“Bioethics, ” a term created by Van Rensselaer Potter in 1971, has been a source of increasing concern over the past three decades. The rights of the underprivileged or especially vulnerable persons, such as children, elders, ethnic minorities, or members of a specific gender, have been explicitly stated in a series of documents, issued by UNESCO and several other national and international agencies. An important aspect of this problem relates to the ethics of biomedical research in human populations, and particularly in those with distinct, preindustrial forms of subsistence. Biomedical investigators should strictly conform to these norms, therefore avoiding any harm to the groups they are going to study. But ethical principles are also applicable to other professionals, such as those who propose to describe the scientific findings to the lay public, as well as those responsible for the dissemination of these evaluations in the media.
These considerations, which may be perfectly obvious to most biological scientists, became the subject of scrutiny beginning in August of 2000, when an announcement was sent to a large number of scholars via the Internet describing Patrick Tierney's book Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon (Norton, New York, 2000). The announcement included terrifying revelations about unethical behavior conducted by anthropologists and geneticists among the Yanomamö.