Associated Press, "Science Panel Defends An Accused Geneticist," New York Times, 14
November 2000, p. F9.
The National Academy of Sciences is disputing accusations that reckless experiments by one of
its members killed hundreds of South American Indians.
he assertions are contained in the book, "Darkness in El Dorado," published this month by W. W.
Norton & Company. The author, Patrick Tierney, contends that scientists from the United States
inoculated thousands of Yanomami Indians in 1968 with a dangerous measles vaccine that set off
a deadly epidemic.
In a statement last Thursday, the academy, one of the Nation's most prestigious scientific bodies,
said the book contained multiple factual errors and misstatements.
"Although ‘Darkness in El Dorado' gives the appearance of being well researched, in many
instances the author's conclusions are either contradicted or not supported by the references he
cites, " the academy said.
Last month, an Associated Press article raised similar issues and cited several epidemiologists
who said the vaccine given to the Yanomani by Dr, James V. Neel, a University of Michigan
geneticist, and his colleagues was proved safe and could not have transmitted measles.
Dr. Neel, who died in February, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1963.
"Darkness in El Dorado" disparages him as a controversial figure "whose eugenic views made
him a pariah outside his own specialty."
In reality, Dr. Neel was a highly respected scientist and well-loved by his colleagues, said Ken
Fulton, executive director of membership for the academy.
It seemed only right to defend him when he couldn't defend himself," Mr. Fulton said.
Reached in Venezuela, Mr. Tierney disagreed vehemently with the academy's statement.
"I feel it is a gross misrepresentation of what I say in my book," Mr. Tierney said. "There is an
element of mystery about the 1968 expedition and the measles epidemic that will never be
The academy also disputed Mr. Tierney's characterization of the Atomic Bomb Casualty
Commission, an organization that studied the long-term health of survivors of the Hiroshima and
Nagasaki atomic bombs. The commission was not a part of the Atomic Energy Commission, as
Mr. Tierney's book says, but an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was sometimes
at odds with the federal nuclear agency.