Uncut version of Chagnon story 8 of 8

Professor Les Sponsel has a narrow, finch-like face and a smile of great charm. As one of the authors of the email that first attacked Chagnon and was later found to be a pack of lies, you might have expected him to have interesting views on ethics; and he does. His voice cracked with sincerity as he asked the meeting: "I have three questions for us to consider in the coming months. The first is, what have the Yanomamö contributed to us? The second is, what have we contributed to them, both for good and bad? The third is, how are professional ethics and human rights involved?

"This is not about science versus whatever: it is not about corruption in Venezuela, Brazil or the USA, This is about professional ethics."

Terry Turner
Another man with
a clear conscience

Professional ethics are clearly quite different from the amateur ones that say things like "thou shalt not bear false witness", but when I pressed him on the question of whether he should not at the very least have checked these allegations of genocide against a colleague before passing them on, he grew quite heated. "I’m not a medical doctor. My role, ethically was to alert the AAA because of my concern with human rights. After that, the only role I had was to respond to questions when people asked me in a civil, polite manner. I and Terry Turner wrote that memo to the two top people in the organisation and sent copies to four other people in the committee on ethics. Whoever leaked it is the one who should be sanctioned or censured. It is most regrettable, most irresponsible, most appalling; and I am most infuriated that some person has basically stolen it … That people then steal it and gossip!"

"We were not making any allegations" he said. "May I repeat. We were not making any allegations. We were just summarising the allegations in Tierney. I am completely at peace with my conscience."

Chagnon, he said, "simply cannot face up to criticism constructively. He says that he is being attacked from professional jealousy, or by fools" By this stage, he was even more indignant than when he had been accused of amateur ethics. "Terry Turner and I have established our reputations. We’re not fools. There’s no reason for us to be professionally jealous and when he says that, he’s just not facing up to criticism constructively."

It is true that after the conference Professor Chagnon described Professor Turner and Professor Sponsel as "Absolute zeros."

But the thing that most impressed me about Professor Sponsel was his unshakeable conviction his own rightness: at least of Professor Chagnon’s wrongness. "I think there’s a lot of substance in Tierney’s book for the reasons I mentioned earlier. It’s not all false. There’s no way. One reason is that he has quotations and paraphrases and summaries by Chagnon himself which can be checked. And let me also say this. Let’s hypothetically say that the book is 100% a fabrication. Nevertheless what as that book done. It has stimulated a concern for the Yanomamö and for professional ethics within anthropology like never before.

"I think Patrick Tierney is a noble investigative journalist and I believe that people are innocent until they proved guilty."

And there matters, for the moment, rest. Tierney continues to go an American talk shows to plug his book. In parts of South America it already believed as a matter of fact that American scientists are using vaccination programs to conduct huge experiments (one of the anthropologists to speak in Tierney’s defence, a Ugandan, announced that the Ebola virus, too, had been introduced by scientists from the US and Europe). Chagnon broods over legal action. The war between Bisaasi-teri and Konabuma-teri continued for thirty years after the first axe murder; and when the old enemies made peace at a great feast, it was partly to form an alliance against a third village. It doesn’t look as if the war within the AAA will be any easier to end.
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