Patrick Tierney   Edmonston measles vaccines

Subject: : Imminent anthropological scandal

   Scandal about to be caused by publication  of  book by
   Patrick Tierney (Darkness in El Dorado. New York. Norton.
   Publication date: October 1, 2000).

   Madam President, Mr. President-elect:

We write to inform you of an impending scandal that will affect the
American Anthropological profession as a whole in the eyes of the
public, and arouse intense indignation and calls for action among
members of  the Association. In its scale, ramifications, and sheer
criminality and corruption it is unparalleled in the history of
Anthropology. The AAA will be called upon by the general media and its
own membership to take collective stands on the issues it raises, as
well as appropriate redressive actions. All of this will obviously
involve you as Presidents
of the Association-so the sooner you know about the story that is about
to break, the better prepared you can be to deal with it. Both of us
have seen galley copies of a book by Patrick Tierney, an investigative
journalist, about the actions of anthropologists and associated
scientific researchers (notably geneticists and medical experimenters)
among the  Yanomami of Venezuela over the past thirty-five years.
Because of the sensational nature of its revelations, the notoriety of
the people it exposes, and the prestige of the organs of the academic
establishment it implicates, the book  is bound to be widely read both
outside and inside the profession. As both an indication and a vector of

its public impact, we have learned that The New Yorker magazine is
planning to publish an extensive excerpt, timed to coincide with the
publication of the book (on or about October 1st). The focus of the
scandal is the long-term project for study of the Yanomami of Venezuela
organized by James Neel, the human geneticist, in which Napoleon
Chagnon, Timothy Asch, and numerous other anthropologists took part. The

French anthropologist Jacques Lizot, who also works with the Yanomami
but is not part of Neel-Chagnon project, also figures in a different
scandalous capacity.

   One of Tierney's more startling revelations is that the whole
   Yanomami project was an outgrowth and continuation of the Atomic
   Energy Comissions secret program of experiments  on human
   subjects James Neel, the
   originator and director of the project, was part of the medical
   and genetic research team attached to the Atomic Energy
   Commission since the days of the Manhattan Project. He was a
   member of the small group of researchers responsible for studying
   the effects of radiation on human subjects. He personally headed
   the team that investigated the effects of the Hiroshima and
   Nagasaki bombs on survivors,. He was put in charge of the study of
   the effects of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and later
   was involved in the studies of the effects of the radioactivity
   from the experimental A and H bomb blasts in the Marshall Islands
   on the natives (our colleague May Jo Marshall has a lot to say
   about these studies in the Marshalls and Neel's role in them).
   The same group also secretly carried out experiments on human
   subjects in the USA. These included injecting people with
   radioactive plutonium without their knowledge or permission,in
   some cases leading to their death or disfigurement ( Neel himself
   appears not to have given any of these experimental injections).
   Another member of the same AEC group of human geneticists and
   medical experimenters, a Venezuelan, Marcel Roche, was a close
   colleague of Neel's and spent some time at his AEC-funded center
   for Human Genetics at Ann Arbor. He returned to Venezuela after
   the war and did a study of the Yanomami that  involved
   administering doses of a radioactive isotope of iodine and
   analyzing samples of blood for genetic data. Roche and his
   project were apparently the connection that led Neel to choose
   the Yanomami for his big study of the genetics of "leadership"
   and differential rates of reproduction among dominant and
   sub-dominant males  in a genetically "isolated" human population.
   There is thus a genealogical connection between the  the human
   experiments carried out by the AEC, and Neel's and Chagnon's
   Yanomami project, which was from the outset funded by the AEC.

   Tierney presents convincing evidence that Neel and Chagnon, on
   their trip to the Yanomami in 1968, greatly exacerbated, and
   probably started, the epidemic of measles that killed "hundreds,
   perhaps thousands" (Tierney's language-the exact figure will
   never be known) of Yanomami. The epidemic appears to have been
   caused, or at least worsened and more widely spread, by a
   campaign of  vaccination carried out by the research team, which
   used a virulent vaccine (Edmonson B) that had been
   counter-indicated by medical experts for use on isolated
   populations with no prior exposure to measles (exactly the
   Yanomami situation). Even among populations with prior
   contact  and consequent partial genetic immunity to measles, the
   vaccine was supposed to be used only with supportive injections
   of gamma globulin.

