Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Challenge, April 11, 2001
Source URL: http://www.plp.org/cd01/cd0411.html#RTFToC20#RTFToC29


Capitalist Anthropology: `Science' of Extermination

The science of anthropology has just been rocked by its worst scandal in 50 years. Patrick Tierney's book Darkness in El Dorado charges prominent scientists with genocidal crimes.

During the early 1960's the Atomic Energy Commission funded research into mutation rates of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the Cold War objective of establishing "tolerable" nuclear radiation dosages. As an unexposed "control" group, it chose the Yanomami, semi-isolated Indians living on the brink of extinction in the Amazon basin of Brazil and Venezuela. Geneticist James Neel, program director, and Napoleon Chagnon, then an anthropology graduate student, collected 12,000 blood samples from their "research subjects," bribing them with steel axes and pots.

Chagnon depicted the Yanomami as unusually brutal warriors, calling them " the fierce people." He claimed murder and trickery were rewarded in Yanomami society, and that they typify human society before agriculture. Actually, today's Yanomami are survivors of once-large Amazonian populations decimated by colonial slavery. After E.O.Wilson published Sociobiology (1975), Chagnon applied this new biodeterminist theory that human behavior is genetically inherited, falsely claiming that Yanomami men who kill have more children and are more likely to pass on their genes. When gold was discovered in Amazonia, Brazilian rulers -- seeking to carve up Yanomami land for profit -- used Chagnon's portrayal of Indians as bloodthirsty killers to justify genocide. By 1990, Chagnon, hated by Yanomami activists, was barred from Yanomami territory. His research was enshrined in popular films and college textbooks but attacked by other anthropologists who studied the Yanomami.