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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 12:51 GMT
Amazon vaccine claims disputed
Yanomami Indians fight fire in forest
The Yanomami face serious threats to their survival
An influential body of US scientists has disputed claims that one of its members killed hundreds of Yanomami Indians during experiments with a measles vaccine.

The allegations are contained in a book published this month.

The author, anthropologist and journalist Patrick Tierney accuses a US geneticist of inoculating the Yanomami with a dangerous measles vaccine that sparked a deadly epidemic.

But the National Academy of Sciences said in a statement that the book, Darkness in El Dorado, contained multiple factual errors and misleading statements.

"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," Academy president Bruce Alberts said in a statement.

"The factual errors and innuendoes in his book do a grave disservice to a great scientist and to science itself."

Measles vaccine

The geneticist, James Neel, who died earlier this year, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1963.

He worked in the Yanomami homeland in Brazil and Venezuela in the mid-1960s.

Yanomami woman
About 21,000 Yanomami live in the Amazon rainforests
The book claims Neel used a virulent measles vaccine to spark off an epidemic which killed at least hundreds and possibly thousands of the Yanomami.

But this claim has been disputed by some scientists. Several epidemiologists have said the vaccine given to the Yanomami was proven safe and could not have transmitted measles.

The Academy's statement also disputes Tierney's characterisation of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, an organisation that studied the long-term health of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors.

The commission was not a part of the Atomic Energy Commission, as Tierney's book charges, said the statement, but an arm of the National Academy of Sciences sometimes at odds with the government's nuclear agency.

Amazon homeland

There are thought to be about 21,000 Yanomami in the Amazon rainforests, who face grave threats to their survival.

They are sometimes involved in direct clashes with miners and other groups intent on exploiting their lands, which are supposed to enjoy legal protection.

But environmental damage is making it harder for them to fish and hunt in their traditional ways.

And malaria, spread by mosquitoes which breed in stagnant pools left by the mining operations, is now estimated to be killing about 13% of the Yanomami every year.

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18 Apr 00 | Americas
Protests mar Brazil's birthday
01 Sep 98 | Americas
Brazil fire threatens Indians
20 Mar 98 | Americas
Governor appeals to save Amazon
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