   It was known to produce effects virtually indistinguishable from
   the disease of measles itself.  Medical experts, when informed
   that Neel and his group used the vaccine in question on the
   Yanomami, typically refuse
   to believe it at first, then say that it is incredible that they
   could have done it, and are at a loss to explain why they would
   have chosen such an inappropriate and dangerous vaccine. There is
   no record that Neel sought any medical advice before applying the
   vaccine. He never informed the appropriate organs of the
   Venezuelan government that his group was planning to carry out a
   vaccination campaign, as he was legally required to do. Neither
   he nor any other member of  the expedition, including Chagnon and
   the other anthropologists, has ever explained why that vaccine
   was used, despite the evidence that it actually caused or at a
   minimum greatly exacerbated the fatal epidemic.

   Once the measles epidemic took off, closely following the
   with Edmonson B, the members of the research team refused to
   provide any medical assistance to the sick and dying Yanomami, on
   explicit orders from Neel. He insisted to his colleagues that
   they were only there to observe and record the epidemic, and that
   they must stick strictly to their roles as scientists, not
   provide medical help.

   All this is bad enough, but the probable truth that emerges, by
   implication, from Tierney's documentation is  more chilling.
   There was, it turns out, a compelling theoretical motive for Neel
   to want to observe an epidemic of measles, or comparable
   "contact" disease, or at least an outbreak virtually
   indistinguishable from the real thing-precisely the effect that
   the vaccine he chose was known to cause-and to produce one for
   this purpose if necessary. This motive emerges from Teirney's
   documentation of Neel's extreme eugenic theories and his
   documented statements about what he was hoping to find among the
   Yanomami, interpreted against the background of his long
   association with the Atomic Energy Commission's secret
   experiments on human subjects.  Neel believed that   "natural" human
   society (as it existed everywhere before the advent of
   large-scale a gricultural societies and contemporary states with
   their vast populations) consisted of small, genetically isolated
   groups, in which, according to his eugenically slanted genetic
   theories, dominant genes (specifically, a gene he believed
   existed for "leadership" or "innate ability") would have a
   selective advantage, because male carriers of this gene could
   gain access to a disproportionate share of the available females,
   thus reproducing their own superior genes more frequently than
   less "innately able" males. The result, supposedly, would be the
   continual upgrading of the human genetic stock. Modern mass
   societies, by contrast, consist of vast genetically entropic
   "herds" in which, he theorized, recessive genes could not be
   eliminated by selective competition and superior leadership genes
   would be swamped by mass genetic mediocrity. The political
   implication of this fascistic eugenics is clearly that society
   should be reorganized into small breeding isolates in which
   genetically superior males could emerge into dominance,
   eliminating or subordinating the male losers in the competition
   for leadership and women, and amassing harems of brood females.
   A big problem for this program, however, was the tendency,
   generally recognized by virtually all qualified population
   geneticists and epidemiologists, for small breeding isolates to
   lack  genetic resistance
   to diseases incubated in other groups, and their consequent
   vulnerability to contact epidemics. For Neel, this meant that the
   emergence of genetically superior males in small breeding
   isolates would tend to be undercut and neutralized by epidemic
   diseases to which they would be genetically vulnerable, while the
   supposedly genetically entropic mass societies of modern
   democratic states, the antitheses of Neel's ideal
   alpha-male-dominated groups, would be better adapted for
   genetic immunity to such "contact" diseases. It is known that
   Neel, virtually alone among contemporary geneticists, rejected
   the genetic (and historical) evidence for the vulnerability of
   genetically isolated groups to diseases introduced through
   contact from other populations. It is possible that he thought
   that genetically superior members of such groups might prove to
   have differential levels of immunity and thus higher rates of
   survival to imported diseases. In such a case, such exogenous
   epidemics, despite the enormous losses of general population they
   inflict, might actually be shown to increase the relative
   proportion of genetically superior individuals to the total
   population, and thus be consistent with Neel's eugenic program.
   However this may have been, Tierney's well-documented account, in
   its entirety,  strongly supports the conclusion that the epidemic
   was in all probabilty deliberately caused as an  experiment
   designed to produce scientific support for Neel's eugenic theory.
   This remains only an inference in the present state of our
   knowledge: there is no "smoking gun" in the form of a written
   text or recorded speech by Neel. It is nevertheless the only
   explanation that makes sense of a number of otherwise
   inexplicable facts, including Neel's known  interest in observing
   an epidemic in a small isolated group for which detailed records
   of genetic and genealogical relations were available, his
   otherwise inexplicable selection of a virulent vaccine known to
   produce effects virtually identical with the disease itself, his
   behavior once the epidemic had started (insisting on allowing it
   to run its course unhindered by medical assistance while
   meticulously documenting its progress and the genealogical
   relations of those who perished and those who survived) and his
   own obdurate silence, until his death in February, as to why he
   carried out the  vaccination program in the first place, and
   above all with the lethally dangerous vaccine.

