September 2000


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George Salzman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 24 Sep 2000 15:24:54 -0400
text/plain (324 lines)
Subject:Re: US Scientists + US Atomic Energy Commission 'Killed
Amazon Indians to Test Race Theory'
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2000 14:08:44 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
To: Ivan Handler <[log in to unmask]>, Sam Anderson
<[log in to unmask]>
References: 1 , 2

Dear Ivan (this should go to Sam too),
      I don't "know" Prof. Turner personally, but of the three people to
whom I wrote, the most cordial response I got was from him. I intended to
post the correspondence on the Science for the People discussion list, but
just let a few days go by without doing it. Now I really ought to put aside
the other work I'm doing for long enough to inform SftP folks what I know. I
did post a report to the Global Indymedia Center,,
and to the San Francisco Indymedia Center,, on Sept
21, titled "Venezuelan Yanomami reported killed by US-based anthropological
research project. What I posted is contained in the following "template" I
                                             *   *   *
Entries for an article to be published, as text only, on the site, as of September 21, 2000

Title: Large-scale killing of Yanomami of Venuzela by a US-based
anthropological research project revealed (too long - I had to shorten it)

Author or Producer: George Salzman

Summary: The American Anthropological Association, scheduled to meet in San
Francisco this November, is facing an unprecedented scandal from impending
revelation of chilling research by anthropologists and associated scientific
researchers (notably geneticists and medical experimenters) among the
Yanomami of Venezuela over the past thirty-five years, causing “hundreds,
perhaps thousands” of Yanomami deaths.

Email (optional): [log in to unmask]    Phone (optional): (from the US,

Address:  Oaxaca City, Oax., Mexico

Web address (optional):

Text:  Science for the People learned today of a letter from Cornell Univ.
anthropology professor Terry Turner and Univ. of Hawaii anthropology
professor Leslie Sponsel to the president and president-elect of the
American Anthropological Association alerting them to the impending scandal
regarding deadly research on the Venezuelan Yanomami, research that began in
1968, about which they write, “In its scale, ramifications, and sheer
criminality and corruption it is unparalleled in the history of

      “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. 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

      "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
vaccinations 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."

      The book to which the authors refer is "Darkness in El Dorado", by
Patrick Tierney, to be published by Norton, New
York, on about October 1, 2000.

      The complete text of the letter is available on the Science for the
People Archives website,, in the September
2000 list, as "Fwd: Please distribute widely."

      As horrendous as are the experiments themselves, the contemporary
theoretical underpinning, which goes back at least to
the publication (acclaimed by the New York Times with front-page coverage)
of Harvard Univ. professor E.O. Wilson's
"Sociobiology", by Harvard University Press, is, at the very least, called
into question. the letter's authors are of course quite
decorous in their exposition, but the letter is nevertheless very revealing,
and very damning.

George Salzman, Science for the People member, September 21, 2000
                                             *   *   *
      Here's the correspondence to date, in chronological order:
                                             *   *   *
From: [log in to unmask]
To: Louise Lamphere ; Don Brenneis ; Terry Turner ; Leslie Sponsel
Sent: Thursday, September 21, 2000 6:20 PM
Subject: Request for confirmation of accuracy of reported letter on Yanomami

Dear colleagues,
      I received a document containing the letter which follows, and would
very much appreciate confirmation
that the report of the letter is accurate. I am an emeritus physics
professor with a longstanding interest in the
social implications of scientific research as conducted in our society.
Thank you very much for your help.
George Salzman
                                  *   *   *   The letter follows:   *   *
To: Louise Lamphere, President, American Anthropological Association
<[log in to unmask]>
      Don Brenneis, President -elect, American Anthropological Association
<[log in to unmask]>

From: Terry Turner, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University.
Head of the Special Commission of the American Anthropological Association
to Investigate the Situation of the
Brazilian Yanomami, 1990-91 <[log in to unmask]>

Leslie Sponsel, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii,
Chair of the AAA Committee for Human Rights 1992-1996 <[log in to unmask]>

