Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: The Winchester Star, November 21, 2000
Source URL: http://www.winchesterstar.com/TheWinchesterStar/001121/Opinion_truth.asp


A Fight for Truth: Obscure Battle Shows Dangers of PC

Obscure scientific controversies are usually best left to obscurity, but a raging battle in the field of anthropology illuminates how political correctness is corrupting what should be unbiased academic pursuits.

A book entitled “Darkness in El Dorado” by journalist Patrick Tierney is undergoing bitter criticisms from scientists because it’s basically a smear on the late geneticist James Neel.

Although Mr. Neel was not famous, he was well-known and respected in some scientific circles for, among other reasons, his study with the Yanomami Indians, a primitive tribe in Venezuela.

In his book, Mr. Tierney accuses the geneticist of a wide variety of ethical lapses, including starting a deadly epidemic among the South American tribe in 1968 by inoculating villagers with a dangerous measles vaccine.

Fortunately for the author Mr. Neel died in February. This means not only can’t he defend himself, but he also can’t sue Mr. Tierney for libel. The author follows the one rule of bad journalists: attack only those folks who are dead because they have no legal recourse.

However, colleagues of the late Mr. Neel are very much alive and have denounced the book.

“Tierney said he spent 11 years researching his book and it took a matter of days to prove some of his claims were not true,” said anthropologist William Irons.

The National Academy of Sciences, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Santa Barbara, oppose the book.

So why should anybody outside the walls of academia care about a nasty academic fight?

Although the late Mr. Neel possessed impressive scientific credentials, he held politically incorrect views. He believed that genetics play a predominate role in determining behavior. A few other opinions were also at odds with what may be loosely called politically correct views.

In his disagreement, Mr. Tierney did not simply challenge the late geneticists’s opinions or use documentation to try to refute those opinions, he launched a personal attack on Mr. Neel, a favorite device of the political left.

To Mr. Tierney, not only Mr. Neel’s theories had to be discarded — the man who held them should be personally destroyed.

Frankly, this is the atmosphere that is all too common in many institutes of higher learning in the land today, and in so many scientific realms.

If you have politically incorrect views, you risk personal attacks and professional destruction.

Mr. Tierney’s book is another sad example of how politics can corrupt science, if allowed to do so.