   The same conclusion is reinforced by considering the objectives
   of the anthropological research carried out by Chagnon under
   Neel's initial direction and continued support. Chagnon's work
   has been consistently directed toward portraying Yanomami society
   as exactly the kind of originary human society envisioned by
   Neel, with dominant males (the most frequent killers) having the
   most wives or sexual partners and offspring. If this pristine,
   eugenically optimal society could be shown to survive a contact
   epidemic with its structure of dominant male polygynists
   essentially intact, regardless of quantitatively serious
   losses, Neel might plausibly be able to argue that his eugenic
   social vision was vindicated. If the epidemic was indeed produced
   as an experiment, either wholly or in part, the genetic studies
   on the correlation of blood group samples and  genealogies
   carried out by Chagnon and some of his students thus formed
   integral parts of this massive, and massively fatal,  human

   As another reader of Tierney's ms commented,  Mr. Tierney's
   analysis is a case study of the dangers in science of the
   uncontrolled ego, of lack of respect for life, and of greed and
   self-indulgence. It is a further extraordinary revelation of
   malicious and perverted work conducted under the aegis of the
   Atomic Energy Commission.

   Tierney's revelations begin, but do not end, with the 1968
   epidemic. There are many more episodes and sub-plots, almost
   equally awful, to his narrative of the antics of anthropologists
   among the Yanomami. Enough has been said by this time, however,
   for you to see that  the Association is going to have to make
   some collective response to this book, both to the facts it
   documents and the probable conclusions it implies.There will be a
   storm in the media, and another in the  general scholarly
   community, and
   no doubt several within anthropology itself. We must be ready.
   devotes much of the book  to a critique of Napoleon Chagnon's
   work  (and actions). He makes clear Chagnon has faithfully
   striven, in his ethnographic and theoretical accounts of the
   Yanomami, to represent them
   as conforming to Neel's ideas about the Hobbesian savagery of
   "natural" human societies , and how this constitutes the natural
   selective context for the rise to social dominance and
   reproductive advantage of males with the gene for   "leadership"
   or "innate ability" (thus Chagnon's emphasis on Yanomami
   "fierceness" and propensity for chronic warfare, and the supposed
   statistical tendency for men who kill more enemies to have more
   female sexual/reproductive partners). He documents how all these
   aspects of Chagnon's account of the Yanomami are based on false,
   non-existent or
   misinterpreted data. In other words, Chagnon's main claims about
   Yanomami society, the ones that have been so much heralded by
   sociobiologists and other partisans of his work, namely that  men
   who kill more reproduce more and have more female partners, and
   that such men become the dominant leaders of their communities,
   are simply not true. Thirdly and most troublingly, he reports
   that Chagnon has not stopped with cooking and re-cooking his data
   on conflict but has actually attempted to  manufacture the
   phenomenon itself, actually fomenting conflicts between
   Yanomami communities, not once but repeatedly.

