The University Record, November 20, 2000

Provost addresses issues in controversial book

Editor’s Note: Following is a letter from Provost Nancy Cantor to the University community. More detailed information is on the Web at, including links to additional materials.

Dear Colleagues,

The book Darkness in El Dorado is now out in bookstores, and was scheduled to be a subject of discussion at last week’s American Anthropological Association meeting in San Francisco.

The University has carefully and thoroughly investigated many of the major claims made in the book, and the evidence we have uncovered supports the conclusion that these claims are false. We are satisfied that Dr. James Neel and Dr. Napoleon Chagnon, both among the most distinguished scientists in their respective fields, acted with integrity in conducting their research, and that their medical care of the Yanomami and their attempts to halt the spread of a pre-existing measles epidemic through vaccination were humane, compassionate and medically appropriate.

We believe that Mr. Tierney did not consult important original source material that was readily available for review. Analysis of that material and other material from persons familiar with the expeditions, the measles outbreak and the measles vaccine refutes the allegations. The serious factual errors we have found call into question the accuracy of the entire book as well as the interpretations of its author.

The allegations were circulated widely throughout the academic community in September in an e-mail message from two reviewers, Terry Turner of Cornell University and Leslie Sponsel of the University of Hawaii. The e-mail message implied that the two had just learned of these allegations, but in fact they were interviewed for the book as early as 1995 and are credited in the Acknowledgements section.

We have posted a statement to our Web site at, along with links to many additional resources on the topic. The supporting research was conducted by the offices of the Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, Vice President for Research, and General Counsel, and by the Medical School and Department of Anthropology. I am grateful to all the individuals who gave their valuable time to investigate the allegations, as well as those of you who wrote to provide additional information and to express your thoughts.


Nancy Cantor