Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Slate.com, Friday, Nov. 17, 2000
Source URL: http://slate.msn.com/SummaryJudgment/00-11-14/SummaryJudgment.asp


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Yael Schacher and Eliza Truitt Friday, Nov. 17, 2000

[cut from longer article]

...Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, by Patrick Tierney (W.W. Norton). A regular donnybrook has broken out over Tierney's allegations of misdeeds by anthropologists Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel in the Brazilian rain forest. His main claims are that they committed genocide by intentionally using an unsafe measles vaccine that contributed to a devastating outbreak of the disease. (Tierney also claims they staged events for documentaries, falsified data, and incited wars.) Articles have flown fast and furious throughout the national and academic press, with most concluding that while Chagnon and Neel were probably not genocidal, they were certainly unethical. The National Academy of Sciences condemned the book thus: "Although Darkness in El Dorado gives the appearance of being well-researched, in many instances the author's conclusions are either contradicted or not supported by the references he cites." An article in the British New Scientist notes that the University of Michigan (where Chagnon and Neel both worked) released a statement claiming: "Tierney's book is the result of a long-standing professional vendetta by Chagnon's critics. … [A]t least two of the scientists whom Tierney quotes as questioning Neel's choice of the vaccine came to Neel's defence when contacted by New Scientist." The New York Times contends that Tierney "should have worked harder to prove this horrific charge," but that "his book's faults are outweighed by its mass of vivid, damning detail. My guess is that it will become a classic in anthropological literature, sparking countless debates over the ethics and epistemology of field studies" (John Horgan). (Anthropologist John Tooby condemned the book in Slate and tweaked The New Yorker for excerpting the book; the magazine responded here.)—E.T. ...