   In his film work with Asch, for example, Chagnon induced Yanomami
   to enact fights and aggressive behavior for Asch's camera,
   sometimes building whole artificial villages as "sets" for the
   purpose, which were presented as spontaneous slices of Yanomami
   life unaffected by the presence of the anthropologists. Some of
   these unavowedly artificial scenarios, however, actually turned
   into real conflicts, partly as  a result of Chagnon's policy of
   giving vast amounts of presents to the villages that agreed to
   put on the docu-drama, which distorted their relations with their
   neighbors in ways that encouraged outbreaks of raiding. In sum,
   most of the Yanomami conflicts that Chagnon documents, that are
   the basis of his interpretation of Yanomami society as a
   neo-Hobbesian system of endemic warfare, were caused directly or
   indirectly by himself: a fact he invariably neglects to report.
   This is not just a matter of bad ethnography or unreflexive
   theorizing: Yanomami were maimed and killed in these conflicts,
   and whole communities were disrupted to the point of fission and
   flight.(Brian Ferguson has also documented some of this story,
   but Tierney adds much new evidence). As a general point, it is
   clear that Chagnon's whole Yanomami oeuvre is more radically
   continuous with  Neel's eugenic theories, and his unethical
   approach to experimentation on human subjects, than appears
   simply from a reading of Chagnon's works by themselves.

   Chagnon is not the only anthropologist mentioned in Tierney's
   narrative. Some of his students, like Hames and Good, are also
   dealt with (not so unfavorably). The F French  anthropologist,
   Jaques Lizot, also gets a chapter. He has had nothing to do with
   Neel or Chagnon (in fact has been a trenchant and cogent critic
   of their work), but he has an Achilles heel of his own in the
   form of a harem of Yanomami boys that he keeps, and showers with
   presents in exchange for sexual favors (he has also been known to
   resort to young girls when boys were unavailable). On the sexual
   front, there are also passing references to Chagnon himself
   demanding that villagers bring him girls for sex.

   There is still more, in the form of  collusion by Neel and
   Chagnon with sinister Venezuelan politicians attempting to gain
   control of Yanomami lands for illegal  gold mining concessions,
   with the anthropologists providing "cover" for the illegal mine
   developer as a "naturalist" collaborating with the
   anthropological researchers, in exchange for the politician's
   guaranteeing continuing  access to the Indians for the

   This nightmarish story  -a real anthropological heart of darkness
   beyond the     imagining of even  a Josef Conrad (though not,
   perhaps, a Josef Mengele)--will be seen (rightly in our view) by
   the public, as well as
   most anthropologists, as putting the whole discipline on trial.
   As another
   reader of the galleys put it, This book should shake anthropology
   to its very foundations. It should cause the field to  understand
   how the corrupt and depraved protagonists could have spread
   their poison for so long while they were accorded great respect
   throughout the Western World and generations of undergraduates
   received their lies as the introductory substance of
   anthropology. This should never be allowed to happen again.

   We venture to predict that this reaction is fairly representative
   of the response that will follow the publication of Tierney's
   book and the New Yorker excerpt. Coming as they will less than
   two months before the San Francisco meetings, these publication
   events virtually guarantee that the Yanomami scandal will be at
   its height at the Meetings. This should give
   an optimal opportunity for the Association to mobilize the
   membership and the institutional structure to deal with it. The
   writers, both emeritus
   members of the Committee for Human Rights, have arranged with
   Barbara Johnston, the present chair of the CfHR, that the open
   Forum put on by the Committee this year be devoted to the
   Yanomami case. This seemed the best way to provide a venue for a
   public airing of the scandal, given that the program is of
   course already closed. With Johnston's consent, we have invited
   Patrick Tierney to come to the Meetings and be present at the
   Forum. He has accepted. He has also agreed to have a copy of the
   book ms sent to Johnston, for the use of the CfHR. We have also
   agreed with Barbara that the CfHR should draft a press release,
   which the
   President (either or both of you) could (if you and the Executive
   Board approve) circulate to the media. There are obviously human
   rights aspects of this case that make the CfHR appropriate, but
   the Ethics Committee, the Society for Latin  American
   Anthropology, and the Association for Latina and Latino
   Anthropology should also be notified and involved, separately
   or jointly. These obviously do not exhaust the possibilities--- a
   lot of
   thought and planning remains to be done. Our point is simply that
   the time to start is now.

   Rosemary Gianno, Ph.D. Associate Professor of
   Rhodes Hall Keene State College Keene NH 03435-3400 USA Phone: (603) 358-2510 Fax:   (603) 358-2184

   George Aaron Broadwell,
   Anthropology; Linguistics and Cognitive Science,
   University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY 12222 | 518-442-4711
   Web page:


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