The University Record, October 2, 2000

U begins inquiry into research allegations


A book, Darkness in El Dorado by journalist Patrick Tierney, is expected to be published in the next few weeks. A review of the book, distributed widely across the country by e-mail, is critical of the work of former U-M faculty James V. Neel, M.D., and Napoleon Chagnon, Ph.D., with the Yanomama of Venezuela in the late 1960s.

Several major media, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Time magazine, and The New Yorker, have prepared stories that are or will soon be public, based on the e-mail.

We have not seen the book. We have made attempts to get a copy of the book from the publisher, W.W. Norton & Co., before it is released but so far have been unsuccessful. We have contacted the publisher again to share our very grave concerns about the allegations, especially in light of relevant documentation we have found (available online at

The University takes allegations of impropriety seriously and we have begun an internal inquiry. In our review, we have already found significant materials directly contradicting a number of the claims cited in the e-mail message. If the e-mail message correctly characterizes what is in Darkness in El Dorado, there may be other erroneous information that inaccurately portrays the research. Allegations, particularly those involving academic work of highly distinguished scholars, require a fair and proper peer review—not a sensationalized public discussion in the headlines and over the Internet.

As soon as we can obtain a copy of the book, we will review the actual allegations in the book and the evidence and documentation the author uses as the basis for his claims. We also will be reviewing all of the original source materials we have available to us, including Dr. Neel’s own research logs. If upon review of the book we determine it necessary to continue the review process, we will consider additional steps, including asking outside experts to evaluate the allegations.

We will keep you apprised of our findings as we move forward through this process.

Nancy Cantor, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs