and other stories. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Neel JV, Centerwall WR, Chagnon NA, Casey HL. 1970. Notes on the effect of measles and measles vaccine in a virgin-soil population of South American Indians. Am J Epidemiol 91:418-29.

Ridley M. 2000 Oct 17. Acid test: the truth that spreads like measles. London Daily Telegraph. http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk/00/10/17/do03.html

Tierney P. 2000a. Darkness in El Dorado. How scientists and journalists devastated the Amazon. New York: W.W. Norton (in press).

Tierney P. 2000b Oct 9. The fierce anthropologist. The New Yorker:50-61.

Zalewski D. 2000 Oct 8. Anthropology enters the age of cannibalism. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/08/weekinreview/08ZALE.html

Web sites. 2000: