"They've learned nothing"

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Charles C. Mann reports in this week’s Science about the American Anthropological Association’s revisitation of the sorry Darkness in El Dorado affair (“Chagnon Critics Overstepped Bounds, Historian Says”). The book, published nearly 10 years ago, accused Napoleon Chagnon and human geneticist James Neel of unethical behavior in the study and vaccination of Yanomamö people during the 1960s. It led to a seemingly endless AAA “inquiry,” whose history is recounted in the linked article.

Despite the task force's conclusion, Dreger obtained an e-mail from the task force chair, former AAA President Jane Hill of the University of Arizona in Tucson, describing the book as "just a piece of sleaze." And task force member Janet Chernela of the University of Maryland, College Park, Dreger said, told her that "nobody took Tierney's book's claims seriously." The inquiry was conducted, Dreger charged, largely because AAA wanted to safeguard U.S. researchers' future access to the indigenous peoples in Latin America; they didn't want other anthropologists to become tarred with the same brush. In an e-mail to Science, Chagnon said he had been "dumbfounded" to learn from Dreger that task force members had thought little of Tierney's work but "went ahead with their shameful witch hunt of Neel and me."

Dreger is the main subject of the article and the current session at the AAA meetings.

[H]istorian Alice Domurat Dreger of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, reported on her research into AAA's role in the affair, as part of a book on scientific controversies. So problematic were AAA's actions, she charged, "I can't imagine how any scholar feels safe" as a member.