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

Madam President, Mr. President-elect:
                                     --and the rest of the letter--
                                             *   *   *
Subject: Re: Tierney's book
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 13:13:48 -1000
From: Les Sponsel <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
CC: terry turner <[log in to unmask]>

Dear Sir,

The letter that I co-authored with Dr. Terry Turner of Cornell University
was ONLY intended for the top officials of the AAA and ONLY intended to
alert them to read Patrick Tierney's book, judge for themselves, and
prepare to respond to the inevitable inquiries from the media, membership,
and others for the good of the profession and the Yanomami.  We felt that
this was our professional, ethical, and moral obligation, as reflected in
several articles of the AAA statements on ethics (see AAA webpage).  We
certainly never intended the letter to go any further or do anything
else.  Unfortunately, somehow some irresponsible individual(s) leaked the
letter into cyberspace, and that is most regrettable and obviously beyond
our control.  It is also most regrettable and obviously beyond our
control that many people are discussing Tierney's book and our letter in
cyberspace without having read the book, people who are supposed to be
intellectuals, scholars, and/or scientists.

Nevertheless, IF true, then the numerous and diverse allegations in
Tierney's book are obviously most serious.

We are advising any inquirers to wait and read Tierney for themselves and
judge for themselves, rather than jump to any conclusions about
Chagnon, Tierney, or our letter.  I understand that the New Yorker
magazine is publishing excerpts from the book in an artlce by Tierney
around October 2, and that the book will be published within weeks
thereafter.  There are also stories emerging in the New York
Times, Washington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education (see webpage), etc.
Obviously many think that this is a very serious matter, and a few who are
of this opinion have actually read a pre-publication copy of the book, so
they are not just speculating or gossiping.


Dr. Les Sponsel, Professor
                                             *   *   *
Subject: Re: Tierney's book
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 00:23:09 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
To: Les Sponsel <[log in to unmask]>

Dear Prof. Sponsel,
      Thank you for your reply. I believe it is important for people to act
responsibly, and that is why I wanted to ascertain that the letter
purportedly written by you and Prof. Turner indeed was. I am afraid that I
do not concur with your desire to keep what you and Prof. Turner evidently
believe to be the case, as expressed in your note to me, an "in-house"
matter for "top officials of the AAA." Your letter, in fact, speaks for
itself, and deserves to be widely disseminated because, as you clearly
believe, it is a serious matter.
George Salzman
                                             *   *   *
Subject: Re: Request for confirmation of accuracy of reported letter on
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 11:28:36 -0600
From: Louise Lamphere <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]

         AAA now has a public statement on this issue. Check our web page
                                             *   *   *
Subject: Re: Request for confirmation of accuracy of reported letter on
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 11:54:45 -0400
From: "Terence Turner" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "Terence Turner" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
References: 1

Dear Prof. Salzman, As co-author of the memo about which you inquire, I
assure you it is genuine. I attach a generic letter
prepared by my colleague Prof. Leslie Sponsel, the co-signatory of the memo.
Yours sinceley, terry Turner
                                             *   *   *
      I owe Terry Turner a note of thanks, which I'll send shortly.
      I apologize for not having got around to putting the above information
on the SftP discussion archives. In fact, the easiest
thing for me to do now is to send in this entire letter. Then everyone will
be informed right away. It's good that Sam Anderson
picked up on the item. And he's absolutely right about not limiting our
"activities" to the internet.
      I posted the report to the two Indymedia websites soon after I got the
reply from Sponsel, because it allowed me to infer
(though it wasn't totally explicit) that the letter was bona fide. My intent
was to urge (or at least suggest) that other SftP folks
make use of the Indymedia sites, through which we can reach many people,
perhaps some in the San Francisco area who
would be motivated to attend the AAA meetings in November. Also, we may
increase the usefulness of our archives, and
perhaps gain new members. Always proselytizing. But I just didn't get around
to it soon enough. Good for Sam, and you too,
for spurring me a little. By the way, what is the AGM? All good wishes,
[log in to unmask]

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