Web Letters | The Nation

Another Guilt by Association Hack Job on Chagnon

Baker self-righteously writes, “It is also a measure of Chagnon’s narcissism that he reduces an argument about hundreds of years of history, empires and culture to an argument about himself.” I’ll remind him the next time he’s accused of complicity in genocide to remember all the historical resonances behind the issue.

This article follows in the long tradition of faulting Chagnon for what other anthropologists did, or other political figures, or miners. What happened to the presumption of innocence? I suppose the establishing of the so-called journalist’s moral superiority is more important.

The facts: Chagnon and Neel probably saved hundreds of Yanomamo lives by vaccinating them against the measles virus. There’s no evidence (and yes, his critics show a blithe, postmodern disregard for such a thing as evidence) that Chagnon harmed anyone. His Science article was in fact not cited by anyone as grounds for exploitation.

The author of this article has drunk the postmodern anthropology Kool-Aid. Go elsewhere to get a more sane take on Chagnon’s life and career.

Dennis Junk


Jul 24 2013 - 2:34pm