Napoleon Chagnon may well be the most famous and most infamous anthropologist alive. Famous for the years he spent conducting fieldwork among the Yanomamö, a large and isolated native tribe in Venezuela and Brazil, and his extensive writings on their kinship structures, marriages, warfare, and more (most notably his 1968 work Yanomamö: The Fierce People, which sold close to a million copies in numerous editions and which for decades was routinely assigned in introductory anthropology courses); infamous even today in the wake of the 2000 book Darkness in El Dorado, by Patrick Tierney, who accused Chagnon and several of his colleagues of the most appalling and egregious sorts of misconduct and abuse.
The most extreme of the many allegations in Darkness in El Dorado was that Chagnon and his sometime collaborator, the late geneticist James V. Neel of the University of Michigan, had introduced or exacerbated a measles epidemic among the previously unexposed Yanomamö. While that claim has been repeatedly and thoroughly rebutted, its lingering stench — and that of some of Tierney’s other charges, whose veracity (or otherwise) is less clear (such as that Chagnon incited violence among the Yanomamö merely to provide support for his own, spurious, theories) — has clung to Chagnon (and has sparked numerous and heated debates within the American Anthropological Association) ever since.
Much of why Chagnon has never quite been able to extricate himself from scandal has to do with his particular facility for cultivating enemies. Over the course of his career, he managed to alienate the Salesian missionaries who wield a great deal of influence over Yanomamö affairs in Venezuela; a number of his former colleagues and collaborators; and a wide array of anthropologists — American, Venezuelan, Brazilian, and otherwise.